Watch Now


FreightWaves Classics: Coast Guard Cutter Saranac served the US and UK

USCGC Saranac. (Photo: Public Domain)

FreightWaves Classics is sponsored by Sutton Transport, an LTL leader in the Midwest for more than 40 years. Sutton Transport proudly services Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri and Wisconsin. Request a quote here.

Lake-class cutters come online

The U.S. Coast Guard’s (USCG) Lake-class cutters were designed by the Coast Guard and were improved and modernized versions of the service branch’s 240-footers. There were 10 cutters built in this class. 

USCG Captain Q.B. Newman designed the Lake-class cutters’ innovative turbine-electric-drive power plant, which developed 3,350 horsepower. The new power plants were the first to use alternating current, a synchronous motor for propulsion and achieved remarkable efficiency.

In addition, the counter stern and plumb bow of the older class were replaced by the flared stem and cruiser stern. These features were meant to improve sea qualities over the earlier class of ships, and particularly to eliminate the heavy shocks common in the North Atlantic Ice Patrol.

The launch of the USCGC Saranac in 1930. (Photo:  United States Coast Guard)
The launch of the USCGC Saranac in 1930.
(Photo: United States Coast Guard)

USCGC Saranac

One of the Lake-class cutters, the USCGC Saranac, was officially commissioned on October 2, 1930. It had been built at the General Engineering and Drydock Company in Oakland, California, and was launched on April 12, 1930. 

The USCGC Saranac was named for the Saranac Lakes (Upper, Middle and Lower Saranac lakes), in upstate New York. The Saranac originally was homeported in Galveston, Texas and participated in regular patrols in that area for more than a decade. 


A photo of the "Officers and crew of the Coast Guard Cutter SARANAC." (Photo: Commandant's Library Scrapbook, USCG Historian's Office Special Collections Archive)
A photo of the “Officers and crew of the Coast Guard Cutter SARANAC.”
(Photo: Commandant’s Library Scrapbook, USCG Historian’s Office Special Collections Archive)

In addition she sailed on a cadet cruise in 1932 and again in 1940. On May 25, 1940 Saranac and Sebago (another Lake-class cutter) departed New London, Connecticut with Saranac carrying 53 cadets and Sebago carrying 54. They returned to New London on August 10, 1940, after visiting Norfolk, Virginia; Havana, Cuba; Cristobal, Canal Zone; Acapulco, Mexico; San Francisco, California; San Pedro, California; Balboa, Canal Zone; Norfolk again; and Lynnhaven Roads, Virginia, spending 45 days at sea and 33 days in port.

From January 1, 1936 until March 31, 1941, USCGC Saranac spent 9,632 hours underway while cruising over 105,000 nautical miles. During that time her crew stopped and boarded 374 vessels, destroyed one derelict and carried out 668 cases of “assistance.” The Saranac and her crew rescued 44 persons and assisted 317 others.

An editorial cartoon about Lend-Lease that appeared in the St. Louis Star-Times. (Image: worldwariipodcast.net)
An editorial cartoon about Lend-Lease that appeared in the St. Louis Star-Times. (Image: worldwariipodcast.net)

Lend-Lease and World War II 

“Lend-Lease was a policy under which the United States supplied the United Kingdom, China, the Soviet Union and other Allied nations with food, oil, and materiel between 1941 and 1945. It was given on the basis that such help was essential for the defense of the United States; and the aid included warships and warplanes, along with other weaponry. It was signed into law on March 11, 1941, and ended on September 20, 1945.”

President Roosevelt signs the Lend-Lease bill in March 1941. (Photo: AP/Forms part of: New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection at the Library of Congress)
President Roosevelt signs the Lend-Lease bill in March 1941. (Photo: AP/Forms part of: New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection at the Library of Congress)

After consulting with the Chief of Naval Operations and the Commandant of the Coast Guard, President Franklin D. Roosevelt decided that it would be in the interests of U.S. national defense to transfer the 10 Lake-class cutters from the USCG to the United Kingdom. The president authorized the transfer on April 5, 1941. 

