Cayuga, 1932

Nov. 20, 2020

Cayuga, 1932

later-HMS Totland, Y-88; later-Mocoma, WPG-163

The cutter Cayuga was named for a lake in central New York's Finger Lakes region.

Builder: United Drydock, Incorporated, Staten Island, NY

Launched: 7 October 1931

Commissioned: 22 March 1932

Displacement: 2,075 tons

Dimensions: 250' oa (236' bp) x 42' x 12' 11" draft (mean)

Machinery: 1 turbine-driven electric motor (General Electric), 2 boilers, 3,350 shp, 14.8 knots (cruising), 17.5 knots max

Propellers: single, 4 blades

Complement: 97 (1940)

Armament: 1 x 5"/51; 1 x 3"/50; 2 x 6-pdrs (1929)

Cost: $900,000 each (hull & machinery)


The 250-foot class cutters were designed by the Coast Guard and were, in many respects, modernized 240-footers.  Captain Q.B. Newman, USCG, designed its innovative turbine-electric-drive power plant, which developed an amazing 3,350 shp.  These were the first to have alternating current, and a synchronous motor for propulsion.  The whole ship ran off the main turbine.  The auxiliary generators were tied into the main generator electrically, after sufficient speed was attained.  At that point, no steam was required to drive the turbines on the auxiliary generators.  The propulsion plant achieved remarkable efficiency.  The counter stern and plumb bow of the older class had given way to the flared stem and cruiser stern.  These features were an attempt to improve sea qualities over the 240-foot class, particularly to eliminate the heavy shocks common in the North Atlantic Ice Patrol.

Initially this class was made up of ten cutters, all of which were transferred to Great Britain under Lend-Lease in 1941.  They were to be replaced in the USCG inventory by the 255-foot Owasco-class vessels, laid down in 1943. Three vessels were lost while in British service, one was not returned, and the remainder turned back to the Coast Guard in 1946.  Initially, the Coast Guard planned to renovate the Champlain, Itasca, Mocoma, and Tampa and return them to service.  The remaining two vessels, the Chelan and Tahoe, were stripped of parts for use in the restoration of the other four ships.  Due to economic constraints following the war, however, only the Mocoma and Tampa were placed in commission.


It was only during the last five years that a detailed statistical record had been kept of various types of work performed by the ten transferred cutters.  Most of the cutters performed an equal amount of boarding work during this period, with the exception of Tahoe, whose record of 809 vessels boarded was over twice the group average for the period, and of Itasca, whose 528 boardings were 50 percent above the average.  Shoshone reported two and a half times the average number of vessels reported by the group for infractions of navigation laws, and Tahoe twice the average.  

Sebago led in derelicts destroyed, and Chelan in regattas patrolled.  Cayuga and Mendota did the greatest amount of anti-smuggling patrol work, while Itasca and Mendota led in time devoted to assistance work.  Mendota and Pontchartrain spent over twice the average number of hours in winter cruising, while Shoshone, Itasca, and Chelan did all of the Bering Sea Patrol work done by the group.  Champlain and Chelan led in the International Ice Patrol activity, and Cayuga devoted more time than any of the rest to USCG Academy cadet practice cruises.  Tahoe gave the greatest amount of time of any in the group to icebreaking.


During its nine years of service as a Coast Guard cutter Cayuga had varied its routine of Cadet Practice Cruising out of New London, Connecticut and ice breaking in Buzzards Bay with exciting duty abroad.  While on a Cadet Practice Cruise off Havre, France, on 23 July 1936, the cutter was placed under jurisdiction of the Navy Department and ordered to report to the commanding officer of the USS Oklahoma for duty in connection with the Spanish Civil War.  On orders from Oklahoma, Cayuga proceeded to San Sebastian where she arrived at 6:30 PM on 24 July and a motor surfboat was sent ashore to confer with American Embassy officials who were summering there.  Anchored off the harbor was the HMS Veteran from whose officers it was learned that on the previous afternoon a Republican torpedo boat had engaged Nationalist forces, endangering vessels in the harbor.  The British officers advised against entering the harbor for this reason and because of the limited space for maneuvering.  

