Escanaba US Coast Guard Cutter
Length: 165 | Delivered 1932
The Cutter Escanaba
Taken from an article written by the Saginaw River Marine Historical Society, Bay City, Michigan
The Defoe Shipyard of Bay City is well known for its World War II warships. Patrol craft, destroyer excorts, fast transports, minesweepers and several other types came down the marine assembly line with great regularity. In all more than 150 military vessels were built and the yard won awards for its contributions to the war effort.
Part of the reason that the local yard was the beneficiary of large military contract was its experience in naval construction of vessels in the 100-200 foot range. Before the war the shipbuilder had turned out a number of sturdy warships and ausxiliaries for the Coast Guard and Navy. Among these was a pair of fast steel Coast Guart cutters designed for use on the Great Lakes - the ONONDAGA and the ESCANABA.
The ESCANABA was launched with great fanfare in 1932. She was 165 feet long, had a 36-foot beam and drew 13 feet maximum. In an era when Coast Guard duties on the lakes included the interception of "rum-runners" as well as search and rescue, the ESCANABA was the epitome of modern cutter speed and efficiency.
Her first station was to be Grand Haven, Michigan, and Mother Nature chose to give her her first tiral enroute. The way to her Lake Michigan duty station was blocked by a terrific late fall blizzard and gale. Her skipper, Lt. Cdr. L.W. Perkins, decided that it was a matter of pride to try out his new command in the teeth of the lake's worst, rather than to skulk to some wayport. On December 9, 1932, with flags flying and her plume of black smoke scudding off horizontally, the ESCANABA steamed out of the gib Lake Michigan greybeards and into Gran Haven harbor.
She quickly made a name for herself in the search and rescue arena. In addition to helping many pleasure boats in distress, in 1933 she plucked two downed airmen from the sing of their sinking Kohler aircraft and in late November, 1934 she saved the crew of the stranded steamer HENRY CORT. The big whaleback was breaking up on the Muskagon breakwater in another Great Lakes gale.
By 1936, she was such a beloved fixture on the lake Michigan coast that a yearly festival was begun in her homeport in her honor. The Grand Haven Coast Guard festival continues to this day.
But storm clouds darker than any Lake Michigan could offer were rising. War meant that all Coast Guard units were on detatched duty with the U.S. Navy. The decimation of shipping to the Continent highlighted a desperate need for convoy escort ships. In 1942 ESCANABA painted over her shiny brass fittings, fitted two 3-inch guns and six anti-aircraft machineguns and set out for the Atlantic sea lanes. During her duty there she rescued over 130 sailors form torpedoed merchant ships.
ESCANABA's final mission ended on June 13, 1943 in the cold North Atlantic. She was on convoy escort duty in company with five other Coast Guard vessels of her task unit. These included another Defoe product, the diesel cutter RARITAN. At 5:30 am, observers from other vessels reported a terrific fire aboard the cutter and a billowing cloud of yellow smoke. The ESCANABA went down quickly. Even though her fleetmates rushed to the scene, only two of the ship's 103-man complement could be rescued. Though the exact cause of loss has never been determined, the offical opinion is that the Great Lakes cutter succumbed to a deadly German torpedo thousands of icy miles from her snug Bay City birthplace.
ESCANABA is gone, but not forgotten. The pride of Grand Haven is still honored there and a memorial plaque honoring the vessel and her lost crew is still on prominent display in Grand Haven's waterfront park.
Saginaw River Marine Historical Society