In 1940, as evidence mounted that the United States would become involved in World War II, Navy planners began to remedy the lack of brown-water, green- water, and short-seas vessels. Suitable yachts were purchased by the dozens for conversion to patrol craft. Fishing vessels were obtained for conversion to minesweepers, and a number of yacht and small commercial boat builders won contracts for the construction of various small craft. The almost-explosive increase in the tempo of naval construction overwhelmed the ability of the established Offices of Supervisor of Shipbuilding to carry out their inspection and monitoring responsibilities, so new offices were established in strategic locations. One of these was the Office of Supervisor of Shipbuilding, Annapolis, Maryland—Sup Ships Annapolis.
On 1 April 1941, the Annapolis Yacht Yard, Inc., was awarded its first contract to build two 110-foot submarine chasers, PC-521 and PC-522. Sup Ships Annapolis was established that same month. Lieutenant Commander W. H. Leahy, U.S. Navy, was designated Supervisor of Shipbuilding, and George Barr, a civilian who had been a professional yacht captain and a spar maker, was appointed as resident hull inspector at the yard.
In late 1940 or early 1941, Chris Nelson, the president of the Annapolis Yacht Yard, traveled to England to negotiate the right to build Vosper 70-foot torpedo patrol boats (PTs) in the United States. When he attempted to obtain a contract to build Vospers for the British, he was told that the Lend-Lease Act passed the previous day, so he would have to negotiate such a contract through the U.S. Navy. Nelson did this, and in July 1941, the yard was awarded a contract to build eight motor torpedo boats for the. British. After the contract was awarded, the yard realized the roll of plans Nelson brought back from England represented parts of several different versions of the 70- foot Vosper, which would have to be completely reengineered for U.S. materials and other standards to achieve a coherent design for production.
When Leahy and Sidney Peters, the civilian head of the Patrol Craft Section, visited Annapolis, Barr would take them to the cubbyhole of an office assigned initially to the Navy. Unopened mail was piled high on a desk. According to Peters, Barr would reach into the pile at random, pull out a letter, and suggest that they open it, “because it looks kind of important.” It was obvious that Barr needed someone to supplement his expertise in wooden boat construction. Peters, who was a 1924 graduate of the Webb Institute of Naval Architecture, learned that I had designed a 70-foot PT to the Navy’s 1938 PT design competition requirements as my senior thesis at Webb. I had been on active duty as a young naval constructor, an ensign in the Naval Reserve since September 1940, and after several months as a ship superintendent converting yachts to gunboats, I was assistant hull superintendent, building the battleships Iowa (BB-61) and Missouri (BB-63) at New York’s Brooklyn Navy Yard. In mid-September 1941, I received orders to report to Maryland’s Annapolis Yacht Yard as Resident Assistant Supervisor of Shipbuilding, which I did on 1 October.
One evening in spring 1942, a very distinguished-looking Navy captain appeared at the door of my apartment on Maryland Avenue in Annapolis and introduced himself as Captain Hollis M. Cooley, U.S. Navy. He informed me that he had a new Navy stationwagon to turn over to me for use in my official duties. Because additional yards had been added to Annapolis as my responsibility, the new wheels were most welcome. I confess to a little surprise at the time that a captain would be delivering a car to me. I learned that Captain Cooley owned a home in Wardour, just west of Annapolis. Plans were being made to establish an Office of Procurement and Material in the Navy. Cooley and others protested strongly, but the office was established on 31 January 1942, with Vice Admiral S. M. Robinson, U.S. Navy, as Director. Captain Cooley was senior enough to arrange his own transfer from Washington duty to Supervisor of Shipbuilding, Annapolis, and he set up his office in quarters provided by the Annapolis Yacht Yard. My title was modified to Assistant Supervisor of Shipbuilding, Hull Technical and Ordnance Officer.
