327s–Why Were They So Successful?

Of all the larger Coast Guard Cutters, the 327s are generally recognized as the most successful design. It is not just their success as ASW vessels in WWII. They were retained long after their younger siblings, the 255s, were decommissioned.


Photo: Spencer (WPG-36) on convoy duty.

The 327s were an anomaly, a radical break from the 240 and 250 foot cutters that preceded them, and the 255 foot cutters that followed.

Class                                              Tampa             “Lake”          “Secretary”        Owasco
First Delivery:                                   1921            1928                    1936                 1945
Displacement (tons, full load) :        1,955            2,075         2,350-2,750               2,010
Length (feet):                                     240               250                       327                  255
Beam:                                                 39                 42                        41                     43
Draft:                                                17’9″               16                        15                      16
SHP:                                                2735            3350                    6200                  4000
Speed:                                             15.5                 17                     19.5                  19.0

The 1964 Naval Review article I referred to previously, recommended modernizing the 327s, then almost 30 years old, with diesel engines and flight decks, but made no mention of modernizing the decade newer 255s, which were to be replaced. “These ships were all built of galvanized steel, and even today necessary structural restoration would be small. Modernization now would add at least another ten years to their life expectancy and would provide much better ships than are now operation.

As built, the 327s were already more than 100 tons larger than contemporary Navy destroyers, but by 1945 they had added another 400 tons to their full load displacement. They had this margin because the design was based on the Navy’s 2,759 ton Erie class gunboats that had been conceived as miniature cruisers intended to screen the battleline from destroyer attack. Their generous size allowed them to not only function as capable open ocean escorts with more depth charges and K-guns (depth charge throwers) than were carried on destroyers, but also allowed them to serve as escort group flagships. They were then converted to amphibious force flag ships. All but the Alexander Hamilton, sunk in the 1942, had exceptionally long careers approaching 50 years or even longer in the case of Ingham, including service off Vietnam. https://i0.wp.com/upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/4/4a/Ingham_USNavyYardSouthCarolina_USNavy_11Oct1944_cropped.jpg

Photo: Ingham (WPG-35) at U.S. Navy Yard, S.C., Oct. 11, 1944

Other than the service life requirements that are being included in our ship building contracts, I don’t know how you can define, require, and justify this kind of excess capacity and quality in the ships the Coast Guard builds, but it certainly paid dividends.

21 thoughts on “327s–Why Were They So Successful?

  1. As far as quality goes, they were built in the Navy yards. We don’t have too many civilian yards in the US anymore, let alone a government-owned yard with the capacity and experienced workforce to build a class of equivalent ships today.

    Second, they were based on a Navy vessel design, so the construction was sturdier than the standards we build to today.

    Third, they were big for their time with excess capacity, which made them very flexible.

    Fourth, they just looked like a cutter should look! In my mind they will always be the first image to come to mind when I hear the term “Cutter.”

  2. And they rode like a dream. On our summer cruise to Europe, we had 2 327’s and 1 378. When we encountered some mildly rough conditions in the North Sea, the 378 was a roller coaster, and on the 327’s we rode it out quite nicely.

    • It always looks worse than it feels. I remember being relieved on Ocean Station by a sister ship (311). Looking at her, a third of her length would come out of the water and you could see her sonar dome. It looked very impressive. We felt perfectly comfortable, but I knew the same thing was happening to us.

      I was always impressed by the way the 327s rode, but the 378s were good too. Best thing about the 327s were that the steam power plants were relatively quiet.

      • Served in USCGC SPENCER 1970 TO 1972.

        Weathered a few nasty storms on various ocean stations, and must say that I never lost any sleep. Only buried the bow once while powering about in 30 foot seas.

        It was obvious to me why the 327’s were so effective at anything they were called upon to do. Not withstanding the sea keeping abilities of the vessels it wouldn’t have mattered much without the dedicated CREWS that manned them.

        Semper Paratus

  3. I am with you on the steam plants Chuck, never even needed to bother with hearing protection it seemed.

  4. Well, I agree the 327′ rode great in my short experience on cadet cruise aboard INGHAM. Hard to judge over the years, but HAMILTON didn’t do to bad in 37-40′ seas last winter in the Bering at 44 years young. While it is easy to say the 327′ was far superior the truth is we will likely see some 378′ s around for as long as INGHAM was.

  5. I was thinking of how the WLB transition took place in the late 80’s thru the 90’s. The 180′ WLB was pretty much the perfect buoytending design. Some would say the 225′ was sub optimized for pure buoytending. But we got pretty close to what we asked for and while I rather enjoyed driving the HORNBEAM, there wasn’t a day I didn’t look back at WILLOW (WLB 202, not here namesakes) and think what a big awesome ship she was. While the hull and propulsion systems just weren’t as effective for pure buoytending (my opinion) we could and did work so much more efficiently that the net gain was incredible. Of course some of that can also be factored into the change in buoy technology, revised visit requirements, solarization and paint (or not to paint w/ high VOCs). On the whole, I’d suggest the same sequence played out with the 327′ to 378′ transition and will again. Good operators will figure these new platforms out and do more with them than the designers ever envisioned.

    • What looked like extremely long careers for the 327s is starting to look like the norm. The 378s have served us well. Not as varied in their service as the 327s, but the country is certainly getting their money’s worth.

  6. Would not the type of service be the deciding factor rather than the length of service?

    The 327s came out of the chute and were nearly constantly at sea for six years and then continued. However, their last years in commission were spent pretty much moored for lack of parts and repairs.

    • When I left Duane in ’84, she was almost 48 years old and was still making all her commitments. I’m not knocking the 378s or the 210s, they have given good service, more than should reasonably have been asked of them and their crews.

      • INGHAM and TANEY were swapping turns at the pier in Portsmouth Spring/summer of ’86

    • Warships have no purpose, but to fight, and most go through their lives without ever doing any actual combat, which is ultimately a tremendous waste of resources. The 327s went through three wars and actually engaged in combat in two wars decades apart, in addition to all their peacetime work. On a per ship basis, they were the most successful American ASW ship of WWII, so even if they had done nothing else they would have been considered remarkable.

      They show why investing in ships for the Coast Guard can be better than investing in ships for the Navy–if it is done right.

      • Warships have a deterrent purpose as well. The very fact they exist prevents us from having to fight in many cases. I am not sure how intimidating a CG cutter is that would have the same effect as a warship if we were to ever implement your theory.

      • No, we can’t substitute for carriers or subs or even DDGs, but adding just a little to the Coast Guard budget to build a combat capable cutter is more economical than building one similar navy vessel and one non-capable cutter.

  7. But it was the Coast Guard itself which advocated removing its combat capability in the early 1990s though.

      • Actually for the 378s, it made sense at the time, but when they were built they did have a meaningful capability, and they had the potential to be better armed.

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