(Coast Guard Cutter: dp. 2,350 (tl.); l. 327'0"; b. 41'2"; dr. 12'6"; s. 19.5 k.; cpl. 123; a. 3 5", 2 6-pdrs., 1 1-pdr.; ac. 1; cl. George M. Bibb)
George Mortimer Bibb, born on 30 October 1776 in Prince Edward County, Va., graduated from both Hampden-Sidney and Willian and Mary Colleges and then, after studying law in the office of Richard Venable, was admitted to the Virginia Bar. He moved to Lexington, Ky., in 1798 and soon achieved a position of distinction and leadership there, in politics and in his profession. Appointed to the Kentucky Court of Appeals in 1808, he became its chief justice in the following year but resigned in 1810 and was sent to the United States Senate in 1811. Although a leader of the successful "War Hawk" faction in Congress, Bibb resigned from the Senate in 1814, before the end of the War of 1812, and returned to Kentucky. Residing at Frankfort, he turned his attention back to law and state politics.
After more than a decade of comparative retirement from the national scene, Bibb returned to the United States Senate in 1828 as a strong supporter of Andrew Jackson. However, since this six year stint in Congress left him disenchanted with "Old Hickory's" leadership, he did not stand for reelection, but returned to Kentucky at the end of his term to become Chancellor of the Louisville Court of Chancery.
In 1844, Bibb became Secretary of the Treasury under President John Tyler. He left office on 4 March 1845 when President James K. Polk was inaugurated, but stayed in the national capital practicing law until he died there on 14 April 1859.
George M. Bibb (WPG-31), a twin-screw, steel-hulled Coast Guard cutter, was laid down on 15 August 1935 by the Charleston (S.C.) Navy Yard; launched on 14 January 1936; sponsored by Mrs. Byron Britt, great granddaughter of George M. Bibb; and commissioned at her builder's yard on 10 March 1937, Comdr. James Pine, USCG, in command.
After fitting out at Charleston, the cutter sailed north to the Fifth Coast Guard district, with Norfolk, Va., as her assigned home port. As air-passenger aircraft flights were expanding at home and overseas, the Coast Guard believed that cutter-based aircraft were essential for future search and rescue missions. For this reason, the ship was fitted with a crane and auxiliary equipment for floatplane operations. Given the growth of narcotics smuggling in the mid-1930s, the cutter was also intended for open-ocean anti-smuggling patrols. In addition, the cutter's name was shortened to Bibb sometime in May or June 1937.
In between her regular ocean patrols off the east coast, where she rendered aid to any vessels in distress, Bibb conducted several special operations in 1938. In March, she joined a Navy fleet landing exercise and, acting as a utility auxiliary, put her aircraft crane to work helping Antares (AG-10) to deploy the experimental tank lighters, artillery lighters, and other heavy boats then under development. Later that summer, the cutter made a practice cruise with cadets from the Coast Guard Academy.
On 5 September 1939, four days after war broke out over Poland, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed American neutrality in the growing European conflict. He also ordered the formation of a joint Navy-Coast Guard neutrality patrol to report and track any belligerent air, surface, or submarine activity in the waters along the east coast and in the West Indies. Assigned to the Grand Banks Patrol, Bibb shifted her homeport to Boston in late September and began patrol operations in company with sistership Alexander Hamilton (WPG-34) and the destroyers Jouett (DD-396) and Ellet (DD-398). The cutter's orders required her to identify foreign warships, to be on the lookout for unneutral activities, and to report anything of an unusual nature.
Since the outbreak of war had stopped the normal flow of weather radio reports from merchant ships, the Coast Guard established ship-based ocean weather stations in February 1940. Bibb and the other 327-foot cutters drew this assignment and set up continuous weather surveillance in a quadrangular area of the mid-Atlantic between the Azores and Bermuda. They alternated 25 days at sea with 15 days in port. Bibb's first such patrol, begun 10 February, took her northeast of Bermuda and south of Newfoundland.