Captain Cooley believed that a minimum number of personnel should be used, and as instructions were received to designate one officer whose “sole duty” would be to serve as security officer, conservation officer, priorities officer, etc., he simply would assign the new responsibility to whomever in the main office was least burdened at that time. He trusted us to carry out our duties without his constant supervision, and he was there to offer help if needed and to back us up if we should get into difficulty. It was a wonderful atmosphere in which to work.
Building Torpedo Patrol Boats for Allies
The British Navy also took delivery in Annapolis of the 28 Vosper PTs built under Lend-Lease. Consequently, three prospective squadron commanders and three prospective squadron engineers were assigned to duty with Sup Ships Annapolis for periods of up to six months in 1942 and 1943. All were personable, war-seasoned Royal Navy lieutenants, who often were joined by other officers and crews.
The Annapolis Yacht Yard was awarded the first of two contracts to build PTs for the Russian Navy in March 1943. Initially, representatives from the Russian Embassy in Washington came to Annapolis a day or two at a time to look after their interests, but in July 1944, Russian Captain K. N. Sidorenko and three lieutenants were assigned to full-time duty in the Supervisor’s office. Captain Sidorenko stayed longer than the lieutenants—until October 1945, after the last of the boats had been launched. Other Russian personnel were assigned to the office from time to time to help with the translation of plans, specifications, operational instruction manuals, and assembly instructions, and to study construction methods in preparation for the assembly of knock-down PTs in Russia.
In carrying out its mission, Sup Ships Annapolis worked as independently of the Navy Department as it could. Bureau of Ships plans, specifications, contract provisions, and master production schedules were our primary guides. Material substitutions and minor changes to the Bureau’s plans and specifications were authorized by the Supervisor’s office after review by the hull technical, or engineering and electrical officers. Major issues, however, were referred to the Bureau of Ships for final decision. In this regard, principals of the Annapolis Yacht Yard and the Owens Yacht Company often went to the Bureau of Ships without prior consultation with the Supervisor, often leading to misunderstandings. It was difficult to break Owens of the habit but somewhat easier to convince Annapolis that time and effort could be saved by first consulting with the Supervisor’s office.
As lead yard for the construction of Vosper-type PTs in the United States, Annapolis produced all detailed building plans and procured all “government-furnished” equipment for boats being built by the various yards. The yard also fabricated special fittings such as rudders, steering gear, shaft logs, and struts in its machine shop for all of the boats.
While all boats were tested before shipment, only the 110-foot submarine chasers, the torpedo patrol boats, and selected numbers of the smaller craft were given full acceptance trials consisting of speed runs over a measured mile, endurance checks (usually four hours at full speed), and maneuvering tests. The first British PT went to New London, Connecticut, for torpedo trials on the Navy’s test range. The arrival of two 21-inch British torpedoes at the local railroad station for that purpose caused some consternation in the freight agent’s office.
The trip to New London, with crew consisting of Annapolis Yacht Yard personnel; me, representing Sup Ships Annapolis; Lieutenant Kenneth Craddock-Hartop, Royal Navy—the prospective squadron commander of the first British boats—and British torpedo and radar ratings, proved interesting and somewhat exciting. Our passage up Long Island Sound in a low ground fog introduced me to radar. The British radar rating pointed out the Connecticut hills to port on his screen. Shortly afterward, while I was helping keep a lookout forward, he yelled from the radio/radar room “Large lumps of land dead ahead!” We stopped just in time to keep from running aground on Two Trees Island just west of New London.
On the first day on the New London torpedo range, we fired individual port and starboard shots successfully and without incident. The following day, we fired a port and starboard salvo. The trail of the starboard fish was picked up quickly as we ran down the range at full speed, but there was no sign of the port fish. Suddenly, it shot out of the water no more than 500 feet from us, and then porpoised in a wide circle until its fuel was exhausted. The British torpedo rating commented rather laconically; “We’ve lost a few boats from that.” Apparently the depth control malfunctioned when the torpedo was launched, causing it to dive to the bottom, where the practice head sheared off. Then it headed rapidly for the surface. Had it been a live-warhead shot, the torpedo probably would have been armed and detonated when it struck the bottom under the boat, causing catastrophic results.
