U.S.S ALTAIR AKS-32

History

A link to navsource.org history page of the Altair

(AK-257; dp 4,960; l. 455' 3"; b. 62'; dr. 28' 6"; $ 16.5 k.; cpl. 250; a. 4 40mm.; cl Greenville Victory, T VC3-S-AP3)

   Aberdeen Victory was laid down under a Maritime Commission contract (MC hull 110) on 20 April 1944 at Portland, Oregon, by the Oregon Shipbuilding Corp.; launched on 30 May 1944, sponsored by Mrs. A.L.M. Wiggins; completed on 23 June 1944, and entered the Merchant Service under contract with the Waterman Steamship Co., under whose flag she supported operations against Japan and took part in the conquest of Okinawa during May 1945.  Following the rest of the war, the freighter was assigned to the National Defense Reserve Fleet (NDRF) and laid up in the Sulsun Bay, California berthing area.

Waterman Steamship Company Flag

Cross Section of a typical Victory Ship

   Transferred to the Navy on 7 July 1951, a little over a year after Communist forces invaded the Republic of Korea, the ship as renamed Altair on 26 July, classified as a cargo ship and designated AK-257; and, commissioned at Baltimore, MD on 31 January 1952, Comdr. George J. Largess in command.

   Assigned to the Atlantic Fleet Service Force, Altair was initially based at Norfolk, and visited Annapolis (20 to 31 March) and Guantanamo Bay (26 May to 2 June) during the course of her shakedown.   Soon thereafter, she commenced her first deployment to the Mediterranean to support the 6th Fleet, arriving at Gibraltar on 29 June 1952.  Altair departed that port the following day, and sailed to Golfo Juan, France, arriving on 2 July.  She remained there until 12 July, when she sailed for Naples, Italy; she steamed thence to Casablanca, French Morocco.

    Altair cleared Casablanca for the east coast of the United States on 26 July, 1952, and reached Norfolk on 4 August.  Anticipating conversion to a  stores issue ship, the vessel was redesignated AKS-32 on 12 August, 1952.  Altair was decommissioned at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard on 5 January 1953 and taken to Baltimore where she underwent conversion at the Maryland Drydock Co. to prepare her for her new role.

    Recommissioned at Norfolk on 15 December 1953, the ship rejoined the Atlantic Fleet and, following her shakedown, reported for duty on 20 March 1954.  A little over two month later, on 24 May, Altair sailed for the Mediterranean and reached the Hyeres(?) Islands, on the southeast coast of France, on 10 June for a weeks stay.  She steamed thence to Naples and Cagliari, Italy, and thence to Golfo Juan, before paying a return call at Naples.  She then visited Palma de Majorca before reaching Gibralter on 11 August en route back to the United States.   During her second Mediterranean deployment, the ship also conducted two underway replenishments, with Task Force (TF) 63, from 29 June to 2 July, and on 2 August 1954.  Arriving back in Norfolk on 23 August, Altair operated between that port and New York and Baltimore through the autumn, ultimately sailing from Norfolk on 15 November for Gibraltar and her third deployment with the 6th Fleet.  Over the next few months, Altair called at Gibraltar, Naples (thrice), Barcelona, Spain, Genoa, Italy, Cartegena,  Spain, Mers-el-Kebir, and Algiers, before she closed out that deployment at Gibraltar on 24 February 1955 and sailed for Norfolk.

    In May 1955, her homeport was changed to Barcelona, and she cleared Norfolk for her permanent station in the Mediterranean. She returned to her 'home away from home' Barcelona, and supported the Sixth Fleet.  In November 1955, returned to Norfolk with a stop in Gibraltar and then Brooklyn, NY in January, 1956 for a two month overhaul.  The entire forward section of the ship flooded while in drydock.  A fire main which had been tagged closed somehow was opened.  A brief trip to Guantanamo Bay for Refresher Training and then Bermuda where she ran aground in April 1956.  On 26 May 1956 she was bound for Gibraltar.  During 1955-1956 the Altair visited Cannes, Mallorca, Naples, Athens and Rhodes several times.  In August 1962, her homeport was shifted to Naples.  From time to time, she returned to the United States for overhaul and modification.  In 1959 she received a helicopter-landing platform to enable her to carry out early vertical replenishment operations.  She also received a complete material handling system, which included new elevators, forklifts, trucks, conveyor belts, and the first electronic accounting system to be placed aboard ship.  This greatly facilitated her task of keeping track of the more than 25,000 items in her general stores inventory.

