Ship Type Designations–The Bertholfs are Minesweepers?

In the comments section of a previous post we got into a small discussion about type designations. The Coast Guard type designation system is supposed to be a straightforward adaptation of the Navy’s designation system that was initiated in 1920 with the expedient of preceding the standard designation with a “W” to indicate Coast Guard.

Initially the designation system was a relatively simple. Ships were uniquely identified by a two letter designator followed by consecutive hull numbers within the category defined by the designator. The first letter was a general classification and the second letter was to define a sub-category (e.g.–PG for patrol gunboat, WPG was the designation of large patrol cutters before the switch to WHEC). If there were no sub-category, the first letter would be repeated (e.g.–DD for destroyer). Since 1920, the system has gotten a bit more complex with additional modifiers added to basic designations, but generally the system has proven useful and has been adopted in a simplified, single letter form by NATO, and many of the world’s navies have followed their example.

Particularly recently, designations of several types, both Coast Guard and Navy, don’t fit the traditional system. Some of these deviations from the system at least have the advantage of a long history, but the newest designations (WMSL and WMSM) are particularly inappropriate and uninformative.

Why should we care?

The designations are shorthand for capabilities and help our friends and allies understand our ships’ capabilities and limitations. Using non-standard designations can lead to confusion and misunderstandings. Using the system correctly will also help our own personnel understand the logic of the US Navy and NATO designations better. These designations are not only used to identify our own forces, they are also frequently used in intelligence reports and discussions of other Navies’ vessels. I’ll make some suggestions, but first let us examine the system in more detail.

The W prefix:

The “W” prefix for Coast Guard is not the only prefix used this way. Currently MSC ships use a “T” prefix, followed by a dash, before the Navy standard designation. In World War II, ships being built in the US for Britain were given a “B” prefix. “E” has also been used as a prefix to denote experimental. At one time “O” was used as a prefix to indicate old. Notably the Army’s ships, which also generally follow the Navy system, do not use a prefix. NOAA does not use the system, their hull numbers are preceded only by an “R” for research or “S” for survey, and the first digit of their three digit hull number identifies a classification based on size and horsepower.

(Perhaps we should consider using a dash between the W and the remainder of the designation because it would be more understandable to those already familiar with the MSC system,)

Vocabulary for the first letter:

As noted, the first letter denotes a general category. They are listed below. Those used by the Coast Guard and their meaning are in bold:

A Auxiliary
B Battleship (now archaic)
C Cruiser
CV Aircraft Carrier
D Destroyer
F Frigate
IX Unclassified Miscellaneous (They may have avoided using the letter I alone because it might be mistaken for a one.)
L  Landing (amphibious warfare)
M Mine warfare
P Patrol
S Submarine
Y Yard (supporting craft used around a base)

(I suspect, since aircraft carriers were originally part of the scouting force, just as cruisers were, and the two first true fleet carriers (Saratoga and Lexington) were converted battle cruisers, that carriers may have originally been considered just a different sort of cruiser, an aviation cruiser, “V” meaning heavier than air aviation.)

Vocabulary for the NATO designations:

As noted NATO uses a single letter system, similar in most respects to the USN’s first letter.  I don’t think they use the “IX” or “Y” designations. The only other difference is the use of “R” for aircraft carriers and other ships primarily designed to operate aircraft including some we would not consider aircraft carriers.

Second and subsequent letter vocabulary:

As currently used in the US Navy system, several additional letters may follow to modify the initial general category. The list below includes both current and now archaic uses. I have tried to put the most frequent usage of the letter first, but in many cases I was unable to make a meaningful distinction. (A list of all current Navy ships with their designators and hull numbers is here. A little research will identify the ship’s purpose from which the meaning of the designator can be inferred, but I have attempted to include all the meanings below.) Apparently at times letters may be paired to convey meaning, there are some examples below (eg AC for Air Cushion). Those letters used by the Coast Guard and their meanings within the system are in bold:

