(CVE-108: dp. 11,373; l. 557'1"; b. 75'; ew. 105'2"; dr. 32'; s. 19 k.; cpl. 1.066; a. 2 5", 36 40mm., 20 20mm., ac. 34; cl. Commencement Bay)
The night naval battle of 6 July 1943 between an American cruiser-destroyer task group under Rear Admiral W. L. Ainsworth and a powerful Japanese destroyer force in a 5-mile-wide gulf between Kolobangara and New Georgia, Solomon Islands. The task group sank one enemy destroyer and drove a second ashore, while Japanese torpedoes sank cruiser Helena.
Vermillion Bay (CVE-108) was renamed Kula Gulf 6 November 1943; laid down by Todd-Pacific Shipyards, Inc., Tacoma, Wash., 16 December 1943; launched 15 August 1944; sponsored by Miss Dorothy Mott; completed by Wil-liamette Iron & Steel Corp., Portland, Oreg.; and commissioned at Portland 12 May 1945, Captain J. W. King in command.
After shakedown and night carrier training off the West Coast, Kula Gulf departed San Diego 5 August for operations with the 7th Fleet in the Western Pacific. Steaming via Pearl Harbor and the Marshalls, she arrived Leyte Gulf, Philippines, 14 September. During the next 2 months she patrolled the East China Sea out of Okinawa and shuttled planes between Saipan and Guam. Assigned to "Magic Carpet" duty, she departed Guam 17 November with 600 veterans of the Pacific fighting embarked and steamed to San Francisco, arriving 4 December. Between 10 December and 10 January 1946 she returned to the Far East; and, after embarking 1,520 returning veterans at Tientsin and Tsingtao, China, she sailed to the West Coast, reaching San Diego 26 January. She departed San Francisco for the East Coast 26 February, arrived Norfolk 16 March, decommissioned at Boston 3 July, and entered the Atlantic Reserve Fleet.
When the Korean conflict brought an urgent need for a greatly expanded fleet throughout the world, Kula Gulf recommissioned at Boston 15 February 1951, Captain Alden D. Schwarz in command. After shakedown out of Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the escort carrier departed Norfolk 6 August and carried a cargo of airplanes to Casablanca, French Morocco. Following her return to Norfolk 1 September, she spent the next 15 months training pilots of helicopter, air-antisubmarine, and fighter squadrons to strengthen U.S. forces in Korea.
During May 1952 Kula Gulf supported Marine helicopter maneuvers on Vieques Island, Puerto Rico; and in October she operated as ASW screen to troop transports bound for Labrador. Following a modernization overhaul from January to July 1953, she resumed air-antisubmarine maneuvers in the Caribbean and off the Atlantic coast.
From 1953 to 1955 Kula Gulf helped perfect ASW techniques by participating in search and kill exercises with ships of the Atlantic Fleet. She played an important role in the development of more effective antisubmarine warfare tactics that help the Navy control the seas. In addition to ASW development, she also aided the advancement of helicopter warfare tactics, which are now so important during the struggle to repel Communist aggression in South Vietnam. Kula Gulf supported Marine vertical assault landing exercises at Vieques Island between February and April 1955. After returning to Norfolk 26 April, she entered Boston Naval Shipyard 13 May and Philadelphia Naval Shipyard 19 August for inactivation overhauls. She commissioned at Philadelphia 15 December 1955 and joined the Atlantic Reserve Fleet. She was reclassified AKV-8 on 7 May 1959.
As Communist aggression in South Vietnam increased, the United States expanded efforts to protect the integrity and independence of the Republic of South Vietnam. This assistance posed vast logistic demands and created the need for additional sea power. Because of this urgent need, Kula Gulf was transferred to MSTS 30 June 1965 for use as an aircraft ferry. During the summer of 1965 she carried helicopters and troops of the 1st Cavalry Division from the East Coast to Vietnam. Since then she has continued aircraft shuttle operations between West Coast ports and American bases along the coast of South Vietnam into 1967.