Red Birch, 1965 (WLM 687)

Nov. 2, 2020

Red Birch, 1965

WLM 687

A photo of USCGC Red Birch tending a buoy

Birch of swamps and river bottoms throughout the eastern United States having reddish-brown bark

Builder: Coast Guard Yard, Curtis Bay, Maryland

Length: 157'

Beam: 31'

Draft: 7'

Displacement: 525 tons

Cost: $2,181,506

Commissioned: 7 June 1965

Decommissioned: 6 December 1998

Disposition: Transferred to Argentina

Machinery: 2 Caterpillar diesels; 1,800 BHP; twin propellers

Performance & Endurance:
        Max: 13 knots (1964)
        Cruising: 11 knots; 3,000 mile range

Deck Gear: 10-ton boom capacity

Complement: 34 (1964); 37 (1996)

Armament: Small arms only



Red Birch was one of five 157-foot coastal buoy tenders built by the Coast Guard Yard that entered service between 1964 and 1971.  They were the first new class of seagoing buoy tenders of the post-World War II era that were designed and constructed by the Coast Guard.  This class of tender was designed to service aids to navigation up to 10-tons and, with a draft of only seven feet, to operate in shallow waters often encountered on the sides of dredged harbor channels.  They were designed with low bows that allowed maximum visibility around approaching buoys and had a bow thruster unit recessed into their hulls and twin controllable-pitch propellers to increase maneuverability.  Their hulls were reinforced for light icebreaking.  The conventional ship's wheel was absent, being replaced by a simple tiller.  The hydraulic steering system provided a change from full left to full right rudder in six seconds.  One press release stated that the crew ". . .would enjoy a new concept in comfort provided by their modernistic living quarters.  All living spaces are air conditioned, paneled in maintenance-free plastic laminates and finished in bright colors."  Each tender was assigned to tend aids to navigation in coastal waters while being "always ready" to carry out other traditional Coast Guard duties such as fighting fires and conducting law enforcement, environmental protection and search and rescue operations when required.

Her website described her primary function of tending aids to navigation:

The process of servicing one of our many aids to navigation is one which requires strict observance of safety practices, hard work, and coordination between the bridge and the personnel on the buoy deck. The Officer of the Deck (OOD) will bring the ship alongside the buoy and hold the ship stationary while the crew on deck maneuvers the boom over to "hook" the buoy. The buoy is then lifted onto the buoydeck, laid on its side in wooden "saddles" and secured to the deck using chains and steamboat jacks. Each buoy is scraped, cleaned, repainted and the lighting apparatus checked for proper operation. Meanwhile on the bridge, the positioning team uses Differential Global Positioning System (DGPS) to fix the position of the buoy. If the aid is not on its assigned position, the OOD will move the ship to it before the buoy is placed back into the water. The DGPS fix information is input into a computer which then determines the exact position of the buoy. All of our buoys are checked at least once a year, or more often if they become extinguished, off station or otherwise damaged.

Red Birch's keel was laid on 6 July 1964 and she was launched on 19 February 1965.  She was christened at the Yard on the latter date by her sponsor, Mrs. William S. Mailliard, the wife of Congressman William S. Mailliard of California.  She was placed in commission-special status under the command of LT Eugene E. E. O'Donnell, USCG, on 7 June 1965.  She was initially assigned to San Francisco, where she replaced the decommissioned tender Columbine.  She departed Curtis Bay on 11 June 1965 and arrived at San Francisco on 26 July 1965 after sailing through the Panama Canal.  She was then placed in commission, active, status on 17 September 1965.  Her assigned area of responsibility included San Francisco, San Pablo, Suisun Bay and the San Joaquin River areas.

In early October 1965 she escorted the Japanese motor vessel Louisiana Maru and the U.S. tug Las Plumas to port following a collision off Yerba Buena Island.  On 30 April 1970 she recovered a downed Army helicopter five miles west of the Golden Gate Bridge.  

On 1 June 1976 she was transferred to Baltimore, Maryland and was placed under the operational control of the Fifth Coast Guard District.  She arrived at the Coast Guard Yard on 12 July 1976 after a cruise through the Panama Canal.  Her area of responsibility included the shallow estuaries and tributaries of the Chesapeake Bay from Hooper's Straits northward to Baltimore.  Secondary missions of the Red Birch included search and rescue, military readiness, maritime law enforcement and marine environmental protection.  In addition, during the winter months, Red Birch was tasked with keeping the Chesapeake's shipping lanes from being closed by ice.  By this time the crew had come up with the cutter's motto: 'Illuminamous Via', "We Light The Way."  She was awarded the Coast Guard Meritorious Unit Commendation for her icebreaking activities and her emergency servicing of aids to navigation that were damaged from ice from 1 January 1977 to 4 March 1977.  Her citation stated, in part: "Over a 7 day period of intense operations, USCGC RED BIRCH escorted 35 barges through the ice to deliver 10 million gallons of fuel oil, which alleviated a fuel crisis in the area."

She was decommissioned on 12 June 1998 and transferred to Argentina.


A photograph of USCGC Red Birch

Red Birch underway, no date.

A photo of USCGC Red Birch underway

Red Birch underway, 1998


J. Lee Cox, Jr.  "Historical Context and Statement of Significance: USCGC Red Beech (WLM-686)."  Report submitted to USCG, Dolan Research, Philadelphia, PA, 1997.

Cutter History File.  USCG Historian's Office, USCG HQ, Washington, D.C.

Robert Scheina.  U.S. Coast Guard Cutters & Craft, 1946-1990.  Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1990.