Shortly afterward the French cruiser, Indomitable, and a French submarine chaser left the harbor bound eastward.  Veteran had taken aboard fifteen Americans among other refugees, and during the afternoon departed for St. Jean de Luz, France.  There had been no casualties among Americans and no fighting during the past 24 hours, but the situation was tense and uncertain.  The streets of San Sebastian were being patrolled by armed groups of the Popular Front.  The trolley wires had been pulled down, buildings barricaded, and the greatest confusion prevailed.  A body of men armed with machine guns had trained them on Cayuga's surfboats, which lay off the landing awaiting the return of the officer detailed to visit Embassy officials, and demanded they leave the harbor.  After some talk the boats were permitted to remain.

The next day, the 25th, Cayuga was ordered to proceed to Fuenterrabia and contact American Ambassador Claude S. Bowers, who was staying there. This was about an hour's run from San Sebastian and the Ambassador was found at the landing, having observed the arrival of Cayuga.  The Ambassador's wife had been making an American flag, and was glad to receive an ensign from the cutter.  Conditions were found to be quiet and the Ambassador had decided to remain.  Cayuga returned to San Sebastian at 5:40 p.m., and sent a boat to report to the Counselor of the Embassy, Hallett Johnson.  While the boat was ashore a small Republican torpedo boat accompanied by two fishing boats, all flying Spanish ensigns at the main with red flags at the fore, approached the harbor entrance and fired about fifteen shots toward the city.  The objective seemed to be a Nationalist stronghold on the outskirts.  After an hour's desultory firing the torpedo boat and her consorts withdrew and disappeared towards the west.

Next morning, the 26th, boats were sent ashore to transport embassy staff and refugees to Cayuga.  During the day sixty-one officials and refugees and their baggage were brought aboard under trying weather conditions, and at 4:20 PM, the cutter proceeded to St. Jean de Lux, France. There were fourteen Americans, including the Counselor of the Embassy and the First Secretary, fourteen British, including the Vice Consul and Commercial Attache, twelve Norwegians, including the Minister, Secretary and Consul, three Dutch, including the Minister and Secretary, three Chileans, including the Vice Consul, and numerous other Swedes, Swiss, Uruguayans and Argentines.  These passengers ranged in age from a baby in arms to an invalid of eighty in a chair, and their safe transportation in a rough open sea was a considerable undertaking.  The battle on the edge of San Sebastian was continuing with the Republicans advancing and terrible bloodshed was feared.  All Americans, however, were believed evacuated, including an American woman and her son who had been at Zaroum, and who were brought to the coast by an embassy staff number.  The Finnish Vice Consul's wife had been shot during a street battle.  Most of the rest of the diplomatic corps had left for Irun on the French frontier.  The embassy codes and files were safe on Cayuga.  On the 29th Cayuga proceeded with the Ambassador to Bilboa, Spain, where the cadets were transferred to USS Wyoming for transportation to the United States.  Later, the cutter took the Ambassador as far as Vigo, Spain, while be inspected conditions in coastal towns along the route.

It is believed that the presence of Cayuga in her capacity as a Coast Guard vessel did much to allay the suspicion that the rival factions had of warships in general.  A serious situation had been narrowly averted, for example, when the German pocket-battleship Deutschland had attempted to land an armed party at San Sebastian on 26 July.  The fortunate location of Cayuga at the outbreak of hostilities and her prompt dispatch to San Sebastian were important factors in assuring the safety of Americans and foreign diplomats at that place.  Their situation was critical because of the lack of communications except by sea, because the coastal towns were hemmed in by Nationalist troops occupying the surrounding hills.  The evacuation of the diplomatic colony was timely and averted a more serious situation.  The landing party of Cayuga showed good judgment in their contacts with the Spanish military forces ashore, and were to be commended for the efficient accomplishment of a delicate mission.

