|Ship Class||Treasury-class USCG Cutter|
|Builder Name||New York Navy Yard, New York, United States|
|Laid Down||11 Sep 1935|
|Launched||6 Jan 1937|
|Commissioned||1 Mar 1937|
|Decommissioned||23 Jan 1974|
|Displacement||2,750 tons full|
|Machinery||Two Westinghouse double-reduction geared turbines; two Babcock and Wilcox sectional express, air-enclosed, 400psi, 200° superheat; two 9ft three-bladed propellers|
|Power Output||6,200 SHP|
|Range||8,000nm at 12 knots|
|Armament||1941: 3x5in/51, 3x3in/50, 4x.50 cal Browning MGs; 1943: 2x5in/51, 4x3in/50, 2x20mm/80, 1x Hedgehog, 6x K-gun depth charge projectors, 2x depth charge racks; 1945: 2x5in/38, 2x3x40mm/60, 4x20mm/80|
Contributor: David Stubblebine
ww2dbaseThe seven United States Coast Guard Treasury-class cutters were named for Secretaries of the Treasury, and so they are sometimes called Secretary-class or 327-foot class. This method for naming a class of ships differs from the custom in most navies of naming a class after the lead ship.
ww2dbaseThe Treasury-class design was based on the Navy Erie-class gunboats with identical machinery plants and hulls below the waterline. This standardization was economical and the cutters were built in U.S. Navy shipbuilding yards. These cutters were highly dependable, versatile, robust, and long-lived warships; most served for over 40 years.
ww2dbaseThe U.S. Coast Guard Cutter John C. Spencer was named for the 16th Secretary of the Treasury, the second cutter to bear his name. After commissioning and shake-down cruises, the cutter departed New York for Alaskan waters on 13 May 1937. By the time she arrived, her name was officially shortened to Spencer.
ww2dbaseAfter patrolling the Alaskan fishing grounds for just over a year, Spencer was transferred to Stapleton, New York in September, 1939 where she was ordered to enforce the recently passed Neutrality Act. The Navy decided destroyers were unsuited for the Neutrality Patrols, given the prevailing conditions in the North Atlantic, so the assignment was passed to the Coast Guard. "Grand Banks Neutrality Cruises," as they were called, ran through January 1940.
ww2dbaseCoast Guard cutters began adding their approved war-time armament in 1940 and in October Spencer went to the Bethlehem Steel Corporation in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the upgrade. An Executive Order placed the Coast Guard under the Navy effective 1 November 1941 and Spencer reported for duty with the Destroyer Force, Atlantic Fleet, on 9 January 1942. The Navy designed her WPG-36 and she reported for convoy duty in the North Atlantic in March 1942.
ww2dbaseOver the next 14 months, Spencer worked side-by-side with US Navy destroyers, Canadian corvettes, and British escort vessels as she crisscrossed the North Atlantic 16 times escorting convoys between Argentia, Newfoundland and Londonderry, Northern Ireland. Along with the other escort vessels, Spencer dropped scores of depth charges on German submarines and rescued survivors of the merchant ships torpedoed by the U-Boats. Spencer was officially credited with sinking two submarines during her North Atlantic patrols but, according to some sources, she also likely sunk two others.
ww2dbaseTwo of these crossings were particularly harrowing. Between 12 and 27 February 1943, escorting a 43-ship convoy turned into a running gun fight most of the way across. Five days out, the convoy received reports that upwards of 30 German submarines were patrolling the waters ahead. As the wolf-pack descended on the convoy, Spencer dropped depth charges on submerged targets and fired her guns at surface targets for nearly 9 days straight; her crew standing at their battle stations for nearly 24-hours on several of those days.
ww2dbaseSpencer's most notable action began 11 April 1943 as Spencer departed St. John's, Newfoundland. She sailed with a Task Unit consisting of sister-cutter USS Duane, two British destroyers and two Canadian corvettes covering the east-bound convoy HX-233 made up of 56-ships. Four days out, the convoy's submarine report indicated they may have been sighted by U-boats. Two days after that, about 500 nautical miles southwest of Ireland, the day began with one of the merchantmen being torpedoed. Spencer dropped a pattern of 10 depth charges and half an hour later fired mousetraps on another contact.
ww2dbaseFour hours later Spencer made sound contact leading to two patterns of depth charges and one salvo of mousetraps that brought a U-Boat to the surface. As the conning tower broke the surface, the guns of Spencer, Duane, and nearly every other ship in the area opened fire. Spencer scored several hits on the submarine but guns from the more distant merchant ships overshot the sub and struck Spencer. Twenty five of Spencer's men were injured and one was killed.
