Triton, 1934 (WPC 116)

Sept. 11, 2020

Triton, 1934

WPC 116

The cutter Triton was named for the Greek demigod of the sea who was the son of Poseidon and Amphitrite.  Triton, who possessed a man's body above the waist and that of a fish below, used his conch-shell trumpet alternately to summon storms and to still the sea.

Builder: Marietta Manufacturing Company, Point Pleasant, West Virginia

Launched: 7 July 1934

Commissioned: 20 November 1934

Decommissioned: 12 June 1967

Disposition: Sold, 16 January 1969

Displacement: 1933: 337 tons full load
                          1945: 350 tons full load

                       Length: 165' oa
                       Beam: 25' 3"
                       Draft: 7' 8" (1933); 10' (1945)

Machinery: 2 x Winton Model 158 6-cylinder diesels; 1,340 bhp

Propellers: twin, 3-bladed

Performance: Maximum speed: 16.0 knots
                        Maximum sustained: 14.0 knots for 1,750 statute miles
                        Cruising: 11.0 knots for 3,000 statute miles
                        Economic: 6.0 knots for 6,417 statute miles

Complement: 1933: 5 officers, 39 men
                        1945: 7 officers, 68 men

Armament: 1933: 1 x 3"/23; 1 x 1-pounders;
                    1941: 1 x 3"/23; 1 x Y-gun; 2 x depth charge tracks;
                    1945: 2 x 3"/50 (single-mounts); 2 x 20mm/80 (single mounts); 2 x depth charge tracks; 2 x Y-guns; 2 x Mousetraps.

Electronics: 1933: none
                     1945: Radar: SF; Sonar: QCO 

Cost: $258,000

Class History:

The 165-foot "B" Class cutters, sometimes referred to as the Thetis-Class, were a follow on to the 125-foot cutters.  Both types of cutters were designed for the enforcement of Prohibition, but the 165-footers primary mission was to trail the mother ships that dispensed alcohol to smaller, faster vessels well beyond the territorial waters of the U.S.  Hence these cutters had to have excellent sea-keeping qualities, good accommodations for the crew, and long range.  Although Prohibition ended soon after most entered service, their design nevertheless proved to be adaptable to the many other missions of the Coast Guard.

An article written soon after they entered service noted that: "the new cutters are low and rakish, without excessive superstructure or freeboard.  A raking stem, well flared bow and cruiser stern give the appearance of speed as well as contribute to the seaworthiness of the vessels, a quality which has been demonstrated in actual service. . .The new ships are twin-screw driven by two 670 horse power Diesel engines, furnished by the Winton Engine Co. of Cleveland, Ohio.  The shafting and propellers are arranged and supported in a novel manner.  The ship is equipped with two overhanging rudders on a line with and just aft of the propellers.  The rudders are supported by a streamline rudder post at the forward end which is bossed out for a bearing to take a stub shaft which extends through the propeller.  This method of arranging the rudders has proved remarkably successful.  At full speed, the ships turn a complete circle in two minutes and eighteen seconds, and can be docked with ease under the most difficult conditions.  On trial runs, the Atalanta averaged 16.48 knots at 468 RPM with practically no vibration and the engine under no evident strain.  Due to the arduous service for which these vessels were built, only the finest materials available were used. . .It is interesting to note that genuine wrought iron pipe was used for practically all the services where resistance to corrosion, vibration, and strain was required.  The fuel oil, lubricating oil, and water service to the main engines and auxiliaries; the fire and bilge system; and the steam heating system were all installed with genuine wrought iron pipe.  At the Lake Union plant this pipe was furnished by the Reading Iron Company through the Crane Company's Seattle office and Bowles Company of Seattle.  The new ships are a distinct contribution to modern shipbuilding and should be of great value to the Coast Guard."*

They certainly did prove to be of great value to the Coast Guard.  Most saw service as coastal convoy escorts during World War II and two, the Icarus and the Thetis, each sank a U-boat.  Many saw service well into the 1960s and some still service as tour boats in New York City with the Circle Tour Line, testament to their sturdy and well-thought out design.


Triton--a steel-hulled, diesel-powered patrol boat--served almost simultaneously with the submarine of the same name.  The contract for her construction was let on 17 November 1933 to the Marietta Manufacturing Co., Point Pleasant, West Virginia.  A little over a year later, on 20 November 1934, the ship was placed in commission under the command of LCDR George C. Carlstedt, USCG.  Assigned to the homeport of Gulfport, Mississippi, Triton operated in the Gulf of Mexico from at least 1 January 1935.  On 1 July 1941, four months in advance of the directive whereby the United States Coast Guard was transferred from the Treasury Department to the Navy, Triton and five of her sister ships were turned over to the Navy.  This action occurred simultaneously with the establishment of the four Sea Frontiers.

