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HistoryUSS Valcour (AVP-55) HistoryHistory

Circa 1990

HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: "...THE UNITED STATES NAVY IN "DESERT SHIELD" I "DESERT STORM"..." http://www.gulflink.osd.mil/histories/db/navy/usnavy_017.html [17NOV2003]

Navy presence was embodied in the "little white fleet" of USS Duxbury Bay (AVP-38), USS GREENWICH BAY (AVP 41) and USS VALCOUR (AVP 55) - former seaplane tenders - which rotated duties as flagship for Commander- Middle East Force and his staff. All three ships were painted white to counter the region's extreme heat. The flagship served as the primary protocol platform of the United States throughout the region. Accompanied by one or two other rotationally deployed warships, the Middle East Force (MIDEASTFOR) provided the initial U.S. military response to any crisis in the region, as well as humanitarian and emergency assistance.

For the next 20 years, three or four ships at a time were assigned to MIDEASTFOR - generally a command ship and two or three small combatants such as destroyers or frigates. Because temperatures in the Persian Gulf, Red Sea and Indian Ocean reached as high as 130 degrees, the non-air-conditioned ships rotated every few months - a practice still followed today, with the exception of the single forward-deployed command ship....

Circa 1962

HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: "...1962 - USS Valcour (AVP-55) provides medical care to a merchant seaman from tanker SS Manhattan in the Persian Gulf..." http://www.history.navy.mil/wars/datesmay.htm [17NOV2003]

Circa 1951

HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: Naval Aviation News December 1951 "...Tender Rejoins The Fleet - Page 12 - Naval Aviation News - December 1951..." WebSite: http://www.history.navy.mil/nan/backissues/1950s/1951/dec51.pdf [25JUL2004]

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Circa Unknown
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HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: "...USS Valcour (AVP-55, later AGF-1), 1946-1977..." http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/sh-usn/usnsh-v/avp55.htm [17NOV2003]

USS Valcour, a 1,766-ton Barnegat class small seaplane tender, was built at Houghton, Washington, and was commissioned in July 1946. After shakedown training at San Diego, she proceeded to the East Coast in September 1946 for duty with the Atlantic Fleet. She then operated out of Norfolk, Va.; Quonset Point, R.I.; Cristobal, Canal Zone; and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba tending seaplanes through mid-1949.

Designated flagship for Commander, Middle East Force, Valcour departed Norfolk in August 1949 for the first of sixteen deployments to the Middle East. She returned to Norfolk in March 1950 and conducted a second tour as Middle East Force flagship between September 1950 and March 1951. In May 1951, while departing Norfolk for independent ship exercises, she suffered a steering casualty and veered across the bow of the collier Thomas Tracey. The ensuing collision ruptured an aviation gasoline fuel tank and started a raging fire that took the lives of 36 men. After a major firefighting and salvage operation, she was brought back into port the following day. Valcour then underwent an extensive overhaul, during which air conditioning was installed and her 5"/38 gun was removed to compensate for the added weight.

Between 1952 and 1965 Valcour deployed every year to the Middle East as one of a trio of ships that served alternately as flagship for Commander Middle East Force. Through 1961 Valcour followed a highly predictable schedule, departing Norfolk in January, relieving USS Duxbury Bay (AVP-38) upon arrival on station, being relieved by USS Greenwich Bay (AVP-41), and returning to Norfolk in August. Highlights of this service included the boarding, salvage, and return to its crew of the burning and abandoned Italian tanker Argea Prima in May 1955 and a visit to the Seychelles Islands in 1960. She was the first U. S. Navy ship to call there in 48 years. In around 1960 Valcour received some conspicuous equipment upgrades, including a tripod mast with a newer air search radar and a tall communications antenna which, with its deckhouse, replaced the quadruple 40mm gun mount on her fantail. She completed her fifteenth Middle East cruise in March 1965.

In a 1965 force realignment, Valcour's two running mates were ordered decommissioned and Valcour was selected to be the sole Middle East flagship. As such, she was reclassified AGF-1 in December 1965 and departed the United States for her new home port of Bahrain in April 1966. Though designated the permanent Middle East Force flagship in 1971, in January 1972 she was selected for inactivation. After relief as flagship by La Salle (AGF-3), in November 1972 she arrived in Norfolk following transits of the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Valcour was decommissioned in January 1973. In March her stripped hulk was towed to Solomons Island, Md., where it was used by the Naval Ordnance Laboratory for electromagnetic pulse experiments. She was sold for scrap in June 1977.

