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Canisteo (AO-99) 


A tributary of the Susquehanna River in western New York State. The river's name is obscure, likely coming from the  Algonquin subfamily of American indigenous languages, meaning either "pickerel" or "head of water."

(AO-99: displacement 7,295; length 553'0"; beam 45'0"; draft 32'4"; speed 18.0 knots.; complement 304; armament 1 5-inch, 4 3-inch; 8 40 millimeter, 8 20 millimeter; class Ashtabula; type T3-S2-A3)

Canisteo (AO-99) laid down on 11 January 1945 at Sparrows Point, Md. by Bethlehem-Sparrows Point Shipyard, Inc., under a Maritime Commission contract (M.C. Hull 2561); launched on 6 July 1945, sponsored by Mrs. J. N. Chambers; commissioned on 3 December 1945, Lt. Cmdr. Edward L. Denton, D-V(G), USNR, in command.

Canisteo cleared Norfolk, Va. on 4 February 1946 for Melville, R.I., where she loaded diesel oil for naval units taking part in the occupation of Germany. Returning from Bremerhaven and Farge, Germany, she carried out training operations in the Caribbean and then sailed to Iceland and Greenland, returning to New York City on 27 May.

The tanker sailed south from Norfolk on 27 November 1946 as part of Operation Highjump, the largest Antarctic expedition up to that time. Steaming through the Panama Canal, Canisteo reached Scott and Peter Islands and, through her logistic support, played a critical role in this exploratory and scientific project, carrying on a traditional Navy role of expanding the nation’s knowledge and understanding. Canisteo sailed north to Norfolk up the east coast of South America, arriving on 23 April 1947 after calling at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Caribbean ports.

Between 4 June 1947 and 23 October 1948, Canisteo served four tours of duty supporting the Sixth Fleet by carrying oil from Bahrain to the Mediterranean. The winter and spring of 1948 – 1949 found Canisteo on fueling duty from Norfolk to Caribbean ports, as well as to Argentia, Newfoundland, and Grondal, Greenland.

Caption: Destroyer Purdy (DD-734) refuels from Canisteo (AO-99) alongside the oiler’s starboard side, while aircraft carrier Leyte (CV-32) does the same on her port side, during U.S. Atlantic Fleet operations, 4 March 1949. Canisteo’s sistership Caloosahatchee (AO-98) replenishes the large carrier Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVB-42) in the distance. (U.S. Navy Photograph 80-G-419291, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Branch, College Park, Md.)

Over the following years, Canisteo developed a pattern of alternating exercises in the Caribbean with overhauls and tours of duty in the Mediterranean, supporting many fleet exercises. She was deployed for occupation duty in the Pacific zone from 12 November 1949 to 17 January 1950. She was then assigned to occupation duty in Europe from 24 January 1951 to 10 May 1952. Between 26 August and 11 October 1952, she served in NATO’s (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) Operation Mainbrace. She returned to European occupation duty from 1 December 1953 to 13 March 1954. Between 16 and 20 September 1956, she conducted joint operations with the Royal Canadian Navy.

A critical innovation in the submarine ballistic missile program was developing the submarine inertial navigation system (SINS), which allowed submarines to accurately fix their position without having to surface. Called Project Mast (short for “marine stabilization”), the first prototype of SINS was completed by the end of 1953. It was tested on land in January 1954 and the first shipboard tests were conducted on Canisteo during a 15-day round-trip from Norfolk to Long Island, N.Y.

USS Canisteo (AO-99)
Caption: Canisteo refuels the attack aircraft carrier Saratoga (CVA-60) (R) and the radar picket destroyer Newman K. Perry (DDR-883) (L) at sea off the coast of Florida, May 1959. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 106432)

In late January 1961, a modern-day pirate, Henrique Galvao, and 50 to 100 armed men seized the 21,000-ton Portuguese luxury liner Santa Maria. Disguised as a paralytic, he commandeered the ship and held it from 23 January to 2 February, when he allowed the 607 passengers to land in Recife, Brazil. Galvao turned the ship over to the Brazilians and was granted political asylum. Canisteo had chased the pirates 3000 miles and was present in Recife for their surrender.

On 8 April 1961, she sailed from Norfolk to Halifax, Nova Scotia, as part of Operation New Broom, conducting underway replenishment of US and Canadian ships. On the 17th, Canisteo and submerged submarine Torsk (SS-423) collided. Torsk had her periscopes and radio mast sheared off, and Canisteo received a 4.5 square-foot hole on her port side with a 12'6" tear in her hull bottom. Torsk was escorted into Halifax Harbor, and Canisteo was detached and sent back to Norfolk, trailing oil in her wake. She arrived on the 19th, unloaded her fuel, and had her hull inspected by Navy divers. The hole and rent were patched on the 21st.

Two Mediterranean deployments occupied Canisteo between mid-1961 and mid-1962. In October 1962, she was dispatched to support the naval quarantine of Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis. She returned to the Mediterranean in 1965, calling at Rota and Cartagena, Spain, and Malta. She returned to Norfolk on 14 March. During the Dominican Republic civil war, from 24 April through 3 September 1965, Canisteo fueled ships assigned to land marines to suppress an alleged communist takeover. In October, she journeyed above the Arctic Circle, qualifying her crew for a “Bluenose” certification. She then sailed to Cape Town, South Africa, to refuel US ships homeward bound from southeast Asia. Thus, the ship crossed the Arctic Circle and the Equator in two months.

From 11 to 15 November 1966, Canisteo was part of the recovery team for Gemini 12, which splashed down off the Florida coast.

