U.S.S. Barnegat AVP-10 Class Seaplane Tenders

 A collection of references for information regarding the Barnegat class of small seaplane tenders. 


by Carl T. Musselman


Ever since the first flight of a U.S. Navy hydroaeroplane one hundred years ago, the need for maintenance, fuel, weapons, and crew support for these new age weapons became apparent.

Starting with land-based facilities on U.S. shores, the widening regions of desired seaplane operations and the increasing capabilities of continued generations of seaplanes warranted remote support facilities to be set up in far reaching regions.  Also, in cases of no land-based facilities being available in these desired operating areas, seaplane support vessels became necessary.



The need of such a support vessel was first satisfied in 1919 and 1920 with the conversion of two minelayers USS Aroostook CM-3 and USS Shawmut CM-4.  The USS Wright AZ-1 was initially built and designated as a Lighter-than-Air Aircraft Tender, commissioned in 1921, and reclassified as a Heavier-than-Air Aircraft Tender (AV-1) in 1926. 


 USS Wright AV-1

(courtesy of James D. Card and Navsource.org)


Since these earliest aviation tenders, many types of ships have been converted and reclassified as seaplane tenders.  Nine former minesweepers (AM) of the USS Lapwing class were recommissioned and converted to small seaplane tenders (AVP) starting in 1932.  Starting in 1938, fourteen destroyers (DD) of the USS Clemson class were converted to AVPs and subsequently to AVDs (seaplane tender, destroyer).  Eight large seaplane tenders (AV) were built from merchant ship hulls, colliers, and one was converted from a fleet oiler.  Even the first U.S. Navy aircraft carrier, USS Langley CV-1, was later assigned to seaplane tending duties.


USS Heron AVP-2

(courtesy of Robert Hurst and Navsource.org.)


Two ships of the USS Curtiss AV-4 class and four ships of the USS Currituck AV-7 class of large, purpose-built seaplane tenders were laid down beginning in 1940.


USS Currituck AV-7

(courtesy of Robert Hurst and Navsource.org.)


The Barnegat Class

The Needs of the Navy

After many lessons learned during the service of the earlier seaplane tenders, individual characteristics from several of them were desired to be combined into one vessel.  These characteristics included; aircraft and weapons repair shops, aircraft crew and support crew facilities, weapons and fuel storage capacities, operating range and ability to conduct operations independent of other fleet vessels, air defense and fire support capabilities, and the ability to navigate and turn around in shallow or restricted waterways.

The Immediate Solution

With all of these desired capabilities in mind, the US Navy’s Bureau of Ships designed and commenced the building of the USS Barnegat AVP-10 class of small seaplane tenders with the keel of the USS Barnegat being laid down in October 1939 and with her commissioning in July 1942.

Ships of the Barnegat Class



















AVP-51 SAN CARLOS (Josiah Willard Gibbs AGOR-1)








USS Barnegat AVP-10

(courtesy of Navsource.org.)


Forty-one ships of the Barnegat class (named after small bodies of water) were initially intended with thirty-five of them actually being built and four of those being redesigned as Motor Torpedo Boat tenders (AGP).


USS Oyster Bay AGP-6, PT Boat Tender

(courtesy of Mrs. David Sunderman)


With a draft of only 13 feet, the Barnegat class AVPs could navigate or anchor in shallow waters and with an over all length of 311 feet, a beam of 41 feet, and dual propeller design they could maneuver more easily in restricted waterways. 


In addition to seaplane tending duties, the Barnegat class AVPs were intended to perform at-sea aircraft salvage, search and rescue, escort duties and in particular, escort larger seaplane tenders.  This last, additional duty would require sufficient armament to participate in surface, air, and submarine defense of the ship, the ships being escorted, and even established seaplane bases or airdromes.


