USS Unimak (AVP-31)

USS Unimak (AVP-31) was a United States Navy Barnegat-class small seaplane tender in commission from 1943 to 1946 that saw service in World War II. After the war, she was in commission in the United States Coast Guard as the cutter USCGC Unimak (WAVP-379), later WHEC-379, WTR-379, and again WHEC-379, from 1949 to 1975 and from 1977 to 1988

USS Unimak (AVP-31) at Seattle, on 31 January 1944
United States
Name: USS Unimak (AVP-31)
Namesake: Unimak Bay on the southern side of Unimak Island, Alaska, in the Aleutians
Builder: Associated Shipbuilders, Inc., Seattle
Laid down: 15 February 1942
Launched: 27 May 1942
Sponsored by: Mrs. H. B. Berry
Commissioned: 31 December 1943
Decommissioned: 25 January 1946
  • Lent to U.S. Coast Guard 14 September 1948
  • Transferred to Coast Guard 26 September 1966
Acquired: Transferred from U.S. Coast Guard 1988
Fate: Scuttled 1988 to form artificial reef
United States
Name: USCGC Unimak (WAVP-379)
Namesake: Unimak Bay on the coast of Unimak Island in Alaska (previous name retained)
  • Loaned by U.S. Navy 14 September 1948
  • Transferred from Navy to Coast Guard 26 September 1966
Commissioned: 3 January 1949
Decommissioned: 31 May 1975
Recommissioned: 22 August 1977
Reclassified: High endurance cutter, WHEC-379, 22 August 1977
Decommissioned: 29 April 1988
Fate: Transferred to U.S. Navy 1988
Notes: Radio callsign NBVG
General characteristics (seaplane tender)
Class and type: Barnegat-class small seaplane tender
  • 1,766 tons (light)
  • 2,592 tons (full load)
Length: 310 ft 9 in (94.7 m)
Beam: 41 ft 2 in (12.55 m)
Draft: 13 ft 6 in (4.1 m)
Installed power: 6,000 horsepower (4.48 megawatts)
Propulsion: Diesel engines, two shafts
Speed: 18.2 knots (33.7 km/h)
  • 215 (ship's company)
  • 367 (with aviation unit)
Sensors and
processing systems:
Radar; sonar
Aviation facilities: Supplies, spare parts, repairs, and berthing for one seaplane squadron; 80,000 US gallons (300,000 L) aviation fuel
General characteristics (Coast Guard cutter)
Class and type: Casco-class cutter
Displacement: 2,498 long tons (2,538 t) full load in 1966
Length: 311 ft 7¾ in (95.0 m) overall; 300 ft 0 in (91.4 m) between perpendiculars
Beam: 41 ft (12.5 m) maximum
Draft: 12 ft 7 in (3.8 m) full load, aft, maximum, in 1966
Installed power: 6,080 bhp (4,530 kW)
Propulsion: Four Fairbanks-Morse 10-cylinder direct-reversing diesel engines in two engine rooms; two shafts
Speed: 17.3 knots (32 km/h) sustained maximum in 1966>br/> 10.0 knots (19 km/h) economic in 1966
  • 10,300 nautical miles (19,100 km) at 17.3 knots (32.0 km/h) (19,076 kilometers at 32 km/h) in 1966
  • 20,800 nmi at 10.0 knots (18.5 km/h) (38,522 km at 19 km/h) in 1966
Capacity: 166,430 US gallons (630,000 L) (630.0 kiloliters) diesel fuel
Complement: 89 (10 officers, 2 warrant officers, 77 enlisted personnel) in 1966
Sensors and
processing systems:

Construction and commissioning

Unimak was laid down on 15 February 1942 at Harbor Island, near Seattle by Associated Shipbuilders, Inc. She was launched on 27 May 1942, sponsored by Mrs. H. B. Berry, the wife of Captain H. B. Berry, the personnel officer of the 13th Naval District, and commissioned on 31 December 1943 with Commander Hilfort C. Owen in command.

United States Navy service

World War II

Operations in Central America, the Galápagos Islands, and the Caribbean

Unimak was engaged in shakedown and fitting-out into late January 1944. With that completed, she departed San Diego, California, on 20 March 1944, bound for the Panama Canal Zone. Arriving at Balboa, Panama, on 28 March 1944, Unimak operated on the Pacific coast of Central America into April 1944, providing logistics support to advanced seaplane bases at Santa Elena Bay, Ecuador, and at Aeolian Bay, Battra Island, in the Galápagos Islands. She soon shifted to Coco Solo on the Caribbean side of the Panama Canal and transported men and materiel to Barranquillas, Colombia, arriving there on 25 April 1944.

