The USS BETELGEUSE AK (FBM) 260 was the last of the AK's or cargo ships in service in the US Navy. The ship was constructed by the California Shipbuilding Company, Los Angeles, California and commissioned in the merchant service as the SS COLUMBIA VICTORY on May, 1944. From 1944 through 1948, she was operated by the Grace Lines, the Waterman Steamship Corporation and the Isthmian Steamship Company.
As A U.S. Merchant Marine ship the Columbia Victory was very active during World War II in the Pacific Operations. Her Naval Armed Guard crews earned "Battle Stars" for participating in the Assult-Occupation of Iwo Jima 25 Feb - 6 March 1945 and the Assult- Occupation of Okinawa Gunto 27 May - 4 June 1945. Click here for more detailed information.
In 1948, she was placed in Maritime Reserve Fleet until 1951 when she was purchased by the U.S. Government and converted for Navy use.
On April 15, 1952 at Savannah, Georgia, she was commissioned by the Navy as the USS BETELGEUSE AK260 and placed under operational control of the Service Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, with Commander L.A. Parker, U.S. Navy, commanding. Cargo ships, like the BETELGEUSE, were named after heavenly bodies; BETELGEUSE being a large star in the constellation Orion.
From her commissioning in 1952 through 1960, the "GOOSE" made resupply missions to the Caribbean and the Mediterranean with occasional trips to base in the West Indies, Bermuda, and the Azores. While performing her mission as a Navy Cargo ship, the BETELGEUSE transferred practically every kind of cargo to ships, barges, and piers using every known transfer method.
In the summer of 1960, a significant modification was accomplished when the BETELGEUSE was modified to carry Polaris missiles and components in support of the Fleet Ballistic Missile program. This modification changed the mission of the BETELGEUSE from a fleet resupply ship to a most vital link in the Polaris program.
After two years of operation as a Polaris resupply ship, the BETELGEUSE entered the shipyard for further modifications keyed to a more efficient stowage and transfer of Polaris missiles and their components. The major undertaking of this modification was the installation of vertical stowage of the Polaris missiles in Number Three hold. During the period June 1 through September 7, 1962, the BETELGEUSE, along with a normal overhaul, was again converted. Number Three hold received another major conversion, this time to the new concept of vertical stowage and transport of missiles.
With this conversion, the BETELGEUSE could now transport fourteen (14) missiles in Number Three hold, five (5) missiles (in containers), in Number Four hold, and four (4) missiles (in containers) on the main deck, one on each side of both Number Four and Five hatch, for a total capacity of twenty-three (23) missiles.
Commencing in 1962, the BETELGEUSE AK (FBM) 260 made resupply runs to Holy Loch, Scotland and Rota, Spain. She not only carried Polaris missiles and their components, but she also carried food, repair parts, clothing, fuel and many other items which enabled the Polaris submarines to operate from a mobile base.
From December 1965 through March 1966, the BETELGEUSE underwent a regular overhaul at Detyen's Shipyard, Mount Pleasant, SC. The BETELGEUSE was the first major ship to be overhauled at this shipyard and the largest ship ever to navigate the Wando River to the shipyard site. During the overhaul, two men earned the Navy and Marine Corps Medal for risking their lives in a successful rescue of two shipyard workers from a fume filled tank of an aviation gas barge.
The BETELGEUSE underwent refresher training in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in June 1966 following an FBM resupply voyage to Rota, Spain in May with a four day operational visit to Barcelona, Spain. Two FBM resupply voyages were made to Holy Loch, Scotland in July and September and an operational visit to Portsmouth, England. Two more FBM resupply voyages were made to Rota, Spain in October and November prior to going into upkeep and leave period in Charleston, SC for the month of December.
The USS BETELGEUSE AK (FBM) 260 was a unit of Service Squadron Eight until 1 July 1967 and then was transferred to Commander Submarine Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet and placed under the operational control of Commander Submarine Flotilla Six at Charleston, SC.
From 1 January 1967 until 30 August 1967, the BETELGEUSE operated with the U.S. Atlantic Submarine Force providing services as required from retrieving torpedoes during target services to replenishment of the Polaris sit at Charleston, SC, with the exception of the period 4-22 June 1967 when the BETELGEUSE participated in operation "Breakthrough". While on operation "Breakthrough", the BETELGEUSE was granted a port visit to New York, NY.
While conducting submarine services in August, 1967, the BETELGEUSE was involved in a collision with the submarine USS SIMON BOLIVAR SSBN 641 which was submerged. Extensive damage to the underwater hull caused immediate flooding in Number Three hold with resultant leaks into Number Two hold and the engine room. There were no personnel injuries and the BETELGEUSE was able to return to Charleston under her own power and entered the Charleston Naval Shipyard for repairs during the period of 1 September through 8 October 1967. On 9 October, the BETELGEUSE conducted sea trials with outstanding results.
