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Valcour (AVP-55)


Image related to Valcour
Caption: USS Valcour as the administrative flagship of the Middle East Force (AGF-1). Her white color scheme is intended to help her air conditioning system cope with the area's heat.

An island in Lake Champlain, southeast of Plattsburgh, N.Y. A crucial naval engagement took place off that island on 11 October 1776, when a Continental force under General Benedict Arnold met a superior British fleet. Although the British bested Arnold's makeshift flotilla, the delay forced upon the enemy by the long time it took them to construct vessels for service on the lake resulted in a year's postponement of their attempt to invade the colonies, a year in which the Americans prepared to meet the British Army. When they finally started their thrust down the Lake Champlain, Lake George, and Hudson River corridor in the fall of 1777, the British Army was defeated and captured in the Battle of Saratoga.

(AVP-55: displacement 1,776; length 310'9"; beam 41'2"; draft 11'11" (mean); speed 18.5 knots; complement 367; armament 1 5-inch, 8 40-millimeter., 8 20-millimeter; class Barnegat)

Valcour (AVP-55) was laid down on 21 December 1942 at Houghton, Wash., by the Lake Washington Shipyard; launched on 5 June 1943; and sponsored by Mrs. H. C. Davis, the wife of Capt. H. C. Davis, the intelligence officer for the Thirteenth Naval District. Valcour was taken to the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Bremerton, Wash., for completion, but the heavy load of war damage repairs conducted by that yard meant that her construction assumed a lower priority than the repair of combatant vessels. As a result, Valcour was not completed until well after World War II ended. She was commissioned at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard (the former Puget Sound Navy Yard) on 5 July 1946, Cmdr. Barnet T. Talbott in command.

Ordered to the Atlantic Fleet upon completion of her shakedown, conducted between 9 August and 9 September off San Diego,Valcour transited the Panama Canal between 17 and 21 September and reached the New York Naval Shipyard on 26 September for post-shakedown availability. Valcour subsequently operated out of Norfolk, Va.; Quonset Point, R.I.; Cristobal, Canal Zone; and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; tending seaplanes of the Fleet Air Wings, Atlantic, through mid-1949.

Having received orders designating her as flagship for the Commander, Middle Eastern Force (ComMid-EastFor), Valcour departed Norfolk on 29 August 1949; steamed across the Atlantic and the Mediterranean; stopped at Gilbraltar and at Golfe Juan, France; transited the Suez Canal; and arrived at Aden, a British protectorate, on 24 September. Over the months that ensued, Valcour touched at ports on the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf: Bahrain, Kuwait; Ras Al Mishab, Basra; Ras Tanura, Muscat; Bombay, India; Colombo, Ceylon; and Karachi, Pakistan. She returned to Norfolk on 6 March 1950, via Aden, Suez; Pireaus, Greece; Sfax, Tunisia; and Gibraltar. Late in the summer, after a period of leave, upkeep, and training, the seaplane tender returned to the Middle East for her second tour as ComMidEastFor flagship which lasted from 5 September 1950 to 15 March 1951.

On the morning of 14 May 1951, two months after she returned to Norfolk, Valcour headed out to sea for independent ship exercises. While passing the collier SS Thomas Tracy off Cape Henry, Va., she suffered a steering casualty and power failure. As Valcour veered sharply across the path of the oncoming collier, she sounded warning signals. Thomas Tracy attempted to make an emergency turn to starboard but her bow soon plowed into the seaplane tender's starboard side, rupturing an aviation gas fuel tank.

An intense fire soon broke out and, fed by the high-test aviation gas, spread rapidly. To make matters worse, water began flooding into the ship's ruotured hull. Although fire and rescue parties on board went to work immediately, the gasoline-fed inferno forced many of the tender's crew to leap overboard into the swirling currents of Hampton Roads to escape the flames that soon enveloped Valcour's starboard side. The situation at that point looked so severe that Capt. Eugene Tatom, the tender's commanding officer, gave the order to abandon ship.

Thomas Tracy, meanwhile, fared better. Fires in that ship were largely confined to the forward hold and she suffered no injuries to her crew; she managed to return to Newport News with her cargo, 10,000 tons of coal, intact. Valcour, on the other hand, became the object of exhaustive salvage operations. Rescue ships, including the submarine rescue ship Sunbird (ASR-15) and the Coast Guard tug Cherokee (WAT-165) sped to the scene of the tragedy. Fire and rescue parties-in some cases forced to utilize gas masks-succeeded in bringing the blaze under control but not before 11 men had died, and 16 more had been injured. Another 25 were listed as "missing."

