The Hamilton Class 378 foot WHECs, an Appreciation

USCGC Douglas Munro (WHEC-724)

The Navy League’s magazine, Seapower, reports that the last of the US Coast Guard’s Hamilton class 378 foot WHECs, Douglas Munro, will be decommissioned at the end of the month.

The designers of these ships certainly made them aesthetically pleasing, and the preliminary design work was done in house by Coast Guard engineers.

The 378s were the crowning achievement of a recapitalization program begun in the late 1950s that resulted in the 82 foot Point class patrol boats, the 210 foot Reliance class WMECs, and ultimately the 378 foot Hamilton class WHECs, all built to preliminary designs developed in house.

Between October 1960 and August 1970 the Coast Guard commissioned 79 Point class WPBs. The Point class followed closely on the heals of the 95 foot WPB, the last of which had been commissioned in July 1959.

Between June 1964 and July 1969 we commissioned 16 Reliance class WMECs. Between February 1967 and March 1972 we commissioned 12 Hamilton class WHECs.

So between Oct. 1960 and March 1972 the Coast Guard commissioned 107 new patrol cutters. In 1967 alone we commissioned 17 Point class WPB. 1968 was the peak year for the larger cutters. In that year the Coast Guard commissioned four 378s and seven 210s. (Makes it clear we should be able to complete more than two Offshore Patrol Cutters per year, doesn’t it?)

USCGC Gallatin WHEC -721 (378), USCGC Rockaway WHEC-377 (311), and USCGC Spencer WHEC-36 (327)

When the 378s were built, the WHEC designation had just recently been coined. 36 ships were classed as WHECs, six 327 foot 2,656 ton full load Secretary class cutters, 18 Casco class 311 foot 2,529 ton cutters, and 12 Owasco class 255 foot 1,978 ton cutters. The plan was to build 36 of Hamilton class to replace all of them, but the termination of the Ocean Station program resulted in only twelve being built. The 378s were 15 to 54% larger than the ships they replaced at 3,050 tons full load, and they were a much more advanced design.

CODOG Propulsion:

The COmbined Diesel or Gas turbine (CODOG) propulsion was a bold choice in the early 1960s. The Royal Navy had commissioned their first combatants with gas turbines (combined with steam) in 1961  The US Navy would not complete their first gas turbine powered Perry class frigate until 1977. (I think you can see the influence of the Hamilton class in the design of the Perry class frigates.) A pair of Danish Frigates, the Peder Skram class, would also use the same FT-4 turbines, but the first of that class was laid down only four months before Hamilton, so it was more contemporary than predecessor. 49 months after Hamilton was laid down, the Canadian laid down the first of the Iroquois class destroyers that used more powerful versions of the FT-4 in a COGOG arrangement with smaller 7500 HP Allison gas turbines. We would see the FT-4 gas turbine again in the Polar class icebreakers beginning in 1976.

The Coast Guard had done some experimentation with gas turbines. As built, USCGC Point Thatcher (WPB-82314), commissioned in Sept. 1961, was equipped with controllable pitch props and two 1000 HP gas turbines (later replaced by two 800 HP diesels that would became standard in the class). The first five 210 foot cutters of the Reliance class, commissioned June 1964 to February 1966, had two 1,000 HP gas turbines in addition to two 1,500 HP diesels, that they retained until they received major renovations 1985-1990.

The Hamilton Class’s Navy contemporaries were the 3,371 ton full load Garcia and 4,066 ton Knox class frigates (classified as Destroyer Escorts until 1975). Those ships were larger and used high temperature and pressure steam propulsion to produce 35,000 HP (compared to 36,000 for the 378s on their turbines). The frigates used only a single shaft for a speed 27 knots. The Hamiltons’ turbines gave them a two knot speed advantage, while their diesels gave them more than double the range. Two shafts gave them a greater degree of redundancy.

ASW Capability: 

While the contemporary Garcia and Knox class were much better equipped for ASW, the newly commissioned 378s, with their AN/SQS-38 sonar and helicopter deck were not only larger and faster, but also compared favorably as ASW ships to all but the newest Navy Destroyer Escorts (those completed 1963 and later).

CGC DALLAS (WHEC-716)… Vietnam… During seven combat patrols off the coast of Vietnam, Dallas undertook 161 gunfire support missions involving 7,665 rounds of her 5-inch ammunition. This resulted in 58 sampans destroyed and 29 Viet Cong supply routes, bases, camps, or rest areas damaged or destroyed. Her 5-inch (127 mm) guns made her very valuable to the naval missions in the area. Original 35mm Slide shared by Capt W.F. Guy, USCG… Circa May 1970.

