Birch, 1939 (WAGL 256)

Nov. 6, 2020

Birch, 1939

WAGL 256

Birch: Any of several deciduous trees of the genus Betula, common in the Northern Hemisphere and having white, yellowish or gray bark separable from the wood in sheets.

Builder:  General Ship & Engine Works, Boston, Massachusetts

Length: 72' 4"

Beam: 18'

Draft: 3' 8"

Displacement: 137 tons

Cost: $74,000

Commissioned: 1939

Decommissioned: 24 February 1963

Disposition: Sold on 30 July 1964 

Machinery:  2 Winton diesel engines; SHP 330; twin propellers

Performance & Endurance:

        Max:  9.0 knots
        Cruising:  8.0 knots; 1,000 mile range

Deck Gear: Steel boom w/ electric hoist; 2-ton maximum capacity

Complement: 9

Armament: None

Electronics: None


The United States Tender Birch, the second tender with this name, was designed by the Lighthouse Service as a bay and sound tender for service along the coast of Florida and vicinity.  She was assigned to St. Petersburg, Florida, her home port for for her entire career.

In addition to her primary duty of tending aids to navigation, she participated in a number of SAR cases.  From 14 to 18 September 1955 she assisted in the hurricane evacuation of St. Petersburg and Tampa, Florida.  On 5 July 1957 she assisted the fishing vessel King Shrimper off Sarasota.  She participated in a unique experiment, code-named "Operation Tugbird," in March of 1958 when, on the 24th, a Coast Guard HO4S-3 helicopter towed her through the water.  Although the experiment demonstrated that one could tow a vessel of similar sizes while in flight, the fuel used by the helicopter meant that it could only tow the vessel a short distance before having to give up and return for more fuel.

Birch was decommissioned on 24 February 1963 and was sold on 31 July 1964.



"COAST GUARD PROJECT TUGBIRD: A HO4S-3 helicopter tows the 75-ton buoy tender BIRCH during tests recently completed at the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station, St. Petersburg, Florida, proving the potentials of Coast Guard helicopter use in towing fishing vessels, pleasure and other types of surface craft in air-sea rescue operations. Tests were made on craft 794 tons and under."; 24 March 1958; Photo No. 5794; photographer unknown.


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

Douglas Peterson.  United States Lighthouse Service Tenders, 1840-1939. Annapolis: Eastwind Publishing, 2000.

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