The patrol frigate USS Carson City (PF-50) was the first U.S. Navy ship to be named for the state capital of Nevada. She was built by the Consolidated Steel Corporation of Wilmington, California, under a Maritime Commission contract as a type S2-S2-AQ1. Launched on 13 November 1943, she was christened by Mrs. C. B. Austin, the wife of the mayor of Carson City.
The ship was delivered to the Navy in a striking “dazzle” Measure 32 Pattern 22d camouflage pattern of grays and black stripes and blocks. She was placed in commission on 24 March 1944 at Terminal Island, California, under the command of U.S. Coast Guard Commander H. B. Roberts. After training and workup off the West Coast, the Carson City sailed from the Long Beach Naval Shipyard on 19 July 1944 for Milne Bay at the island of Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides archipelago. On 13 August, she arrived for patrol and escort duty with MacArthur’s 7th Fleet in the New Guinea area. On 15 September, she supported the Operation Tradewind landings on Morotai Island. Taking the island and establishing Army airfields on it was considered a strategic prerequisite for the staging of men and materiél, and to provide Army Air Corps bases to support the Philippines landing operations scheduled for 17 October.
After the landings in the Philippines, the Carson City—in company with the sister frigates USS Burlington (PF-51) and San Pedro (PF-37)—were tasked to escort a convoy of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons 9 and 10, composed of 26 patrol torpedo (PT) boats and their two tenders. The convoy came under heavy air attack off Morotai Island, and the Carson City opened fire, expending 47 3-inch rounds and a substantial number of 40-mm and 20-mm rounds and assisted in the downing of three enemy planes.
After safely delivering the PT boats and their tenders to Leyte in the Philippines, the Carson City steamed to Hollandia, New Guinea. There, she was assigned to escort convoys of troop transports and cargo ships being assembled for the follow-on support for the Leyte ground operations. On 16 October, she sailed from Humboldt Bay, New Guinea, as escort for a convoy of first-wave reinforcements for the Northern Attack Force on Leyte. On 22 October, she ushered her charges into the landing area, and the next day escorted empty ships back to Humboldt Bay. The Carson City then resumed convoy escort duty in the New Guinea area, shuttling supplies and troops between Wakde, Biak, Noemifoor Sansapor, Morotai, and Mios Woendi. While escorting a convoy in late October, the Carson City made sonar contact with a Japanese submarine. The Carson City made a single hedgehog and depth charge attack with unknown results as the ship broke off the attack to resume her station in the convoy’s escort screen. On 26 November, she sailed for overhaul at Pearl Harbor. During the overhaul, the ship was repainted an overall Navy blue camouflage Measure 21. After completion of overhaul and a workup period, the ship was ordered to report the Alaskan Sea Frontier. She arrived for duty on 12 January 1945 at Dutch Harbor, Alaska. There, the ship the escorted a series of convoys from Seattle, Washington, to Dutch Harbor without incident. She then was tasked to perform a series of tedious patrols on the cold, rough, foggy waters of the Gulf of Alaska.
In early 1945, the Navy was directed to transfer an “adequate number” of ships of “appropriate types” to the Soviet Union for use in invading the northernmost Japanese island of Hokkaido during Operation Downfall, the planned Allied invasion of Japan. On 29 August 1945, the Carson City and the 27 other Tacoma-class frigates that were to be transferred were decommissioned from the U.S. Navy and transferred under the secret Project Hula at Cold Bay, Alaska, to the Soviet Navy.
The Soviet Navy designated the ship as a Storozhevoi Korabl (escort ship EK) and commissioned her as the unnamed EK-22. The ship was transferred too late to participate in the Operation August Storm landings on the Kuril and Seisin Islands on 13 and 18 August 1945. Little is known about her Soviet service, but she is believed to have served in support of the ongoing postwar occupation operations.
A total of 28 frigates, 528 small landing ships and craft, and small support ships were transferred under Project Hula. After World War II, the Soviets were to return all loaned U.S. and British ships under the terms of the Lead-Lease agreement.
