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USCG CABLE SHIP PEQUOT - UNITED STATES HARBOR DEFENCES

USCG Pequot Between the Wars  

These rare photos below show the Pequot before the onset of World War II. During this period the ship installed and maintained telephone, telegraph, and other communication cables along the entire Eastern seaboard of the United States. These underwater cables linked lifeboat stations and coastal navigation aids that received poor service from commercial telephone and telegraph companies. Note the absence of the two 20mm guns on the ship's fantail which were installed after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the beginning of U-boat attacks.

This formal photo of the Pequot's 49 member crew was probably taken around 1932. The white haired officer in the center of the front row between the two life preservers is believed to be the Pequot's Commanding Officer, Chief Boatswain Nelson F. King, who was nearly 60 at the time and the 3rd most senior Chief Boatswain in the Coast Guard. On both sides of King are the ship's non-commissioned Warrant Officers and Chief Petty Officers.  In the second row we see two Senior Stewards in their combination caps and an ex-Life Saving Service member in his single breasted uniform coat. Here we can also clearly see evidence of the era in which the Pequot was built. The exterior wooden 5-panel doors and screen doors on the upper deck are more reminiscent of a beach cottage than a military ship. The use of water tight exterior doors became standard on all ships well after the Pequot was built. Click to enlarge; click again for a closer look. (Special thanks to Jim Flynn for providing details on this photo)

The Pequot tied up at Pier 8 East of the Boston Navy Yard. In the background is Building 104 which was demolished in 1940. If you Click the Image to see it enlarged, you can clearly see the full complement of air cowls that were used to direct outside air below decks. If you Click Again and zoom in, you can find the Union Jack flying off the bow. That flag of 48 stars against a blue field was only flown when the ship was not underway.
On a blustery day the Pequot crew is seen off-loading telephone poles from the fantail with the American Flag and the US Coast Guard Ensign snapping proudly in the wind up on the ship's masts.

Click the image above to see an enlargement.

Below: The following front page newspaper article from the March 4, 1931 St. Petersburg, Florida
Evening Independent
provides some insight into the mission of the Pequot before World War II.

 Note: a common early problem encountered when laying cables in certain waters was a species
 of marine borer, the teredo worm. These tiny creatures found their way through the cable armor
 and dined on the jute insulation, exposing the conductor and causing earth faults.


A Look at the Pequot in the 1920s

The Pequot research project was contacted by collector Derrick Alderman of Old Paper Studios who picked up a vintage photo album at auction in 2018. In the album were a number of photos of the Pequot and her crew during the 1920s after the ship was converted in 1922 to a Coast Guard cable layer and repair ship from the Army Mine Planter Samuel M. Mills. We do not know who any of these men were, or who the album belonged to, but these photos, donated to our research project by Derrick, provide a rare glimpse into life aboard the Pequot between the wars and how the ship was initially fitted out for cable work. US Coast Guard Atlantic Area Historian William H. Thiesen also helped us with details seen in these photos, particularly the Pequot Medicine Ball team. Thanks Derrick and Bill!

The Pequot shortly after its 1922 conversion from an Army Mine Planter to a US Coast Guard cable laying and cable repair ship. This image is consistent with the 1927 Coast Guard photo of Pequot showing the large cable spool on the port side of the forward deck but before the bow mounted cable pully or "sheave" was installed along with the large motorized cable winch installed starboard of the main boom as seen in a 1933 photo of the ship.

1927
1933

Sailors working with thick undersea cable on Pequot's forward deck using a large cable spool recently installed on the port side. A Petty Officer is seen up by the bow overseeing the operation. In front of the companionway which leads down to the forward crew quarters we see a large air funnel that was later changed to an air in-take without a scoop. Probably because it was freezing those guys out down there. WWII era Gunner's Mate Roger Calamaio said that the crew bunk he was first assigned to was directly under an outside air vent and that everyone called it "Pneumonia Corner," and it was reserved for new guys who'd just shipped on.

The Pequot docked at St. Petersburg Florida at the "Million Dollar Pier" circa 1926-30. The officer on the right, perhaps with a local dignitary, is in a Coast Guard dress uniform of the period. The Pequot operated around the Gulf Coast and the Southeastern states during the 1920s running coastal communications cable and servicing lifesaving stations. St Petersburg was a common port of call as seen by the 1931 newspaper story on this page.