A  Auxiliary, Assault, Attack, Armored or Heavy (cruiser) (archaic)
AC Air Cushion
B  Big, Boat, Ballistic Missile
C  Coastal, Craft, Command, Crane, Cable
CM Countermeasures
D  Dock, drone
E  Ammunition, escort (archaic)
F  Frigate
G    As applied to a warship–Guided missile (for surface ships–AAW area defense only eg DDG, does not include self defense missile; for submarines–specialized cruise missile carriers (eg SSGN)).
As applied to others–it seems a catch-all being applied to icebreakers (AGB), Oceanographic Research ships (TAGS), cargo submarines (AGSS), and many others; gun (archaic)
H  Helicopter, Hunter, Hospital
Intelligence (eg AGI) Infantry (archaic), Interceptor (archaic)
K  Cargo, ASW (Killer–archaic)
L  Large, Light (eg FFL), Leader (archaic), Lighthouse (archaic as AGL for light house tender)
Medium, Missile (cruise), Monitor (archaic) Midget (archaic), Mechanized (archaic)
MH  Minehunter
MS  Minesweeper (eg DMS, Destroyer Minesweeper)
N  Nuclear
O  Oiler, Ocean
OR Oceanographic Research (eg AGOR)
OS Ocean Surveillance
P  Transport (people?)
R  River(ine), Rubber, RO-RO, Replenishment, Repair, Rescue,  Research, Refrigerated (archaic?) , Radar (archaic), Rocket (archaic)
RC Cable, Repair
RS Submarine, Rescue
Sweeper, Support, Strike, Special, Seaplane (archaic)
T  Training, Tug, Target, Tank (eg LST), torpedo (archaic)
U  Utility
V  Heavier than Air Aviation, Vehicle (eg LSV)
W  Wing in ground effect
Z  Lighter than Air Aviation (archaic)

Current Coast Guard type designations:

Lets take a look at the Coast Guard’s ship designations. I think this list is exhaustive. The ship types with an asterisk already fit nicely in the system.

WAGB  Icebreaker*
WHEC High Endurance Cutter
WIX      Barque Eagle*
WLB     Buoy Tender, Large
WLBB  USCGC Mackinaw, Domestic Icebreaker
WLI      Buoy Tender, Inland
WLIC   Buoy Tender, Inland Construction
WLM   Buoy Tender, Medium
WLR    Buoy Tender, River
WMEC Medium Endurance Cutter
WMSL  Maritime Security, Large
WMSM Maritime Security, Medium
WPB    Patrol Boat*
WPC    Patrol Coastal or Craft*
WTGB  Icebreaking tug
WYTB  Yard Tug large*
WYTL  Yard Tug Light*

The ones that do not already fit the system are in three groups, The buoy tenders (including Mackinaw), the large patrol ships, and the icebreaking tugs.

What is wrong with WMSL and WMSM?

If you are familiar with the standard Navy system, when you see the designations WMSL and WMSM it tells you these ships are Coast Guard Mine Sweepers, Large and Medium (perhaps once). I presume these designations were chosen as an acronym that would hopefully help sell DHS on the idea of the ships, but these programs already have acronyms (NSC and OPC) and few outside the Coast Guard know what their designators are. When you designate these as “maritime security” assets are you saying others cutters are not? This would be particularly inaccurate, in that the smaller patrol craft are much more likely to be involved in maritime security missions than the larger ships which are more likely to be either cold iron or far from the populations centers if there is a sudden need for maritime security. (And isn’t maritime redundant? We are talking about the ships here.) We could have designated them WNSCs and WOPCs, and it would at least have had the advantage of not using a misleading “M” designator. Of course that would have had us calling them “winces” and “woops.”

It is true the Navy does have some ships that don’t conform to the norms of the designations system. They are:

DSRV  Deep submergence Rescue Vessel
JHSV  Joint High Speed Vessel
LCS    Littoral Combat Ship

The DSRV is very small. Both JHSV (Joint High Speed Vessel) and LCS (Littoral Combat Ship) are recent programs and acronyms for their respective programs, although the JHSV program is no longer joint, at least it does not use a misleading first letter. The LCS is the real outlier here, since LCS suggest Landing Craft, Support or Special. (In fact there was a growth industry among bloggers suggesting what, usually uncomplimentary, words LCS should stand for.)

“P” is the almost universally accepted designator for patrol ships. That is what these ships do. Why not simply designate the NSCs WPL and the OPCs WPM? (Incidentally the Japanese Coast Guard already use the designators PL and PM, but they would call both these ships PLH–Patrol, Large, Helicopter. Their PMs are all under 1,000 tons full load.) It may not be worth doing but the remaining WHECs and WMECs might also use these designations.


The policy should be that Coast Guard designations will fit within the Navy’s system in so far as possible, and in the rare case where the Coast Guard is acquiring ships that don’t fit the systems, we should seek to amend the system.