Four Thetis-class patrol boats, including Triton, were assigned to the East Coast Sound School, Key West, Florida, for duty as patrol and training vessels. Their collateral duties included operating under the aegis of Commander, Task Force 6, on gulf patrol duties.  At the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, 7 December 1941, Triton was operating out of Key West.  In or around February of 1942, Triton was classified as a patrol craft and given the alphanumeric hull number WPC-116.

Although American warships had been actively engaged in patrol and escort missions in the Battle of the Atlantic even before Pearl Harbor, their techniques for combating the dangerous German submarines were, in January and February 1942, still far from adequate.  U-boats operating off the eastern seaboard experienced what they called "the happy time," before American convoys could be organized. In some cases, Allied ships would be sunk because they were silhouetted by lights in non-blacked out cities along the shoreline.

Triton's antisubmarine warfare [ASW] training missions were conducted along with local patrol and escort duties out of Key West from 1941 into 1945.  She had her first brush with what she presumed to be an enemy submarine on 21 February 1942.  On that day, she made one attack but without success. Over the next few days, upon occasion joined by USS PC-445 and Hamilton (DD-141), Triton conducted more attacks but did not draw blood.

On 9 June 1942, when SS Lake Ormoc reported an enemy submarine on the surface in her vicinity, Triton directed Thetis (WPC-115) to make the search.  Triton, meanwhile, contacted the submarine USS R-1O (SS-87) which had been conducting exercises with the patrol vessels in that same area.  When USS PC-518 took over the job of escorting R--1O back to Key West, Triton joined Thetis in search of the submarine.  Eventually, PC-518 and USS Noa (DD-343) joined the hunt.  Triton attacked with depth charges but, after a further search, concluded that the target was a non-submarine, probably a tidal rip in the Gulf Stream.

Triton's next recorded ASW operation came soon thereafter, during the concentrated search and destroy mission mounted to find the U-boat which torpedoed the American steamer SS Hagan on the night of 10 June. The hunt, which involved radar-equipped Army B--18 bombers, three destroyers, several PC's, and Triton and Thetis, took three days. On the 12th, in an area well known for "false contacts," Triton attacked what she thought to be a submarine but later evaluated to be otherwise.  Later that day, although not picking up propeller noises, the contact seemed strong to Triton's sonar operator; and the ship attacked.  Again, the result was the same--negative.

The next day, however, was different. Thetis picked up U-157 trying to escape the "dragnet" and destroyed her in a single depth charge attack.  That patrol craft recovered two pairs of leather submariner's pants and a tube of lubricant marked "made in Dusseldorf."  There were no survivors.  Triton took part in further attacks, along with the other ships of the hunter-killer group based on Key West; but, by that point, the enemy submersible had already been killed.

Triton remained with the Sound School into 1945.  On 10 February, while PC--1546 was engaged in "Robot Bomb Patrol," she picked up what she evaluated as a submarine contact.  She and Triton, also in the vicinity, then conducted attacks but found no evidence that a kill had been made.  After the end of the war, in January, 1946, her armament and ASW sound gear was removed and she was returned to her pre-war appearance.

Triton remained in the Gulf of Mexico region for the remainder of her active service in the Coast Guard and conducted law enforcement and search and rescue patrols along the Gulf coast.  She also participated in the Campeche Patrol between six and nine times a year with each patrol lasting about a week each.  Triton was reclassified from WPC-116 to WMEC [Medium Endurance Cutter]-116 sometime in 1966.  Her post-war duty station was at Corpus Christi, Texas, until 1967.   On 8 April 1951 she towed the disabled fishing vessel Morning Star to safety.   On 10 May 1965 she assisted the grounded fishing vessel Compass Rose.  She was decommissioned on 12 January 1967.

Once decommissioned, Triton was transferred to the Atlantic Reserve Fleet at Orange, Texas, for disposal.  She was then sold on 16 January 1969.  She was converted into a passenger vessel in 1973 for service with Circle Line Cruises of New York City and renamed Circle Line XVII.


Cutter files, USCG Historian's Office.

Canney, Donald L. U.S. Coast Guard and Revenue Cutters, 1790-1935. (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1995).

*Nickum, W. C. "New 'Sisters' of the Coast Guard Patrol Go Into Service."  The Reading Puddle Ball 3, No. 11 (February 1935), pp. 6-7. 

Scheina, Robert L. U.S. Coast Guard Cutters and Craft in World War II. (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1982).

U.S. Coast Guard. Public Information Division. Historical Section. The Coast Guard at War: Transports and Escorts. (Vol. V, No. I). (Washington, DC: Public Information Division, U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters, 1949.