After the former Municipal Pier was damaged by the Tampa Bay Hurricane of 1921, St. Petersburg appropriated a $1 million bond for a new pier which was dedicated on Thanksgiving Day 1926. It featured a Mediterranean-style casino with observation deck, open-air ballroom, and an interior atrium for community events. http://www.newstpetepier.com/history.php

(Vintage Postcard)
(State Library & Archives of Florida)

It appears that Pequot had a Medicine Ball team as we can see from this sequence of photos where sailors are wearing sports tops with a large letter "P", sports shorts, and athletic shoes. We speculate that their coach was the spiffy fellow dressed in uniform bell bottoms and white sweater with piping and a large Coast Guard shield patch that is embroidered "USS PEQUOT." On the deck we can see an uncovered "Watertight Scuttle" which provided ventilation to the deck below yet could be sealed up tight to stop rain or seawater. The "Eye Bolt for Sheet Block" shown on the construction drawings is also seen on the deck next to the rat line ladder going up the main mast. On the right we can see the control levers for the anchor chains, capstans and boom arms.

These sailors are kneeling down for a photo next to the companionway door that leads down to the forward crew quarters. Seen behind them, laying on its side, is a small boat that has PEQUOT JR written on the stern in white. The ball being held is a Medicine Ball used in the competitive "Bull-in-the-Ring" game played by teams from Navy ships and, beginning in 1928, in "Hooverball" competition, which was a game started by then President Herbert Hoover's physician to keep the president fit after the President saw a "Bull-in-the-Ring" game aboard the Battleship Utah. In the late 1920s, to the end of Hoover's term in 1933, Hooverball was quite the rage and apparently Pequot's crew was part of the action. The President played with his cabinet members every morning at 7am. They became known as the "Medicine Ball Cabinet."

(Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum)

A Petty Officer and a sailor in his dress white uniform both posed for a photo by the large Electric Capstan on the Pequot's aft deck. Behind the officer we can see the large rear stanchion which would be used to tie on a tow cable if Pequot ever had to tow another ship. We can even see the "Hose Valve" behind him down on the deck which is shown on the construction drawings.

These three sailors in white t-shirts are standing on the Pequot's forward deck next to the crew companionway hatch with the forward cable, boom and anchor gear behind them. They are wearing the classic US Navy and Coast Guard dark blue bell bottom pants. These pants which became known as "Crackerjacks" for the sailor shown on the front of the Crackerjack snack box, are famous for the myth that the 13 buttons on them represent the 13 original colonies, a belief that has persisted among US sailors for more than 150 years. The large main boom and its support are seen directly above them with a maze of block and tackle rigging. In the foreground we see one of the two main cargo hatches.

Here we see a Pequot Petty officer sporting white dress spats in his full uniform and hat. He was most likely on duty as the armed Officer of the Day when the ship was in port. It could be a liberty day as the sailor next to him is looking quite sharp in his dress blues. The hatch in the gunwale behind them may be one of the "Freeing Ports" shown on the construction drawings. We believe it could be dropped open in heavy seas so that water that breached the bow could run off the deck or used when pulling rigging or cable aboard.

A fun look at 1920s Coast Guard foul weather gear as these two sailors stand on Pequot's stern under Old Glory. They are on the large rear cleat used to tie Pequot to a dock when in port. It is located directly above the ship's "towing chock" which was built into the gunwale so thick towing cables could be fed to the large rear stanchions in case Pequot ever had to tow another vessel.

LOADING THE PEQUOT WITH CABLE - 1930

In December of 1930 renowned Boston area photographer Leslie Jones documented the officers and crew of the Pequot loading cable at Constitution Wharf. These images have been archived under the title: "USS Pequot carrying 18 miles of submarine cable to be laid in southern waters." The mission the ship was preparing for here was most likely to provide one of many communication links between Coast Guard Life Saving Stations and Lighthouses. Between World War I and World War II the Pequot laid more than 585 miles of submarine cable.

A Coast Guard officer oversees the cable loading operation while a seaman manually turns the large spool of communications cable up on the dock. The cable is being played out off the spool to crewmen down on the fo'castle deck who lower it by hand into the Pequot's forward hold where other crew coil into place. In the background we can see one of the masts of the USS Constitution rising above a warehouse roof.
Click to Enlarge (Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection)

Based upon markings on the large cable spool we believe the crew was loading communications cable manufactured by the Simplex Wire and Cable Company which was one of the few manufacturers of undersea "submarine" cable during this period.  During the 1920s and '30s Simplex routinely provided cable to the Coast Guard, Navy, and private telephone and telegraph companies.  We see "Type 12" and what looks like "5010" stenciled on the side of the cable spool but we have been unable to locate a reference to that specific cable.  It seems highly likely - based on Simplex's labelling convention - that it was "#12" or 12 gauge copper conductor (AWG 12 is 0.08" or 2 mm diameter). To complete an 18-mile cable run the Pequot would need to load aboard more than 95,000 feet of this thick heavy cable. Click Image to Enlarge.

These photos help us date the crew photo at the top of this page as the two Petty Officers we see here in the center of the photo are also be seen seated in the front row with the ship's captain and other officers. Click Image to Enlarge. One of them with three "hash marks" on his sleeve indicating many years of service is seated 3rd from the left, and the taller officer is seated 5th from the right wearing a medal with his left hand on one of the Pequot's life preservers.


