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Webster (ARV-2)


Walter Wynne Webster, born on 28 July 1888 in Fargo, North Dakota, was appointed a midshipman on 6 July 1907 and graduated from the Naval Academy with the Class of 1911. He spent his initial tours of sea duty in North Dakota (Battleship No. 29) and the tender Panther before he began post-graduate studies at the Naval Academy in 1913. He then took a course of instruction in naval architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Later commissioned as an assistant naval constructor, with the rank of lieutenant (junior grade), on 15 May 1914, Webster served in the hull divisions at the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Bremerton, Wash., and at the New York Navy Yard, Brooklyn, N.Y., before he went to Washington, D.C., for his first tour of duty in the Bureau of Aeronautics. In the years that followed, he became known as one of the pioneers of naval aviation, expending his energies in the development of better naval aircraft for the nation's fledgling naval air arm.

Commissioned as naval constructor, with the rank of lieutenant commander, on 6 June 1922 and given his naval observer's wings on 22 July of the same year, Webster was detached from his duty in Washington on 25 September 1925 for "duty involving flying" at the Naval Aircraft Factory, Philadelphia Navy Yard, where he arrived on 2 November 1925. He subsequently returned to Washington in the summer of 1929 for another tour in the Bureau of Aeronautics.

Subsequently taking instruction at the Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Fla., in heavier-than-air flight from 30 October 1933 to 20 June 1934, Webster went briefly to the Bureau of Aeronautics once more from 26 October to 19 November, before he became Force Materiel Officer on the staff of Rear Adm. Henry V. Butler, Jr., Commander Aircraft, Battle Force, on 21 December 1934. He later became manager of the Naval Aircraft Factory at Philadelphia, reporting for duty on 25 June 1936, a post in which he served until his detachment on 24 June 1940.

After another brief Washington tour, Webster resumed his duties as manager of the Naval Aircraft Factory on 26 December 1941, less than a month after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. While serving in that post, Webster was killed in a plane crash outside of Chester, Pa., on 16 March 1943.

(ARV-2: displacement 14,350; length 441'6"; beam 56'11"; draft 22'0"; speed 12.5 knots; complement 578; armament 1 5-inch, 8 40 millimeter, 6 20 millimeter; class Chourre; type EC2-S-C1)

On 30 March 1944, prior to the beginning of work on her construction, Masbate (ARG-1) was renamed Webster and reclassified as an aircraft repair ship ARV-2. The ship's keel was laid down under a Maritime Commission contract (M.C.E. Hull 2666) on 1 July 1944 at Baltimore, Md., by the Bethlehem Fairfield Shipyard, Inc. Sponsored by Mrs. Walter W. Webster, the widow of the ship's namesake, the ship was launched on 5 August 1944 and commissioned at Baltimore on 17 March 1945, Capt. Jesse G. Johnson in command.

After fitting out, Webster departed Baltimore on 22 March 1945 and arrived at Norfolk later that day. There, the aircraft repair ship loaded supplies and provisions into the second week of April, when she got underway for shakedown and training in Chesapeake Bay. After subsequent minor repairs and alterations at the Norfolk Navy Yard from 21 April to 8 May, Webster joined Convoy No. 507 on 12 May, transited the Panama Canal eight days later, and arrived at the Naval Air Station (NAS), Alameda, Calif., on 6 June.

After further repairs and alterations, the ship departed Alameda on 16 June 1945, bound for the Hawaiian Islands. She arrived at Pearl Harbor on the 24th and docked at NAS Ford Island, where she stayed for four days before she shifted to the navy yard for armament alterations. Shifting subsequently to a berth alongside Ozark (LSV-2) on the 28th, Webster remained in Hawaiian waters through most of July.