That same day the Commandant sent identical instructions to the commanding officers of each of the 10 vessels that when all the armament had been installed they were to report to the Commander of the New York District. Each ship was to be prepared for delivery to the British, and the actual transfer of command and delivery of each vessel was to be on a date designated by the Commander of the New York District. The delivery of the 10 cutters was to occur at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

The 10 Lake-class cutters had been built between 1928 and 1932, and they were to be replaced in the USCG inventory by 255-foot Owasco-class vessels, which were to be built beginning in 1943. During fiscal year 1940 they had cruised an average of 20,705 miles each at an average annual cost of operation for each of just over $186,000.

Stores, including commissary stores and supplies, including ammunition, to be transferred with the vessel. After the arrival of each cutter, their personnel was to be reduced to the minimum. Each vessel was to be fueled to capacity, with an adequate supply of lubricants taken on board, and fresh water tanks filled to capacity. 

An anti-submarine weapon called the Hedgehog was a 24-barrelled mortar mounted on ships like the HMS Banff. (Photo: Royal Navy/Imperial War Museums)
An anti-submarine weapon called the Hedgehog was a 24-barrelled mortar mounted on ships like the HMS Banff.
(Photo: Royal Navy/Imperial War Museums)

Instructions for and indoctrination of the British crew were made in Long Island Sound over a period of two weeks, after which it was expected that the British could take over the cutters and navigate them satisfactorily.

The Saranac was transferred to Great Britain on April 30, 1941. The Royal Navy renamed her HMS Banff and she was deployed as an anti-submarine warfare escort for convoys. The Norwegian tanker Mirlo was torpedoed and sunk in the Atlantic Ocean by a German submarine in 1942; the crew of HMS Banff rescued 18 people from that tanker.

In November 1943 HMS Banff joined the Kilindini Escort Force, and spent the remainder of the war escorting convoys in the Indian Ocean. 

Of the 10 Coast Guard ships loaned to the British, three were lost while in British service, one was not returned, and the remainder turned back to the Coast Guard in 1946. 

Post-war service

The Coast Guard planned to renovate four of the ships (including the USCGC Saranac/HMS Banff) and return them to service. The remaining two ships were stripped of parts for use restoring the other four. However, due to financial constraints following the war, only two ships were recommissioned.

HMS Banff was returned to the USCG in Boston Harbor on February 27, 1946. She was renamed USCGC Sebec and refitted at the Coast Guard Yard. However, prior to her first deployment she was renamed USCGC Tampa and placed in commission on May 27, 1947. She was assigned to the USCG station in Mobile, Alabama, and for the next few years she and her crew performed search and rescue and law enforcement patrol duty in and around the Gulf of Mexico.

This stamp honoring the USCGS Saranac/HMS Banff was issued by the Marshall Islands as part of its 1989-1995 50th Anniversary of World War II Series. (Image: Marshall Islands)
This stamp honoring the USCGS Saranac/HMS Banff was issued by the Marshall Islands as part of its 1989-1995 50th Anniversary of World War II Series.
(Image: Marshall Islands)

During February 1950, the USCGC Tampa visited Port Au Prince, Haiti for a few days. On May 5, 1950 she arrived at Argentia, Newfoundland for duty with the International Ice Patrol. On August 8, 1950 she patrolled the Fishing Rodeo at Mobile Bay Entrance, and on the 18th she patrolled the Tarpon Rodeo in the Southwest Passage. On November 8, 1952 she departed Mobile for Veracruz, Mexico, on a special mission, returning on the 22nd.  

On June 9, 1954 the USCGC Tampa departed Mobile for the Coast Guard Yard, and after arriving was placed out of commission on August 10, 1954 and prepared for long-term storage.

She remained in storage until it was decided that she would no longer be needed for service by the Coast Guard. She was then sold for scrap to the Boston Metals Company of Baltimore, Maryland on February 16, 1959.

FreightWaves Classics thanks the Census Bureau, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and the U.S. Coast Guard for information and photographs that contributed to this article.

One Comment

  1. Christopher McLaughlin

    Hi
    My late father shamus mclaughlin served on HMS Banff sometime during WW2.
    He lived to the ripe old age of 97 and was fit right to the end. He was an exceptionally private man and never spoke of his war days.. Thankyou
    Regards Christopher mclaughlin

Leave a Reply

Scott Mall

Scott Mall serves as Managing Editor of FreightWaves Classics. He writes articles for the website, edits the SONAR Daily Watch series, marketing material for FreightWaves and a variety of FreightWaves special projects. Mall’s career spans 45 years in public relations, marketing and communications for Fortune 500 corporations, international non-profits, public relations agencies and government agencies.