USS Kittiwake (ASR-13)

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USS Kittiwake (ASR-13)
USS Kittiwake (ASR-13).jpg
USS Kittiwake (ASR-13)
United States
Namesake: The kittiwake, any of several gulls of the genus Rissa, found along the coast of North America
Launched: 10 July 1945
Sponsored by: Mrs. Howard S. Rue, Jr.
Commissioned: 18 July 1946
Decommissioned: 30 September 1994
Stricken: 30 September 1994
Fate: Sunk as artificial reef in January 2011
General characteristics
Class and type: Chanticleer-class submarine rescue vessel
Displacement: 1,780 tons
Length: 251 ft 4 in (76.61 m)
Draught: 14 ft 3 in (4.34 m)
Speed: 16 knots
Complement: 102 officers and enlisted
Armament: .50 caliber machine gun

USS Kittiwake (ASR-13) was a United States Navy Chanticleer-class submarine rescue vessel in commission from 1946 to 1994.

Construction and commissioning[edit]

Kittiwake was launched 10 July 1945, by Savannah Machine & Foundry Co., Savannah, Georgia; sponsored by Mrs. Howard S. Rue, Jr.; and commissioned 18 July 1946, Lt. L. H. Collier in command.

Service history[edit]

After shakedown, Kittiwake departed Charleston, South Carolina, 3 October for Balboa, Canal Zone, arriving 8 October. Assigned to support and rescue duty with Submarine Squadron 6, the submarine rescue ship accompanied submarines during sea trials and maneuvers to monitor diving operations; to practice underwater rescue procedures; and to recover practice torpedoes. While based at Balboa, her operations carried her to the Virgin Islands, to Puerto Rico, and along the Atlantic coast to the Davis Strait.

Departing Balboa 31 May 1949, Kittiwake arrived Norfolk, Virginia, 6 June to continue duty with SUBRON 6. From 17 January to 1 February 1950, she provided divers and equipment during salvage operations to free the battleship Missouri, grounded in tidal banks off Thimble Shoals, Virginia. During the 1950s she cruised the Atlantic from New England to the Caribbean while supporting ships of Submarine Force U.S. Atlantic Fleet with a trained and highly skilled crew. While on station off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Florida, 20 July 1960, she stood ready to assist the fleet ballistic missile submarine USS George Washington (SSBN-598) as George Washington successfully launched the first two Polaris ballistic missiles ever fired from a submarine beneath the sea.

Kittiwake continued operating out of Norfolk until 1 August 1961 when she departed for the Mediterranean. Arriving at Rota, Spain, on 15 August, she cruised the Mediterranean from Spain to Greece while deployed with the United States Sixth Fleet. After supporting submarine maneuvers out of Piraeus, Greece, from 20 September to 9 October, she departed the Mediterranean 8 November and arrived Norfolk on the 18th. She then conducted operations out of Norfolk for the next 18 months. While on duty off Key West 2 February 1963, she sighted a Cuban boat, Jose Maria Perez and took on board 12 refugees (including 3 children) fleeing communist oppression in Cuba; they were carried to safety at Key West.

Departing Charleston, South Carolina, 16 April, Kittiwake arrived at St. Nazaire, France, 3 May with two Landing Craft Utility (LCU's) in tow. She proceeded to the Mediterranean 10 May and reached Rota on the 14th. For more than two months she participated in fleet operations before departing Rota 31 July for the United States. Returning to Norfolk 10 August 1963, she resumed training and support operations with submarines, along the Atlantic coast. Through 1964 and 1965, Kittiwake continued her role in maintaining the readiness of individual submarines which were to carry out their missions of defense and deterrence effectively. She escorted them as they left the East Coast shipyards for sea trials, standing ready to come to their rescue should difficulties arise. Constant exercise in use of weapons by submarines was furnished by Kittiwake, such as running as a target and recovering exercise torpedoes and mines. The operations ranged from the Virginia Capes to the Atlantic missile range off Florida. On 6 April 1965, she departed Norfolk with submarines for exercises off the coast of Spain, thence to the Mediterranean Sea.