   Altair's helicopter rescued an Air Force fighter pilot on 8 September 1961 after he had to bail our off the coast of Spain.   On 17 March 1962, Altair sent a rescue and sustenance detail to aid the distressed Italian passenger ship Venezuela off Cannes, France.  While a damage control party operated portable pumps to contain flooding, Altair's corpsmen helped over 800 passengers to leave the liner.  A few weeks later, she provided emergency medical assistance to a critically ill Greek National on the island of Koao in the southern Aegean Sea; her helicopter flew the patient to Athens for further treatment.  On 17 August 1962, the ship took part in relief operations for homeless repatriates in Algeria by taking 1,000 tents to Bono.

   Altair returned to the United States in October 1962 for overhaul but was abruptly ordered to the Caribbean to replenish American warships enforcing the quarantine of Cuba.  For her service during the Cuban quarantine, October 11-28, 1962, the U.S.S. Altair was awarded the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal for participating in the designated expeditions after July 1, 1958.

The Altair was also awarded theNational Defense Service Medal for her duty in the Cuban Missile Crisis.

   After the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Altair proceeded to Boston for an overhaul, which lasted into the spring of 1963.  The stores issuing ship departed Norfolk on 18 May and reached Rota, Spain on the 30th.  On 13 June, she assisted in the rescue of an Italian man who had fallen from the seawall while fishing in Naples.

   In June 1965, Altair's home port was changed to Norfolk, and she operated from that base until reporting to the Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility in Portsmouth, VA on 31 December 1968.  She was decommissioned on 21 May 1969 and transferred to the Maritime Administration (MarAd), James River Fleet on 1 May, 1973 at 0825EST.  

   Her name was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on 1 June 1973, and the former stores issue ship was laid up in the James River berthing area of the NDRF.  She was transferred permanently to MarAd on 1 September 1973; She was sold Novermber 1974 to Luria Brothers, Cleveland OH for $280,688 under bid PD-X_895, and removed 31 January 1975 at 1145EST, then towed to Baltimore, MD. for scrapping.

This additional information about the Altair was kindly supplied by Bill Kelleher.

   "The Altair, a general stores ship carries spare parts for machinery and electronic equipment, consumable items such as paint, tools, buckets and brooms and items sold in ship's stores such as cigarettes, writing paper and toilet articles.   Altair has 5 holds in which her stores are carried with bin storage provided for all small items and most spare parts.  Mostly in the Mediterranean, the Altair received from other transport ships bulk stocks of materials from the United States, breaking down the supplies of bulk material down into retail packages and issued them to all ships of the Sixth Fleet.

   The Altair utilized two methods of transferring stores to other ships.  In the alongside method the ships maintain station alongside each other and stores are transferred using long high lines and various wire rigs.  In vertical replenishment specially equipped helicopters pick up individual net loads from the Altair's flight deck and deliver them to the other ships decks.

   While monthly issues are being made, customer ships' orders are received in the form of accounting machine cards.  Records of stock on hand are also kept on these cards and the ship is equipped with electronic business machines which are used to process all issues, to maintain stock records and to process receipts and re-supply orders.

  In 1965, the Altair was relieved by the U.S.S. Sylvania AFS-2 and returned to Norfolk after a ten year period in the Mediterranean.  The Altair is proud of the skilled ship handling and deck seamanship of her crew.  The Altair extends her appreciation to the Helo crew who were assigned her and who became a vital part of an integrated team which enabled her to accomplish her mission during the periods of deployment. "