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Wachapreague (AGP-8)


An inlet on the eastern shore of the state of Virginia.

(AGP-8: displacement 2,592; length 310'9"; beam 41'1"; draft 13'6"; speed 18.2 knots; complement 246; armament 2 5-inch, 8 40-milimeter, 8 20-millimeter, 2 depth charge tracks; class Oyster Bay)

Wachapreague (AVP-56) was laid down on 1 February 1943 at Houghton, Wash., by the Lake Washington Shipyards; reclassified as a motor torpedo boat tender and redesignated AGP-8 on 2 February; launched on 10 July 1943; sponsored by Mrs. E. L. Barr; and commissioned on 17 May 1944, Lt. Cmdr. Harold A. Stewart, USNR, in command.

Following her shakedown training out of San Diego, Calif., Wachapreague got underway on 18 July 1944 for Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, en route to the South Pacific. Soon thereafter, she stopped briefly at Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides, and called at Brisbane, Australia, on 17 August, before reaching her ultimate destination, Milne Bay, New Guinea, three days later.

She dropped anchor at Motor Torpedo Boat Base 21--at that time the largest PT boat operating base in the Pacific; reported to Commander, Motor Torpedo Boats, Seventh Fleet; and commenced tending the 10 PT boats from Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron (MTBRon) 12. This unit had previously taken a heavy toll of Japanese barge traffic and had wreaked much havoc upon enemy shore installations, in almost nightly actions, during the New Guinea campaign. As Allied forces wrapped up the New Guinea operations, Wachapreague received an additional five boats from MTBRon 7 as the Navy prepared for operations to liberate the Philippine Islands.

On Friday, 13 October 1944, Wachapreague sailed in company with Half Moon (AVP-26), two Army craft and two additional PT tenders, for Leyte, 1,200 miles away. The 45 PTs were convoyed by the larger ships, refuelled while underway at sea, and successfully completed the voyage under their own power. Slowing to nine knots, Wachapreague fueled two boats simultaneously, one alongside to starboard and one astern, eventually replenishing the fuel supply of all 15 of her brood. A brief two-day respite at Kossol Roads, Palau Islands, for repairs and a further refueling of the PTs, preceded the final leg of the voyage.

While Wachapreague dropped anchor at northern San Pedro Bay off Leyte, her PTs, fresh and ready for action, immediately entered Leyte Gulf on 21 October 1944, the day after the initial landings on Leyte. Three days later, the tender shifted to Liloan Bay, a small anchorage which scarcely afforded the ship room to swing with the tide. Soon after her arrival at this body of water off Panoan Island, 65 air miles south of San Pedro Bay, Wachapreague contacted the Philippine guerrilla radio network for a mutual exchange of information as to Japanese forces lurking in the area.

On the afternoon of the 24th, upon receipt of word that three powerful Japanese task forces were approaching from three directions, Wachapreague's PTs sped to action stations. In the van of the southern enemy force steamed two battleships and a heavy cruiser, screened by four destroyers; 30 miles behind came the second group, consisting of three cruisers and four destroyers.

American PT's met the enemy's southern force head-on; three coordinated destroyer torpedo attacks soon followed; while American battleships and cruisers under Rear Admiral Oldendorf deployed across the northern end of Surigao Strait to "cross the T." The devastation the American warships wreaked upon this enemy force was nearly total. Only one Japanese ship, Shigure, emerged from the fiery steel holocaust now known as the Battle of Surigao Strait.

PT's from MTBRon 12 then threw the second task group off balance at the head of the strait, slamming a torpedo into the side of light cruiser Abukuma and forcing the enemy ship out of the battle line, badly-damaged. The Japanese flagship, heavy cruiser Nachi, collided with another ship in the melee and found her own speed reduced to 18 knots. This second echelon of Japanese ships, correctly surmising that the first had fallen upon some hard times, then fled, hotly pursued by American planes which administered the coup de grace to sink the already-crippled Abukuma and destroyer Shiranui.

Meanwhile, to the north of the strait, Rear Adm. Clifton A. F.Sprague's escort carrier task group held off a powerful Japanese battleship-cruiser force off Samar, while Adm. William F. Halsey, Jr's Third Fleet units crippled a Japanese battleship-carrier force off Cape Engano. In these surface actions and in the ensuing air attacks, the Japanese lost a total of four carriers, a battleship, six cruisers and four destroyers, while suffering damage to three carriers, five cruisers, and seven destroyers. The Battle for Leyte Gulf sounded the death knell of the Japanese Navy. As Adm. Chester W. Nimitz later wrote: "Our invasion of the Philippines was not even slowed down, and the losses sustained by the Japanese reduced their fleet from what had once been a powerful menace to the mere nuisance level."

