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Norton Sound Commissioning

Commissioning Ceremony

8 Jan 1945

Originally built to tend seaplanes, Norton Sound carried out this duty during the closing months of World War II by operating in support of her "Flying Boat" squadron at Kerama Retto, Okinawa, Japan.  During this time Norton Sound and her sister ships fought off attacking enemy aircraft (Including Kamikaze suicide planes) during 150 air raids.   While all of this was going on, Patrol Bombing Squadron 26 (VPB-26), assigned to Norton Sound was conducting some 412 missions consisting of: anti ship and submarine, and long range reconnaissance patrols; mounting attacks against enemy shipping and shore facilities; and conducting air/sea rescue missions.  The final combined tally for Norton Sound and VPB-26 was: 16 ships sunk and 31 ships damaged; 1 aircraft destroyed and 2 damaged; 2 docks and facilities destroyed; and 3 radio stations damaged.  For much of her time at Okinawa, Norton Sound served as flagship for Commander, Fleet Air Wing 1 (FAW-1), who had the responsibility for supporting and operating 17 squadrons of land based and seaplanes from various air stations and up to 15 seaplane tenders, which were assigned to FAW-1 for operational control.  FAW-1's area of responsibility extended over millions of square miles of the pacific theater of operations.  In time, her activity stretched from Pearl Harbor (where her units were badly mauled during the attack) through final victory (VJ Day).  Units of FAW-1 sunk or damaged over 1009 enemy ships and craft, destroyed or damaged well over 213 enemy aircraft, and inflicted incalculable damage on enemy shore installations during 39,179 patrol and combat missions.

Norton Sound participated in the liberation of Japanese occupied cities and areas and in the occupation of Japan for several months, before being rotated back to the United States for peace time duty on 9 April 1946.  She arrived at Norfolk, Virginia on 22 May 1946.

Following WW II, Norton Sound was selected to support the Navy's infant guided missile and rocket development program.  She was modified for these duties at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.  Provisions were made for handling, storing, fueling (liquid fuel), servicing, launching, and operational monitoring of rockets and guided missiles.   Conversion work resulted in a major change in her external appearance.  This was the first of many times throughout her career in scientific and weapons research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) that her internal and external configuration would be radically altered to suit new mission and program requirements.  She was designated AVM-1 on 8 August, 1951.

In her new mission, she served as a floating laboratory and launching platform for an incredible number of high priority projects and programs; including many of prime historical significance.  To name the most important of these:

Operation Nanook - On February 12, 1946, Congress approved Public Law 296 directing the chief of the U.S. Weather Bureau to establish "an international meteorological reporting network in the Arctic regions of the Western Hemisphere". The Weather Bureau turned to the army and navy and together, the three agencies came up with a plan to build reporting stations that summer at Thule, Greenland and at the southern tip of Melville Island in the Canadian Arctic. The U.S. Atlantic Fleet commander, Admiral Marc A. Mitscher, selected a few ships, designated them Task Force 68, and appointed Captain Richard Cruzen as commander of "Operation Nanook". Admiral Curzen's first orders, issued May 31, 1946, called for a general plan whose second phase consisted "of operations to establish weather observation and reporting stations of the U.S. Weather Bureau" in the Canadian Arctic and Greenland. Additionally, Cruzen ordered one icebreaker, the Eastwind, along with a seaplane tender, the Norton Sound, to operate "in the general vicinity of the southern limit of the ice pack which is expected to be encountered in the Baffin Bay area". This may have been a peaceful project to make weather observations in the Arctic, but an interesting argument could be made that these stations would be additionally used as intelligence gathering sites. Regardless, with these two projects the U.S. Navy began its effort to systematically expose men and machine to the rigors of polar life.);

Projects SKYHOOK (Free balloon);

AEROBEE (Rocket);


ARGUS (X17A three stage Rockets fitted with low yield nuclear devices and POGO sounding Rockets);


HYDRA-IRIS and HYDRA-SANDHAWK (Cosmic ray and upper atmosphere research);

Operations REDWING, DOMINIC and others (Atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons);

LOON, LARK, REGULUS 1, TERRIER, TARTAR, TALOS, SEA SPARROW (BPDSMS), Navy REDEYE, STANDARD (MR), and TOMAHAWK surface launched guided missile development projects and entire programs;

5" 54 caliber gun mount MK 45 Mod 0;

Rocket and Guided missile launchers (GML) and launching systems (GMLS) including TERRIER/TARTAR experimental GML X-5 and GML MK 5, SEA SPARROW Prototype launcher and GMLS Mk 25, prototype CHAFFROC Launcher, the mixed missile capability systems GMLS Mk 26 and the Vertical Launching System GMLS EX-41;