As noted previously, the 110-foot submarine chasers were taken over by their U.S. Navy crews at the Annapolis Yacht Yard and Vinyard Shipbuilding Company; likewise, the British PTs were taken over by Royal Navy delivery crews in Annapolis. The Russian PTs were taken to New York by small Annapolis Yacht Yard crews, each boat including a Sup Ships representative, frequently me. In New York, they were delivered to a Mr. Sudbin, a representative of the Russian Lend-Lease Mission, who arranged for their transport to Murmansk on cargo ships.
Deliveries began in the winter of 1943-44 and continued into the summer of 1945. In winter, delivery was made via Cape Charles with an overnight stop in Cape May to refuel. In ice-free months, the trip was made via the Canal and Delaware Bay in as few as eight hours from Annapolis to New York. After a few mixed-up recognition signals— thanks to our lack of a competent signalman in the crew—I learned that we were being used as an example of poor wartime recognition procedures in a lecture at the Naval Academy Postgraduate School. Thereafter, I arranged to borrow a qualified signalman from the Academy for all trips.
Because we traveled in all kinds of weather, some trips were delightful, others miserable. One in particular, during a March northeaster—the first via the Delaware Bay that year—nearly ended in tragedy. We had slogged through heavy seas, sleet, and snow, huoy-hopping up the New Jersey coast as far as the Atlantic City sea buoy. Taking our departure from there, we headed for the Barnegat lightship, but could not find it in the low visibility. So we elected to run back to Atlantic City. As we went up the channel to the Ventnor Boat Works, 1 went forward with the deck hand to get mooring lines from the forepeak. When we opened the hatch, we looked through a hole in the port side two frame spaces wide and as deep. The steady pounding of the seas as we worked along at 20 knots (we could not hold our course at a lesser speed) caused a light intermediate frame just forward of the collision bulkhead to break at midlength and caved in the double diagonal planking it supported. Had we continued on, the collision bulkhead possibly would have been breached by the pounding, and we would have foundered. The second boat on that trip showed similar damage, though not as severe.
The hole was patched by Ventnor, and the boats made it to New York a couple of days later. Mr. Sudbin was taken aback when he saw their condition, and asked how long it would take to repair the boats properly. An estimate of several weeks elicited the comment “I’ll take the boats.” The convoy we had been told we had to meet in one day—causing us to ignore the storm warnings when we cleared Cape May—had not sailed. Apparently Sudbin was reluctant to not occupy the deck load space he had reserved.
In early 1944, the Germans still held the north shore of the Black Sea. A scheme was hatched to develop build- it-yourself PT boat kits to be shipped to the Persian Gulf, then overland to the southeast coast of the Black Sea, where they would be assembled and used against German shipping by the Russians. The Annapolis Yacht Yard won a contract to produce 70 boat kits on 31 March 1944. All equipment and fittings were fabricated by Annapolis or procured from subcontractors. The Meredith-Roane Lumber Company built a large warehouse at the rear of its property on West Street, Annapolis, which the yacht yard leased. There, all parts necessary to build each boat were gathered, carefully identified, and packaged for overseas shipment. In the meantime, a “how to assemble a PT” manual with plans was written by Annapolis Yacht Yard engineers. The first kit boat was launched on 26 August 1944-
By the time the first kits were ready for shipment, the situation had changed. The Germans had retreated from the Black Sea, so kits for 14 boats were shipped to Leningrad via Murmansk for assembly. Three of the yard’s top mechanics—Connie Clayton, boat builder, Charles Adler, engine man, and George Helde, electrician—traveled to Leningrad in late 1944 and early 1945 to help a mostly female crew assemble the first boat. Assembly of the other 55 boats began in Annapolis. With all of the preparatory work that had gone into producing subassemblies, it took as few as three weeks from keel laying to launching.