HistoryA BIT OF HISTORY: "...Valcour AVP-55..." http://www.hazegray.org/danfs/auxil/avp55.htm [17NOV2003]

Displacement 1,776
Length 310'9'
Beam 41'2"
Draw 11'11"
Speed 18.5 k
Complement 367
Armament 1 5", 8 40mm, 8 20mm, 2 rkt
Class Barnegat

Valcour (AVP-55) was laid down on 21 December 1942 at Houghton, Wash., by the Lake Washington Shipyard, launched on 5 June 1943, and sponsored by Mrs. H. C. Davis, the wife of Capt. H. C. Davis, the intelligence officer for the 13th Naval District. Valco ur was taken to the Puget Sound Navy Yard for completion, but the heavy load of war-damage repairs conducted by that yard meant that her construction assumed a lower priority than the repair of combatant vessels. As a result, Valcour was not completed unt il well after World War II ended. She was commissioned at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard (the former Puget Sound Navy Yard) on 5 July 1946, Comdr. Barnet T. Talbott in command.

Ordered to the Atlantic Fleet upon completion of her shakedown (conducted between 9 August and 9 September off San Diego) Valcour transited the Panama Canal between 17 and 21 September and reached the New York Naval Shipyard on 26 September for postshake down availability. Valcour subsequently operated out of Norfolk, Va.; Quonset Point, R.I.; Cristobal, Canal Zone; and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; tending seaplanes of the Fleet Air Wings, Atlantic, through mid-1949.

Having received orders designating her as flagship for the Commander, Middle Eastern Force (ComMidEastFor), Valcour departed Norfolk on 29 August 1949; steamed across the Atlantic and the Mediterranean; stopped at Gilbraltar and at Golfe Juan France; tra nsited the Suez Canal; and arrived at Aden, a British protectorate, on 24 September. Over the months that ensued, Valcour touched at ports on the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf (Bahrein, Kuwait Ras Al Mishab, Basra; Ras Tanura, Muscat; Bombay India; Colomb o, Ceylon, and Karachi, Pakistan). She returned to Norfolk on 6 March 1950 (via Aden Suez, Pireaus, Greece; Sfax, Tunisia, and Gibraltar). Late in the summer (after a period of leave, upkeep, and training) the seaplane tender returned to the Middle East f or her second tour as ComMidEastFor flagship which lasted from 5 September 1950 to 15 March 1951.

On the morning of 14 May 1951, two months after she returned to Norfolk, Valcour headed out to sea for independent ship exercises. While passing the collier SS Thomas Tracy off Cape Henry, Va., she suffered a steering casualty and power failure. As Valco ur veered sharply across the path of the oncoming collier, she sounded warning signals. Thomas Tracy attempted to make an emergency turn to starboard but her bow soon plowed into the seaplane tender's starboard side, rupturing an aviation gas fuel tank.

An intense fire soon broke out and, fed by the hightest aviation gas, spread rapidly. To make matters worse, water began flooding into the ship's ruptured hull. Although fire and rescue parties on board went to work immediately, the gasoline-fed inferno forced many of the tender's crew to leap overboard into the swirling currents of Hampton Roads to escape the flames that soon enveloped Valcour's starboard side. The situation at that point looked so severe that Capt. Eugene Tatom, the tender's commanding officer, gave the order to abandon ship.

Thomas Tracy, meanwhile, fared better. Fires in that ship were largely confined to the forward hold and she suffered no injuries to her crew; she managed to return to Newport News with her cargo (10,000 tons of coal) intact. Valcour, on the other hand, b ecame the object of exhaustive salvage operations. Rescue ships including the submarine rescue ship Sunbird (ASR-15) and the Coast Guard tug Cherokee (WAT-165) sped to the scene of the tragedy. Fire and rescue parties (in some cases forced to utilize gas masks) succeeded in bringing the blaze under control but not before 11 men had died, and 16 more had been injured. Another 25 were listed as "missing."