Electronic Warfare, Gun and Fire Control: 

The 378s introduced the post WWII Coast Guard to electronic warfare with the WLR-1.

Unlike the earlier WHECs, the 378s were completed with the Mk56 gun firecontrol system which was much more capable than the short to medium range Mk52 used by the older cutters. Their 5″/38s proved useful when deployed to Vietnam. Below is quoted from Wikipedia’s description of USCGC Morgenthau‘s Vietnam deployment.

From records compiled by then-Lieutenant Eugene N. Tulich, Commander, US Coast Guard (Ret), Morgenthaus Vietnam numbers included: Miles cruised – 38,029 nautical miles (70,430 km; 43,763 mi); Percentage time underway – 72.8%; Junks/sampans detected/inspected/boarded – 2383/627/63; Enemy confirmed killed in action (KIA) 14; Structures destroyed/damaged – 32/37; Bunkers destroyed/damaged – 12/3; Waterborne craft destroyed/damaged – 7/3; Naval Gunfire Support Missions (NGFS) – 19; MEDCAPS (Medical Civic Action Program) – 25; Patients treated – 2676.

The FRAM:

During the late 1980s the Reagan administration was pushing for a 600 ship Navy. The FRAM of the Hamilton class was one of the small ways the Coast Guard played a part in the competition that may have driven the Soviet Union into dissolution.

While the 378s would still might not have been first class fighting units, electronic warfare was brought up to date, a newer air search radar, a modern gun, and firecontrol was installed. Harpoon anti-ship cruise missiles were add along with a Close in Weapon System (CIWS), a hangar was added and the ships were equipped to operate with a LAMPs I ASW helicopters.

Ultimately, following the collapse of the threat from the Soviet Union, the ASW equipment and anti-ship cruise missile were removed, but benefits of modernization, remained.

The After Life: 

These ships are now 49 to 54 years old and, thanks to the hard work of their crews over a half century, they are still doing good work, no longer for the US Coast Guard, but for Navies and Coast Guards around the world. Virtually all of their contemporaries have gone to the ship breakers, as have many younger ships.

BRP Andrés Bonifacio (FF-17), the former USCGC Boutwell.

  • Hamilton (715), Dallas (716), and Boutwell (719) serve in the Philippine Navy.
  • Mellon (717) serves in the Bahrain Naval Force
  • Chase (718) and Gallatin (721) serve in the Nigerian Navy
  • Sherman (720) serves in the Sri Lanka Navy
  • Morgenthau (722), Midgett (726), and Munro (724) serve or will serve in the Vietnam Coast Guard
  • Rush (723) and Jarvis (725) are in the Bangladeshi Navy

The Vietnam Coast Guard patrol vessel CSB-8020, formerly the US Coast Guard cutter Morgenthau (Photo: Vietnam Coast Guard)

20 thoughts on “The Hamilton Class 378 foot WHECs, an Appreciation

  1. Wow, great read! The most useful tidbit as I read was, “designed in house.” It would be great if the US built the model of what it wants rather than put out a near useless set of threshold/objective KPIs they have no means to evaluate the potential for the bidder to meet or not meet. Nor do they then hold anyone accountable to them. Plus we have the internet now, they could crowdsource designs with some understanding of what’s possible rather than looks good at a trade show. The other more recent trick being to leap immediately to one contractors promotional pic to immediately start promoting an idea.

    • The next cutter, the 270s were also designed in house. They did not turn out so well. Too much emphasis on making them as cheap as possible. Tried to put too much in too small a package. Primarily they really needed more bow with more flair. La Adroit, putting the bridge on top of the hangar, seems to have been a better solution.

      The service definitely needs in house naval engineers so that we know what is achievable. They help define tradeoffs.

      The Royal Navy used to have a system of in house design, but they also allowed shipbuilders to compete their own designs against the in house designs. That way they got the best of both worlds.

    • There is an interesting object lesson in comparing the 378s and the 270s. Both have two diesel engines providing 7,000 HP. Both can make about 19 knots on their 7000 HP diesels, in spite of the fact that the Hamilton class are 3050 tons (70% larger) vs the Bear class 1780 tons.

      • Beam to length ratio at work here Chuck. 378′ by 42′ vs 270′ by 38′. Longer finer hull formed. But you are right the 270, they should had been named two many compromise. And two many bean counters. The myths, sea stories, and urban legends have they where supposed to be 340 feet long. But the accountant at the Dept. of Transportation wanted to cut down the cost. I guess they never here’d
        you’re saying ” Steel is cheap and Air is free”.