On 5 April 1941, President Roosevelt authorized the Secretary of the Treasury to transfer ten 250-foot cutters of the United States Coast Guard to the United Kingdom.  This action was taken in accordance with the terms of the Act of 11 March 1941, (an Act to Promote the Defense of the United States).  The President, having consulted with the Chief of Naval Operations and the Commandant of the Coast Guard, had found that the defense of the United Kingdom was vital to the defense of the United States, and that it would be in the interests of our national defense to transfer the ten cutters as defense articles under an agreement which had been duly concluded with His Majesty's Government.

The cutters in question had been built between the years 1928 and 1932.  They were all 42-foot beam, 16-foot maximum draft and 1979 tons displacement.  Five of them, the Cayuga, Itasca, Saranac, Sebago, and Shoshone were 3200 horsepower, and five of them, the Champlain, Mendota, Chelan, Pontchartrain, and Tahoe, were 3000 horsepower.  They were all fuel oil burners of single screw, steel-hull construction, each with a speed of 16 knots per hour, driven by turbine electric power, and with a capacity of 90,500 gallons of fuel oil each.  The Cayuga had a cruising radius at economical speed of 6,050 miles and all the others of 7,542 miles.  At the maximum speed all but the Itasca, Shoshone, and Mendota had a cruising radius at maximum speed of 3,600 miles.  These three had a cruising radius at maximum speed of 4,500 miles.

The ten cutters each had a complement under the Coast Guard of eight commissioned officers, four warrant officers and 85 enlisted men.  During the fiscal year 1940 they had cruised an average of 20,705 miles each at an average annual cost of operation for each of $186,029.00.

On 5 April 1941, the Commandant sent identical instructions to the commanding officers of each of the ten vessels that, when all armament had been installed and their vessels degaussed and calibrated, they were to report to the Commander of the New York District.  Each vessel was to be prepared for delivery to the British following detailed instructions, and the actual transfer of command and delivery of each vessel was to be on a date designated by the Commander of the New York District.  The delivery of the ten vessels was to be made at the Navy Yard, Brooklyn, NY and was to be as early as practicable, consistent with the readiness of the vessels and the availability of the relieving personnel.  The vessels and equipment were to be delivered "as is" except as modified by Headquarters' orders or the following detailed instructions.

Prior to transfer of command and delivery of vessels, certain action was outlined. In these instructions each commander was to obliterate the ship's name from the hull by the removal of the letters and, also, the ship's name and service designation on all equipment, carefully repainting over surfaces after such removal.  Records of public property and all other ship's records were to be complete as of delivery date.  Quintuplicate priced invoices were to be prepared on all equipment; stores, including commissary stores and supplies, including ammunition, to be transferred with the vessel.  After the arrival of each vessel in New York, the personnel was to be reduced to the minimum required under prevailing conditions, with surplus personnel to be transferred as directed by the Commander of the New York District.  The commander of each vessel, however, was required to furnish competent details of men for the instruction and indoctrination of the British personnel relieving them.  Personnel records, pay accounts and muster rolls were to be brought up to date and, together with publications and equipment, transferred as subsequently directed.  Each vessel was to be fueled to capacity, with an adequate supply of lubricants taken on board, and fresh water tanks filled to capacity.  All ship's accounts, including allotments, mess accounts, clothing and ship's service store were to be closed out.