During the continued construction of these ships, they were fitted with varying armament arrangements.  Initial design included two 5”/38 caliber gun turrets and four 20mm guns.  Upon realizing the need for additional anti-aircraft capabilities, some ships of the class received quad 40mm Bofors mounts in lieu of the second 5”/38 caliber turret forward of the bridge, additional twin 40mm Bofors located amidships, and additional 20mm guns aft.


Twin 40mm mount aboard USS Duxbury Bay AVP-38

(courtesy of Dean R. Musselman)


Initially designed to hoist aboard a floatplane or lightened flying boat, a large crane was situated aft near an open fantail.  This capability was found to be less preferable than to having additional armament to provide air defense for the rear of the ship so, a smaller crane replaced the large crane additional armaments, in some cases a quad 40mm Bofors and/or a 5”/38 cal gun, were added aft of the crane and on the fantail.

In support of anti-submarine protection many ships of the class were outfitted with depth charge racks and basic sonar capabilities.

Small Boats

The need for small boats to provide personnel transportation and rescue, rearming and refueling of seaplanes at moorings and at land bases, and the ability to efficiently store and easily move these boats was necessary.  Thus, adequate room was made for this storage and the crane (in some earlier cases, traditional boat davits) provided an efficient means of moving them for the desired operation.  Among the small boats carried by these AVPs were a whale boat, a motor launch, a refueling boat (bowser boat), and a utility, service or rearming boat.  Like the armament configurations, the storage arrangement of these boats sometimes varied from ship to ship, too.  On some ships additional boat storage was provided immediately aft of the crane and on other ships boat cradles were provided on the fantail.



USS Duxbury Bay AVP-38 during an open house at Washington D.C. in 1952.

(courtesy of Dean R. Musselman)



USS Mackinac AVP-13. Amidships weapons, 20 mm and 40mm guns, and small boat arrangement.

(courtesy of Navsource.org.)



 USS Mackinac AVP-13.  Fantail and aft weapons, 40mm and 5” gun, arrangement.

(courtesy of Navsource.org)



USS Half Moon AVP-26.  Aft 5” gun, 20mm guns, crane and empty boat deck.


(courtesy of Navsource.org)


USS Floyds Bay AVP-40.

(courtesy of Robert Hurst, David Buell and Navsource.org)



The Barnegat class AVPs were designed with large diesel fuel and aviation gas storage capacities.   This not only allowed for extended logistics for the seaplanes and PT Boats but, also provided for a longer range of the ship, itself.

USS Timbalier AVP-54 tending seaplanes.

(courtesy of Navsource.org)

USS Bering Strait AVP-34 tending seaplanes.

(courtesy of Navsource.org)


These ships not only had sufficient storage capacities for their own ammunition needs but, also for the ammunition, bombs, and torpedoes required by the aircraft and PT Boats that they tended.

Repair shops and technicians aboard the Barnegat class AVPs supported maintenance of aircraft engines, mechanical, structural, electrical and communications systems, and weapons.  In the case of the Motor Torpedo Boat tender variants (AGP) of the Barnegat class AVP ,  additional superstructure compartments for carpenter, small engine, and torpedo repair shops were found to be necessary.


USS Onslow AVP-48 refueling seaplane.

(courtesy of Navsource.org)

USS Duxbury Bay AVP-38 refueling seaplane.

(courtesy of Dean R. Musselman)


Besides the Motor Torpedo Boat Tender variant, other Barnegat class AVPs were to be used in rolls other than seaplane tending.  The USS Biscayne AVP-11 was redesignated as an Amphibious Force Command Ship (AGC-18).  In July 1945 a few AVPs were to be converted and redesignated as Press Information vessels (AG) to support combat and civilian correspondents during the suspected invasion of the Japanese homeland, which became unnecessary after the Japanese surrender in August 1945 after the deployment of the atomic bomb.  

