The SS Arthur M. Huddell - TOW

This story was posted in the a 2007 news letter of the Sister Liberty Ship " SS Jeremiah O'Brien.


        In the last issue of "Steady as She Goes" there was an article about how the Liberty ship Arthur M Huddell  is being transfered to the Greek government for preservation as a monument to the role of Liberties in rebuilding the Greek merchant marine after World War II.  Capt. Patrick Moloney can claim a modest piece of the history thereof, and writes: 

        In late 1982 the Huddell was in Guam being used as a cable storage hulk for the Navy’s top secret SOSUS submarine hydrophone listening system.  She was to be towed to Norfolk and placed in the Reserve Fleet there (the Atlantic has a more elaborate SOSUS system than the Pacific).  The MSC fleet tug Navajo was tasked with towing the Huddell from Guam to Panama but didn’t have the range to do it in one non-stop transit.

       I was on my second command, a little av-gas tanker named USNS Chattahoochee, working out of Pearl Harbor.  She was a round-bottomed icebreaker originally built for DEW Line work in the 1950’s, but then used for supplying our mid-Pacific outposts with any fuel products they needed.  She also had an astern-refueling rig that had been installed but never used.  I had plenty of previous underway replenishment experience on oilers and got tasked with refueling the Navajo, with Huddell in tow.

        We rendezvoused 900 miles south of Hawaii along the track to Panama.  Navajo was making pretty good time in fair weather.  The Huddell was light and looking at the photos today with 11 years of Liberty experience I’d say she only displaced about 6,000 tons.  Chattahoochee’s hull was built for icebreaking and was not the stable platform one would expect for a replenishment ship, so we agreed that the Navajo would do the station keeping on the Churnin’ Chat (she didn’t ride well either).  As we positioned for the job, I could see Huddell was stripped down to hulk status but still wore her old MSTS “stripes of shame” on the stack.

SS Arthur M. Huddell

       The Chat was positioned a hundred yards ahead and a couple beam widths to starboard of the tug.  Speed was dropped to 6 knots and the adventure began.  We put a paravane (a form of underwater glider) over the stern with a couple hundred feet of messenger line connected to a buoy on the end of our 4 inch refueling hose.  We paid out the hose slowly.  There was a line married to the hose that took the strain.  I think the hose was 400 feet long.

     Navajo MSC-169 moved slowly up and put a grapnel over to the messenger line and pulled it and the paravane aboard.  The messenger was taken to a windlass and with the tug moving still closer to the Chat, started to heave the hose in.  With everything connected, the tug had our messenger and hose aboard and connected to their fueling fitting.  She was riding about 100 feet aft and 100 feet off the port quarter.  The hose was trailing in a large bight from our stern to the tug’s deck just forward of the house.  The tug kept station by adding and removing a few turns on the engines.  She had direct throttle control on the bridge wing so her master was able to keep station fairly easily.  It would have been a snap if the Huddell hadn’t been astern acting as a giant sea-anchor.

         There was a moderate swell running and Navajo had to do a two way balancing act.  Looking aft, she had to pay out or take in the tow line so she and the Huddell were synchronized with the swell, climbing up or coasting down at the same time.  Looking forward, she had to stay in a two hundred foot zone that didn’t stretch the hose or run too far up toward the Chat, with both of us doing the same ballet on the swell.

       The master of the Navajo was the one in the hot seat and he did a great job.  It took about an hour to top off their tanks.  As if the novelty of the replenishment job weren’t enough, during the operation the able seaman on Navajo’s wheel suffered a mild heart attack.  The third mate stepped up, took the wheel and steered until the other AB took over.

        It was with considerable relief that we were able to disconnect, recover our hose and associated gear and haul off to the side.  Navajo  had a zodiac workboat and transferred the ailing AB to us.  We loaded Navajo up with fresh fruit/vegies, milk and all the recent papers and magazines we could find.  We bid her and Huddell aloha and made our three day trip back to Pearl Harbor.  Huddell was dropped uneventfully in Panama and found her way to Norfolk behind an Atlantic MSC tug, perhaps Catawba Navajo returned to the Far East and is still in service with MSC Pacific.


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