As the ships were not forthcoming, on 8 May 1947 U.S. Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal formally requested they be returned, but the Soviets apparently had no intention of returning any of them. Only after protracted negotiations—which included retired British Prime Minister Winston Churchill finally implying the United States and Great Britain might decide to get them back by force of arms, if necessary—did the Soviets reluctantly agreed to return them. The Soviets returned the Carson City at Yokosuka, Japan, on 31 October 1949 in very poor material condition. Everything removable was gone, and she suffered from a severe lack of maintenance. The ship re-assumed the name Carson City and was decommissioned and placed in reserve on the same day at the Yokosuka Naval Base.
The ship remained in reserve until she was selected under the U.S. postwar MAP (Military Assistance Program) to be loaned to a friendly foreign nation. She was overhauled in Japan at U.S. expense and loaned to the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force on 30 April 1953. She was renamed the Sakura (Cherry Blossom Tree) and redesignated PF290. Sakura remained in service until 31 March 1966, when she was decommissioned and redesignated Auxiliary Stock Craft YAC16 (a harbor service craft). She remained in service as such until stricken from the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force on 31 March 1971.
Custody of the ship was returned to the U.S. Navy at Yokosuka, and she was transferred to the U.S. Department of Defense Surplus Property Division. She was immediately stricken from the U.S. Navy vessel registry and put up for sale for scrapping. In 1972, the hulk was towed to the Chien Ho Fa Steel and Iron Works in Taiwan and broken up, ending the 28-year, three-nation career of the USS Carson City, Patrol Frigate 50.
The Carson City was the 48th ship in the 100-vessel Tacoma-class patrol frigate program. During World War II and the Korean War, 79 Tacoma-class patrol frigates were operated by the United States. Ordered into production by President Franklin Roosevelt, they were intended to be a quick way to get a hundred “war emergency” convoy escorts. The class was originally ordered as 100 ships, but four were canceled and 14 were transferred to Great Britain. The Tacoma-class ships were based on the British River-class frigate design.
The Royal Navy provided two Canadian-built examples of River-class frigates to the U.S. Navy, the USS Asheville (PF-1) and Natchez (PF-2). Built to merchant ship standards, they lacked many features considered essential (damage resistance and damage control capabilities) for a U.S. Navy warship, and reciprocating main engines, all of which contributed to an “unwanted” status in the U.S. Navy. The Navy did not crew any of the Tacoma-class ships during World War II, assigning them instead to the Coast Guard. The Tacomas were designed for production-line assembly in civilian yards like the Liberty ship program. And like the Liberty ships, they were considered expendable. One veteran of the Carson City told me that, as they steamed into the combat zone, their commanding officer told the crew not to worry, as the Japanese would not waste a torpedo on them.
Despite their light construction and orphan status, these ships performed sterling service during World War II. They escorted convoys (their designed function), acted as weather ships, supported amphibious landings, and performed endless hours of tedious escort and patrol duty. They operated in every theater of the war, from the sweltering heat of General Douglas MacArthur’s Southwestern Pacific Area, across the notoriously rough North Atlantic, and in the cold, dark, stormy waters of the Bering Sea on the Alaskan Sea Frontier. Some of the patrol frigates remained in foreign service into the 1990s. Not bad for a “one-off” design.
The legacy of the USS Carson City continues to live on in northern Nevada. The ship’s bell, commissioning pennant, photographs, and a painting of the ship are on display in a kiosk in the city hall of Carson City, located at 201 North Carson Street, and are available for public viewing. And the local Navy League Sea Cadet Division is named the USS Carson City PF-50 Division.
In April 2013, the U.S. Navy officially announced that Joint High-Speed Vessel 7 (JSHV-7) (redesignated expeditionary fast transport EPF 7) would be named the USNS Carson City. The ship is a 338-foot twin-hulled all-aluminum catamaran-type troop and cargo transport. She will be capable of transporting 700 tons of cargo and 104 troops, or 312 troops in airline-style seating. She will have an unfueled range of 1,200 nautical miles at an average speed of 35 knots. Because of her shallow draft (12.6 feet) and high speed (45 knots) the ship will be able to operate in a wide variety of conditions. She also is fitted with an aircraft landing deck to operate vertical takeoff-and-landing aircraft and helicopters. The ship was constructed at Austal USA in Mobile, Alabama. She was christened on 16 January 2016 by Mrs. Bob Crowell, wife of the mayor of Carson City. The ship is one of ten planned for the Spearhead class. She is manned by a civilian crew and operated by the Military Sealift Command.