USS Betelgeuse (AK-260)

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USS Betelgeuse (AK-260)
Career 100x35px
Name: USS Betelgeuse
Namesake: Betelgeuse
Builder: California Shipbuilding Company, Los Angeles, California
Laid down: 11 February 1944
Launched: 10 April 1944
Commissioned: 15 April 1952
Decommissioned: 15 January 1971
Struck: 1 February 1974
Fate: Ran aground at Cape Hatteras, 1976
Badge: Goose patch.gif
General characteristics
Class and type: Antares-class cargo ship
Displacement: 4,950 long tons (5,029 t)
Length: 455 ft 2 in (138.73 m)
Beam: 62 ft (19 m)
Draft: 28 ft 6 in (8.69 m)
Propulsion: Steam turbine, single shaft, 8,500 shp (6,338 kW)
Speed: 16.5 knots (30.6 km/h; 19.0 mph)
Complement: 250 officers and enlisted
Armament: None

USS Betelgeuse (AK-(FBM)-260) was the last of the cargo ships in service in the United States Navy.

Ship's history

Construction and early career

Betelgeuse was constructed by the California Shipbuilding Company, Los Angeles, California and commissioned in the merchant service as SS Columbia Victory in May, 1944. From 1944 through 1948, she was operated by the Grace Steamship Company, the Waterman Steamship Corporation and the Isthmian Steamship Company. 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 15 April 1952 at Savannah, Georgia, she was commissioned by the Navy as the USS Betelgeuse (AK-260) 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 Betelgeuse, were named after heavenly bodies; Betelgeuse being a large star in the constellation Orion.

From her commissioning in 1952 through 1960, "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, Betelgeuse transferred practically every kind of cargo to ships, barges, and piers using every known transfer method.


Conversion for Polaris support

In the summer of 1960, a significant modification was accomplished when Betelgeuse was modified to carry Polaris missiles and components in support of the Fleet Ballistic Missile program. This modification changed the mission of Betelgeuse from a fleet resupply ship to a link in the Polaris program.

After two years of operation as a Polaris resupply ship, 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 1 June through 7 September 1962, 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, 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.

1962 operations

Commencing in 1962, Betelgeuse (AK-(FBM)-260) made resupply runs to Holy Loch, Scotland and Naval Station 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.

1965-1966 operations

From December 1965 through March 1966, Betelgeuse underwent a regular overhaul at Detyen's Shipyard, Mount Pleasant, South Carolina. 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.

Betelgeuse underwent refresher training in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in June 1966 following an FBM (Fleet Ballistic Missile) 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, South Carolina for the month of December.

1967 operations

Betelgeuse (AK-(FBM)-260) was a unit of Service Squadron Eight until 1 July 1967 and then was transferred to Commander Submarine Force, US Atlantic Fleet and placed under the operational control of Commander Submarine Flotilla Six at Charleston, South Carolina.

From 1 January 1967 until 30 August 1967, 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 Betelgeuse participated in Operation "New Look". While on Operation "New Look", Betelgeuse was granted a port visit to New York City.

Collision with Simon Bolivar

While conducting submarine services in August 1967, Betelgeuse was involved in a collision with the submarine 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 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, Betelgeuse conducted sea trials with outstanding results.

1967 operations

In October 1967 Betelgeuse made an FBM resupply trip to Rota, Spain. Upon returning to Charleston 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 Puget Sound 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.

1968 operations

From January 1968 through April 1968, 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.

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.

Rescue of Spirit of Love crew

Departing Charleston on 15 November 1968 for Holy Loch, Scotland, Betelgeuse came in contact with a 35 foot sailboat "The Sprit of Love" foundering of course approximately 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 Essex (CV-9) and then flown to Bermuda. Betelgeuse resumed her track to Holy Loch, Scotland, arriving 0n 26 November. On 8 December 1968, Betelgeuse entered dry-dock in the Los Alamos (AFDB-7) at Holy Loch. After undocking on 20 December, Betelgeuse departed for Charleston and arrived 1 January 1969.

1969 operations

During 1969, 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.

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, Betelgeuse went through refresher training at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.


From 1 January through 31 March 1970, Betelgeuse made one FBM site replenishment to Rota, Spain and two FBM site 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, 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.

Deactivation and decommissioning

The Sub-Board of Inspection and Survey, Atlantic conducted a pre-inactivation inspection during the period 21-23 September 1970 and found Betelgeuse fit for further service provided three deficiencies were corrected. On 15 October 1970, operational control of Betelgeuse shifted to Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility Portsmouth, Charleston Detachment and became inactive to prepare to enter the mothball fleet.

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.

Betelgeuse was towed to Philadelphia Naval Shipyard on 16 January 1971 and used in an experiment for encapsulation of mothballed ships. She was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 1 February 1974.


Sold for scrapping to Luria Brothers & Co. in December 1975, while being towed to Texas in January 1976, the tug boat had to cut the tow cable due to high seas and Betelgeuse ran aground at Rodanthe, NC.


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