Over the summer of 1940, Bibb paid increasing attention to her boat and gun drills, a consequence of growing tensions in the Atlantic following the collapse of France. The German government was irritated by both the "destroyers-for-bases" deal, in which the United States transferred 50 overage destroyers to Britain in return for 99-year leases on bases in the Western Hemisphere, and the policy of American warships trailing German merchant ships, especially as this usually led to the latter's interception by Royal Navy warships.
As the American neutrality patrol expanded east and south during 1941, several incidents at sea reflected the increasing tension between German U-boats and American destroyers. On 4 September, destroyer Greer (DD-145) was attacked by torpedoes while tracking U-652 but avoided any damage. As a result, on 11 September, President Roosevelt seized the opportunity to announce his "shoot-on-sight" order against any vessel threatening American warships or shipping. At about the same time, the Coast Guard was transferred to Navy jurisdiction. Bibb began taking extra precautions against enemy attack that same day; instituting zig-zag courses, darkening ship, and soon painting the ship in dark gray "wartime" color scheme.
Following the American entry into World War II with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Bibb temporarily joined the Eastern Sea Frontier and began patrols off New England. During this period, the cutter conducted several antisubmarine training exercises in Casco Bay, Maine. On 3 April 1942, while enroute to one such exercise, the cutter made her first depth-charge attack, dropping two charges on one doubtful contact and then another on a second contact.
Sailing south soon thereafter, Bibb received 10 days of repairs in the Boston Navy Yard in preparation for duty escorting convoys across the Atlantic. Departing Boston on 4 May in company with Leary (DD-158) and Badger (DD-126), she rendezvoused with convoy ONSJ-94 on a course for Iceland. After escorting the 13-ship convoy into Reykjavik for fuel, Bibb joined a local convoy defense unit operating out of Hvalfjördur. As her first mission, she drew the task of escorting four ships from convoy SCL-85 to Liverpool. During the transit, on 9 June, the cutter dropped a single depth-charge on a doubtful contact. Shortly thereafter, a school of stunned fish appeared on the surface, confirming the doubts about the nature of the contact. On 7 July, she assumed escort commander duties for convoy ONSJ-110, a section of 13 ships eastbound from Halifax to Iceland, and brought it into port without incident.
The cutter's next convoy was not so lucky. On the morning of 31 August, while she screened the port flank of Liverpool-bound convoy SC-97, Bibb's crew witnessed torpedo hits and explosions that quickly sank the Panamanian freighter Capira and the Norwegian freighter Bronxville. Throughout the rest of the day, Bibb covered the convoy's flank while British escorts drove off the attacking U-609. Although radio intercepts indicated the presence of more enemy submarines closing the area, the arrival of friendly patrol planes over the convoy prevented further attacks. Bibb then covered a detachment of 11 merchant ships which broke off for Iceland and arrived at Reykjavik on 3 September.
Standing out of the harbor on 21 September, Bibb and Ingham (WPG-32) shepherded 10 ships to a rendezvous with convoy SC-100 before proceeding to a position some 700 miles southwest of Iceland. Once there, she searched for survivors of steamship Penmar, sunk four days before. Bibb's lookouts spotted a red flare on the 26th; and, three hours later, she came across debris that led her to a drifting lifeboat and a raft. Over the next two hours, she rescued 61 Penmar survivors while Ingham picked up eight more from sunk steamship Tennessee. After rejoining SC-100 on the 28th, the cutters then rendezvoused with SCL-101, an eastbound seven-ship detachment heading for Iceland, and shepherded it into Reykjavik on 2 October.
After escorting another convoy section to Iceland on 29 October, Bibb covered Nova as that steamship dropped off Army supplies and picked up passengers at points along the southern coast of Iceland. She then returned to convoy escort duty, delivering five merchant ships to a westbound convoy on 15 November despite high seas and gale-force winds. After six months of duty in Icelandic waters, Bibb needed an overhaul badly; so she departed Reykjavik on 25 November and joined the screen of westbound ONS-148. With the arrival of friendly air cover on 5 December, Bibb left the convoy and steamed into Argentia, Newfoundland on the 7th.