The buoy tenders, and icebreaking tugs could have their designations changed to comply simply by inserting an “A” between the “W” and the rest of their current designation, but these ships all have a long history and they are unlikely to work with the Navy or allies so it probably is not worth changes existing designations now, but their replacements probably should get a more standardized designator, either beginning WA (CG auxiliary) or the Coast Guard could use one of the letters not included in the current Navy and NATO first letter vocabulary as the first letter following the W to uniquely identify the general type. “N” is available for aids to “Navigation.” We could use “I” or “IB” for icebreaker or perhaps “Z” might denote “below zero.” “T” is available for tug, but tug designations have always begun “AT.”

In any case, WMSM and WMSL really should be changed.

53 thoughts on “Ship Type Designations–The Bertholfs are Minesweepers?

  1. Up to WWII the Coast Guard did not use the ‘W’ in the designations and barely used the other Navy designations. The Coast Guard continued using the term “cruising cutter” of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Class. Then there were harbor and patrol vessels — all carry-overs from the late 19th Century to mimic the Navy. Before then, the designations were what the vessels were with the prefix ‘Revenue’ schooner, sloop, steamer and so on. These too were listed by class following the navy standard.

    Of course the cutters were painted white in 1896 over the fierce objections of cutter captains who felt that white was only appropriate for yachts. The harbor cutters, steam and sail, remained black hull.

    Isn’t WOPC redundant too? Why not just WOP?

  2. If there’s anything constant in the Coast Guard designation system, it’s inconsistency. The system also is subject to some of the whimsiest whims ever to append themselves to tortured logic. We’re not even going to get into the service’s penchant for attaching multiple names to classes – the program name, first ship name, theme name, and length. Endless chances for knowitalls to correct whomever. Whatever.
    A recent – inexplicable – change was that of the Fast Response Cutters, or Sentinels, or Heroes, or 154-footers. They started out classified as WPBs (patrol boat), changed sometime in 2011 to WPC (patrol cutter). Conversationally, most folks I’ve heard call them patrol boats, regardless of the classification. Of course, the first ship, SENTINEL, was renamed BERNARD C. WEBBER, so there is no SENTINEL anymore. Of course.

    • The Commandant announced that the first Polar Security Cutter will be named “Polar Sentinel.”
      That will be confusing, because then the Polar Security Cutters could be referred to as Sentinel Class Cutters, even though the existing Fast Response Cutters are also called Sentinel Class Cutters (despite the fact that none of them have “Sentinel” in their name).

  3. calling the WOPC the WOP would be a political nightmare. you cant send the WOP out to look for WOP’S. WOP means without papers, which is what all illegal immigrants are.
    First heard about the term when I read the book “7 days in may” in high school.

      • Yep, but WOP also means, without passport and without portfolio .

        There were thousands of immigrants who came to this country with papers, meaning identity. In the late 19th century, it seems that Southern Europeans were a group that had the least amount of paperwork and hence Italians (and anyone who looked swarthy enough to be Italian) got the moniker. Also look at a map of the boundaries of Italy before WWI. These places were also known for producing anarchists. There must have been something in the wine.

        Oddly, they were also called ‘Dagos,’ the anglicized corruption of San Diego (St. James) what was originally attributed to the Spanish by the Brits in previous centuries.

  4. when I think of most cutters, I thinks length. while this might occasionally have been confusing to some, say if 110 tugs and patrol boats had been around at the same time. when I hear 378 or 210 or whatever I know instantly what type of boat is being talked about. with the exception of some river tenders, just because I am not wicked familiar with the inland fleet. most coasties I bet think the same.

  5. You left off the T designation for all ships owned/operated by Military Sealift Command formerly Military Sea Transportation Service. T also covered the US Army Transport types.

    JHSV should be T-APC as in a Coastal Transport which it IS IMHO~

    • Lee, I did talk about the T- when I talked about the W prefix for Coast Guard.

      Relative to LSV for the MLPs, you might point out that the Army already has LSVs that are similar to LCUs.

      Perhaps Army vessels should have a prefix too.


      • IMHO the MLP should have be typed as a Sealift ship NOT a naval auxiliary. The type could have been T-AKF (instead of POS they are now~).

        The Army owned vessels over a specific length are USAVs – US Army Vessels and since not under NVR they go their own way. For instance, predecessor to JHSV was a HSV-X1 then a TSV Theater Support Vessel (Joint Venture was chartered HSV) because the Army understood difference between inter- and intra-theater logistics.

