USS TULSA – Patrol Gunboat (PG-22)

Asheville Class Gunboat: Laid down, 9 December 1919 at Charleston Navy Yard, Charleston, SC.; Launched, 25 August 1922; Sponsored by Miss Dorothy V. McBirney; and commissioned there on 3 December 1923. Lt. Comdr. Robert M. Doyle, Jr., in temporary command. Lt. Comdr Doyle assumed his regular duties as executive officer on 14 December 1923 when Comdr. Mac Gillivray Milne assumed command.


The USS Tulsa was built at the Charleston S.C. Navy yard, was launched in 1922, commissioned on December 3rd, 1923, and retired after World War II.  She was 241 feet from stem to stern, and had a beam of 41′ 3″, and a displacement of 1270 tons.  Her crew consisted of 157 enlisted men, and nine officers.  She was one of the last US ships to be outfitted with auxiliary sails.

Mailed from the USS Tulsa from the Canal Zone in 1927. Envelope in the Tulsa Historical Society Collection

The USS Tulsa first patrolled areas around Central America and the Caribbean Islands, including Puerto Rico, Mexico and Cuba. From Central America, the ship was sent to China in 1929.

On 1 April 1929, the USS Tulsa was designated flagship of the South China Patrol and operated out of Hong Kong and Canton for cruises up the Pearl River and along the south China coast. In June she was relieved as flagship and moved up the coast for a two week deployment with the Yangtze Patrol. While there she steamed upriver as far as Hankow.

In July 1929 she was assigned duty as station ship at Tientsin in north China. There she served as a mobile source of information for the Commander in Chief, Asiatic Fleet. She was withdrawn to the Philippines in May 1941, where she joined the Inshore Patrol guarding the sea approaches to Manila Bay.

Mailed from the USS Tulsa from Hong Kong, British Crown Colony 1941. Envelope in the Tulsa Historical Society Collection

Although gunboats mainly patrolled rivers and coastal areas and were not designed to get into battles with other ships, the outbreak of World War II found the USS Tulsa patrolling off the Manila harbor entrance in concert with her sister ship the USS Asheville ( PG – 21).

On 10 December 1941, two days after the outbreak of war in the Philippines, a heavy Japanese air attack devastated Cavite, the base of the Asiatic Fleet, near Manila. Standing in from the Corregidor minefields, Tulsa anchored off the burning base as the last Japanese planes departed. She called away all of her boats and sent fire and rescue parties ashore to rescue the wounded from the holocaust. At 1900, she recalled all hands that were ashore; and within hours, Tulsa, Asheville (PG-21), Lark (AM-21), and Whippoorwill (AM-35) retired toward Balikpapan, Borneo.

After a brief stay at that port, she called at Makassar before receiving orders to proceed to Surabaya, Java, in the Netherlands East Indies, where she spent Christmas. Then, steaming independently, she cruised to Tjilatjap, on the south coast of Java, where her landing force began to receive training in jungle warfare. However, the plan to use Tulsa’s bluejackets as infantry in a last-ditch defense of Java never progressed beyond the initial training stage, and her erstwhile ground troops returned to the ship as she was being outfitted to become a convoy escort vessel.

Equipped with a home-made depth charge rack constructed by the ship’s crew, Tulsa now boasted an antisubmarine capacity and began escorting merchantmen along the south coast of Java to Tjilatjap, the only port on the island still out of reach of Japanese bombers. While engaged on convoy duty in late February, Tulsa received orders to proceed to a point 300 miles to the south of Java. En route, she learned that her mission included searching for survivors of Langley (AV-3), sunk on 26 February 1942. When she arrived at the scene, however, she found only traces of wreckage, but no survivors. Unbeknownst to Tulsa, Langley’s survivors had already been rescued by Whipple (DD-217) and Edsall (DD-219).

After this apparently fruitless rescue attempt, Tulsa came upon the scene of the sinking of British merchant ship City of Manchester. Whippoorwill had already begun rescue operations, yet needed medical facilities, which Tulsa had on board. The gunboat hove to and assisted the minesweeper in the lifesaving, then returned to Tjilatjap where she awaited instructions, ready for sea at a moment’s notice.

