ABOUT THE FLEET TUG
Navy designed to fit a requirement for a deep sea tug capable of ranging the world’s oceans, the Apache class became one of the top priority items in the pre-war naval buildup of 1940. Faster than any tugs then in naval service, the Apache class ships were designed to keep up the average cruising speeds of its fighting sisters and still perform all of the multitude of duties required of the stoutest salvage tugs. They had to be able to tow a damaged battleship or carrier to safety, fight fires with the water pumping power of the best fireboats, tow or push giant floating drydocks across oceans and still be capable of defending themselves against, air, surface and submarine attack. As one king-sized order to fill the naval designers hit their goal for the venerable ATFs did all that was expected of them, and more and they’ve been doing it for 40 years with little sign of letting up. Rated as fleet auxiliaries in World War II, the fleet tugs were better armed than any vessel of their type.
With a dual purpose 3” .50 cal. Gun and varying combinations of 20 and 40mm antiaircraft guns and depth charges, they lent flak support during air raids, occasionally laid mines, and more than once did their share of sub hunting when pressed into a combat role.
What they did best was what they were designed to do. As salvage and rescue ships they knew no peer, be it pulling stranded landing craft off of an invasion beach, or helping a torpedoed merchantman fight for survival. Their sheer versatility helped them to clear up the scuttled chaos of Naples Harbor in record time largely owing to the massive strength of their 20-ton derrick boom. In the Divine Wind holocaust off Okinawa they proved their stamina and guts by slugging it out with suicide subs and death-bound Kamikazes along with the rest of the besieged fleet.
In postwar years the fleet tugs’ duties continued to be just as vital, if less arduous than in wartime. Assigned to naval districts, they range the ocean in support of fleet operations and perform a myriad series of tasks from towing to rescue missions. Dozens were transferred to foreign navies in the early fifties, and in 1956 four were recommissioned and loaned to the U.S. Coast Guard to augment that service’s oceangoing responsibilities. Their design was so well conceived that it became the basis for the ASR-7 Class submarine rescue ships.
Time has taken its toll of the plucky ATFs. Of the sixty plus built during the war, eight were sunk or badly damaged (two in the Korean War) and several have been scrapped. As of 1978, Navy rolls showed 11 still on active duty with five of these being unarmed vessels assigned to the Military Sealift Command. Three still serve the Coast Guard and several of those stricken serve as remote control target ships.
Cree (AT-84) was launched 17 August 1942 by United Engineering Co., San Francisco, California; sponsored by Mrs. T. Colburn; and commissioned 28 March 1943, Lieutenant P. Bond in command. From 10 April to 9 May 1943 Cree sailed between San Francisco and San Diego towing target sleds and drydock sections. She cleared 11 May for Seattle and Dutch Harbor, and operated out of Adak from 27 July 1943 to 15 August 1944. Cree screened transports to Kiska, had towing and salvage duties, and aided the distressed USSR’s Valery Chkalov between 15 and 23 December 1943. Cree was reclassified ATF-84, 15 May 1944. Returning to San Francisco 21 August 1944, Cree sailed 1 October to serve as retriever tug for a convoy to Eniwetok, returning to Pearl Harbor 14 November. She cleared 7 December on another convoy trip to Eniwetok, then continued to Guam and Ulithi on towing duty. She joined the screen of the replenishment group of the 5th Fleet at Ulithi 8 February 1945 and sortied for the invasion of Iwo Jima, during which she stood by for salvage assignments, until returning to Ulithi to replenish 5 March. Cree arrived off Okinawa 16 March for salvage operations on the beachheads until 1 July, when she sailed for overhaul at San Pedro Bay, Leyte. Cree was based at Pearl Harbor for towing and salvage duties throughout the Pacific until the outbreak of the Korean War. Arriving at Yokosuka 6 July 1950, she acted as beaching control off Kyuryuhon on 16 and 17 August, transferring salvage equipment to the Korean navy, buoying swept channels, and supporting the Inchon landings from 15 September to 15 October with salvage and towing services. Returning to Long Beach, California, 16 June for overhaul, Cree operated alternately at Pearl Harbor and in the Pacific islands and along the west coast until 4 August 1959, when she sailed for duty based on Sasebo, Japan, until 19 December. She returned to west coast operations through September 1960 when she sailed for her 1960-61 Far Eastern tour of duty.
ABOUT THE MODEL
Production of the “Cree” commenced in October of 1979 after considerable deliberation for the 1979-80 project. My collection included the usual stuff in the form of a PT boat, “Toot Toot” (a rather large tugboat), a large sailboat called the “Atlantic” which I almost choked myself on with all the stainless steel rigging, and a smaller PT boat run on gas. However, I decided I needed something Military in large form.
