Naval History and Heritage Command

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Henson (T-AGS-63)


The first U.S. Navy ship named for Matthew Alexander Henson (8 August 1866–9 March 1955). For additional information see Matthew Alexander Henson at the Naval History and Heritage Command and at Arlington National Cemetery.

(T-AGS-63: displacement 5,000; length 329'; beam 58'; draft 19'; speed 16 knots; complement 51; armament none; class Pathfinder)

Henson (T-AGS-63) was laid down on 13 October 1995 at Moss Point, Miss., by Halter Marine, Inc.; launched on 21 October 1996; and placed in service with the Military Sealift Command (MSC) on 20 February 1998.

A magnitude 7.3 earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince, Haiti, killing an estimated 230,000 people, on 12 January 2010. Henson took part in Operation Unified Response — U.S. humanitarian aid to the victims. Most of the ships involved came about from Haitian waters by 24 March, although relief efforts continued into the summer.

In the first half of September 2010, Henson joined the Ocean Technology Foundation, British Royal Navy, and the French Navy during an unsuccessful search for the remains of frigate Bonhomme Richard in the North Sea off the coast of Yorkshire, England. Capt. John Paul Jones of the Continental Navy broke his flag in Bonhomme Richard in command of a squadron that fought a British convoy during the Battle of Flamborough Head on 23 September 1779. Jones seized British fifth-rate Serapis but Bonhomme Richard sank as the result of heavy damage sustained in the bitterly fought engagement.

Oceanographers from the Naval Oceanographic Office planned and coordinated the Navy’s participation in the search, supported by representatives from the U.S. Naval Academy, Office of Naval Research (ONR), and Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC), who were to assist in the search and identify any artifacts the searchers located. The expedition’s planning process included use of a computer program developed by the Naval Academy’s faculty that integrated historical data, crew actions, and last known position to establish where the ship most likely lay. Henson used her towed side-scan sonar, along with unmanned underwater vehicles with side-scan and multibeam sonar, supplemented by ONR’s unmanned underwater vehicles equipped with buried mine identification (BMI). The BMI system consisted of an ultra-sensitive laser scalar gradiometer, and a side-scan sonar and electro-optical imager that used technology to identify mines buried in the ocean bottom to find Bonhomme Richard. A French mine-hunter embarked divers that were to dive on any artifacts that required closer inspection.

“Over their years of active service,” Rear Adm. Jonathan W. White, Commander, Naval Meteorology and Oceanography Command, explained as the voyage began, “the Navy’s oceanographic ships have sailed hundreds of thousands of nautical miles collecting critical oceanographic and hydrographic data that enable decision superiority across the spectrum of naval operations. I consider it an honor that our cutting edge naval ocean survey technology now will now be used to forge a connection with this historic ship and its commander and U.S. Navy hero, John Paul Jones.”

Despite those preparations, however, the large number of shipwrecks in the area, combined with nearly a century of fishing trawler operations, complicated the searches and the expedition failed to locate the frigate’s wreck.

Detailed history under construction.

Mark L. Evans

3 December 2015

Published: Thu Dec 03 15:06:16 EST 2015