Following a week of local escort duty, the highlight of which was escorting two Russian submarines to Argentia, Bibb sailed south for the Boston Navy Yard, arriving there on 15 December. She received repairs to her hull and machinery there until 16 January 1943. On the 25th, she proceeded to Argentia, whence she escorted Saturn (AF-40) to St. John's, Newfoundland, on 31 January. The cutter returned to sea that same day and rendezvoused with the 61 ships of eastbound convoy SC-118.
On 3 February, intelligence reports indicated the presence of several U-boats in the convoy' vicinity. The next day, Bibb obtained two high-frequency, direction-finding (HF/DF) bearings on submarine radio transmissions. These she forwarded to British escorts HMS Vimy (D.33) and HMS Beverley (H.64), which later sank U-187. Despite this success, other U-boats pressed their attacks and sank eight ships, six of them after midnight on 7 February. Later that morning, Bibb sighted lifeboats and rescued 202 survivors of the sunk transport Henry S. Mallory. Six hours later, after helping to drive off U-456, the cutter picked up another 33 survivors from the Greek merchant ship Kalliopi. After breaking off from the main convoy on the 9th, Bibb escorted seven ships into Reykjavik on 14 February.
The cutter spent the next three weeks operating in Icelandic waters, escorting coastal traffic, collecting stragglers, and guiding merchant ships through the swept channel into port. On 7 March, she got underway to help protect convoy SC-121, then under attack by half a dozen U-boats. Arriving in the convoy area on the 9th, Bibb helped drive off these boats but not before they sank five merchant ships. The cutter screened Melrose Abbey as that rescue ship recovered survivors and, owing to worsening weather, stopped herself to pick up five survivors on the 10th. She also came across the detached bow and stern of a torpedoed tanker and sank these "hazards to navigation" with gunfire and depth charges.
Returning to Reykjavik on 15 March, Bibb quickly refueled before escorting a small convoy into Iceland on the 23d. She repeated the same mission for another section of three ships on 5 April. The next day, she sailed in company with Vulcan (AR-5) and Ingham for Loch Foyle, Ireland. From there, the ships journeyed back across the Atlantic to Norfolk where Vulcan parted company and put into port, while the cutters headed on to Boston, arriving on 19 April. Following a 10-day availability, Bibb proceeded to Casco Bay, Maine, for antiaircraft exercises in preparation for North African convoy duty.
After forming up Task Force (TF) 66 off New York on 14 May, Bibb helped escort the 80-ship convoy UGS-8A to Casablanca. On the 26th, the cutter spotted a periscope close aboard, opened fire with her 20-millimeter machineguns, and closed for a "hedgehog" attack. These were quickly followed by a full pattern of depth charges. Although she soon spotted a 30-yard oil slick, the attack produced no further result. A few days later, Bibb left the convoy with a 27-ship detachment and, on 2 June, steamed into Delpit Basin, Casablanca. A week later, the cutter helped escort the return convoy to New York, arriving on 28 June.
On 9 July, Bibb and four destroyers escorted a section of UGS-12 to Norfolk, during which voyage the cutter dropped nine depth charges on a sound contact off New Jersey. Despite oil and light debris floating to the surface, Bibb lost contact and could not follow up the attack. After joining with more ships off Norfolk on the 11th, the convoy proceeded to North Africa, arriving at Casablanca on 28 July. The cutter stood out of the harbor on 8 August and, after meeting convoy GUS-11 off Gibraltar, returned to the United States at New York without incident on 26 August.
After a short diversion to Block Island, for antisubmarine warfare practice, Bibb served as escort commander for North Africa-bound convoy UGS-18. Departing Norfolk on 14 September, the cutter escorted the convoy across the central Atlantic and handed over the convoy to British warships waiting off Gibraltar on 3 October. After refueling at Casablanca, Bibb returned to New York with GUS-17 on the 26th.
Detached from central Atlantic convoy duty, Bibb and Ingham sailed south on 8 November. Arriving at San Juan, Puerto Rico, on the 13th, the two cutters spent the next five weeks escorting convoys between Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Port of Spain, Trinidad. Sailing to Norfolk on 26 December, the cutter received a five-week overhaul there before returning to Atlantic convoy duty.