      • Balance of two factors, skin friction which is minimize by higher higher length to beam ratio and wave make which gets is reduce by greater waterline length.

        I was in Headquarters when the 270s were designed. The Chief Engineer was convinced that length was the primary driver of cost. It was never intended to be longer, in fact, at one point it was 267 feet, but the designers practically went down on their knees to get the Chief engineer to allow them to add another three feet to allow a little flare at the bow.

  2. There is no easy path to higher speed without more power. The 327 design did seem to have a slight advantage. They made 20 knots, half a knot faster than the 270 on 6,000 HP, 1,000 less.

    But to make the 378s go another 10 knots faster, required another 29,000 HP.

    The 270s were generally a great improvement over the ships they replaced. Those included converted 180 foot buoy tenders, 13 knot 143 foot ATAs like USCGC Comanch https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Wampanoag_(ATA-202)
    16 knot fleet tugs like USCGC Cherokee https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USS_Cherokee_(AT-66), and 15 knot submarine rescue vessels like USCGC Acushnet https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USCGC_Acushnet_(WMEC-167)

    Though many of those like Cherokee and Acushnet were more capable in rough weather.

    • 270 may have been faster then the old navy ships but the ride did suck, that’s coming from an 82 and 110 sailor.

  3. having served on 270, maybe my best u/w tour. they were crappy ships though. i loved my campbell but when it came to ride just an 82 times 4. and where did my bow go?. i really loved my campbell tour but engineers who designed it should be beaten to death with swabs even in purgatory. again, maybe my fave u/w tour but dudes? did you ever think about working on it, and yes again, where did my bow. go? maybe the ugliest ship in coast guard.

  4. The Gregorio Del Pilar, formerly the USCGC Hamilton has spent the last 2 ½ years in drydock at Subic after they ran her aground on a reef. They really messed up the propellers and rudders among other things. Lack of funds and or parts likely part of the problem.

    The 378, 270, and 210 cutters all had that high bridge for visibility along with narrow beam and minimal draft which made for poor riding in rough seas. I spent 18 months on the Confidence when she was home ported in Kodiak AK. I was onboard when she took the 65 degree roll outside of Unimak Pass.

    Might be a sea story but I heard that on one of the 378’s if you were on the bridge looking aft you could see the ship twist in the heavy seas. Not a comforting thought.

    • One of my RM A instructors was on the Connie at that time IIRC, Bill Preston. Also that’s why on the Resolute we only did summer Alpats, and even then we got chased by a 800-something MB low pressure into a bay for 3 days while trying to make it out to Dutch.

      • I don’t recall his name. I wonder if he was on her when they did broach her while on the way to Pearl or returning? Can’t remember which it was. They lost power and took in water through the stacks that were put in at Tacoma when they sealed off the transom. I think that incident prompted the higher ups to move her to Port Angeles.

      • On the way to Hawaii for REFTRA in 1979, we got caught in a storm and took a couple of 65 degree rolls. From comments on here, that was not the first (or last) time that that happened. Didn’t lose propulsion, but bent metal on gun mount, broke a mess deck window, and had a couple of safes in radio tear loose. A fair number of bruises, but no serious injuries.

  5. Those birds were annoying to see/hear when you were on a non-CODOG 210. I was on Resolute, out with one of the 378’s off Kodiak – we both were bound for home – Astoria and Seattle – 378 fires up the birds, and in about one boat length and rooster tail later they’re trucking at top speed, meanwhile we’re trudging along at 300 shaft RPM and maybe 13-14kts progress. They were home days before we were even passing by the WA coast.

    • What was worse was the Confidence firing up the turbines as we did every patrol. She sounded like a jet but only did around 6 knots. It made everyone wonder what was the purpose of having them.

  6. I had a short tour as OPS on Confidence when it was homeported in Alaska, and she definitely was not the best choice for Alaska Patrols. Apparently you could say the same about the 270s, but the 378s were certainly capable.

  7. i read somewhere that a 270 tried an alpat once and that was the end of that. have done patrols in north atlantic in a 270 that would not surprise me.

    • Trying to remember if it was Campbell or Northland that did it? I vaguely recall a 270 doing it early 1990s and suffering some forward hatch/bulkhead damage thanks to the pounding. I’m sure the 270s saw bad enough Nor’easter weather though, just a different kind of storm than Alaska.

