USS Carson City saw plenty in 28-year history
November 13, 2013
The date was Nov. 13, 1943, and for nearly two years the United States and its allies had been embroiled in World War II in the Pacific, Europe and North Africa.
About 11 million Americans were in uniform.
The U.S. was at war with Japan, Germany and its ally, Italy. In the Pacific, Navy carrier planes had sunk three Japanese warships, damaged 12 others and shot down 24 Japanese aircraft over New Guinea.
American victories at the battles of Midway and Coral Sea had halted Japanese advances, and with Iwo Jima, Saipan, Okinawa and Guam in its hands, the U.S. was steadily moving toward control of the entire Pacific and eventual victory over Japan.
At the Port of Los Angeles, about 450 miles south of Carson City, another important event was about to take place that November day 70 years ago.
More than 200 people, including two dozen Nevadans and high-ranking Navy officers, had gathered at the Consolidated Steep Corp. shipyard to witness the launching of a 303-foot Navy frigate.
As the ship was about to slide into the water, Mrs. C.B. Austin, wife of Carson City’s mayor, raised a champagne bottle and smashed it against the bow.
“I christen you the USS Carson City,” she proclaimed as the frigate slipped into Wilmington Bay.
The nation’s newest fighting ship was in the water at last, ready to join the Pacific fleet and take on the enemy.
The USS Carson City is the only United States naval vessel to have borne the name of Nevada’s capital city. It joins a long list of other U.S. warships bearing Nevada geographical names, including the present-day submarine USS Nevada and long-gone ships such as the famed battleship USS Nevada, USS Douglas County, USS Minden, USS Churchill County, USS Reno, USS Washoe County, USS Lyon County, USS Lander County, USS Mineral County, USS Nye County, USS Ely, USS Battle Mountain, USS Tonopah, USS Elko Victory, USS Las Vegas Victory, USS Tuscarora and USS Winnemucca.
The first U.S. military ship named Nevada was an Army vessel. It was a lightly armed steam transport used by Union commanders to carry Army troops, weapons, supplies and horses into combat on the Mississippi, White and Yazoo rivers.
Meanwhile, months after the ship’s launching, Carson Mayor Austin and a group of Nevadans returned to the Port of Los Angeles for its commissioning ceremony, and after three months of shakedown trials, the USS Carson City and its crew of 12 officers and 170 enlisted men set sail for the Eastern Pacific and action against the Japanese.
The Carson City was a patrol frigate and carried the number PF-50, signaling that it was the 50th of the more than 100 ships of its PF class built between 1942 and 1944, which were named for small and mid-size U.S. cities.
The patrol frigates resembled and were slightly smaller than destroyers, were armed with several batteries of 3 1/2-inch guns and a formidable array of antiaircraft 20 and 40 mm cannons and drew a draft of 13 feet and 8 inches, and their twin-screw engines enabled them reach a speed of 19 knots. Although they were Navy ships, they were manned by Coast Guard personnel, as the Coast Guard operates under the Navy during wartime. The only Navy man on the ships was their doctor, a lieutenant.
The Carson City’s first assignment was to conduct patrol and escort duty off the New Guinea Coast, shepherding allied transports and supply ships.
The frigate then participated in the U.S. landings on Morotai Island, which resulted in the island’s capture from the Japanese under heavy fire. The Carson City’s crew fired several rounds at attacking Japanese aircraft, but none was hit and the ship and its men suffered no damage or casualties. The Carson City won the first of its two Navy Battle Stars for this combat.
The frigate then joined in the successful landings in Leyte, again sustained no casualties or damage while under fire and won its second Battle Star.
Escort duty throughout the Pacific followed, and the Carson City dropped depth charges on a Japanese submarine. It is not known if the sub was damaged or sunk.
At war’s end, the ship was assigned Alaskan patrol duties and was subsequently decommissioned and transferred to the Soviet navy under a lend-lease arrangement. Four years later, the Carson City was again put out on loan — this time, ironically, to the new, post-war Japanese navy, which renamed her Sakura. That means “cherry blossom tree” in Japanese.
In 1971, the ship was returned by Japan to the U.S. because it had become old and obsolete. The U.S. declared the Carson City surplus property and sold it to a Taiwanese shipbreaking company for scrap metal, and the ship’s 28-year career came to an inglorious end.
In the mid-1990s, the USS Carson City’s 250-pound bell, the only historical item from the ship that had not been lost or stolen by the Soviets and Japanese, was discovered by the Lahontan Valley News and Fallon Eagle-Standard, now a sister newspaper of the Nevada Appeal, in Yellow Pines (population 110), Idaho, where it had been loaned by the U.S. Navy Historical Office to serve as the community’s school and fire bell.
Then-Nevada U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan, upon learning of the Carson bell’s presence in Idaho, persuaded the Navy to relinquish it to Carson City, its rightful place, and the Navy shipped a replacement bell to little Yellow Pines.
Upon arriving in Carson City, the bell was initially installed in the public library. In 2000, Carson’s city fathers moved it once again, this time to the lobby of the Carson City City Hall at 201 N. Carson St., where it continues to be displayed today.