Departing the Chesapeake Bay on 13 February 1944, Bibb helped escort the 78 ships of convoy UGS-33 to Casablanca, arriving there on 3 March. During the return trip, the cutter suffered an electrical power failure caused by tripped circuit breakers on the main switchboard, but she recovered within the hour and escorted the convoy into New York on the 23d. Following a week of shipyard availability, she sailed to Norfolk for another convoy escort mission to North Africa.
Underway on 13 April, Bibb joined the 102-ship convoy UGS-39 and, despite several false alarms, passed through the Strait of Gibraltar without incident. After detaching the convoy's Oran-bound and Algiers-bound echelons, Bibb delivered the remaining ships to Bizerte on 3 May. She guarded the return convoy home a week later, detaching ships to and picking up others from Bone, Oran, and Casablanca before arriving in New York on the 30th. The cutter departed Norfolk on 24 June with another convoy to North Africa, this one comprising 69 merchant ships and 19 LSTs. After dropping off ships in the Azores and at Casablanca, the convoy passed through the Strait of Gibraltar on 10 July.
Just after midnight two days later, intelligence reports warned of a probable enemy air raid. At 0115 on the 12th, Bibb began making smoke to cover part of the convoy from air observation. Less than two hours later, at 0330, more than two dozen German planes tried to attack the convoy. They were foiled by heavy smoke screens and random antiaircraft fire, and only two torpedoes, both of which missed, were sighted in the water. In the confusion, friendly antiaircraft fire wounded six Armed Guard sailors on board freighter Toltec. The convoy then proceeded to Bizerte, arriving there on the 14th.
After returning with convoy GUS-46 to New York on 8 August, Bibb conducted refresher training at Casco Bay through the end of the month. On 2 September, she began her last Atlantic convoy mission, escorting UGS-53 all the way to Bizerte, arriving on the 22d, and bringing GUS-53 back across the Atlantic. Relieved by Merrill (DE-392) while in transit, the cutter proceeded independently to Charleston, S.C., and arrived there in mid-October. She soon moved into the navy yard for conversion to a combined operations communications ship (AGC), in order to provide amphibious landing forces with a fast and maneuverable headquarters ship, and she remained there until 4 February 1945.
In company with Barry (APD-29), Bibb departed Charleston on the 15th, passed through the Panama Canal on 22 February, and headed into the Pacific the next day. While enroute to Pearl Harbor, Bibb went to the assistance of Narragansett (ATF-88) and floating drydock ARDC-12. After helping the tug rerig the drydock for tow, the cutter steamed to Manzanillo, Mexico, for two days of liberty. Departing that port on 3 March, Bibb reached Pearl Harbor on the 11th.
Ordered to the Ryukyu Islands to take part in Operation "Iceberg," Bibb sailed west on 25 March and, after stops at Eniwetok, Ulithi, and Guam, she arrived at Kerama Retto on 23 April. The cutter remained at this anchorage for the next 10 weeks, providing flagship services for Rear Admiral Alexander Sharp, Commander, Minecraft, Pacific Fleet. During this tenure, the anchorage suffered seven mass "kamikaze" attacks by Japanese aircraft. Bibb fired on enemy planes numerous times; including 28 April when a kamikaze hit transport (fitted for the evacuation of wounded) Pinkney (APH-2), on 1 May during a kamikaze attack on Terror (CM-5), and again on 6 May when her 5-inch guns helped drive off a torpedo bomber spotted over Hokaji Island. She also fired on a Japanese fighter that closed her position on 21 June, helping Kenneth Whiting (AV-14) and YMS-331 to shoot down the kamikaze before it could crash any of the American ships.
Bibb proceeded to Buckner Bay on 7 July, where she continued to serve as flagship for Pacific Fleet Minecraft through the end of the war on 15 August. Aside from five typhoon evasion sorties, she remained at Okinawa for the next four months. After the Commander, Minecraft, shifted his flag to Terror (CM-5) on 10 September, Bibb served as a YMS supply and provision ship before joining TG 52.9 as flagship on 11 October. She finally departed for home on 1 December and, after a brief stop at Pearl Harbor, arrived at San Diego on the 19th. While there, Bibb was holed by oil barge YO-200 during refueling operations. Following temporary repairs, the cutter sailed south, passed through the Panama Canal on the 28th, and moored in Boston Harbor in early January 1946.