  8. News Release:

    U.S. Coast Guard 17th District Alaska
    Contact: 17th District Public Affairs
    Office: (907) 487-5700
    After Hours: (907) 654-4112
    17th District online newsroom

    KODIAK, Alaska — The crew aboard Coast Guard Cutter Douglas Munro, the service’s last operational 378’ high endurance cutter, returned home to Kodiak, Alaska on Saturday, following a 49-day deployment in the Bering Sea.

    While deployed, the crew of the Douglas Munro, and its embarked MH-65 helicopter aviation detachment from Air Station Kodiak, safeguarded the $13.9 billion Alaskan fishing industry and provided search and rescue coverage in an area spanning 890,000 square miles. The crew conducted multiple fisheries boardings, ensuring compliance with commercial fishing vessel regulations that ensure crew safety and the sustainability of fish stocks.

    In addition to the operational challenges the crew faced in the Bering Sea, the COVID-19 pandemic required the crew to abide by strict health protection precautions and COVID testing regimens prior to the start of their deployment. While making a logistics stop in Dutch Harbor the crew received their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccinations.

    “This has been an extremely exciting and rewarding patrol as it is the end of an era for not only this cutter, but also for all the 378s that have served the Coast Guard since 1967,” said Capt. Riley Gatewood, the Douglas Munro’s commanding officer. “The legacy of Signalman First Class Douglas Munro lives on due to the hard work put forth by the many crew members who spent time away from loved ones to accomplish Coast Guard missions aboard Douglas Munro. It is a great honor and privilege to serve as Commanding Officer of the Coast Guard’s last 378 foot high endurance cutter.”

    Commissioned on 27 September 1971, Douglas Munro was named in honor of Signalman First Class Douglas A. Munro, the U.S. Coast Guard’s only Medal of Honor recipient who was killed during the Guadalcanal Campaign of World War II on that same date in 1942. The ship is scheduled to be decommissioned later this year. Douglas Munro’s legacy will continue on with the National Security Class Cutter, Coast Guard Cutter Munro, homeported in Alameda, CA.

    Media interested in speaking with a member of the Douglas Munro command may e-mail johnny.ly@uscg.mil or D17-DGPublicAffairs@uscg.mil to arrange an over the phone interview.

  9. Press release. If you want to watch it go here. https://www.facebook.com/uscgpacificarea/

    U.S. Coast Guard
    Contact: 17th District Public Affairs
    Office: (907) 463-2065
    After Hours: (907) 463-2065
    17th District online newsroom

    17th Coast Guard District to hold decommissioning ceremony for CGC Douglas Munro Saturday

    The Douglas Munro is the last operational 378-foot Secretary class cutter and will officially be decommissioned on Apr. 24, 2021.

    JUNEAU, Alaska — The Coast Guard is scheduled to decommission Coast Guard Cutter Douglas Munro (WHEC 724), the Coast Guard’s last 378-foot Hamilton class cutter, following 49 years of service, during a ceremony Saturday at 11 a.m. on Coast Guard Base Kodiak.

    WHO: Adm. Karl Schultz, the commandant of the Coast Guard; Vice Adm. Linda Fagan, commander, Coast Guard Pacific Area; and Capt. Riley Gatewood, commanding officer of Coast Guard Cutter Douglas Munro.

    WHAT: A ceremony to honor the legacy of the Coast Guard Cutter Douglas Munro, the many Coast Guard men and women who served as part of its crew during its 49 years of service, and the cutter’s namesake Signalman First Class Douglas A. Munro – the Coast Guard’s only Medal of Honor recipient.

    WHEN: Media must RSVP no later than 10 a.m., April 21, by calling (907) 487-5700, or emailing: D17-DG-PublicAffairs@uscg.mil.

    WHERE: Coast Guard Base Kodiak. Due to COVID mitigation precautions, in-person attendance is limited. Anyone interested in viewing the ceremony can watch it here: https://www.facebook.com/uscgpacificarea/.

    The cutter’s namesake is Signalman First Class Douglas Albert Munro, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for acts of extraordinary heroism during World War II. Munro was in charge of an eight-craft amphibious landing force during the Guadalcanal Campaign. Munro bravely used his landing craft and its .30 caliber machine gun to shield and protect several hundred Marines who were under heavy enemy fire. He was mortally wounded during this effort, but his actions allowed for the Marines to be extracted by other landing craft. For these actions Munro was posthumously bestowed the Medal of Honor, making him the only person to receive the medal for actions performed during service in the Coast Guard.

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