        I would also note that when the USAT ships were merged into MSTS the were designated T-AP but some kept their old Army type~

  6. Part of what pushed me to write this was Norman Polmar’s article in the USNI Proceedings:

    Quoting his conclusion: “Unquestionably, the LCS, JHSV, and MLP designations must be changed—it is logical and sensible to do so. It can be done with the stroke of a pen by a Secretary of the Navy notice. At the same time, two other ship classes should have their hull numbers changed: The three ships of the Zumwalt (DDG-1000) class and the three submarines of the Seawolf (SSN-21) class should be assigned realistic hull numbers within their respective types, and thus be in accord with the 90-year-old directive that stated ships were to be designated in sequential order within their designation types.

    “The U.S. Navy’s basic ship-designation system is excellent and deserves to be carried out professionally and logically.”

    I have some indication the Navy is planning to retype some or all these class in coordination with the Naval History and Heritage Command. Perhaps we could include the cutters in the same discussion.

    • does anyone think the current naming scheme is “logical and professional” following a naming convention OR just at the whim of SECNAV?

      • Are we talking “naming” or “designation” scheme? Naming is almost certainly at the whim of SecNav, and most-recently, the scheme is “how to curry political favor.”

        Designations have gotten haywire too, but that seems to be the Navy dropping conventions of their own and following the CG model of designating ships after catchy, purpose-sounding names (WHEC, WMEC, FRC, NSC, WMSL, OPC, etc.).

        We could probably start a whole ‘nuther thread on naming conventions…

  7. Well, as the guy who stirred the pot, I figure I should at least lick the spoon, so here goes:

    New CG Ship Designation System:

    First Position:  “W”  for all vessels – designates “CG Cutter”. Shows the CG is different from the Navy, and I agree with Chuck’s points about the similarity with MSC, although I hadn’t considered inserting a dash…

    Second Position (indicates primary role):
    L = ATON
    G = Icebreaking or Ice Operations (to include Arctic Cutters*, 140s, & Mackinaw)
    P = Patrol (to include Interdiction, LE, Defense Ops, SAR)
    * [Although, with the decommissioning of the Storis, I do not believe the 2 remaining “legacy” arctic cutters have any ice strengthening — something I think should be required for the “ice-capable” designation “G”.]

    Third Position indicates size/endurance/capability:
    B = Large   (300′ +)
    M = Medium (180′ – 299′)
    S = Small     (101′ – 179′)
    C = Coastal (65′ – 100′)
    R = River / Inland / Harbor (This designation is due to configuration more than size, this designation is for the vessels inappropriate for venturing past the last day-marker.)

    (Why did I pick “B” for large? Because, among other things, such as Ballistic missile, iceBreaker, and Battleship, the Navy used it to mean “large” in the Battle Cruisers of WWII – Alaska and Guam. Even though some argue their designation “CB” means “Cruiser, Battle,” I have multiple Navy-published sources which call them “Cruiser, Large.” An even better reason is that the CG already uses “B” for large: WLBs.)

    How would this work? A few examples:

    Current: Proposed:
    WPBC (87′) WPC

    To differentiate between different classes with same designation, we could use Eric’s point above about the length, or the name of the class could be used, such as the Navy did in WWII. The Navy didn’t come up with a new descriptor/designation for every class of destroyer. — They were all DDs, and one had to know that a Gearing was different from a Sumner, and a Fletcher and so on. I’m curious where the idea came from that every class cutter in the CG has to have a different designation?

    Alternatively, to be more in-step with the Navy, instead of “B,” “F” could be used, since these are frigate-sized & -capable, although, this falls apart with the large icebreakers. Rather than “M” for medium, “G” could be used, for “Gunboat” (how the Navy generally likes to look upon the Corvette-sized WMECs/OPCs, as shown by several Cutter classes designations in WWII). And lastly, “B” could be used in place of “C,” if “F” is used for large (since coastal-sized vessels would be looked upon as “patrol boats” – hence “PB” – by the Navy.)

    This would create a system looking like this:

    Current: Proposed:
    WLB WLF (again, doesn’t fit well)
    WLM WLG (nope, not so good)
    WMSL WPF (“patrol frigate” I do like…)
    WPB (FRC) WPG (“patrol gunboat”)
    WPBC (87′) WPB (“patrol boat”)
    WAGB WGF (“icebreaking frigate”….)