Several months before all this Scale Ship Modeler had run an article on a naval deep sea tug which caught my eye. It didn’t really look much like a tugboat with its long length and narrow beam, but it offered a considerable amount of detail potential which I happen to like. I decided this would be the way to go. The marketplace didn’t offer anything in the way of kits or plans for the hull, so I started calling the Navy Department in Washington, D.C, realizing that a letter to them might take several years to get a reply. They, in turn, couldn’t understand why I wanted to build a 205’ tugboat in my backyard! It took several minutes, on my behalf, to convince the lady on the other end of the phone that this was to be a model, etc., etc. “We don’t sell model plans, Sir, this is the Navy Department!! . . .“ Then, more conversation ensued whereupon I was transferred to some nice older man who suggested I go to Mystic, Connecticut, and view what he thought was a model of this boat on display in their Museum and that perhaps I could get the builder’s name from them. I persisted, and was transferred again to another lady who, after considerable explanation on my part, realized what I wanted. Her husband was a model maker so I was in luck. Elation set in and my hopes were renewed. “But,” she said, “I can’t send you the body plans because they are kept in Pearl Harbor.” That would be like building an airplane with no wings, I thought to myself! The conversation went on. “Why,” I asked,: “can’t I get the body plans?” The reply, she said, was simple . . .“They are restricted.” I replied that, to the best of my knowledge, the War was over and thirty years had elapsed after which that particular restriction is usually lifted. Again I persisted and was again transferred to a Mr. Conway whose name should be placed in the Smithsonian along with a bust of this man! He understood the whole thing. Would I please contact a Mr. Brawly at the “Naval Sea Engineering Drawings and Microfilm Support Division.” Good old Mr. Conway said Brawly would help me and had exactly what I needed, but I asked him if he would call first so as to save the confusion I’d probably encounter. He did, and the subsequent telephone conversation went without a hitch except that those body plans were, indeed, out at Pearl Harbor, but that he would get them for me if I’d wait two weeks. I said I would, hung up, and sat there feeling like I’d just played four sets of tennis! That evening I spent a lot of time thinking about all this. The following day I called several shipyards to inquire as to whether or not plans or drawings might be available. Most had gone out of business, and the others were of no help. Then I called an old friend of mine, a Captain Schwab, who was retired, but knew a lot of high naval brass on the West Coast. I was directed to a Captain Henry Rumble who was retired and lived in San Diego. He, in turn, saved the day, and got me the plans I needed within a week. Shortly after that he called to say there was actually an ATF tug of the type I was building in port in San Diego. That helped towards detailing the end of the project. He also explained the restriction of body lines inasmuch as; anything below the waterline was never shown on the general plan which might help the enemy determine the draft of the boat, thus enabling them to set their torpedoes to the proper running depth. So, it took the better part of two weeks to get the plans I needed which turned out to be extremely detailed in every respect. The booklet of general plans did arrive later on from Washington which was six pages thick. For those of you who are looking for American Naval plans of anything which was built, you can always write or call the Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington, D.C. 20362. Telephone (202) 692-1574. The Bureau of Ships no longer exists. I paid four dollars for the booklet of general plans for the “USS Cree” which is certainly fair.
With the plans in hand I went to Quality Blueprint to have them enlarged providing a hull length of nine feet. This took a couple of days, but they did a beautiful job and I ended up with full size bulkheads, and the keel. The balance of plans simply scaled up myself as the project progressed. No big deal.
Production of the model began in October of 1979 with completion scheduled for June of 1980 so I could get it back to Gull Lake in Northern Minnesota to terrify those fishermen!
I contacted AI Wood of Modelcraft Engineering, Los Angeles, to let him know what I was planning and to get started on a 3:1 reduction box for the electric motor. Dukes Pump out in Northridge had provided the power plant for “Toot Toot” (my previous tug) which I felt would be ample for the “Cree” inasmuch as her hull lines were smoother arid a lot less beam. This turned out to be correct later on when she got into the water. Very fast for her size and probably somewhat over scale speed. Anyway, Al ended up producing a flawless reduction unit which worked very well.
I looked all over for a substantial speed control unit that would handle up to 28 volts only to find there was nothing available. Chuck Smith directed me to a company called Vantec out in Northridge who built these units on a special order basis. The owner, Dale de Villeneuve, did a superb job for me and produced a very reliable speed control unit which is water cooled and will easily handle the voltage. He also added some neat little trick goodies which I’ll not discuss in this article, but I can assure you he’s one of the greats in the field of electronics. As a matter of fact, he did a lot of work on “R2D2” for the “Star Wars” picture before it was released. The balance of the project was standard procedure. The model was completed June 18th and shipped on Western Airlines to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where I picked it up, crate and all, for the drive to Gull Lake 150 miles to the North. With a weight of 204 pounds, this monster was difficult to handle until set in its dolly, after which everything was easy. Launching was made simple through the use of a movable platform which lowers into the lake through a pulley arrangement. The boat and dolly are then floated off the platform.
