USNS Watertown (T-AGM-6)

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Name: USNS Watertown
Namesake: Cities and towns in the states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, South Dakota, and Wisconsin
Builder: Oregon Shipbuilding Corporation, Portland, Oregon
Laid down: in 1944 as Niantic Victory, type (VC2-S-AP3) hull, MCV hull 100
Acquired: by the Navy in 1960
In service: 11 August 1960 as USNS Watertown (T-AGM-6)
Out of service: 1971
Struck: 16 February 1971
Fate: sold 23 May 1974; scraped in Pusan
General characteristics
Type: Watertown-class missile range instrumentation ship
Tonnage: 4,512 tons
Tons burthen: 11,500 tons
Length: 455' 3"
Beam: 62' 2"
Draft: 28' 6"
Propulsion: cross compound steam turbine, single screw, 8,500shp
Speed: 15.5 knots
Complement: 56 personnel
Armament: none

USNS Watertown (T-AGM-6) was a Watertown-class missile range instrumentation ship acquired by the U.S. Navy in 1960 and converted from her Victory ship cargo configuration to a missile tracking ship, a role she retained for eleven years before being placed out of service in 1971.

Victory ship constructed in Oregon

Niantic Victory was laid down on 12 February 1944 at Portland, Oregon, by the Oregon Shipbuilding Corporation under a U.S. Maritime Commission contract (MCV hull 100); launched on 25 April 1944; sponsored by Mrs. Marvin Owen; and delivered to the Maritime Commission on 18 May 1944.

Maritime service

From 1944 until 1957, Niantic Victory was operated for the U.S. Maritime Commission by a succession of contractor firms, beginning with the American-Hawaiian Steamship Line and ending with the Isbrandtsen Company in 1957.

Her activities between 1957 and 1960 are a mystery. She was listed in the American Bureau of Shipping Record as still belonging to the Maritime Commission, but no operator was listed. Furthermore, she was dropped from the active list of Maritime Commission ships in the April 1957 issue of Merchant Vessel Register. All of this suggests that she went out of service early in 1957. This speculation, however, cannot be corroborated, because her name does not appear in any of the lists of ships in National Defense Reserve Fleet berthing areas.

Missile tracking service

In any event, Niantic Victory was turned over to the Navy Department in 1960 and assigned to the Military Sea Transportation Service on 11 August for conversion to a range instrumentation ship.

On 27 November, she was renamed Watertown and designated AGM-6. For the next 11 years, she served in the Pacific Ocean in support of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the U.S. Air Force on the latter service's Western Missile Test Range. She operated as a mobile tracking station, recording test data from missiles and satellites out of range of land-based stations.

Watertown carried instrumentation to track and record flight events for military missile and NASA manned spacecraft, extending the coverage of the tracking network over the Pacific ocean. She was slated at one time to be part of the Apollo 8 recovery team but was dropped from the program. In 1969, she called at Pitcairn Island.


In February 1972, the Air Force decided that it no longer required Watertown's services. Her name was struck from the Navy list on 16 February 1972, and she was returned to the Maritime Administration at its berthing facility at Suisun Bay, California, on 23 March. She was sold 23 May 1974 and scrapped in Pusan.

See also