Repaired and converted back to a weather ship that spring, Bibb resumed her old mission of ocean station weather ship out of Boston. Other Coast Guard duties included search and rescue missions, law enforcement patrols, and occasional Coast Guard Academy cadet cruises. The main purposes of her ocean weather station patrols were to report daily weather conditions and to provide air-sea rescue service for trans-Atlantic aircraft flights. The cutter shifted her homeport to New Bedford, Mass., in 1947.
During one of Bibb's first patrols out of New Bedford, the cutter received the news that the Bermuda Sky Queen, a Boeing 314 four-engine passenger flying boat operated by Pan American airlines, had run into strong head winds on the night of 13 October. Having passed the point of no return that evening, the pilot notified Bibb that the plane was low on fuel and had to ditch at sea some 660 miles off Newfoundland. At 0804 the following morning, the flying boat eased down in a trough between two waves within sight of Bibb without incident.
The heavy seas, estimated at running close to 30 feet, and bobbing of the aircraft complicated, and ultimately thwarted, Bibb's attempts to secure a line to the Bermuda Sky Queen, especially as the cutter's crew did not want to risk a collision. After disappointment rewarded her wait for the waves to abate, the cutter launched a motor surfboat and a 20-man life raft. Despite heavy waves and flooding, which eventually sank both raft and boat, 44 passengers were rescued before nightfall. The remaining 25 passengers and crew rode out the night on board the plane before being rescued the following morning. The entire rescue was accomplished without loss of life.
Several months later, Bibb was called on to make another rescue. On 15 February 1948, she steamed into 40-foot seas to reach the fishing grounds off Newfoundland and recovered 40 men and a dog from the foundering Portuguese fishing schooner Gasper.
Bibb spent the next 20 years operating on ocean stations off Norfolk, Bermuda, Newfoundland, and Labrador. Notable services during these patrols included towing several disabled fishing trawlers from the Grand Banks to Boston. In 1964, Bibb received upgrades to her communications and lifesaving gear. She put them to good use on 24 and 25 January 1966 when she towed the disabled merchant ship South African Victory into Boston. Later that year, on 1 May 1966, she was reclassified a high endurance cutter and was redesignated WHEC-31.
Transferred to Coast Guard Squadron Three on 4 July 1968, Bibb sailed to South Vietnam to participate in coastal patrol operations. Assigned to "Market Time" duty, the cutter carried out coastal surveillance and anti-infiltration missions through 28 February 1969. While on station, she tracked, boarded, and inspected hundreds of junks, sampans, and other waterborne craft in search of contraband weapons and cargo.
After returning to Boston in May, Bibb resumed her familiar ocean station, search and rescue, and law enforcement patrols. Highlights of this period in her career included towing the disabled merchant ship Caravan to safety from off Cape Fear on 2 November 1969 and evacuating a sick crewmen from the Greek merchant ship Christa in September 1972. In October 1973, the cutter shifted home port to New Bedford.
Later that decade, the cutter took on a role in the increasing effort to interdict drug smuggling along the east coast. This included Operation "Wagonwheel," a multi-agency law enforcement operation intended to cut the flow of contraband through the West Indies. On 17 July 1982, Bibb seized the Danish merchant ship Grimurkamban about 270 miles southeast of Cape Cod after her boarding party discovered 60 tons of marijuana on board. The cutter also seized the merchant ship Rio Panuco, also with 50 tons of marijuana on board, later that same month. In August, Bibb seized the fishing vessel Shanti after her crew threw 3 tons of marijuana overboard. Finally, on 10 November 1984, the cutter seized the Turkish ship Captain Joe about 100 miles east of Honduras after the boarding party discovered more than 11 tons of marijuana on board.
Decommissioned on 30 September 1985, she remained in Miami, Fla., until towed to a point off Key Largo and sunk as an artificial reef on 28 November 1987.
Bibb earned two battle stars for World War II service and two battle stars for Vietnam War service.
Timothy L. Francis
3 February 2006