ww2dbaseSpencer maneuvered close to the disabled submarine and lowered a boarding party. The sub began sinking by the stern as Spencer worked to pick up survivors. Spencer's boarding party was able to board the submarine only momentarily before it sank and identified it as the U-175. The men of this boarding party were the first Americans to board an enemy man-of-war at sea since the War of 1812. One German officer and 18 men were rescued by Spencer and 22 others by Duane. U-175's commanding officer was killed in the initial surface gunfire.
ww2dbaseSpencer continued protecting the convoy as her crew dealt with the prisoners on board. They learned from the U-Boat crew that when Spencer began her attack, the U-Boat was ready to fire torpedoes at the tanker SS G. Harrison Smith, with a firing solution already programmed in. Three days after the encounter, Spencer and Duane transferred their prisoners to the British Royal Marines at Greenock, Scotland before sailing on to Londonderry, Northern Ireland.
ww2dbaseFrom May 1943 through June 1944 Spencer worked Mediterranean escort duties between New York and Casablanca and also Caribbean convoy protection.
ww2dbaseSpencer underwent conversion to an Amphibious Force Flagship was re-designated WAGC-36. In September 1944 Spencer sailed to join the Pacific fleet, arriving at Hollandia, New Guinea on 1 November 1944. Spencer moved to the Philippines where, on December 7th, she became grounded on a reef in San Pedro Bay, Leyte and sustained moderate hull damage.
ww2dbaseAfter repairs, Spencer was underway as flagship and guide for the 8th Amphibious Group preparing for the 31 January 1945 landings at Nasugbu just south of Manila Bay. She went on to serve as flagship and headquarters vessel for amphibious landings at Puerto Princessa, Palawan; Talisay, Cebu; Moro Gulf, Mindanao; Santa Cruz near Digos, Mindanao; Brunei, North Borneo; and Balikpapan, Borneo. Spencer also served as flagship for other Seventh Fleet Task Groups made up of cruisers, escorts carriers, and elements of the Royal Australian Navy, and the Dutch Navy.
ww2dbaseWhen August 1945 brought news of the Japanese desire to surrender, almost immediately Spencer's role began to shift back toward her peacetime mission. She sailed to Jinsen, Korea, where she briefly served as auxiliary communication ship before being ordered back to San Diego, and then New York.
ww2dbaseAfter she was returned to her peace-time configuration, in 1946 she returned to her traditional Coast Guard duties of law enforcement, search and rescue, and weather station patrols; duties she performed with distinction for 22 years until August 1968.
ww2dbaseIn 1969, Spencer returned to combat for the first time since World War II when she again sailed with the Navy in waters off Vietnam. She spent nine months as part of the Navy's efforts to interdict communist waterborne supply lines.
ww2dbaseAfter Vietnam, Spencer resumed her normal peace-time duties serving through November 1973.
ww2dbaseSpencer was decommissioned on 23 January 1974 and served as an "Engineer Training School" where students trained using her steam propulsion plant until 15 December 1980. She was sold in October 1981 and scrapped.
ww2dbaseAt the time of Spencer's decommissioning, she was the most decorated US Coast Guard ship afloat. Like all other Coast Guard vessels that sailed as part of the Navy during World War II, the cutter Spencer served right alongside Naval Ships-of-the-Line and matched them blow for blow through some of the most demanding actions. Spencer earned eight battle stars in World War II (four in the Atlantic and four in the Pacific) as well as two battle stars in Vietnam.
ww2dbaseUSS Spencer Awards
ww2dbaseAt the time USS Spencer was decommissioned, she was the most decorated US Coast Guard ship afloat, receiving:
- Presidential Unit Citation
- China Service Medal
- American Defense Service Medal
- American Campaign Medal
- European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal w/ four battle stars
- Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal w/ four battle stars
- World War II Victory Medal
- Navy Occupation Service Medal
- National Defense Service Medal w/ one bronze star
- Vietnam Service Medal w/ two battle stars
- Philippine Presidential Unit Citation
- Philippine Liberation Ribbon w/ two stars
- Meritorious Unit Citation w/ Gallantry Cross w/ Palm
- Vietnam Campaign
Last Major Revision: Mar 2009
USCG Cutter Spencer Interactive Map
Spencer Operational Timeline
|1 Mar 1937||Spencer was commissioned into service.|
|23 Jan 1974||Spencer was decommissioned from service.|
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Joachim von Ribbentrop, German Foreign Minister, Aug 1939