The Navy's Sea Tug Allegheny


By James Donahue


From the day she was launched at Buffalo, New York in 1917, until the end of World War II, the 156-foot-long tug Allegheny (Fleet Tug No. 19) was active in escorting naval ships in and out of harbor, protecting the Eastern seaboard and assisting the Coast Guard in salvaging damaged vessels. She even participated in fighting fire at sea.


Allegheny was also sunk following a collision with a collier at Pensacola, Florida. It happened on July 5, 1922, as the tug was assisting the coal ship Orion as it was docking. The Allegheny edged too close to a turning propeller on the collier and the prop gashed a hold in the tug's side. The vessel flooded quickly and sank in shallow water. No one was hurt and the tug was raised and back in service by the end of the year.


The Allegheny remained stationed at Pensacola for the next ten years. Highlights of that period included assisting survivors from the tugboat Taeoma after it stranded at Veraeruz, Mexico, in January, 1924, and helped flood relief victims along the Mississippi River in the spring of 1927. She also rescued passengers and crew from the sinking steamer Thomas R. Buckham.





The Allegheny moved to the Philadelphia Navy Yard in 1932. She remained in the Fourth Naval District for the remainder of her active years, with nine of those years operating as station tug at Philadelphia.


When World War II began in December, 1941, the Allegheny was already operating as part of a defense force that included the ill-fated gunboat Eagle 56 and the Coast Guard cutter Zolfax. Supporting them was a number of 75-foot Coast Guard cutters. By then she was armed with two three-inch guns and two machine guns.


The tug was reassigned to the section base at Cape May, New Jersey in February, 1942 where she was assigned as station ship guarding the entrance to Delaware Bay. A small Coast Guard cutter and two boarding boats assisted Allegheny. During this time, the tug assisted the British submarine Regent on the North Atlantic on its way to Bermuda for repair. It was a harrowing journey in waters infested with heavy U-Boat packs and severe weather. At one point an enemy submarine was sighted but there was no encounter and Allegheny steamed on to survive the trip. The harsh weather took its toll on the vessel, however, and she was laid up at Philadelphia for repair after returning.


In late March, 1942, Allegheny was sent out into the stormy North Atlantic after the tanker Paulsboro sent an S.O.S. The tanker had broken its keel and was in serious trouble. The Coast Guard was standing by but the tub was needed to bring the vessel into port. Allegheny successfully reached the Paulsboro and brought it in.

In yet another storm in January, 1944, Allegheny was making an unsuccessful attempt to free the Liberty Ship Leland Stanford after it went aground on Hen and Chickens Shoal when the crew received a report of a ship on fire only five miles away.


The tanker Plattsburg Socony, laden with 600,000 gallons of high octane aviation fuel, had been in a collision in fog by the Liberty Ship Charles Anderson. The tanker was ablaze.


The Allegheny, which was equipped with fire fighting equipment, and numerous other vessels including the salvage tugs Resolute and Nancy Moran converged on the scene. By the time the tug arrived, the Plattsburg Socony was fully engulfed. The crew of the Allegheny laid down a curtain of water that allowed the tug to get close enough to attack the fire.


In what was later described as an amazing display of fire fighting at sea, the Allegheny launched an assault with two streams of water on the blaze, which was so hot the steel deck plates were glowing. Within the hour the fire fighters were on board the Socony battling the fire with four fog lines. The heat was so intense the men were forced to work in shifts behind the water curtains. Their efforts paid off, the fire was extinguished and although it sustained extensive damage, the tanker was saved.


The Allegheny was already classified as an old and outdated tug by the time the war ended. Her continued use by the Navy was clearly mandated by the war effort. When hostilities with Germany ended in 1945, one of the tug's last duties was towing the surrendered German submarine U-858 into Cape May.

The Allegheny was decommissioned in July, 1946 and her name stricken from the Navy list. She was turned over to the Maritime Commission that winter and eventually scrapped.

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