Calypso, 1932 (WPC-104)

Nov. 18, 2020

Calypso, 1932


The cutter Calypso was named for the daughter of Atlas, a sea-nymph, who, in Homer’s Odyssey, delayed Odysseus by seven years on his journey home.  When Odysseus' enemy Poseidon was away, Athena persuaded Zeus to help, and thus the god sent Hermes to Calypso with a message to let Odysseus go.  Calypso even helped him with materials and information.  After Odysseus left she died of a broken heart.

Builder: Bath Iron Works, Inc., Bath, Maine

Launched: 1 January 1932

Commissioned: 16 January 1932 (first time); 20 January 1942

Decommissioned: 17 May 1941 (transferred to USN); 18 July 1947

Disposition: Sold, 2 November 1955 to Birchfield Boiler, Inc., Tacoma, Washington for $15,564.

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 proved 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.

The CGC Calypso was built by the Bath Iron Works of Bath, Maine.  She was to be assigned originally to the Coast Guard Destroyer Force.  She entered commissioned service on 16 January 1932 and was assigned to Stapleton, New York, for her first home port and was assigned to the Special Patrol Force.  She remained based out of Stapleton until February 2, 1934 when she transferred to San Diego, California.  On April 10, 1935 she departed San Diego for the Bering Sea Patrol which lasted until September 23, 1935.  San Diego remained her home port until September 10, 1937 when she was transferred to Baltimore, Maryland.

On May 17, 1941, the Calypso was decommissioned and transferred to the Navy and was assigned to the Washington Navy Yard for use as an escort vessel for the presidential yacht Potomac.  As the need for escort vessels grew more severe at the onset of the German U-boat attacks along the U.S. coast in early 1942, the Navy returned her and she was again commissioned as a Coast Guard cutter.  After being rearmed with increased ASW and AA weapons and having a sonar installed, she entered the Atlantic Fleet on January 20, 1942 as a convoy escort vessel.  Until June, 1944 she escorted convoys up and down the Atlantic seaboard and rescued survivors from torpedoed ships.  On February 15, 1942 she rescued 42 survivors from the torpedoed SS Buarque and less than one month later, on March 8, 1942 she rescued 54 survivors of the torpedoed SS Arabutan.  On May 7 that same year she rescued 13 survivors from the SS Pipestone County.  Later, she rescued 60 survivors of the torpedoed USS Plymouth (PG-57) on August 5, 1943, and the action was described in a press release:

Storm, shipwreck, fire, sharks and fog were the elements pieced together in an East Coast port today by the crew of the Coast Guard cutter Calypso, in an amazing tale of rescue in the North Atlantic.  Lieutenant Woodward B. Rich, USCGR, young Commanding Officer of the Coast Guard 165-foot patrol boat acting as escort for an Atlantic convoy described how his vessel faced a typical peacetime job of rescue work combined with the wartime hazard of enemy attack.  Well out in the North Atlantic with heavy winds and high seas, the cutter was rocked by an explosion of great force.  All hands rushed to general quarters. Lookouts reported that one of the ships of the escorting screen had been hit.  Al tremendous tower of smoke and water was seen rising from the U.S.S. Plymouth, a Navy ship, some 8.000 yards ahead.

Lieutenant Rich ordered flank speed into the smashing waves.  Forward gun crews clung desperately to their stations as cascades of green water poured over the bow and flooded the decks.  "Whether there wwere survivors or not" Lt. Rich said, "our first job was to screen the convoy and track down any possible submarine contacts."

The cutter carved a wide circle around the area, her decks rolling under again and again as she came broadside into the seas.  The stricken Plymouth had already disappeared beneath the surface as the Calypso received orders to cover her.  Zigzagging violently to lessen the danger of a second enemy attack, the Calypso closed in on the V-shaped oil slick dotted with floundering survivors.  Patrol bombers appeared on the scene flying low and dropping self-inflating rafts.  As the Calypso approached the survivors, Lt. Rich was faced with the desperate possibility of having to drop depth charges among shipwrecked American sailors in the even of a sudden submarine attack.  "I don't know if I could have done it," he said later.  "It was one of the most terrible decisions an officer and be forced to face."