A Large and Lengthy Effort
Between 1941 and 1945, nine companies in the northern Chesapeake Bay and southern Delaware Bay areas for which Sup Ships Annapolis was responsible built some 2,286 vessels. These included 24-foot plane personnel boats; 33-foot plane rearming boats; 36-foot landing craft; 36-foot aircraft rescue boats; 45-foot picket boats; 70-foot Vosper PTs; 110-foot sub chasers; tank landing ships; and 110- and 174-foot steel barges. Contract prices totaled more than $92 million. With the end of World War II, the reserve officers attached to Sup Ships Annapolis began to return to civilian life. All contracts either were completed or terminated, and government and contractor obligations for the liquidation of accumulated materials and completed but undelivered boats were settled. After Captain Cooley’s retirement in 1946, Sup Ships Annapolis responsibilities were overseen primarily by Sid Peters.
In 1946, the Bureau of Ships began to develop a new class of patrol boat. Design contracts and a circular of requirements were issued to four potential builders, including the Annapolis Yacht Yard. Based on the proposed designs, contracts were awarded in 1947 for the design and construction of four different boats: PT-809 by the Electric Boat Company, PTS 10 by the Bath Iron Works, PT-811 by the Annapolis Yacht Yard, and PT'812 by the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. Chris Nelson died shortly after Annapolis was awarded its contract. His partner, N. Eric Almen, decided to liquidate the Annapolis Yacht Yard to settle Nelson’s estate. John Trumpy & Sons of New Jersey bought the Annapolis Yacht Yard in 1947 and assumed the contract to design and build PTS11.
In October 1950, 2,000 mines laid by the North Koreans kept some 50,000 U.S. troops on 250 ships from landing at the otherwise unprotected port of Wonsan, North Korea. A mine-clearing job that should have taken no more than five days with an adequate force of minesweepers took 15 days. The war forced a crash program to design minesweeping boats (MSBs) Trumpy received a contract to build the prototype and four additional 57-foot MSBs in 1951.
In 1952, Trumpy received contracts to build five more MSBs and six 50- foot utility boats. Sup Ships Annapolis also was assigned responsibility for the construction of some barges at Port Deposit, Maryland, and Navy repair contracts at the Oxford Boatyard Company on the other side of Chesapeake Bay. Also during the Korean War, Trumpy won another contract to design and build a larger minesweeping boat—the 82-foot MSB-29. Sup Ships Annapolis was disestablished in 1952, and responsibility for Navy work at Trumpy was transferred to the Supervisor of Shipbuilding Industrial Manager, Baltimore. In the Vietnam War years, the yard refitted PTS11 as the fast gunboat PTF-2 and built six Nasty-class 80-foot fast gunboats. Thus ended the life of a small but crucial Navy shipbuilding organization.
The Historic Maritime Republic of Eastport
Eastport, home of the Annapolis Yacht Yard and declared—tongue-in-cheek— by its residents to be an independent republic, is across Spa Creek from downtown Annapolis, Maryland. A 13-stop walking tour highlights the community’s development, from its founding in 1868 and early days as a working-class community of watermen, boatbuilders, and U.S. Naval Academy workers to today’s mix of residences and maritime industry. The former Annapolis Yacht Yard is featured at the third stop on the tour.
Another tour stop is the Barge House Museum at 133 Bay Shore Avenue. Exhibits have examined Eastport during World War II, and looked at the watermen and churches of the peninsula. An exhibit on the Trumpy Yard is planned to open in early June. The Museum is open Saturdays from 1100-1600, and admission is free. For more information, call 410-268-1802. The exhibit, “100 Years of Spa Creek Boatyards” was purchased by the Carroll’s Creek restaurant for permanent display (Severn Avenue between Fifth and Fourth Streets).
To reach Eastport from downtown Annapolis, cross the Spa Creek Bridge. The first stop of the tour is to the left. Pick up a brochure and enjoy this charming and historic neighborhood.