A week ago I received the above image from my old friend Réne Canham from the San Francisco/Bay Area, a shot taken with her mobile phone at Benicia, CA. The unmarked ship, it appeared, was the latest in a long line to be removed from the Reserve Fleet for disposal. I did not know which ship this was so I emailed the image to MaritimeMatter’s contributor Shawn Dake, who in turn sent it to Bay Area-based Frank Cleope, who has supplied many images for me to use in articles and news pieces. Frank identified the mystery ship as the WABASH and responded with many more of his own pictures.
Mr. Cleope reported that there are only 21 ships left at Suisun Bay. The WABASH was towed over to Mare Island Shipyard to prepare her for a tow to Metal Industries in Brownsville Texas where she will be scrapped. WABASH is 38th obsolete ship to leave the fleet in a mass ship cleanup effort since 2009.
A short History:
USS WABASH was the fifth “WICHITA – class” replenishment oiler. WABASH was laid down January 21, 1970 by General Dynamics Quincy Shipbuilding Division at Quincy, Massachusetts; launched February 6, 1971; sponsored by Mrs. William G. Bray; and commissioned November, 20 1971 at the Boston Naval Shipyard, Capt. Robert P. Chrisler in command.
USS WABASH departed the US East Coast on January 5, 1972, calling at Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; transited the Strait of Magellan stopping in Valparaíso, Chile; Callao, Peru; and Acapulco, Mexico, before arriving at her home port, Long Beach, CA, on March 3. She operated off the coast of southern California into the autumn before she commenced her first western Pacific deployment, departing Long Beach November 9 for Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and on to Subic Bay, Philippine Islands, where the replenishment-oilier was assigned to Service Squadron 9, assumed duties as flagship for Commander, Task Group (TG) 73.5.
WABASH conducted some 46 underway replenishments during her first tour on the “line” off the coast of Vietnam and celebrated Christmas at sea while returning to the Philippines. In January 1973 she conducted two or three replenishments a day during the final phase of American combat operations in Vietnam.
After the United States forces were withdrawn from combat WABASH made two more line deployments. On May 21, WABASH departed Yokosuka, Japan, via Pearl Harbor, for Long Beach.
In September 1973, Alameda, California became her new home port for local operations and departed March 1974 for her second “WestPac” deployment with operations in Philippine and Japanese waters, before return to the United States in September 1974. WABASH, in 1976, again sail for the western pacific, when she collided with FLINT during a towing exercise, minor damage was repaired at Subic Bay, and WABASH returned to operations in Philippine waters. In July 1975, WABASH loaded stores and cargo and departed to join task group TG 77.7. This group was then headed for the Indian Ocean as part of the American effort to balance a growing Soviet presence in that area of the globe.
During WABASH’s third western pacific tour, she had steamed over 35,000 miles, conducted 100 underway replenishments, and had been at sea nearly 65 percent of the time.
Departing Alameda once more, WABASH ship engaged in Exercise “RIMPAC 77” in early 1977, a major fleet exercise involving ships from the United States, Australian, New Zealand, and Canadian navies. WABASH conducted 28 underway replenishments during this time followed by regular overhaul at Todd Shipyard, Alameda.
WABASH was reassigned to her first home port once more, that of Long Beach, CA in 1984 and ten years later on a September 30, 1994 she was decommissioned and then stricken from the Navy list on April 8, 1997 before being laid up in the National Defense Reserve Fleet at Suisin Bay, CA.
The WABASH was sold for scrapping to Marine Metal Inc., Brownsville, TX on July 21, 2005, but remained at Suisun Bay until her removal from the raft of ships in November 2012.
Thanks to Réne Canham, Shawn Dake and Frank Cleope and to a variety of internet sources for WABASH history.
MARTIN COX - Founder and publisher of MaritimeMatters, inspired by maritime culture and technology growing up in the port of Southampton. He works as a photographer in Los Angeles, and his works has been exhibited in LA, San Francisco, New York, London and Iceland. Martin is the co-writer of the book “Hollywood to Honolulu; the story of the Los Angeles Steamship Company” published by the Steam Ship Historical Society of America. The Los Angeles Maritime Museum has commissioned artworks and collected his photographs.