Kittiwake departed Toulon 31 May 1965, to operate out of Rota, Spain, in support of the fleet ballistic missile submarines of Submarine Squadron 16: USS Andrew Jackson (SSBN-619), USS Woodrow Wilson (SSBN-624), USS James Madison (SSBN-627), and USS Nathan Hale (SSBN-623). Following torpedo recovery and training off the coast of Spain, she sailed for Holy Loch, Scotland 30 June 1965, to give support to Submarine Squadron 14 there. She recovered torpedoes for the fleet ballistic missile submarines USS James Monroe (SSBN-622) and USS John Adams (SSBN-620), provided underway training for men of the submarine tender USS Hunley (AS-31), then sailed 20 July for Norfolk, arriving 30 July 1965. During the autumn months, Kittiwake guarded new Polaris submarines, USS Lewis and Clark (SSBN-644) and USS Simon Bolivar (SSBN-641), during their builder's sea trials prior to commissioning.

Kittiwake operated on the United States East Coast and in the Caribbean until sailing for the Mediterranean 8 July 1966. She reached the Bay of Cádiz on the 20th and transited the straits 2 days later. She operated in the Mediterranean until emerging at Rota, Spain, 1 September. She headed for Holy Loch on the 6th and arrived on the 11th. Four days later she was ordered to the North Sea to assist in locating and salvaging the German submarine Hai (S-171). She reached the scene of the tragedy 17 September and remained on hand assisting salvage operations until the 20th. She continued to operate off Western Europe until returning to Norfolk 13 November. Kittiwake operated on the East Coast into 1967.

In May 1968, USS Kittiwake was sent to the Mid-Atlantic as part of the fleet searching for the USS Scorpion, SSN-589. Kittiwake was assigned to the search for USS Scorpion until August, 1968.

On 23 April 1984, Kittiwake collided with the attack submarine USS Bergall (SSN-667) at Norfolk, Virginia, while Bergall was moored to the pier astern of her. Kittiwake was getting underway for the first time since she had undergone maintenance, during which her main drive motor was re-wired improperly, causing it and the screw it drove to rotate in the opposite direction from that ordered by personnel on Kittiwake's bridge. This was unknown to Kittiwake's bridge personnel, who found that Kittiwake started to move astern when they were expecting her to move forward. Noting the backward motion, they ordered an increase in the motor drive speed in order to correct it and get Kittiwake moving forward, but unwittingly caused Kittiwake to move farther astern and at a higher speed. Still not realizing that Kittiwake's main drive motor was operating in reverse of what they expected, Kittiwake's bridge personnel then ordered another increase in Kittiwake's forward speed, which served only to increase her speed astern. This continued until Kittiwake's stern backed into Bergall's sonar dome, causing damage to the Bergall's sonar dome and the USS Kittiwake's propeller.

In 1986, the Kittiwake recovered the black box from the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.[1]

On 05 December 1989, the USS Kittiwake was providing surface support during a Navy Trident missile test in the Atlantic Ocean. Greenpeace had found out about the testing and had sent ships to protest this exercise. Greenpeace attacked the USS Kittiwake by hitting her aft port side with the bow of the Greenpeace ship. The USS Kittiwake returned the aggression by ramming the Greenpeace ship and disabled the engines by shooting water down the engine stack of the Greenpeace ship, making her dead in the water.

Decommissioning and disposal[edit]

Kittiwake was decommissioned on 30 September 1994 and struck from the Naval Vessel Register on the same day. Her title was transferred in November 2008 for an undisclosed amount to the government of the Cayman Islands for the purpose of using Kittiwake to form a new artificial reef.[2] Originally intended to be sunk in June 2009,[3] she was finally sunk off Seven Mile Beach, Grand Cayman, on 5 January 2011 in Marine Park[4]

A 2011 episode of the documentary television series Monster Moves covered moving and sinking the ship. Divers are not allowed to touch or take anything from the dive site. At its most shallow, the wreck of Kittiwake was 15 feet (4.6 meters) below the surface of the water and at its deepest, 64 feet (19.5 meters) below the surface.[4]

In October 2017 the wreck moved towards a nearby natural reef and fell to its port side due to wave action from passing Tropical Storm Nate. The wreck is now approximately 20 feet deeper at its most shallow.[5]



  1. ^ Taylor, Jeremy (28 January 2011). "Sink and Swim". Financial Times.
  2. ^ "Diving to Become More Exciting". Cayman Islands Government. Retrieved 13 June 2013.
  3. ^ "Ship sunk to create artificial reef". Channel 4 News. PA News. 1 October 2008. Archived from the original on 4 July 2009.
  4. ^ a b
  5. ^ "Kittiwake toppled onto natural reef". Cayman News Service. 9 October 2017. Retrieved 9 October 2017.

Coordinates: 19°21′43″N 81°24′04″W / 19.361972°N 81.401023°W / 19.361972; -81.401023