    As you can see, going to this alternative, more-Navy-like system works great for patrol vessels, but just doesn’t fit with ATONS and Icebreakers. On the other hand, if CG sheds the ATON and ice missions, this would be more ideal than the first system, IMO.

    Lastly, we come to the Eagle. I initially thought, “don’t mess with anything there.” Then, I seemed to remember somewhere she is a “Barque” and not a “Cutter”… That makes me question using the “W”. Reading Bill Wells posts about “Cruising Cutter” designation, and pondering how that – as an expression rather than a designation – fits the Eagle’s mission, and how the Eagle does not fit in the Navy system (hence the “IX”), I wonder if “WCC” for “CG Cruising Cutter” would make sense? Bill Wells?

    • Using “L” immediately after the W creates the same problem as M after the W, that it would be seen to mean “Landing.” The first letter after the W has to either use the existing first letter vocabulary and its associated meaning or we have to use a different letter not currently in the first letter vocabulary and assign it a different meaning. “P” for Patrol is already there. “G” for icebreaking or ice-capable could work but it is not a mnemonic while “I,” “IB,” or “Z” might be. “I” alone might be mistaken for a one, so I favor “Z.” It might even become a NATO standard for Icebreakers. Since “L” is already taken for Landing, I suggest “N” for AtoN, or perhaps “T” for tender, otherwise it should be “AL”

      I don’t think we should have rigid categories for small, medium, large, coastal, etc, particularly across all categories since large buoy tenders, large patrol ships, and large icebreakers are very different sizes. I do think “R” could serve for all inland.

      “B” is certainly an accepted descriptor for large, but so is “L” and changing the Bertholfs to WPBs, with all the prior experience with that designation, would be too jarring.

      I also considered WPF or “Patrol Frigate” for the Bertholfs. They are certainly that size, and there is some precedence for the designation. The Coast Guard manned 75 “Tacoma” frigates during WWII that carried the “PF” designation, and Frigates don’t seem to have to have ASW equipment, since some European Frigates are not so equipped.

      I’m perfectly happy with WPB, WPC, and WIX for Eagle. They already fit the Navy system. The Webber class WPCs compare very closely with the Navy’s Cyclone class PCs.

      So here is my suggested list. (NC)=no change
      Old / New
      WAGB / WZL
      WHEC / WPL
      WIX / (NC)
      WLB / WNL
      WLBB / WZN
      WLI / WNR
      WLIC / WNR
      WLM / WNM
      WLR / WNR
      WMEC / WPM
      WMSL / WPL
      WMSM / WPM
      WPB / (NC)
      WPC / (NC)
      WTGB / WZT
      WYTB / (NC)
      WYTL / (NC)

      Instead of 17 designations we end up with 13 having combined WMSL and WHEC into WPL, WMSM and WMEC into WPM, and WLI, WLIC, and WLR into WNR.

      As noted, the WMSL and WMSM designations are the ones I would most like to see changed.

      • Yes, even though the CG should “own” the “L” designation, because it originally meant “Lightship” (the progenitor of the ATON cutters today) and has been so-employed continuously since long before the Gator Navy existed, that designation has become subsumed by the Navy to mean “Landing” (Amphibious operations) ships. I do like your idea of switching to “N” for “Navigation,” but I think it should be restricted to the second position, because as a suffix in 3rd or 4th position, the Navy is very consistent in labelling that a nuclear-powered vessel. We wouldn’t want the Navy to think the Mackinaw is a nuclear-powered icebreaker! 🙂

        Somewhere (Lord knows!) I have a list of all the vessel designations used by the Navy, and “AG” meant several kinds of “Auxiliary, General-type” and not just icebreaker. The suffix behind the “G” really showed what it was, hence “B” meant iceBreaker. I think it’s important to make the system as “clean” (easy to use & understand) as possible, so I didn’t want B to mean “Breaker” in one place and “Large” in another. That’s why I chose the G. Now that I’ve had time to ponder your “Z” idea, it’s really starting to grow on me. I think that could be a great solution.

