Bismarck & Tirpitz


USCGC Modoc (WPG-46)
Operational History

Named for a small tribe of northeastern California Native Americans, USCGC Modoc was a typical multi-role United States Coast Guard cutter.  Modoc was built by Union Construction of Oakland California in 1922 at a cost of $775,000.  Modoc, along with her sisters Tampa , Mojave, and Haida, comprised the Tampa class of Coast Guard cutters.  Sponsored by Miss Jean Lemard, Modoc was launched in October 1922.  After two and a half months of fitting out, Modoc was commissioned January 14, 1923 . Modoc’s displacement of over 1,500 tons, making her suitable for coastal patrols, search and rescue, and ice patrols.  Fitted with two 5-inch 51 caliber guns, Modoc was very heavily armed for a ship of her role and type.  After Pearl Harbor , Modoc was fitted with additional anti-aircraft guns as well as depth charges, sonar, and radar. 

Modoc began International Ice Patrols just weeks after commissioning in 1923.  From her home port of Wilmington , North Carolina , Modoc undertook 15-day patrols off the Grand Banks for nearly 18 years, until the outbreak of WWII.  Modoc was transferred to the US Navy on November 1, 1941 with orders to join the Greenland Patrol and conduct a multi-role mission. Shortly before this, Denmark turned over Greenland to the United States as a Protectorate.  The mission of the Greenland Patrol was to protect the mine at Ivigtut on the southwest coast as well as the security of Greenland itself.

Modoc’s operational duties at this time included convoy escort, the search and rescue of sailors from torpedoed ships, logistics, as well as search and destroy missions.  After service in World War II, in 1947, Modoc and her sisters where decommissioned and sold to private interests. Modoc received one battle star for her service during WWII.

Modoc was sold to Manuel Velliantis of Honduras in 1947 and renamed Amalia V.  She was later sold to the Tropical Navigation Co. in 1960 and renamed Machala .  Modoc/Machala was scrapped in 1964.

Faithful Encounter

On May 20, 1941 , Modoc departed St. Johns , Newfoundland with orders to search for survivors of a British convoy, which had lost many ships to German submarines the day before.  Modoc assumed a northeasterly course, but heavy North Atlantic seas and snow squalls reduced visibility to zero.  No survivors from the British convoy where sighted but Modoc continued the search. 

By Sunday May 24, 1941 , visibly rose to approximately six miles and the seas became calm.  Around 1400 hours, off duty crewman where taking in a matinee movie on the mess deck and the watch changed.  LTJG George R. Boyce and LTJG Richard E. Bacchus had the bridge with ENS Thomas R. Sargent on watch in the engine room. 

Near the end of the watch, a huge grey warship appeared off the starboard bow in the evening dusk.  Quickly the warship was classified as a battleship of unknown nationality.  The crew of Modoc had no knowledge that Bismarck and Prinz Eugen had escaped Norway and where operating in the North Atlantic or the pursuit by the Royal Navy.  Quartermaster of the watch Art Gibbs ran to Modoc’s carbon-arc signal lamp and flashed “AA”.  “AA” is the international signal for any ship to identify itself.  As stated by most of the crew of Modoc, Bismarck did not reply and proceeded on.  Bismarck crossed the bow of Modoc and continued on the port side.  Modoc radioed Bismarck in an attempt to get her to break radio silence and thus give away her position.  Bismarck did not reply and she slipped by Modoc

Minutes later, the crew of Modoc sighted aircraft bearing down on them and General Quarters was sounded.  As the alarm blared, the two five inch guns and the three inch gun where manned and ready.  The crew closed and secured the watertight doors and two large US flags where placed on deck to show that Modoc was in fact a neutral ship.  As the crew found their way to their battle stations, seven British Swordfish torpedo aircraft where using the Modoc to get a line up on Bismarck .  The British aircraft flew directly over Modoc toward Bismarck Bismarck ’s anti-aircraft fire came dangerously close to Modoc’s port bow.

As the British planes flew on, Modoc’s crew observed two very large explosions from the hull of Bismarck .  Orders where given for flank speed and Modoc turned away from the danger she found herself in.  Bismarck disappeared as Modoc moved away in the opposite direction at 14 knots.

Later on during the hunt for Bismarck , HMS Norfolk identified Modoc as a hostile target and made preparations to open fire.  Thankfully HMS Prince of Wales identified Modoc as a US Coast Guard vessel and radioed Norfolk with this information. Modoc came perilously close to catastrophe and had it not been for the quick work of HMS Prince of Wales, Modoc would have been in serious trouble.  Several hours later, after the excitement had died down, Modoc again took up the search for survivors with the Coast Guard cutter Northland.  By May 26, Modoc had found no survivors and made for Newfoundland

USCGC Modoc bore witness to one of the most important battles in naval history and nearly became a casualty as a result.

Technical Details
Builder Union Construction Company, Oakland , California
Length 240'
Beam 39'
Draft 13' 2"
Displacement 1,506 tons (trial)
1,955 tons (1945)
Cost $775,000
Commissioned 14 January 1922
Decommissioned 1 February 1947
Disposition Sold 30 June 1947
Machinery 1 x General Electric 2,040 kVa electric motor driven by a turbo-generator; 2 x Babcock & Wilcox, cross-drum type, 200 psi, 750° F superheat
Performance: Max. speed/endurance 16.2 knots on trial (1921)
Max. sustained 15.5 knots, 3,500 mile radius (1945)
Econ. speed/endurance 9.0 knots @ 5,500 mile radius (1945)
Complement 10 officers, 2 warrants, 110 men
Electronics Detection Radar SF-1; SC-3
Sonar QCJ-3
Armament 1921 2 x 5"/51 single mounts; 2 x 6 pounders; 1 x 1 pounder.
1942 2 x 5"/51 single mounts; 1 x 3//50 (single); 2 x .50 caliber machine guns; 4 x "Y" guns; 2 depth charge tracks.
1945 2 x 3"/50 single mounts; 4 x 20 mm/80 (single); 2 x depth charge tracks; 4 x "Y" guns; 2 x mousetraps.
Article: © Joseph B. Lavender