With Java being rapidly encircled by the onrushing Japanese, orders to retire were not long in coming. On 1 March 1942, Tulsa, Asheville, Lark, and Isabel (PY-10) crept out of Tjilatjap, bound for Australia. While the other three ships steamed resolutely onward, Asheville soon developed engine difficulties and fell behind, only to be trapped and sunk by superior Japanese surface forces.

Tulsa and her two companions arrived in Australia waters shortly thereafter. They were the last surface ships of the Asiatic Fleet to survive the Japanese onslaught in the East Indies; and they escaped, by a hairsbreadth, the fate which befell Asheville.

For the seven months following her arrival in Fremantle, she engaged in routine patrols off the Australian coast before being refitted at Sydney in October 1942. Here, she received British ASDIC, degaussing equipment, Y-guns, and 20 millimeter Oerlikons and served once again as a convoy escort, occasionally towing targets as well.

In the latter half of 1942, she was attached to Submarine Forces, Southwest Pacific, and operated independently out of Brisbane as a target for the submarines out of Fremantle. She then gave submarines practice in making approaches and battle surfacing.

With the beginning of the Buna-Gona offensives in New Guinea, Tulsa escorted PT boats to take part in that campaign and operated between Mime Bay, New Guinea, and Cairns, Australia. When the PT boat base at Kona Kope, on the southeastern shores of Mime Bay, was established in November 1942, Tulsa brought in much-needed equipment to aid in the operations being conducted from that base. But five days before Christmas 1942, Tulsa grounded on an uncharted pinnacle and damaged her ASDIC gear, necessitating a return to yard facilities for repairs.

Soon returning to the war zone, she resumed patrols off Milne Bay. On the night of 20 January 1943, six Japanese bombers attacked the ship. In the short, sharp action which followed, Tulsa put up a spirited defense with her 3-inch and 20-millimeter antiaircraft battery, driving off the attackers with no damage to herself, while dodging 12 bombs.

For the remainder of 1943, she continued operating in the New Guinea-Australian area, tending PT boats, escorting supply ships, and serving as flagship of the 7th Fleet. On one occasion while serving as a PT boat tender, Tulsa towed PT-109, later commanded by Lt. (jg.) John F. Kennedy, USNR, future President of the United States.

After a major overhaul in December 1943, the USS Tulsa resumed operations in the Milne Bay-Cape Cretin area. She departed the bay on 5 January 1944, with a fuel barge in tow, en route to Cape Cretin. There, she joined HMAS Arunta, USS LST-458, and SS Mulera, to serve as headquarters ship for Capt. Bern C. Anderson, Commander, Task Unit 76.5.3.

Under the control of Commander, Escorts and Minecraft Squadrons, 7th Fleet, she served in the Finschhafen-Buna area and participated in the Hollandia strike on 26 April 1944 and the Wakde landing on 17 May. She then continued in her role of escort vessel and patrol craft in the New Guinea-Australia area before proceeding to the Philippines in November 1944.
Returning to the scene of her hurried departure nearly four years before, Tulsa continued operations with the 7th Fleet in the Philippines. On 18 December 1944, she was renamed Tacloban, after a town on the island of Leyte, where American forces had landed a scant two months earlier.

The USS Tulsa had small deck guns and was powered by oil, so it could not keep up with the larger, steam-turbine powered ships used in WWII. Her top speed was only 12 knots. Despite her limitations, the USS Tulsa was credited with sinking one submarine, and downing three enemy planes. She received two battle stars for her World War II service.

On 6 March 1946, the USS Tulsa was decommissioned; struck from the navy list on 17 April; and turned over to the War Shipping Administration, Maritime Commission, on October 1946, for disposal.”

Notice the length of the masts in this picture. She was one the last US ships to be outfitted with auxiliary sails. USS Tulsa c.1925

Note shortened masts. Date of photo unknown.

Photo probably dates to the World War II period. Foremast shortened and aft mast removed.

The above information was taken from a website created by Andrew Toppan. To learn more about the USS Tulsa, visit www.hazegray.org and perform a keyword search using the word Tulsa. You may also view an article written by the Tulsa Tribune on March 10, 1955 or view a model of the USS Tulsa that was constructed by the Tulsa Ship Modelers Society by clicking the following links.

Old Gunboat Still in News, The Tulsa Tribune, March 10, 1955.

Us and the USS Tulsa, Ron Thomson, 1999.

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