The cutter slowed down her propellers as she approached the survivors, rapidly being scattered by high winds and struggling to keep afloat in the enveloping oil.  As the Calypso threaded among them in a daring feat of seamanship, men were hauled over the ship's rail by hand as she tossed in the heavy seas.  Some had life jackets, others none; some were barely clothed and others naked.  In seas littered with debris, only good seamanship spared the mend from being crushed as they came alongside.  All men who could be spared from general quarters lined the rails under the direction of Boatswain R. S. Ridenour of York, Maine, who hauled in those most desperately in need of rescue.  Again and again propellers had to be stopped to keep from endangering the lives of those in the water and to prevent fouling in the wreckage.  Nevertheless enough speed had to be maintained so that in the event of attack, the ship could respond immediately to her helm.

As the survivors spread out over the sea, it became evident that the cutter could not hope to pick them all up in time to save their lives.  Ensign William T. Gray of Philadelphia requested immediate permission to launch the ship's life boat in order to pick up survivors who were drifting downwind.  Quickly volunteering for this hazardous job, the crew composed of Coast Guardsmen Herman H. Kramm, Gunner's Mate Third-class, Stanley J. Korowicki, Seaman 1st Class, John A. Barrett, Seaman 2nd-class, and Charles J. McGrath, Soundman 2nd-class, manned the boat and it was lowered over the side.  As the ship rolled, the boat struck with a tremendous splash and was immediately engulfed by a huge wave.  With daring skill, Ensign Gray maneuvered away from the side of the ship and headed bow on into the seas.  At this point the lookouts spotted the ominous fins of sharks approaching the survivors.  Lieutenant C. E. McDowell of Salisbury, Maryland and Ensign G. P. Jacobson, a South Dakotan, stood guard with 30-calibre machine-guns trained on the sharks, as the boat moved in to pick up survivors.

Astern, a man clinging to a small piece of shattered wreckage mildly called "I don't mean to by yelling my head off, but I'm burned bad."  He died later that night.  With over thirty survivors already aboard the 165-foot cutter and as many more still clinging to battered bits of equipment in the shark-filled waters, another terrifying alarm rang out over the ship: "FIRE AFT."  Racing down the decks to their extinguishers and hoses, the fire-fighting crew swiftly conquered the blaze of unknown origin, without causing interference with rescue operations or interrupting medical care already being given survivors.

The doctor of the shipwrecked Plymouth was now brought aboard and joined with Edward Yancavage, Pharmacist's Mate First Class of the Calypso in caring for the dozens of severely burned, shocked and water-logged survivors.  Out of over sixty survivors brought aboard, only three died.  Later in the afternoon, patrol planes reported that all survivors in the water had been picked up and none had been seen to drown.

The seas continued to mount during the night as the Calypso fought her way to the nearest port.  None of the survivors could be left on deck, and passageways, heads, the captain's cabin, and even the galley was turned into a sick bay.  The violent movements of the ship had disabled the gyro-compass and the ship was now forced to navigate under this additional handicap.  As the wind subsided inshore, she ran into heavy fog banks.  With a safe port just through the fog, Lt. Rich now faced the danger of proceeding through strange mine-fields under the most trying of conditions.  Under reduced speed the cutter picked her way through, and landed her survivors on the dock where ambulances were waiting to rush them to hospitals.  

In June, 1944, the Calypso reported to Norfolk, Virginia, for duty with the newly formed Air-Sea Rescue Service.  She was decommissioned for the final time on July 25, 1948 and was placed in storage at the Coast Guard Moorings in Cape May, New Jersey.  Here she was used as a "training aid" in the Coast Guard recruit indoctrination program before being put up for sale.  She was sold on November 2, 1955 to A.T. Davies of Birchfield Boiler, Inc., of Tacoma, Washington, for $15,564.


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.