Initial runs of the “Cree” were successful with far more speed than I’d anticipated, but lousy steering capability. The turning characteristics left a lot to be desired and further engineering on this problem did provide better handling, but it’s still not correct. I’m sure this is caused by the narrow beam of the model and its length, although it is to scale, so perhaps the real boat suffered the same problems. I’ve made a larger rudder with some additional linkage which may reduce the turning radius and increase the rudder response.
The hull handled well in rough water although she’s a “rock and roller,” make no mistake.
The local newspaper sent two individuals out to have a look and several days later the story came out on the front page of the Brainerd Dispatch with the following caption:
“MINIATURE ATTACK SHIP STALKS GULL”
I must admit I did upset two individuals in a canoe who saw the “Cree” heading in their direction and soon lifted their paddles ready to strike in self-defense. The lady up front had to weigh in the neighborhood of 250 pounds and nearly turned the canoe over with her frightened movements at the sight of the nine foot tug headed directly at them. I assume it was her husband in the stern who kept yelling at her to sit still or they’d both be in the water. I gave a little blast on the diesel horn, fired all four water guns, and departed with both of them holding their paddles ready to strike. I was later accused of being a “prankster” by some, but all in good fun although it was humorous at the time. I never saw the canoers again.
GENERAL INFORMATION ON THE USS CREE
10 Channel Kraft Sport Series
12 Volt Diesel Horn—Servo operated
12 Volt Doorbell—Servo operated
4-12 Volt Roberk windshield washer pumps for Water guns
2-12 Volt Roberk pumps for speed control cooling and motor cooling
2-12 Volt Roberk pumps for bilge cleanout
2-3 Volt motors to operate radar antennas
1-9 Volt motor to operate lifeboat motor
Note: The entire electrical system is fused for overloads
24 12 Volt computer bulbs throughout and fused.
1-28 Volt Dukes Inc. flap motor rated at 6300 rpm direct through 3-1 reduction box with an 8 amp draw under load.
1-12 Volt Sears Diehard battery rated at 125 amps
1-6 Volt Motorcycle battery rated at 85 amps (Main engine is powered with 18 volts direct with all other units powered with 12 volts)
Bulkheads were sawn from ½” mahogany plywood with ½x¾ inch balsa planking. The entire hull was then fiberglassed both inside and out to provide strength. The keel was sawn from 3/4 inch birch plywood. Decking was made from ¼ inch birch plywood and glassed. Deck beams were shaped from 1” solid pine, steamed and bent to shape of decks. Railings were made from brass welding rod. Both lifeboats were carved from Solid balsa blocks, hollowed out and shaped.
All Windows and portholes were made from 1/16th inch Lucite and glued in position.
Planking was glued and nailed with removal of nails at completion. Holes were filled with Bondo.
Water drainage is provided by bulkheads “gaps” allowing water to drain to the Stern where it is pumped out if necessary by the bilge pump. The hull was virtually waterproof, however.
All ¼” aircraft mahogany plywood was used.
Extreme curves were formed on balsa blocks for shape and then covered with 1/8th inch mahogany plywood which was glued into position. Entire upperworks were coated with clear finishing resin for strength and “filling.” This provided a good surface for sanding and finishing. The entire superstructure Is removable in one piece providing access to 75% of the Inner hull. The weight of the structure provides a good watertight seal on rubber arid requires no hold-downs.
Standard drainpipe reworked to shape with asbestos lining for high temperatures created by smoke materials.
Custom made by Al Wood and enlarged by Bauman Prop service of Houston, Texas.
Balanced and pitched to 23 degrees.
Filling was accomplished with “White Lightnin’” filler and sanded. This is an excellent automotive product which will not crack.
Once filled, the hull and upperworks were coated with clear finishing resin and sanded.
To this I applied Dietzler high-speed automotive enamel undercoat which is the best product on the market for a good finish. Several coats were applied. The final color coat was Dietzler automotive acrylic enamel with a hardener mixed in. Seven coats were applied utilizing a 25% flattener ingredient to provide a dull grey finish. The usual sanding and filling procedures were accomplished throughout this part of the project.
Both batteries are charged through one plug arrangement with a trick switchover from 6-12 Volts.
Mostly handmade to scale from plumbers piping of brass end copper.
Crew figures were reworked “swat” team dolls.
Weight: 204 pounds (with ballast)
Ballast: 90 pounds of #12 buckshot in bags
Beam: 19 Inches
Length: 9 Feet
Draft: 14 Inches
Speed: About 6 mph
Running Time: 3 Hours under full charge