Yet, while the Japanese capacity for seaborne operations lessened, they nevertheless could still strike back from the skies. While Wachapreague's ship's force labored mightily to repair the badly damaged PT-194, a Japanese plane attacked the ship, only to be driven off by a heavy antiaircraft barrage. Later on the 25th, the tender shifted to Hinunagan Bay for refuelling operations that would enable her six PTs to return to San Pedro Bay. Japanese nuisance attacks from the air continued, however, and a dive bomber attacked Wachapreague as the tender was just completing fueling operations with PT-134. As the boat pulled away from the larger ship's side, a Japanese bomb landed some 18 feet from its stern, killing one man and wounding four on board PT-134. Moving out under cover of a smokescreen, Wachapreague vacated her anchorage just before 14 Japanese planes struck and, while clearing the bay, fired on three twin-motored Mitsubishi G4M Type 1 land attack planes (Betty), claiming two kills as one Betty crashed into the sea and a second, trailing a banner of smoke, crashed behind a nearby island.

Wachapreague arrived at San Pedro Bay late on the 26th and conducted tending operations at that site until 13 November 1944. During this time, her PTs operated with devastating effect against Japanese shipping in the Ormoc Bay and Mindanao Sea areas. On the 13th, her task completed in these waters for the time being, Wachapreague sailed in company with Willoughby (AGP-9) for Mios Woendi. Returning two weeks later, Wachapreague now tended a total of 22 boats-from MTBRons 13, 16, and 28-as well as six more from MTBRon 36 and two from MTBRon 17, at San Pedro Bay. The tender remained at San Pedro until 4 January 1945, when she headed for Lingayen in company with MTBRons 28 and 36.

At noon on the day of departure, a Japanese suicide aircraft dived into a merchantman 100 yards ahead-a prelude to the dusk attack in which seven Japanese planes participated. In the latter action, one plane crashed in the sea some 100 yards ahead of the PT tender; another came under fire as it plunged toward the U.S. freighter Kyle B. Johnson; while a third headed for Wachapreague, only to be knocked into the sea by a heavy antiaircraft barrage. Later that evening, PT-382 came alongside the tender and transferred two men who had been blown overboard from Kyle B. Johnson during the earlier heavy air action.

Wachapreague entered Lingayen Gulf on the 13th and anchored near the town of Damortis. Three days later, she shifted her anchorage to Port Sual to tend boats from MTBRons 28 and 36. These boats gradually extended their patrols northward to the coastal towns of Vigan and Aparri, wreaking havoc on enemy barge traffic and shipping along the northwest coast of Luzon, shelling shore installations and destroying some 20 barges. Wachapreague meanwhile continued to make all electrical and engine repairs for the squadron PTs and handled all major communications until she departed Lingayen on 12 March 1945 to replenish at Leyte.

Underway again on 23 April 1945, the tender accompanied MTBRon 36 to Dutch North Borneo and took part in the invasion of Tarakan Island. While the guns still pounded the shore and the invasion itself was underway, Wachapreague entered the bay on 1 May to establish an advance base for her boats. For the next four months, the motor torpedo boat tender operated from this bay, tending MTBRon 36 boats while they in turn conducted daily offensive runs up the coast of Borneo.

In the course of these operations, the PTs sought out and destroyed Japanese shipping at Tawao, Cowie Harbor, Noneokan, Dutch North Borneo, shelling and rocketing shore installations. As the Japanese later attempted evacuation by small boats and rafts, the PTs netted some 30 prisoners. In addition to these tasks, the PT's assisted LST retractions from the beachheads by speeding across the water astern of the landing ships and creating swells which enabled the tank landing ships to back off and float free.

Wachapreague tended PTs after the end of the war, basing at Tarakan, until she headed home and arrived at San Francisco, Calif., on 5 December 1945. After upkeep at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard, Vallejo, Calif., Wachapreague got underway for the east coast on 20 March 1946 and reported at Boston on 6 April for inactivation. She was decommissioned on 10 May and transferred outright to the United States Coast Guard on the 27th. Her name was stricken from the Navy Register on 5 June 1946.

Renamed McCulloch, in honor of the financier, Hugh McCulloch (1808 to 1895), who served as Secretary of the Treasury for Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Johnson, and Chester A. Arthur, and designated WAVP-386, the ship initially operated out of Boston, and later into the 1970's out of Wilmington, N.C., as a weather patrol ship. Spending an average of 21 days per month at sea, McCulloch patrolled the direct line of air routes to Europe, relayed weather data to the United States Weather Bureau, and maintained an air-sea rescue station for overseas civilian and military flights. Subsequently redesignated WHEC-386, McCulloch remained engaged in these duties until more modern techniques of weather reporting and data gathering came into use and thus made the seagoing weather ships obsolete.

As one of the seven former Barnegat-class ships transferred by the Coast Guard to the South Vietnamese Navy in 1971 and 1972, McCulloch was renamed Ngo Kuyen (HQ-17). The former coast guard cutter served that Southeast Asian republic as one of the largest and most heavily armed units of its navy, on patrol and coastal interdiction duties during the Vietnam War against the communists. In the spring of 1975, with the fall of the Saigon government, Ngo Kuyen, heavily laden with refugees, fled to the Philippines. As she and her sisters had become ships without a country, the ship was acquired by the Philippine government in 1975, and the transfer was made formal on 5 April 1976. She was subsequently renamed Gregorio de Filar (PS-8) and served under that name into decommissioned in May 1985.

Wachapreague received four battle stars for her World War II service in the Asiatic-Pacific Theater.

Robert J. Cressman

Updated, 30 March 2022

Published: Wed Mar 30 09:31:31 EDT 2022