A one-of-a-kind variant of the Barnegat class AVP was the USS Absecon AVP-23 which was built as a training platform for seaplane pilots who would later go on to fly seaplanes off of battleships and cruisers.  The Absecon was fitted with a heavy cruiser catapult and two light cruiser cranes.  During World War II, she operated mostly on the east coast of the United States and around the Florida peninsula.  She conducted thousands of catapult launches and trained hundreds of seaplane pilots.


USS Absecon AVP-23.

(courtesy of Navsource.org)


In late 1940, the Preliminary Design Branch of the U.S. Navy’s Bureau of Ships actually drew up drafts for a Submarine Rescue Ship (ASR) based on the Barnegat Class AVP but, this design function was never pursued.


World War II

Barnegat class AVPs performed their assigned duties in all theatres of operations during World War II including the North Africa Campaign, the Invasions of Sicily and Italy, and the D-Day Invasion in Atlantic Fleet operations.  Seaplane tending, escort, patrol and protection duties were performed by some AVPs in the Caribbean Sea, the Panama Canal Zone, and along the coasts of South America. In the Pacific Theatre they were present in the Solomon Islands, New Guinea, Iwo Jima, Tarawa, Saipan, Okinawa, the Aleutian Islands, the Philippine Islands and even in Tokyo Bay during the surrender of Japan in August 1945

1945 – 1950

Following the surrender of Japan in August 1945, Barnegat class AVPs served throughout the western Pacific Ocean providing seaplane patrol support, humanitarian and escort missions, along the Chinese coast, the Philippine Islands, Australia, Aleutian Islands and in support of the occupation of the Japanese homeland.  Some ships continued to operate in the Caribbean Sea and along the east coast of the United States.

The majority of the ships of the Barnegat class AVP returned to the United States for decommissioning and inactivation between 1946 and 1949.

Starting in 1948 and 1949, eighteen of the Navy’s AVPs were loaned to the United States Coast Guard.  With some shipyard modifications these AVPs were designated as WAVPs and became the Casco class or 311’ Cutters.  During their USCG service these WAVPs performed Ocean Station duties providing oceanographic and meteorological observations for the US Weather Bureau as well as assisting in the search and rescue, communication and navigation of trans-ocean aircraft flights in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.  Later designated as High Endurance Cutters (WHEC) these ships continued this duty into the early 1970’s along with several WHECs serving in Operation Market Time in the Vietnam War theatre of operations. 


USCGC Humboldt WHEC-372

Korean War

Several AVPs were recommissioned, once again, to perform their seaplane tending duties in the west Pacific in support of operations during the Korean War.  They operated out of ports in Japan, Saipan, Guam, and Okinawa.

1954 -

After the Korean War hostilities ended many of the remaining AVPs lined up for deactivation and decommissioning, or loan to the USCG, or sale to companies or navies of other nations such as Italy, Norway, Greece, and Ethiopia with some WHECs later being sold to the South Vietnamese Navy; some of those ending up in the Philippine Navy.  Some AVPs continued service as seaplane tenders and as research and survey vessels.  Three ships were assigned rotating duty as flagships for Commander Middle East Forces in the Mediterranean Sea, Red Sea, and Persian Gulf in the 1950’s, 1960’s and into the 1970’s.


In Summary

Prior to World War II, the need for facilities and vessels to support seaplane patrols was realized and as a result of extensive and meticulous planning the USS Barnegat class of small seaplane tenders was one of the solutions to that realization.  This relatively large class of long-range, seaworthy, multi-purpose little ships served proudly in important rolls during World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and during the peacetime periods in between.  They served a vital purpose during this age in the history of United States Naval Aviation.

This author’s fondness for these less-recognized and obscure little ships spawns from my father’s service aboard the USS Duxbury Bay AVP-38 while performing its duties as flagship for Commander Middle East Forces in 1952 and 1953.  While researching the USS Duxbury Bay, and this entire class of AVPs, in preparation for building a scale model of “The Dux” for my father, my interest and fondness grew to obsession.   I hope that this presentation will provoke additional interest in this class of ships in other ship modelers, out there. 



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