In October 1967 the BETELGEUSE made an FBM resupply trip to Rota, Spain. Upon returning to Charleston the BETELGEUSE commenced loading for a replenishment trip to Bangor, Washington via the Panama Canal for the first WESTLANT/EASTPAC replenishment, transiting the Panama Canal 17 November and arriving in Bangor, Washington 27 November. While in Washington, a visit to the Bremerton Naval Shipyard had to be made to repair a leaky economizer tube in Number One boiler. On the return trip to Charleston, a one day port visit was made of Balboa, Panama.
From January 1968 through April 1968, the BETELGEUSE provided target services and retrieved torpedoes for submarines, performed site replenishment of the Polaris site at Charleston, made a liberty port visit to Miami, Florida and an FBM resupply to Holy Loch, Scotland.
A dependent's cruise was conducted on 26 July 1968 and a liberty port visit was made to Fort Lauderdale, Florida in August and another FBM resupply was made to Holy Loch, Scotland at the end of August 1968.
The BETELGEUSE participated in the first operational test of the fleet Ballistic missile system for Commander Submarine Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet in October and November 1968.
Departing Charleston on 15 November 1968 for Holy Loch, Scotland, the BETELGEUSE came in contact with a 35 foot sailboat "The Sprit of Love" foundering of course approx. 300 miles northeast of Bermuda on 18 November. "The Spirit of Love" had departed New York for St. Thomas, Virgin Islands on 2 November. The three crewmen were taken on board and the sailboat taken in tow. The Master had advised that the boat's engine was inoperative, sails gone, water and cooking fuel depleted and only about two days food remained on board and the crew had been bailing for the past five days. While in tow in heavy seas and taking on water, "The Spirit of Love" sank. The three crewmen were transferred via helicopter to the USS ESSEX and then flown to Bermuda. The BETELGEUSE resumed her track to Holy Loch, Scotland, arriving 0n 26 November. On 8 December 1968, BETELGEUSE entered dry-dock in the USS LOS ALAMOS (AFDB-7) at Holy Loch. After undocking on 20 December, the BETELGEUSE departed for Charleston and arrived 1 January 1969.
During 1969, the BETELGEUSE twice provided target services and retrieved torpedoes for submarines and participated in two operational tests of the fleet ballistic missile system as down range support ship and once again a liberty port visit was made to Miami, Florida.
The BETELGEUSE went through a shipyard overhaul in Charleston Naval Shipyard from May through August 1969 in which $1,543,704 were spent in repairs and preservation of the ship. In December 1969, the BETELGEUSE went through refresher training at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
From 1 January through 31 March 1970, the BETELGEUSE made one FBM site replenishment to Rota, Spain and two FBM sit replenishments to Holy Loch, Scotland. While underway on the second trip to Holy Loch on 28 February, after experiencing heavy seas for several days, the weather appeared to be clearing and the seas calming when the ship rode up on an unusually large wave of about 60 feet and pounded heavily, resulting in the rupture of a fuel tank under Number One hold. Arriving on 4 March, temporary repairs were made at Holy Loch. The ship then returned to Charleston arriving 21 March for dry-docking and permanent repairs.
During the months of April, May, August and September, the BETELGEUSE was downrange support ship for operational tests of the fleet ballistic system for Commander Submarine Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet. AN operational visit was made to Ponta Delgada, San Miguel, Azores during the first test.
The Sub-Board of Inspection and Survey, Atlantic conducted a pre inactivation inspection during the period 21 - 23 September 1970 and found the BETELGEUSE fit for further service provided three deficiencies were corrected. On 15 October 1970, operational control of the BETELGEUSE shifted to Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility Portsmouth, Charleston Detachment and became inactive to prepare to enter the mothball fleet.
The BETELGEUSE was formally decommissioned on 15 January 1971. LCDR Robert L. Jerns, as Commanding Officer, received the commissioning pennant. BM1 Stephen J. Meader received the ensign for having been on board the longest.
The BETELGEUSE was towed to Philadelphia Naval Shipyard on 16 January 1971 and used in an experiment for encapsulation of mothballed ships. She was stricken form the Naval Vessel Register on 1 February 1974.
In 1976 the BETELGEUSE met her finial demise. While being towed to Texas for salvage in Jan 1976, the tug boat towing the Goose had to cut the tow cable due to high seas and the Goose ran aground at Cape Hatteras.
LIST OF COMMANDING OFFICERS
1952 - 1954 ---- CDR L. A. Parker, USN
1954 - 1955 ---- CAPT T. B. Dabney, USN
1955 - 1956 ---- CAPT R. H. Smith, USN
1956 - 1957 ---- CDR W. G. Thatcher, USN
1957 - 1959 ---- CDR F. E. Bitting, USN
1959 - 1960 ---- CDR W. P. Collins, USN
1960 - 1961 ---- CDR P. Hall, USN
1961 - 1963 ---- CDR M. Godek, USN
1963 - 1964 ---- CDR O. H. Miller, USN
1964 - 1965 ---- CAPT W. C. Martin, USN
1965 - 1967 ---- CAPT A. F. Barnes, USN
1967 - 1969 ---- CDR R. Prezioso, USN
1969 - 1970 ---- CDR J. A. Mazzolini, USN
1970 - 1971 ---- LCDR R. L. Jerns, USN