The PCs, the little workhorses of the ASW fleet.

The US Navy in the years between World War I and World War II never had much of a budget. What they did have was a lot of ships built during the crash programs for World War I. Much expense and effort went into building small escorts for the convoy system to defeat the German U-Boat blockade of England. Among the ships built were small 110’ wooden subchasers and crude mass production 200’ Eagle Boats.

Much of the fruit of the massive shipbuilding program came too late to actually serve in World War I. Many of the ships saw only the most limited commissioned service before being laid up in reserve.

In the 1930s, as war clouds gathered over Europe, the US Navy looked at what it would need to provide convoy escort to England. And it quickly realized the fleet of laid up boats from World War I were not suitable for modern operations.

What was needed was a small, relatively inexpensive ship that could be mass produced by smaller yards that were more accustomed to building merchant ships or fishing vessel, and not require too many skilled workers to built. It should have decent endurance, sufficient size to carry a modern sonar, and enough weapons to successfully engage a U-Boat, either submerged or surfaced.

Such a small ship would also be useful in peacetime as a training ship for reservists and Midshipmen.

The Navy in the 1930s didn’t have enough money to buy a lot of ships, but they could afford to build a prototype or two. Eventually the Navy settled on a 173’ ship powered by diesel engines. Armed with two 3”/50 guns (or one 3”/50 and one single 40mm””), three to five 20mm guns, depth charges and the Mousetrap anti-sub rocket, the ships became known as the PC-461 class. Such modest warships, while commissioned vessels, rated only their hull number as their name.

The PCs were not really open ocean escorts. Instead they were intended to protect coastal convoys. They were, however, capable of crossing oceans, provided they could be refueled underway.

By the time the US entered World War II in late 1941, the Royal Navy had for the most part come to grips with the worst of the U-Boat menace to the North Atlantic convoys. The Kreigsmarine suddenly had a whole new array of fat, easy targets to attack, namely US shipping along the eastern seaboard, and throughout the Caribbean Sea. The PC program was barely started, and not enough were on hand to provide escort for these coastwise convoys. As production ramped up, however, PCs and their little brothers, the newly built 110’ wooden SCs began to escort convoys from New York to the shores of Venezuela.  While few PCs actually sank U-Boats, they did drastically reduce losses of merchant shipping.

As even more became available, PCs and SCs began to deploy overseas to the Mediterranean theater and to the Pacific theater to serve as escorts for amphibious convoys, and for general service in support of naval operations in those theaters. The PCs were far too slow to serve alongside the dashing fast ships of the carrier task forces, but in virtually every invasion of the war, they stood by to render service. One popular use was as control craft to shepherd landing craft to their proper beaches during an assault.

In the Pacific theater, several were modified with a cut down superstructure to serve as barge busters interdicting Japanese landing craft supporting isolated garrisons.

The crews of the 362 PCs eventually built were virtually all reservists enlisted or conscripted for the duration of the war, both their officers and men. Many had never been to sea in any fashion before reporting aboard their tiny ships and placing them into commission. After commissioning, the raw crew would have the barest of work-ups at a training center, then sail off to war.

Indeed, some were pressed into active service even before their training had been  completed. And that brings us to this:

The Navy rejected reports 72 years ago that Lt. Cmdr. Herbert Claudius sank a German U-boat off the Louisiana coast during World War II. In fact, Officials criticized his depth-charging tactics and sent him to anti-submarine school so he could learn how to do it the right way.

It turns out the Navy — not Claudius — was off target.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert set the record straight Dec. 16, when they posthumously awarded the Legion of Merit with combat “V” to the patrol coastal skipper. His son, Herbert Gordon Claudius Jr., received the award on behalf of his father.

Wartime service aboard the smaller combatants was always tiring, usually uncomfortable,* and quite often dangerous. Many served in the most tedious roles, with little recognition from the media, the public, or even their own service. Their mission as escorts was overshadowed by the massive Destroyer Escort program that replaced the PC program. They were certainly not nearly as photogenic as a sprinting fleet destroyer, or a heavily gunned cruiser with a bone in its teeth. And nothing like the glamor of aviation was attached to them. And yet, at virtually every invasion, they were on hand to undertake any mission assigned.


*PCs had a reputation as lively sea boats, and tended to roll quite a bit. Regular Navy sailors were aghast at their rolling. But the crews that manned them were usually so green that they didn’t realize just how bad they were compared to other ships.

4 thoughts on “The PCs, the little workhorses of the ASW fleet.”

  1. The modern day PCs are still quite “lively” at sea. It’s been more than a few years since I was aboard one at sea, but I seem to recall that the uniform of the day included a plastic trash bag tucked into one’s belt.

    The only folks I recall not actively puking were the skipper and myself, and it was a damned close thing for me. I was never so glad to get in the RHIB and get cold and wet…

  2. Years ago I read “The Splinter Fleet” by Ray Millholland. The author served on wooden hulled subchasers during the first world war. Very good read.

    John in Philly

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