The ship got underway for the Marshalls on the 31st; arrived at Eniwetok Atoll on 10 August 1945; and remained there through mid-September. During her stay at Eniwetok, Japan surrendered, bringing World War II to a close. Meanwhile, the ship, herself, serviced the fleet carriers Wasp (CV-18), Antietam (CV-36), Intrepid (CV-11); the small fleet carrier Cabot (CVL-28), and a half-dozen CVE's, overhauling aviation equipment and returning it to stock for reissue. The material that could not be stored on board-bulky items such as drop tanks and the like-was stored ashore in a depot on Parry Island.

The end of the war had removed the necessity for the replenishment of fast carrier task forces in the fleet anchorage in the Marshalls and Gilberts advanced base sites, but there still remained the occupation of the former enemy's homeland. Webster accordingly departed Eniwetok on 13 September 1945, bound via Guam for Tokyo Bay, where she arrived on the 26th. There, Webster serviced all naval aviation activities in the Tokyo Bay area, including the carriers Yorktown (CV-10), Shangri-La (CV-38), Bon Homme Richard (CV-31), Boxer (CV-21), Munda (CVE-104), and Hoggatt Bay (CVE-75); the aviation units of battleships New Jersey (BB-62), Tennessee (BB-43) and California (BB-46); those of the heavy cruisers St. Paul (CA-73) and Quincy (CA-71); and finally the planes of 10 light cruisers (CL). In addition, the aircraft repair ship serviced the planes from Marine Aircraft Group 21 and assisted the board headed by Rear Adm. Frederick W. Pennoyer in its investigations into the development of Japanese aircraft and aircraft engine design in World War II.

Webster remained in Tokyo Bay from 6 October to 3 November 1945. During that time, Rear Adm. Clifton A. F. Sprague visited the ship on 20 October and conferred the Presidential Unit Citation to, among others, Capt. Johnson, the ship's commanding officer, for his service in the escort carrier Guadalcanal (CVE-60) in the Atlantic. The aircraft repair ship ultimately departed Tokyo Bay at 1400 on 3 November.

Webster, transporting men homeward-bound for discharge, made Guam at 0825 on 9 November 1945, and tarried only until 1748 on the 10th, when she got underway for the Marshalls. Six days later, she reached Roi Island, Kwajalein Atoll and, on the 18th, got underway at 1843 for the Hawaiian Islands.

Webster disembarked her passengers upon her arrival at Pearl Harbor on 27 November 1945 and stood out of Hawaiian waters on the 30th, bound for Panama. She reached the Pacific entrance of the Panama Canal at 0746 on 20 December, transited the canal later that day. and moored at Coco Solo at 1708.

The aircraft repair ship then pushed on for Norfolk, Va., at 0915 on 22 December 1945, three days before Christmas, arrived at Norfolk four days later, and remained in the Tidewater area through mid-January of the following year. On 25 January 1946, Webster departed Norfolk and arrived at Philadelphia at 1241 the following day, mooring alongside the heavy cruiser Portland (CA-33).

Berthed alongside a succession of ships-- cargo ship Fomalhaut (AK-22), hospital ships Tranquility (AH-14) and Sanctuary (AH-17), auxiliary Dithmarschen (IX-301), attack transport Okanagan (APA-220), and heavy cruiser Augusta (CA-31)--Webster awaited her decommissioning. At 1047 on 28 June 1946, her commissioning pennant came down for the last time.

Webster was transferred to the custody of the Maritime Administration (MarAd) Reserve Fleet on the James River at 7:40 a.m. on 13 September 1961. Less than one year later, she was stricken from the Navy List on 1 September 1962, and permanently transferred to MarAd at 12:01 a.m. that same day.

Ex-Webster was removed from the James River Reserve Fleet at 10:30 a.m. on 16 May 1974 and delivered to the Fish Reef Program of the State of Virginia. She was sunk intentionally on 28 August 1974 in 90 feet of water, 31 miles east of Cape Henry, in the vicinity of Triangle Reef, to form an offshore home for marine life.

Updated, Robert J. Cressman

24 March 2022

Published: Thu Mar 24 16:34:59 EDT 2022