A technical challenge of the times was manufacturing undersea cable that remained sealed and waterproof. The latex-like sap of the Southeast Asian gutta percha tree was used for early underwater cable insulation and waterproofing by Simplex and other manufacturers. But after several decades of aggressive harvesting the supply of gutta percha trees simply started to run out.

Rubber insulation was the next best solution, but that was problematic since proteins in the rubber absorbed moisture and in a relatively short period of time would break through the cable insulation and waterproof seal. A close-up examination of the cable being loaded in these photos leads us to believe this cable had a strong outer coating of jute windings that was sealed with tar then coated and dusted in "air-slaked lime" or soapstone to stop the cable winds from sticking together on the storage spool.

That lime coating gave the cable we see here its pale appearance. We can also clearly see lime dust covering the coat and pants of the sailor who is feeding cable down into the hold and on the side of the dark blue uniform coat of the officer standing next to him.

This 1940s aerial view of the Pequot's fo'castle deck clearly shows the ship's forward hold next to the large cable winch and the companionway entrance to the forward crew quarters below deck where cable was routinely loaded as shown in these 1930s photos.  We can now see that little changed on the fo'castle deck between 1930 and the early 1940s.

A special thanks to Jerry Butler for locating these Leslie Jones images and to Bill Burns with the Atlantic Cable website for passing along the technical and historic details of the Simplex Wire and Cable Company.


 

The Pequot tied up in Boston Harbor. Seeing the forest of masts and rigging behind the ship we realize that the Pequot was first in service during the maritime era when ships were still transitioning from sails to steam. The tower of Boston's Customs House and the masts of USS Constitution can be seen in the background. Berthed behind Pequot we see the 250 foot Coast Guard "Lake Class" cutter Itasca (Y-92).

On July 2nd 1937 Itasca received the last radio communication from Amelia Earhart near Howard Island in the South Pacific and played a key role in the initial search for her missing aircraft.

http://coastguard.dodlive.mil/2012/07/itasca-the-search-for-amelia-earhart/

Click the image above to see an enlargement.

Gerald Joseph Murphy (see below) seated in the front of this group of sailors taken in the mid-1930s. His daughter believes this was taken while he was recovering from a service related injury which led to his 1938 Coast Guard discharge. (Geralyn Murphy Brousseau)


Gerald Joseph Murphy from Gloucester, Massachusetts joined the Coast Guard in 1935 at the age of 25. According to his discharge papers he spent time aboard the CGC Cayuga and then served on the Pequot before WWII as a Seaman 1st Class under the command of Chief Boatswain C. Jensen.  After he was discharged on March 21st 1938 he served in the Merchant Marine during WWII.

His daughter Gerri writes that, "He always had wonderful stories and I could sit for hours listening to him tell about his travels around the world.  He had one particularly funny story about a trip to south America where he got a monkey. During the war, he was on three different ships that were sunk, one in the waters near Iceland, where he nearly froze to death as he bobbed around for three days in that frigid water before being rescued by a Norwegian ship who heard their distress call."  After the war he moved to Waterbury, Connecticut where he married, raised a family, and worked as a machinist at the Anchor Fastener Company. Gerald J. Murphy passed away on March 12th 1980.
 

The Pequot in Dry Dock - November 9th 1922.
Her twin screws were able to run forward or reverse independently. This made it possible to position the Pequot exactly where need to accurately place loop cables on the seafloor. Top speed was 12 knots with a maximum cruising radius of 1670 nautical miles. Details on the tricky business of spacing the loop cables can be found in the USN Harbor Defense Manual on Pages 53 &54.
We believe this vintage Liberty Pass for Pequot sailor "J.W. Hall" was issued well before World War II. When compared to the 1940s shore passes shown in our story of Storekeeper Bill Moore we see it is an older hand written version of Coast Guard Form #2518. We see it was not typed but filled out with a liquid ink pen, and that the return mail drop sends it to New York instead of the USCG District Office in Boston. (Provided by the John Hall family with special thanks to Mary Ellen Getchel of Three Frogs Collectibles LLC)
We can see from the Pequot's official Record of Operations that between World War I and World War II she conducted cable laying and repair work while being stationed out of New London, Connecticut, the Norfolk Virginia Coast Guard Depot, and the Coast Guard base in Boston, Massachusetts. Just prior to the outbreak of WWII she served temporary duty with the Atlantic Fleet. (US Coast Guard History Office)

Every effort has been made to trace and acknowledge copyright. The authors would welcome any information from people who believe their photos have been used without due credit. Some photos have been retouched to remove imperfections but otherwise they are true to the original.


FEEDBACK

If you have comments or queries specifically about the Pequot or her Escort Ships, please contact
 Chip Calamaio chipaz@cox.net (H) 602-279-4505.

Click here to go to the Pequot Main Page.

Research and design: Chip Calamaio and Richard Walding