During the period of transfer, the crews were to be mixed--Coast Guard and British, but all Coast Guard personnel were to be removed from the cutters prior to their final departure from a United States port. The Commander of the New York District was to designate in advance a date of transfer agreeable to the relieving British commanding officer.  On that date the vessel and her equipment were to be delivered to the new British commanding officer, he was to be supplied with the priced invoices of equipment, stores and supplies to be transferred with the vessel, and his receipt obtained.  All keys, including magazine keys, were to be turned over and receipted for.  There would follow the transfer of all Coast Guard personnel, except the special details required for instruction or indoctrination, such personnel to remain on board while in a United States port only as observers and without responsibility. A roster of such observers was to be submitted by each commanding officer to the Commander of the New York District. Each commanding officer was to report to the New York District Commander the time and date the transfer was affected, together with a statement that all instructions had been complied with. He was also to submit copies of all receipted invoices in triplicate for transmission to Headquarters.

Publications to be removed and forwarded to the issuing officer at Headquarters included Coast Guard Regulations with changes and circular letters, Pay and Supply Instructions with amendments, Courts and Boards, Ordnance, Manual of Engineering Instructions, Bulletin of Engineering Information, U.S. Navy (Restricted), and Communications and Uniform Regulations.  The same treatment was to be accorded all ship's files and records, except those necessary for the operation of the ship by the new command, including all engineering log books subsequent to June, 1940; the engineering letter file except letter DG-RR; all secret, confidential and restricted letters, publications, charts and devices, registered or non-registered; and boat number plates.  To be forwarded to the district to which the vessel was permanently attached were all records and files pertaining to allotment ledger and pay accounts, after closure, including rough rolls, file copies of vouchers, allotment ledgers, schedules, etc. 

To the Depot were to be shipped the bronze Coast Guard plaque that was located in the wardroom of each vessel, metal identifying letters on bows of boats and cast letters forming names of cutters located on the stern.  To the New York Store, for issue upon Headquarters' authorization, were to go all uniform clothing, athletic equipment, broadcast receivers and spare parts, fictional and professional libraries, motion picture projectors, accessories and spare parts, motion picture cameras and accessories, photographic equipment and supplies, portable public address systems anti spare parts.  Personnel instructions were to be destroyed.  All articles transferred out of the ship were to be invoiced to the units to which they were forwarded.

By 9 April 1941, all machinery for the transfer had been set in motion, and the transfers were expected to take place in an orderly manner with Captain H. W. Dempwolf, USCG Commander at New York representing the Coast Guard, and Captain A.F.E. Palliser, RN, HMS Malaya, representing the British.  Four cutters were on that date being painted the British war color by the United States Navy Yard, in accordance with the request of the British authorities, and, upon completion of the painting, these vessels mould be in all respects ready for transfer.  The other six would follow along in accordance with the schedule as planned. Instruction and indoctrination of the British crew were to be made in Long Island Sound over a period of two weeks, after which it was expected that the British could take over the cutters and navigate them satisfactorily alone.  Two Coast Guard officers, Lieutenant Commander H.E. Grogan and Lieutenant J. P. German, Commanding Officer and Engineer Officer, respectively, of the Pontchartrain, were designated to act as liaison between commanding officers of the Coast Guard vessels and the relieving British commanding officers.

On 12 May 1941, after a ceremony attended by The Honorable Herbert E. Gaston, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, the Honorable William R. Johnson, Commissioner of Customs, and Captain H.V. McKittrick, USN, three more cutters were handed over to the British and commissioned in the Royal Navy as follows:

USCGC Sebago: HMS Walney

USCGC Cayuga: HMS Totland

USCGC Champlain: HMS Sennen

After service in the Royal Navy, she was returned to the United States in 1946.  She was renamed USCGC Mocoma and designated WPG-163.  After reconditioning, she was recommissioned in the Coast Guard on 20 March 1947 and stationed at Miami, Florida, until her decommissioning on 8 May 1950.  She was later sold on 15 July 1955.


Cutter files, USCG Historian's Office.

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

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

Scheina, Robert L. U.S. Coast Guard Cutters and Craft, 1946-1990. (Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press, 1990).

United States Coast Guard, Research and Statistics Section, Operations Division.  The Accomplishments of the Coast Guard Cutters transferred to the United Kingdom. (Washington, DC: United States Coast Guard, 1941).