Towed back to Norfolk, reaching port at 0200 on the 15th, Valcour underwent an extensive overhaul over the ensuing months. During those repairs, improvements were made in shipboard habitability (air-conditioning was installed) and the removal of her single-mount 5-inch gun forward gave the ship a silhouette unique for ships in her class. The reconstruction task was finally completed on 4 December 1951.

Valcour rotated yearly between the United States and the Middle East over the next 15 years, conducting yearly deployments as one of the trio of ships in her class that served alternately as flagship for ComMidEastFor. There were several highlights to the ship's lengthy Middle East deployments. In July of 1953, during the ship's fourth cruise, Valcour aided a damaged cargo vessel in the Indian Ocean and then escorted her through a violent typhoon to Bombay, India. In May 1955, men from Valcour boarded the blazing and abandoned Italian tanker Argea Prima at the entrance to the Persian Gulf, even though the ship at the time was laden with a cargo of 72,000 barrels of crude oil, and proceeded to control the fires. Once the seaplane tender's fire and rescue party had performed their salvasre operation, Argea Prima's crew reboarded the ship; and she continued her voyage. Later, Valcour received a plaque from the owners of the tanker in appreciation of the assistance rendered to their ship.

Valcour performed her duties so efficiently that the Chief of Naval Operations congratulated ComMidEastFor for her outstanding contribution to good foreign relations and for her enhancement of the prestige of the United States. The ship was also adjudged the outstanding seaplane tender in the Atlantic Fleet in 1957 and was awarded the Battle Readiness and Excellence Plaque and the Navy "E" in recognition of the accomplishment. During Valcour's 1960 cruise, she became the first American ship in 48 years to visit the Seychelles Islands, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean. In 1963, Valcour earned her second Navy "E".

In between her deployments to the Middle East, Valcour conducted local operations out of Little Creek, Va.; Guantanamo Bay; and Kingston, Jamaica. In 1965, the ship qualified as a "blue nose" by crossing the Arctic Circle during operations in the Norwegian Sea.

She completed her 15th cruise on 13 March 1965 and soon thereafter was selected to continue those duties on a permanent basis. She was reclassified as a miscellaneous command flagship, AGF-1, on 15 December 1965 and departed the United States for the Middle East on 18 April 1966 for her 16th MidEastFor cruise.

Valcour's mission was that of command post, living facility, and communications center for ComMidEastFor and his staff of 15 officers. Demonstrating American interest and good will in that area of the globe, Valcour distributed textbooks, medicine, clothing, and domestic machinery (such as sewing machines, etc.) to the needy, under the auspices of Project Handclasp. Men from Valcour helped to promote good relations in the countries visited by assisting in the construction of orphanages and schools; by participating in public functions; and by entertaining dignitaries, military representatives, and civilians. In addition, while watching merchant shipping lanes, Valcour stood ready to rescue stricken ships and to evacuate Americans during internal crises.

Based at Bahrain--an independent sheikdom in the Persian Gulf== Valcour remained in the region, save for a winter overhaul at Norfolk in 1968-69, for the next five years. The ship became the permanent flagship for ComMidEastFor in 1971. Relieved as flagship by La Salle (LPD-3) in the spring of 1972, Valcour returned to Norfolk, Va., via Colombo; Singapore; Brisbane, Australia; Wellington, N.Z.; Tahiti; Panama; and Fort Lauderdale, Fla. After four days at the last-named port, she arrived at Norfolk on 11 November, completing the 18,132-mile voyage from the Middle East.

After being stripped of all usable gear over the ensuing months, Valcour was decommissioned on 15 January 1973 and shifted to the Inactive Ship Facility at Portsmouth, Va., so that she could be prepared for service as a test-bed for electromagnetic tests held under the auspices of the Naval Ordnance Laboratory (NOL), White Oak, Md. Her name was struck from the Navy list simultaneously with her decommissioning. Towed from Norfolk to Solomons Island, Md., branch of NOL the following March, she soon thereafter began her service as a test ship for the EMPRESS (Electromagnetic Pulse Radiation Environment Simulation for Ships) facility. The erstwhile seaplane tender and command ship was sold by the Navy in May 1977.

21 October 2005

Published: Fri Jun 24 23:41:47 EDT 2022