Towed back to Norfolk (reaching port at 0200 on the 15th) Valcour underwent an extensive overhaul over the ensuing months. During those repairs, improvements were made in shipboard habitability (airconditioning was installed) and the removal of her singl e-mount 5-inch gun forward gave the ship a silhouette unique for ships in her class. The reconstruction task was finally completed on 4 December 1951

Valcour rotated yearly between the United States and the Middle East over the next 15 years, conducting yearly deployments as one of the trio of ships in her class that served alternately as flagship for Com MidEastFor. There were several highlights to t he ship's lengthy Middle East deployments. In July of 1953, during the ship's fourth cruise, Valcour aided a damaged cargo vessel in the Indian Ocean and then escorted her through a violent typhoon to Bombay, India. In May 1955, men from Valcour boarded t he blazing and abandoned Italian tanker Argea Prima at the entrance to the Persian Gulf, even though the ship at the time was laden with a cargo of 72,000 barrels of crude oil and proceeded to control the fires. Once the seaplane tender's fire and rescue party had performed their salvage operation, Argea Prima's crew reboarded the ship; and she continued her voyage. Later, Valcour received a plaque from the owners of the tanker in appreciation of the assistance rendered to their ship.

Valcour performed her duties so efficiently that the Chief of Naval Operations congratulated ComMidEastFor for her outstanding contribution to good foreign relations and for her enhancement of the prestige of the United States. The ship was also adjudged the outstanding seaplane tender in the Atlantic Fleet in 1957 and was awarded the Battle Readiness and Excellence Plaque and the Navy "E" in recognition of the accomplishment. During Valcour's 1960 cruise, she became the first American ship in 48 years t o visit the Seychelles Islands, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean. In 1963, Valcour earned her second Navy "E".

In between her deployments to the Middle East Valcour conducted local operations out of Little Creek, Va.; Guantanamo Bay; and Kingston, Jamaica. In 1965, the ship qualified as a "blue nose" by crossing the Arctic Circle during operations in the Norwegia n Sea.

She completed her 15th cruise on 13 March 1965 and soon thereafter was selected to continue those duties on a permanent basis. She was reclassified as a miscellaneous command flagship, AGF-1, on 15 December 1965 and departed the United States for the Mid dle East on 18 April 1966 for her 16th MidEastFor cruise.

Valcour's mission was that of command post, living facility, and communications center for ComMidEastFor and his staff of 15 officers. Demonstrating American interest and good will in that area of the globe, Valcour distributed textbooks, medicine, cloth ing, and domestic machinery (such as sewing machines, etc.) to the needy, under the auspices of Project "Handclasp." Men from Valcour helped to promote good relations in the countries visited by assisting in the construction of orphanages and schools; by participating in public functions; and by entertaining dignitaries military representatives, and civilians. In addition while watching merchant shipping lanes, Valcour stood ready to rescue stricken ships and to evacuate Americans during internal crises.

Homeported at Bahrain (an independent sheikdom in the Persian Gulf) since 1965, Valcour became the permanent flagship for ComMidEastFor in 1971. Relieved as flagship by La Salle (LPD-3) in the spring of 1972, Valcour returned to Norfolk, Va., via Colombo Singapore; Naval Seaplane Base Brisbane, Australia; Wellington, N.Z. Tahiti, Panama, and Fort Lauderdale, Fla. After four days at the last-named port, she arrived at Norfolk on 11 November, completing the 18,132-mile voyage from the Middle East.

After being stripped of all usable gear over the ensuing months, Valcour was decommissioned on 15 January 1973 and shifted to the Inactive Ship Facility at Portsmouth, Va., so that she could be prepared for service as a test-bed for electromagnetic tests held under the auspices of the Naval Ordnance Laboratory (NOL), White Oak, Md. Her name was struck from the Navy list simultaneously with her decommissioning. Towed from Norfolk to Solomons Island, Md. branch of NOL the following March, she soon thereaft er began her service as a test ship for the EMPRESS (Electromagnetic Pulse Radiation Environment Simulation for Ships) facility. The erstwhile seaplane tender and command ship was sold by the Navy in May 1977.

"USS Valcour (AVP-55) Summary Page"