Chilula, 1956 (WMEC-153)

Nov. 30, 2020

Chilula, 1956


A Native American tribe which inhabited the banks of the Redwood Creek in Oregon.

Builder:  Charleston Shipbuilding & Drydock Company, Charleston, South Carolina

Length: 205' 3"

Beam: 38' 7"

Draft: 16' 10"

Displacement: 1,641 tons

Cost: N/A

Launched: 1 December 1944

Commissioned: 5 April 1945 (USN); 5 October 1956

Decommissioned: 19 June 1991

Disposition: Returned to USN

Machinery: 4 electric motors driven by 4 Allis Chalmers generators driven by 4 General Motors diesel engines; 3,000 BHP; single propeller


          Maximum Speed: 16.5 knots
          Economic/Cruising Speed: 10.1 knots; 13,097 mile range

Complement: 8 officers, 68 enlisted (1961); 10 officers, 69 enlisted (1991)

Electronics: SPN-25 detection radar (1961)

Armament: 1 x 3"/50; 2 x .50 caliber machine guns (mounted on bridge wings when in use); small arms

Cutter History:

The Chilula, a Cherokee-Class fleet ocean tug, was launched on 1 December 1944 by Charleston Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co., Charleston, South Carolina.  She was sponsored by Mrs. C. G. Thigpen and was commissioned by the Navy on 5 April 1945, under the command of LT O. L. Guinn, USN.  Chilula stood out from Norfolk 14 May 1945 for Algiers, Louisiana, arriving 19 May.  She took section 58 of ABSD-7 in tow, and sailed 27 May for the Canal Zone, arriving Cristobal 5 June. Between 7 and 12 June she towed ABSD sections through the Panama Canal.  Clearing Balboa 16 June she reached Eniwetok 31 July for towing duties.  She left Eniwetok 8 September, entered Tokyo Bay 20 September, and until 11 January 1946 operated from Yokosuka.  Between 11 January and 28 January, she voyaged from Yokosuka to Tsingtao towing YO-17.  Chilula sailed from Yokosuka 3 April for Orange, Texas, and was placed out of commission in reserve on 8 February 1947.  

She was lent to the Coast Guard on 9 July 1956.  She was converted for Coast Guard use at the Coast Guard Yard, Curtis Bay, Maryland, and after conversion, she was commissioned by the Coast Guard on 5 October 1956, under the command of CDR Roy M. Hutchins, USCG.  She was first designated as WAT-153 and this quickly changed to WATF-153.  She was assigned to Morehead City, North Carolina, and was used for law enforcement and search and rescue duties, including towing disabled vessels to safety.

In October 1963 Chilula, under the command of CDR Richard W. Young, USCG, "plowed through Hurricane 'Ginny' to locate and retrieve the mothballed Navy destroyer escort USS FOGG."  She located the errant navy warship and her 10-man caretaker crew, got a tow-line aboard despite nearly 60-foot seas, and towed her to Virginia Beach, Virginia where the navy tug USS Kiowa relieved her of the Fogg

On 1 May 1966, her designation was changed to WMEC-153 in a Coast Guard-wide effort to simplify the service's classifications of its larger cutters.  On 24 July 1967 she rescued four from the disabled F/V Dorothy Bee off Cape Lookout.  On 28 September 1967 she assisted the grounded M/V Wolverine State 10 miles west of Cuba.  On 25 February 1968 she escorted the distressed Liberian tanker Potomac 130 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras to Wilmington, North Carolina.  On 5 December 1968 she towed the abandoned yacht Good Hope 70 miles east of Cape Fear to Morehead City, North Carolina.  On 7 December 1968 she recovered seven bodies after the F/V Fenwick Island sank.

On 20 May 1969 she towed the F/V Glen Echo to Morehead City.  On 1 June 1969 she was officially removed from the Navy List.  On 30 December 1969 she towed the disabled tanker N. W. Cokey 90 miles southeast of Cape Fear until relieved by a commercial tug.  From 20 to 28 January 1970 she towed and fought a fire that kept reigniting aboard the Thordis Presthus off North Carolina.  On 2 May 1970 she towed the disabled USS Mississinewa 100 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras until relieved by USS Hoist.  On 4 July 1970 party from cutter helped fight a fire in downtown Morehead City.  On 28 October 1970 she towed the disabled F/V Sheela L. from 15 miles southeast of Cape Lookout to safety.  On 30 October 1970 she towed the disabled tug Linda to Georgetown, South Carolina.  On 6 November 1970 she rescued five from the M/V Caribbean Mist 150 miles off Cape Fear. 

On 6 February 1973 Chilula was off the Virginia Capes towing a "runaway" liberty ship that had broken away from the German tug Seetrans when her crew spotted 10 waterspouts heading for the cutter when they passed through a squall.  Her commanding officer at that time, CDR J. R. Mitchell, reported that they managed to avoid nine of the spouts but one hit the cutter, causing minor damage.

In 1975 she was transferred to Atlantic Beach, North Carolina, where she was based out of until she was decommissioned.  On 12 August 1984 she seized the F/V Max, carrying 3 tons of marijuana, in the Windward Passage.  On 18 May 1985 she seized the F/V Tripolina for fishing inside a closed area.  In July 1985 she seized a F/V carrying marijuana 30 miles southeast of Cuba.  In November 1986 she rescued eight from the P/C Skivvy Waver 240 miles east of the Delaware River during a heavy storm.

She was decommissioned on 19 June 1991 and was returned to the Navy.


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

Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.

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