USS Niagara (PG-52)

USS Niagara (PG-52)

The seventh USS Niagara (PG-52) was a gunboat and later a motor torpedo boat tender (AGP-1) that served in the United States Navy during World War II.

Acquisition

Niagara was a yacht built in 1929 as Hi-Esmare by Bath Iron Works, Bath, Maine. The U. S. Navy purchased her on 16 October 1940 from Mrs. H. Edward Manville of New York, New York. She was converted to a gunboat by the New York Navy Yard, renamed USS Niagara on 12 November 1940, and commissioned at New York on 20 January 1941, Lieutenant Edwin W. Herron in command.

Operational History

Niagara got underway from New York on 4 February 1941 to tend units of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 2 operating between Miami and Key West, Florida, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. She departed Key West on 20 March 1941 for repairs at New York and operations at the Naval Torpedo Station, Newport, Rhode Island during the summer of 1941.

Niagara stood out from New York on 30 August 1941 en route Hawaii, via Guantanamo Bay, the Panama Canal, and San Diego, California, arriving at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on 9 October 1941 to patrol on the Hawaiian Sea Frontier. On 29 November 1941 she departed as a unit of the escort for a convoy bound to the Fiji Islands. She was at sea with the convoy when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. The gunboat returned to Pearl Harbor on 15 December 1941, serving as tender to units of Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 1 there until 1 April 1942.

Niagara then escorted a convoy to San Diego en route Coco Solo, Panama Canal Zone, where she tended torpedo boats and helped to guard the approaches to the Panama Canal. During overhaul in the New York Navy Yard in the summer of 1942, she fitted out to serve at Newport, Rhode Island, as a school ship for a training squadron of motor torpedo boats. This duty continued until she headed for the Southwest Pacific on 27 November 1942 via the Panama Canal and the Society Islands. En route, on 13 January 1943 Niagara was reclassified as the U.S. Navy’s first motor torpedo boat tender and redesignated AGP-1.

Niagara arrived at Noumea, New Caledonia, on 17 January 1943 and began tending Motor Torpedo Boat Division 23, Motor Torpedo Boat Squadron 8. She sailed with the division on 27 January 1943 and reached her base at Tulagi in the Solomon Islands on 17 February 1943. In ensuing months, she tended motor torpedo boats running security patrols off Guadalcanal.

On 7 April 1943, the Japanese raided the Guadalcanal-Tulagi area with 177 planes, of which about 25 were shot down. Two bombs sank New Zealand corvette Moa. Niagara, in the thick of the fight, was north of the harbor, moored to the west bank of the Maliali River, heading downstream with minesweeper USS Rail, tied up outboard well aft. Nine Japanese planes came up the river, none of them over 150 feet (46 meters) above the water. Niagara and Rail took them all under fire.

The first plane, already aflame, crashed into trees about 1,000 yards (915 meters) astern of Niagara. The next two planes escaped, but the fourth rapidly lost altitude in a stream of white smoke to explode behind the hills to the north. The following two raiders passed within 150 yards (137 meters) and attempted to strafe Niagara, but their firing was erratic and they wobbled uncertainly as they passed through Niagara’s heavy fire before crashing into the woods off her port quarter The next two planes sheared up and to the right when taken under fire. One trailed light brown smoke as it disappeared close over the hilltops abaft Niagara’s port beam. The other passed to starboard and crashed in the hills on her starboard quarter.

Loss of Niagara

On 22 May 1943 Niagara, with Motor Torpedo Boat Division 23, departed Tulagi headed towards New Guinea. On the morning of 23 May 1942, a high-flying Japanese twin-engined monoplane attacked with four bombs. Niagara made a tight starboard turn at maximum speed until the bombs were released, then swung hard to port. Three near-misses to starboard and one to port damaged Niagara’s sound gear and the training mechanism of one 3-inch (76.2-mm) gun and knocked out steering control temporarily. Half an hour later, when steering control had been regained, six more high-flying twin-engine Japanese planes dropped a pattern of over a dozen bombs. One hit directly on Niagara’s forecastle and several were damaging near-misses.

Water rushing through a 14-inch (35.5-cm) hole 6 feet (1.8 meters) below her waterline flooded two storerooms, a passageway, and her engine room. All power and lighting failed, and her main engines stopped. Fire below decks forward was out of control, and Niagara listed rapidly to port. Her main engine and steering control were restored seven minutes after the attack, but her increasing list and an imminent danger of explosion of her gasoline storage tanks necessitated an order to abandon ship.

Torpedo boats PT-146 and PT-147 came alongside her stern to take off some of Niagara’s crew. Others went over her side into rafts and boats to be picked up by other motor torpedo boats. Niagara was then ablaze from bow to bridge. Flames were spreading aft, and ammunition was exploding on deck. Yet, despite her damage, not one of Niagara’s 136 officers and men was killed or seriously wounded.

PT–147 fired a torpedo which struck Niagara in the gasoline tanks. She exploded with a sheet of flame 300 feet (91 meters)high, and went down in less than a minute.

The motor torpedo boats landed Niagara's crew at Tulagi early on the morning of 24 May 1943.

Battle Honors

USS Niagara received one battle star for World War II service.

References

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