        I would disagree about the rigid categories. I used length, because it’s relatively simple and is applicable amongst all in the service. Regardless, to be a “system,” which is reasonably usable, there has to be some criteria. At one point the Navy applied “destroyer” to ASW-only or AAW-only vessels and “cruiser” to vessels which had both capabilities. Length, displacement, or range had nothing to do with the desig., but it was a system. IMO, just because the WLBs are 225′ does not make them “Large.” Compared to the overall CG fleet, they are clearly “Medium,” lying smack between the two major classes of WMECs (much closer in size and capability to the smaller 210’s in fact). Also, if the CG is trying to “fit” into the Navy system, it would be a renewed source of puddle-pirate jokes if a “large” tender was found to be 1/2 the size of a modern destroyer. Upon further thought, the one modification I would make to my first proposed system is to split the patrol category from the others at the “large” size. The WHECs/WMSLs should be “WPF” while the only other cutters that size (>300′) are the polar icebreakers which could/should keep “B” for large.

        I’m certain it was not lost on readers that both our designation systems fell down the lines of red-hull (Z/G) / black-hull (N/L) / white-hull (P). This to me says, the CG already knows the different mission-focus and could easily(?) understand the sense in changing to a more logical system.

        Although I agree with your premise in the main article above that the Navy’s convention is to add an “A” prefix for all auxiliaries, with the use of clearly distinctive (N or Z) primary designators, plus the “W” prefix, I think it is superfluous.

      • No chance the “N” for navigation immediately after the “W” would be confused with “N” for nuclear, because the “N”” for nuclear is always used as a modifier at the very end of the designation.

  8. Bill Smith noted, “Yes, even though the CG should “own” the “L” designation, because it originally meant “Lightship” (the progenitor of the ATON cutters today) ” The progenitor of the ATON vessels were the revenue schooners beginning in the 1830s. Some captains were paid to maintain buoys and lighthouses long before the LHS had a fleet to do it. Then again some ATON work was contracted to civilians which is not a bad idea except the civilians then, and probably now, had little accountability and did not visit the aids enough.

    I’ll dig out the classifications from the 1930s. These changed when Waesche was getting closer to the Navy in preparation for the war. The 327-foot Secretary Class was fist designated as a cruising cutter, first class; the Lake Class were cruising cutters, second class. These too came from the Navy’s designation system of the late 19th Century.

    As for Navy destroyers, I served aboard USS LUCE (DLG-7) [Coontz Class). Although designated a ‘destroyer leader, guided missile) she had a light cruiser hull. This had the advantage years later when some of this class were framed and redesignated CG. (cruiser, guided missile). The Navy was not able to report a net loss of destroyers for fleet protection and added justification to building more destroyers. There is a lesson in this that the Coast Guard should learn. If more ships of one class type are needed, simply redesignate them and ask for more. The Congress believed it once. They will probably believe it again.

    Maybe relabel Polar Sea and Star to WIX and then moan there are no heavy ice breakers. BTW, in the 1970s the Coast Guard added nuclear reactor training to the CGA curriculum in anticipation of getting a nuclear ice breaker — another project that did not materialize.

    • I forgot about mentioning Eagle. She has two monikers, Barque or Bark, and cutter. International law considers her a Coast Guard Cutter and therefore a “warship.” There was some controversy some years back when she sailed into the Baltic about her status as a warship or not.

      • Bill, great info, as usual. What do you think of connecting a little more CG history to the Eagle by designating her “WCC” for Cruising Cutter?

        After contemplating the idea, I remembered the Navy does use the “CC” designation with an “L” prefix for Amphibious Command Ship, but I believe these have or are being re-designated “AGF” for “Fleet Command Ship,” thus the Navy may be abandoning that designation, so the CG could pick it up…

  9. During WWII both Duane and Spencer were converted to Amphibious Command ships. I do not believe their designations of WPG changed. If we change Eagles type to WCC then the suffix of PR for public affairs would have to be added. thus WCCPA.

    • BIBB, CAMPBELL, DUANE, INGHAM, SPENCER and TANEY were all converted to amphibious command ships and redesignated WAGC in 1944. All reverted to WPG in late 1945 or 1946. All became WHEC in May 1966.

    • Just looked up how the Navy handles designation for the USS Constitution. It was designated “IX-21” from the early 1940s to 1975, when it officially had no hull number or designation assigned (and IX-21 was specifically removed as a designation for her). Interesting…

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  12. This from SecNav’s facebook page,
    “Secretary of the Navy
    “In January at the 2015 Surface Navy Association symposium, #SECNAV announced that LCS would be redesignated as FF. He also talked about changing the designations of ships such as JHSV, AFSB and MLP to find designators for these ships more grounded in tradition, innovation and the creative thinking that characterizes the missions of today’s Fleet. The new designators of those ships will be:

    “JHSV to “Expeditionary Fast Transport” – EPF
    “MLP to “Expeditionary Transfer Dock” – ESD
    “AFSB to “Expeditionary Mobile Base” – ESB”

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    • It is the W prefix that makes our designations unique. Otherwise the whole reason for have a designation is to help others understand what they are. Using widely recognized designations helps do that and we have been doing it in most cases since WWII.

