Tacoma Class Frigates of the United States Navy
- December 1982
- A.N. Other
- History - general
- None noted.
- Originally published in the Naval Historical Review edition (all rights reserved)
WHEN THE UNITED STATES entered the Second World War the US Navy was still completing its rebuilding program. In the major fighting types great strides had been made, but there was an extreme shortage of patrol and escort.
To ease the situation, a number of Flower class corvettes were obtained from the Royal Navy, these little ships did a great job in helping to fill the gap. The next step was to build patrol craft, the British River class frigate being selected as one type that could be turned out very quickly. An immediate order was placed with the Canadian Government for the supply of ten Rivers, but in the long run only two were accepted, the other eight being turned over to the Royal Navy.
An order was placed with the US Maritime Commission for the building of one hundred frigates, all to be built in American yards. In the US Navy the type was to be known as Patrol Frigate with the abbreviation of PF. PF1 was laid down as HMS Adur but was named USS Asheville in the USN. HMS Annan became USS Natchez, PF2. As this pair were built in Canada, they were naturally enough built to British specifications, but were armed with US guns and equipment. This pair were launched in August and September 1942.
To follow the standard American practice of welded construction, a few modifications to the original plans were made. A lighter bridge structure and a pole fore mast was a good indication of an American built frigate, but it was in the main armament that the real difference could be seen. Tacoma was the name ship for the American built frigates, and as she began to take shape, the full extent of the modifications became visible. The main armament comprised three 3″/50 cal/dual purpose guns, backed up by two twin 40 mm Mark 1 mountings. Up to 10 single 20 mm Oerlikons were also carried. As far as machinery was concerned, the US Navy stayed with the original British reciprocating engines with the same indicated horsepower. Higher steam pressures were used, enabling the Tacoma class to range up to 9,500 miles at 12 knots, 760 tons of oil fuel being carried.
Building times in American yards varied, but most could turn out ships fairly quickly. In the case of the Tacomas some very fast times were recorded. A typical building time is that of USS Glendale, PF 36. This ship was built by Consolidated Steel, Los Angeles. Laid down on 6th April 1943, she was launched on 28th May 1943, and completed on 1st October 1943. In the final figures we find that no less than 9 Tacomas were built in less than five months (the shortest time taken being two months), sixteen were built in less than 6 months, and eleven built in less than 7 months. These times compare favourably with the original River class built in British yards. The best time recorded for a British River was 7½ months. In Canada the fastest time was 5.21 months.
As the Tacomas came into service the majority were manned by the US Coast Guard, which service became part of the US Navy for the duration. The same applied to the destroyer-escorts, as many of these were Coast Guard manned. Some twenty one of the class were passed over to the Royal Navy, where they became known as the Colony class. It was when the Colonys were operating with the Rivers that the real differences were noticeable.
American practice was for the use of forced ventilation, and no ship-side scuttles were fitted. The hull of the two types was identical, but when a frigate was spotted without scuttles, then it had to be a Colony. There have been reports that the Tacomas were quite warm below decks in tropics, and this is very probable. It would appear that the class were designed on the same lines as the River class, mainly for the Atlantic and North Sea. The River class were not the most comfortable ships in the tropics either.
Designed for convoy protection and anti-submarine duties, the patrol frigates were well armed for the job. Fitted with a good AA armament, they also carried a good A/S outfit, the main item being the British ‘Hedgehog’, which was a firm favourite with the USN. Their speed of 20 knots was the same as the Rivers and was considered as quite adequate. It was in close range AA weaponry that the real difference was felt, the twin Bofors being well received, and the dual purpose 3 inch 50 calibre main armament could put up a good barrage. Generally speaking, there was not a great deal of difference between the River and Tacoma classes, both being exceptionally good escorts.
A number of Tacomas were specially fitted out as weather reporting ships, this group losing one 3″/50 to make way for the weather gear. These weather ships were invaluable, and were regarded as being very efficient.
With the cessation of hostilities, the Tacomas were paid off and placed in mothballs. This was a short respite only as many were passed over to various smaller navies. In 1945 some twenty-eight units had been turned over to the Soviet Navy, and were not returned until 1949. They were then laid up in Japan, being brought forward from reserve when the Korean War broke out, some being recommissioned by the US Navy, the others going to Japan and South Korea.
With units transferred to foreign navies, the original armament was initially carried, but as can be expected modifications were later made to bring them up to modern standards. Practically all are gone now, but many lasted for over thirty-five years, not a bad effort at all.
General Specifications of the Tacoma Class
Displacement – 1,430 tons
Length – 304 feet(oa)
Beam – 37 feet 6 inches
Draught – 12 feet
Armament – Three 3′/50 cat. DP four 40 mm in two twin mountings, up to ten 20 mm Oerlikons.
Machinery – Twin screw, triple expansion engines, 5,500 ihp. Two small tube boilers.
Speed – 20 knots.
Oil fuel – 760 tons.
Complement – 180 officers and men.
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