After escorting the merchant ship SS Genevieve Lykes back to Coco Solo on 23 and 24 June 1944, Unimak conducted routine exercises with patrol planes into July 1944. On 4 July 1944 she received reports that a tanker near her position had been torpedoed, and headed for the damaged ship. When she arrived on the scene late that day, Unimak found the tanker still underway, making for the Panama coast. She immediately commenced screening the disabled ship and, aided by an escort of United States Army Air Forces and U.S. Navy planes, shepherded the tanker safely to Colón, Panama, late on the afternoon of 5 July 1944.

Soon thereafter, Unimak shaped her course towards the last reported position of Navy blimp K-53. At 15:32 hours on 9 July 1944, she sighted two yellow rubber life rafts and the wreckage of the crashed blimp floating on the water. At 15:58 hours, Unimak took on board nine survivors and sank the unsalvageable blimp by collapsing the bag with 40-millimeter gunfire. She then landed the survivors at Portland Bight, Jamaica.

On 13 July 1944, Unimak joined with the destroyer USS John D. Edwards in hunting for a submarine reported to be lurking nearby. Within a few days, word of a crashed plane sent the two ships speeding for the last reported position of the aircraft. When they arrived at the crash site, they found widespread debris and small floating pieces of the crashed plane. It was noted in the ship's diary that they recovered a "mutilated unidentifiable crewmember's body" that was "badly blasted and burned". The aviator was buried at sea with full military honors on 16 July 1944 at 10°14′30″N 078°53′00″W.

Unimak remained in the Caribbean through the autumn of 1944, tending patrol planes, conducting logistics support missions for advanced seaplane bases, and occasionally towing targets for the patrol planes training in the area. On 15 December 1944, the seaplane tender USS Rockaway relieved Unimak, releasing her to steam north via Norfolk, Virginia, to Boston, Massachusetts.

Voyages to England

Arriving at Boston at the end of December 1944, Unimak underwent availability at the Boston Navy Yard for the entire month of January 1945. She got underway for England on 14 February 1945, but an engineering casualty forced her to return to Boston for a major propeller shaft alignment which lasted into March.

On 7 April 1945, Unimak got underway for the British Isles and proceeded, via Bahia Praia in the Azores, to Bristol, England, on the first of two voyages to England to bring back supplies and men from decommissioned U.S. Navy patrol plane squadrons in the United Kingdom, and was engaged in these activities when the war with Germany ended in May 1945. On the second voyage, from 5 June 1945 to 15 June 1945, Unimak transported the men and material of Patrol Bomber Squadron 103 (VPB-103 and 105) from Bristol to Norfolk.

Transfer to the Pacific

Departing Hampton Roads, Virginia, on 20 July 1945, bound for the United States West Coast, Unimak transited the Panama Canal on 26 July 1945 and arrived at San Diego on 3 August 1945. She got underway for Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on 12 August 1945. She was en route when hostilities with Japan ended on 15 August 1945 bringing World War II to a close.

Post-World War II

Unimak operated in the Hawaiian Islands until 7 September 1945, when she headed for the Aleutian Islands. She operated in the Northern Pacific calling at Adak, Kodiak, and Attu, Alaska, and once at Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky in the Soviet Union into November 1945 before heading southward to prepare for inactivation.

Reporting for inactivation in December 1945, Unimak was decommissioned on 26 July 1946 and placed in reserve.

United States Coast Guard service

Barnegat-class ships were very reliable and seaworthy and had good habitability, and the Coast Guard viewed them as ideal for ocean station duty, in which they would perform weather reporting and search and rescue tasks, once they were modified by having a balloon shelter added aft and having oceanographic equipment, an oceanographic winch, and a hydrographic winch installed. After World War II, the U.S. Navy transferred 18 of the ships to the Coast Guard, in which they were known as the Casco-class cutters.

The Navy loaned Unimak to the United States Coast Guard on 14 September 1948. After undergoing conversion for Coast Guard use, she was commissioned into the Coast Guard on 3 January 1949 as USCGC Unimak (WAVP-379).

Service history


Unimak was home-ported in Boston, Massachusetts, from 3 January 1949 to 1 September 1956. Her primary duty during her Coast Guard service was to serve on ocean stations to gather meteorological data. While on duty in one of these stations, she was required to patrol a 210-square-mile (544-square-kilometer) area for three weeks at a time, leaving the area only when physically relieved by another Coast Guard cutter or in the case of a dire emergency. While on station, she acted as an aircraft check point at the point of no return, a relay point for messages from ships and aircraft, as a source of the latest weather information for passing aircraft, as a floating oceanographic laboratory, and as a search-and-rescue ship for downed aircraft and vessels in distress, and she engaged in law enforcement operations.