  15. Another thought: Designate the NSC as “WPF” to show it is equipped/armed only to the level of doing peacetime (Patrol) work. If ever the CG is placed within the Navy, and the equipment & weapons are upgraded, it’s designation should change to WFF (or just FF) to indicate the wartime sensors and weapons capability…

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    • I would have preferred WHEC for the NSCs and WMEC for the OPC since they at least have had a history, but actually neither of them really fits into the generally accepted designation system. The WMSL and WMSM designations were, I believe, a real mistake

      I would suggest either W-PF or W-FP for both classes, or if you really want to maintain a distinction, then WPL (Coast Guard Patrol Large) for the NSCs and WPM (Coast Guard Patrol Medium) for the OPCs.

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    • My old ship was the USCGC Campbell—–W 32.
      May she RIP in Davey Jones’ locker.

      I am often asked what the “W” stands for.
      What I have read here gives no answer for just “W”.
      I thought they told me in Boot that it meant the vessel was over 100 feet!

      Do you know Chuck!?

      • All Coast Guard designations begin with W. Choice of the particular letter seems to have been arbitrary, but a lot of letters were already in use. Only connection to length is that it does not seem to be applied to boat types like MLB only to cutters which are defined as 65 foot or greater, like WYTL.

  18. I still hate the current type designations for the Bertholf class NSCs (WMSL) and Argus class OPCs (WMSM). They have not “grown” on me in the least.

    I recently figured out that there is historical precedence for a designation that I do like and which would be more readily understandable to other naval organizations. “WPF” Coast Guard Patrol Frigate

    Eight Tacoma class frigates that had been Coast Guard manned Navy vessels during WWII were transferred to the Coast Guard and commissioned in March and April of 1946. All were decommissioned and returned by October of the same year, but they were all designated “WPF.”

    I think “WPF” is equally applicable to both classes. (If using the same for both is not acceptable, then “WPK” for Coast Guard Patrol Corvette would work. K being the NATO designation for a corvette.

  19. I’ve always been taught that the “WL” cutters are a reference to the historical hull designations of the Lighthouse Service. There might not be any lighthouse tenders left but the CG still tends ATON. You might get them confused with amphibious ships, but a buoy or construction tender working in the littoral is still pretty close to an amphibious ship.

    WTGB’s were formerly WYTM. I am pretty sure that WTGB is a hybrid of AGB and the tugboat designation. Since those boats aren’t really icebreakers but also don’t do anything useful aside from break ice, it ALMOST makes sense.

    • The 140 foot WTGBs were built to replace 110 foot WYTM which were used primarily for domestic icebreaking. The 140s were designed specifically as small icebreakers including the installation of the bubbler system. The WYTM designation was initially used for the program but WTGB was substituted during their construction.

      • I didn’t realize that they were redesignated WTGB mid-construction; but I am fully aware that they function primarily as icebreakers. They don’t do any other missions for shit, that’s for sure.

        My understanding is that the bubbler system was a later addition, hence their moving them from removable container on the fantail to a diesel engine in the engine room.

        But they still aren’t “icebreakers” in the sense that the Mackinaw is, let alone the real big red boats.

      • The bubbler system was on from the beginning. Their design function is breaking ice, so they are icebreakers, just small ones, Definitely better at it than the 110s they replaced.

    • I was a GS-4/5 co-op in the Coast Guard HQ Naval Engineering Design Branch in 1974-75 and did a few piping drawings for the 140 including for the bubbler system. One of the things I remember was that the shaft horsepower was increased from 1000 on the 110 to 2500 on the 140 because of the emphasis on icebreaking capacity which also drove the length increase. I also remember hearing that the 3-star Admiral in the Operations shop questioned the increase in size and it had to be pointed out that his group had significantly increased the requirement for icebreaking.

  20. Pingback: Japan’s Shunkou Class Cutters | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

  21. Pingback: “Ship Class Designations Have Meaning” –USNI | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

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