Weapon and Fire Control Systems and auxiliary equipment's associated with these and other weapons and systems up to today's AEGIS Combat System, which is light years ahead of the jury-rigged modification of the Gun Fire Control System Mk 37's Mk 25 Mod 2 Radar, used in the early days of the LARK/LOON Programs, and the SPQ-2 and -5 used in the TERRIER/TARTAR Programs.  In Fact, she has had some level of participation in virtually every surface launched guided missile development program of the US Navy, from the first experiments and launches of guided missiles (which mow seem quite primitive, but were then on the leading edge of the state of the art).  She logged the first launch of a tactical guided missile from the deck of any ship in the world on 26 January 1949, when an engineering model LTV-N-2 LOON Guided Missile was launched off the coast of Point Mugu, California.  There has also been involvement in the RDT&E of any number of minor systems and equipment's development programs, which perhaps, if not spectacular in their contribution to fleet readiness, provide an essential contribution to the fundamental strength of the more glamorous systems.

Her RDT&E career in the late 40's and through the 50's and early 60's was primarily, but certainly not exclusively, involved with the development and refinement of the TERRIER, TARTAR and TALOS Guided Missile Systems, which resulted in the 3T Surface Missile Systems "Fleet".  The ships comprising this "Fleet" have been a major component in the defensive shield which has increasingly guarded our fleet and helped to protect our Nation, starting with the introduction (re-commissioning) of USS Boston (CAG-1) on 1 November 1955 and USS Gyatt (DDG-1) on 31 December 1956; a period of 31 years.

Among the several scientific projects she engaged in the late 40's and 50's, probably the most important, if one project can be singled out, was Project ARGUS, which was actually the culmination of effort expended in Projects SKYHOOK (Free balloon capable of reaching 85,000 feet), AEROBEE (Rocket capable of reaching 71 miles of altitude), and REACH (VIKING Rocket No. 4 launched on 12 May 1950 from Norton Sound reached an altitude of 106.4 miles, a world record(.  As part of the US Navy's contribution to the International Geophysical Year and as flagship for Task Force 88, Norton Sound led a group of US Navy ships to a point south of the Falkland Islands and on 27 and 30 August and 6 September 1958 she launched three X-17A Rockets bearing low yield explosive nuclear devices to an altitude of 300 miles.  At altitude they were detonated.  Among other things, these tests demonstrated that a belt of radiation, which had been theorized, actually existed; it was named after Dr. James A. Van Allen, who led the scientific party onboard Norton Sound as he had during previous experiments.  It also created an impressive (man induced) aurora borealis (Northern Lights), and provided worldwide conditions which where monitored and measured all around the world by scientific participating in geophysical year activities.  Project ARGUS was therefore a scientific achievement of a high order of magnitude.  This cruise involved the circumnavigation of the South American Continent, which is not often accomplished by US Navy ships.

Having been home ported at Port Hueneme, California since 30 November 1948, Norton Sound stood out to sea in June of 1962 bound for Norfolk, Virginia and ultimately to Baltimore, Maryland.   She arrived at Norfolk, Virginia and was decommissioned on 10 August 1962, and was later towed to Baltimore to enter the Maryland Shipbuilding and Drydock Co. shipyard for installation of major portions of the prototype TYPHON Weapons System, which consisted of the AN/SPG-59 Radar and its associated control system.  TYPHON was a radical step in the evolution of naval surface weapons systems, being the first system capable of simultaneously taking multiple targets under fire and tracking many more.   Unfortunately, the electronic state of the art at that time was not capable of providing the necessary components in the size required to build a system deployable in a destroyer.  The TYPHON Programs was cancelled on 7 January 1964 by Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara.  Therefore, it was decided that the installation in Norton Sound would be used to gather data which would help advance the state of the art, and prepare the way for development of a serviceable small ship system at a later date.   Completing the conversion, USS Norton Sound (AVM-1) was re-commissioned on 20 June 1964, and home ported in Baltimore to conduct tests of the system in and around the Chesapeake Bay.  Her home port was again changed to Port Hueneme, California, she arrived there on 7 July 1965.  Testing of the TYPHON System was continued out of Port Hueneme for a time and then most of the system was removed, including the 190 ton Radar tower, at Long Beach Naval Shipyard, with work being completed on 30 September 1966.   Although TYPHON did not survive to serve in the fleet, many of the lessons learned were applied to the development of the AEGIS Weapon System, which would later make the grade - - - in a big way, with Norton Sound's help.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014