In June 1956, Unimak patrolled the Newport, Rhode Island-to-Bermuda race.

Unimak was stationed at Cape May, New Jersey, from 1 September 1956 to 7 August 1972 and used primarily for training United States Coast Guard Reserve personnel, including training cruises to Brazil and Nova Scotia. She took part in the United States Coast Guard Academy cadet cruise of August 1965.

Unimak was reclassified as a high endurance cutter and redesignated WHEC-379 on 1 May 1966. Her loan period from the Navy came to an end on 26 September 1966, when she was transferred permanently from the Navy to the Coast Guard.

On 7 March 1967, Unimak rescued six Cuban refugees in the Yucatán Channel. On 10 March 1967 she rescued survivors from the fishing vessel Bunkie III in Florida waters. On 15 March 1967, she rescued 12 Cuban refugees who were stranded on an island. On 29 May 1969, she towed the fishing vessel Sirocco which was disabled 35 nautical miles (65 km) east of Fort Pierce, Florida to safety.

Unimak was reclassified as a training ship and again redesignated, this time as WTR-379, on 28 November 1969. On 3 April 1970, she stood by the grounded merchant ship Vassiliki near Mayaguana Island until a commercial tug arrived to assist Vassiliki.

From 7 August 1972 to 31 May 1975, Unimak was stationed at Yorktown, Virginia, and was again used to train Coast Guard reservists.

The Coast Guard decommissioned Unimak on 31 May 1975 placed her in reserve at the Coast Guard Yard at Curtis Bay, Maryland.


On 22 August 1977, the Coast Guard recommissioned Unimak, reclassifying her as a high-endurance cutter and returning her to the designation WHEC-379. She was home-ported at New Bedford, Massachusetts, for the rest of her Coast Guard career. During this stint in commission, she was used primarily for fisheries patrol.

Unimak also interdicted the trafficking of illegal drugs. On 6 October 1980, she seized the merchant ship Janeth 340 nautical miles (630 km) southeast of Miami, Florida, carrying 500 bales of marijuana. On 14 October 1980, she seized the pleasure craft Rescue carrying approximately 500 bales of marijuana and the pleasure craft Snail with two tons of marijuana on board in the Gulf of Mexico. On 17 October 1980, she seized the merchant vessel Amalaka southwest of Key West, Florida, carrying 1,000 bales of marijuana. On 19 October 1980, she seized the fishing vessel Wright's Pride southwest of Key West, carrying 30 tons of marijuana. In March 1981, while on an Officer Candidate School training cruise, she intercepted the merchant ship Mayo with 40 tons of marijuana on board.

On 9 October 1982,[lower-alpha 1] Unimak towed the disabled fishing vessel Sacred Heart away from Daid Banks, 45 nautical miles (83 km) east of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, in 30-foot (9.1-meter) seas.[1]

Between 28 January 1983 and 9 March 1983, Unimak again deployed to the Caribbean for a law-enforcement patrol. On 27 and 28 February 1983, she towed the dismasted sailing vessel Wandering Star to Mathew Town, Great Iguana. On 3 March 1983, she towed the disabled merchant vessel Yadrina to Mathew Town.

On 30 November 1984, Unimak seized the sailboat Lola 100 nautical miles (190 km) north of Barranquilla, Colombia, carrying 1.5 tons of marijuana. Another drug seizure occurred on 2 November 1985, when Unimak seized the tug Zeus 3 and a barge 200 nautical miles (370 km) south of the Dominican Republic carrying 40 tons of marijuana.

Decommissioning and disposal

Unimak was the last of the 35 Barnegat-class ships and the last of the 18 Casco-class cutters in service in the United States when the Coast Guard decommissioned her on 29 April 1988 and transferred her to the U.S. Navy. She was then sunk that year as an artificial reef off the Virginia coast in 150 feet (46 meters)[2] of water.



  1. USCG source materials state 9 December 1982, but that appears to be the date the story was released rather than the date the event occurred


  1. "Old Coast Guard cutter makes big rescue". The Day. Associated Press. 9 December 1982. p. 18. The rescue took place Oct. 9, but details were disclosed Wednesday [8 Dec 1982] by the Coast Guard.
  2. USCGC Unimak WHEC 379: The Last of Its Class
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