On 19 January 1967, Canisteo began “jumboization” at Bethlehem-Sparrows Point Shipyard, Md. A 400-foot midsection, built entirely new from the keel up, was inserted and welded between her original bow and stern. This replaced her old midsection and increased the vessel's liquid cargo capacity by over one-third. Her new configuration closely resembled the more modern replenishment oiler, carrying dry and refrigerated stores, ammunition, and multiple fuel types.

On Mediterranean deployments between October 1969 and May 1970, Canisteo replenished oil and supplies on 341 occasions. In June 1970, she was ordered from Norfolk to the Pacific. En route, she received orders to rendezvous with the amphibious assault ship (helicopter) Guam (LPH-9), flying disaster assistance missions to earthquake-ravaged Peru. Canisteo transited the Panama Canal, crossed the Equator, and met Guam long enough to refuel her. She then turned immediately around to retrace her track. She returned to Norfolk after 26 days, two oceans, and 6,000 miles at sea.

Canisteo deployed to Vietnam between October 1970 and June 1972. She returned to the East Coast and then deployed to the Mediterranean again, with two deployments between September 1972 and June 1974. In the fall of 1974, she operated again in the Caribbean.

Following a regularly scheduled overhaul between March and August 1975, Canisteo departed on a six-month Mediterranean deployment between April and October 1976. She boxed the Mediterranean, from Spain to Turkey to Italy and back to Spain before sailing home to Norfolk, arriving on 25 October. During 1977, Canisteo was deployed to the Caribbean (January to March) and the North Atlantic (October to December). In 1978 and 1979, she again cruised the Mediterranean. She underwent an overhaul between August 1979 and January 1980.

Canisteo spent most of the 1980s deployed to the North Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Caribbean operating areas. In the Caribbean in 1986 and 1987, she earned two successive Meritorious Unit Commendations from the Coast Guard for her assistance in countering illegal drug smuggling efforts. Following the 28 January 1986 space shuttle Challenger disaster, she supported debris search and recovery operations off the Florida coast.

In late 1987, Canisteo earned uncommon praise during a deployment to the Mediterranean. En route, she aided the salvage ship Grapple (ARS-53), which was towing minesweepers to the Persian Gulf. Grapple had encountered heavy weather and was running low on fuel. Canisteo devised an impromptu rig to refuel Grapple that did not require her to break her tows.

Canisteo was decommissioned on 2 October 1989 and was transferred to the Maritime Administration for layup in the James River Reserve Fleet, Va., at 1510 on 5 November 1990. She was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 31 August 1992. Canisteo was sold for scrapping to Able UK, Hartlepool, Teesside, England, on 6 October 2003 and removed from the Reserve Fleet under tow, arriving in the United Kingdom on 13 November.

Canisteo and three other decommissioned Navy ships - Caloosahatchee (AO-98), Canopus (AS-34), and Compass Island (AG-153) - all arrived at Able UK under the same contract and became known as “The Hartlepool Four.” Local protests and legal challenges, alleging unacceptable amounts of toxic substances contained on and in the vessels, however, delayed scrapping until Able UK secured the appropriate waste management licensing in August 2008. Scrapping of Canisteo commenced in March 2010 and was completed by August.


Commanding Officers (Date Assumed Command)

Lt. Cmdr. Edward L. Denton (3 December 1945)

Capt. William Kirtin, Jr. (9 March 1946)

Capt. Edward K. Walker (October 1946)

Capt. George W. Ashford (August 1947)

Capt. John C. Woelfel (1948)

Capt. Donald W. Gladney, Jr. (August 1948)

Capt. Robert H. Wilkinson (1950)

Capt. George B. Madden (1951)

Capt. William N. Deragon (April 1952)

Capt. George B. Abbot (18 July 1952)

Capt. Ennis W. Taylor (21 July 1953)

Capt. Archie T. Wright, Jr. (11 July 1954)

Capt. John R. Cain, Jr. (2 November 1955)

Capt. O.B. Murphy (19 October 1956)

Capt. Joseph R. Penland (19 October 1957)

Capt. Arthur T. Decker (2 September 1958)

Capt. Thomas F. Pollack (12 June 1959)

Capt. Thomas W. Foster (18 June 1960)

Capt. Charles L. Burbage (31 July 1961)

Capt. Norman E. Chalmers (4 August 1962)

Capt. Ames C. Longino, Jr. (17 July 1963)

Capt. Philip P. Cole (22 July 1964)

Capt. Hope Strong, Jr. (19 July 1965)

Capt. D. H. Zwemke (23 July 1966)

Lt. Cmdr. Warren P. Richards (18 January 1967)

Capt. Raymond Anderson, Jr. (6 October 1968)

Capt. James B. Schaffer (14 March 1969)

Capt. George R. Parish, Jr. (9 June 1970)

Capt. John C. Dixon, Jr. (21 September 1971)

Capt. David E. Leue (7 October 1972)

Capt. James B. Kramer, Jr. (12 March 1974)

Capt. Edward H Martin (10 November 1975)

Capt. Richard K. Halverson (15 July 1977)

Capt. Thomas E.  Shanahan (14 October 1978)

Capt. Arthur H. Frederickson (14 March 1980)

Capt. Richard E. Allsopp (9 October 1981)

Capt. Timothy W. Wright (8 April 1983)

Capt. Dayton W. Ritt (7 September 1984)

Capt. Robert S. Cole (3 July 1986)

Capt. Donald T. Bradbury (2 November 1988)

Lt. Cmdr. George L. Roemmich (14 July 1989)


Gary J. Candelaria

30 May 2024

Published: Fri May 31 07:36:58 EDT 2024