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USS Surfbird (AM-383)

USS Surfbird

Laid down: 15 February 1944
Launched: 31 August 1944
Commissioned: 25 November 1944
Decommissioned: 18 December 1970
Fate: In commercial service
General characteristics
Displacement: 890 tons
Length: 221 ft 1 in (m)
Beam: 32 ft 2 in (m)
Draft: 10 ft 9 in (m)
Speed: 18.1 knots (km/h)
Complement: 117
Armament: one 3"/50 dual purpose gun mount, two single 40mm gun mounts, six single 20mm gun mounts, one depth charge thrower (hedgehogs), four depth charge projectiles (k-guns), two depth charge tracks
The USS Surfbird (AM-383) was an built during World War II for the United States Navy. She was the only U.S. Navy ship named for the surfbird.


Surfbird was laid down on 15 February 1944 by the American Shipbuilding Company, Lorain, Ohio; launched on 31 August 1944, sponsored by Mrs. F. W. Chambers; and commissioned on 25 November 1944 with Lt. R. H. Nelson, Jr., USNR, in command.

Surfbird departed Lorain on 26 November en route to Boston, Massachusetts via Montreal, Quebec and Halifax. She arrived at Boston on 15 December 1944 and held minesweeping trials. On 13 February 1945 the ship arrived at Little Creek, Virginia to begin her shakedown training. After a brief period in the Charleston Naval Shipyard for alterations, she sailed for the west coast. The Panama Canal was transited on April 27, and Surfbird arrived at San Diego, California on May 6. Two days later, she and sailed for Hawaii.

Surfbird arrived at Pearl Harbor and on May 26 departed there for Okinawa Retto, via Eniwetok, Guam and Ulithi. She arrived at Kerama Retto on June 25 and began daily sweeps of the "Skagway" area of the East China Sea. The minesweeper departed Okinawa on September 5 for North Saddle Island, at the entrance of the Yangtze River. She swept Bonham Strait and its approaches until October 4 and then swept the entrance to Chefoo Harbor, Shantung. Next was a two-day sweep of the approaches to Jinsen, Korea after which she got underway for Shanghai. The Yangtze River was entered on October 16 and, by the end of the month, she had swept 32 mines.

Surfbird sailed from Shanghai on November 17 for Sasebo Japan to be repaired. From December 14 1945 through the 31st she swept mines in Tachibana Wan, Kyūshū. She moved to Kure from Sasebo and remained there from February 20, 1946 to the 26th when she sailed for the United States, via the Marianas, Marshall Islands, Johnston Island, and Pearl Harbor. The minesweeper arrived at San Diego on April 14, and was decommissioned on 5 June 1946.

Surfbird was recommissioned at San Diego on 12 March 1952 and operated from there until December. On December 1 she stood out to sea en route to the Far East. The minesweeper touched at Yokosuka, Japan on 28 December 1952 and departed on 1 January 1953 with units of Mine Division (MinDiv) 76 to begin sweep and blockade operations between Wonsan and Hungnam, Korea. These patrols were only broken by brief intervals of replenishment and upkeep at Sasebo. On May 25 Surfbird arrived at Inchon to make magnetic-acoustic sweeps of Yong Do and Cho Do. She returned to Sasebo on June 6 and sailed for the United States three days later.

Surfbird arrived at Long Beach, California on July 3. Following an overhaul at Mare Island from August 17 to October 28, she resumed local operations out of Long Beach. The ship departed the Far East again on 28 April 1954 and returned on 24 November 1954. In February 1955, her designation was changed from AM-383 to MSF-383. She trained along the California coast for the next year and on 1 March 1956 sailed for another tour with the 7th Fleet. When Surfbird was due for rotation on August 9, she and Waxwing (MSO-389) began a 13,000-mile cruise home through the South Pacific. They called at Manila in the Philippine Islands; Bali, Republic of Indonesia; Darwin, Australia; Port Moresby, New Guinea; and Pago Pago, Samoa. They then called at Pearl Harbor before returning to Long Beach on 9 October 1956.

On 22 January 1957 Surfbird sailed for Yokosuka (her new home port) to begin a new career. She arrived in Japan on February 12 and began receiving degaussing equipment from the USS Ampere (ADG-11). On June 15 she was redesignated from MSF-383 to a degaussing ship, ADG-383. Until April 1965, Surfbird operated from Sasebo, but her operations covered much of the western Pacific as she also degaussed ships of the allied sea services of Japan, Korea, the Republic of China, the Philippines, and the Republic of South Vietnam.

Surfbird stood out of Subic Bay on 11 April 1965 en route to Vietnam. Upon her arrival there, she was assigned patrol duty on "Operation Market Time" until returning to Sasebo on May 7. Surfbird again performed "Market Time" patrols and special ranging service off the coast of South Vietnam from 2 August 1966 through the 22nd and from 17 September to 7 October 1966. She returned to Vietnam for operations during the following periods: 8 September to the 15th and 10 November through 14 November 1967; 17 June to 20 July 1968; 8 March to 28 March; 16 August to 10 September; 2 October to 26 October 1969; 4 January to 7 February; and 21 July to 3 August 1970. Surfbird received three Battle Stars for service in World War II, two for Korean War service, and eight for service during the Vietnam War.

On 5 August 1970 Surfbird was notified that she was to be inactivated. She departed Japan on 7 September and, after making port calls at Guam and Hawaii, arrived at the Inactivation Facility, Bremerton, Washington on 3 October. Surfbird was decommissioned on 18 December 1970 and attached to the Pacific Reserve Fleet, where she remained into February, 1975. Surfbird was struck from the Naval Vessel Register 21 February 1975; sold 5 December 1975 to the Pacific Northwest Salvage Company, Inc. of Seattle, Washington; sold again in December, 1975 to Brice Industries of Fairbanks, Alaska and renamed Helenka B. Helenka B was subsequently transferred to the Maritime Administration in 1976 for disposal and sold to Wel-Aska of Valdez, Alaska. She is still operating under that name, and was involved in the March, 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill clean up.

The Surfbird is still floating, Her name is Helenka B and she is owned and Captained by Capt. Bruce Flanigan and operates out of Homer Aka. as a Supply ship. She has been shortened in length and bow doors added, 2 new main engines (Cats).

In popular culture

Surfbird appeared briefly in the 1954 film The Caine Mutiny as the fictitious minesweeper USS Jones.


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