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USS Norton Sound AVM-1

USS Norton Sound AVM-1 Photo Slide Show

USS Norton Sound AVM-1

In April 1971 I reported aboard the USS Norton Sound AVM-1. I remained onboard until October 1972.

History of USS Norton Sound AV-11/AVM-1**

AV-11/AVM-1 Displacement 9,090
Length 540'5"
Beam 69'3"
Draw 22'3"
Speed 18 k
Complement 1,247
Armament 4 5", 12 40mm
Class Currituck

Norton Sound (AV-11) was laid down by the Los Angeles Shipbuilding and Drydock Co., San Pedro, Calif. 7 September 1942; launched 28 November 1943 sponsored by Mrs. Ernest L. Gunther, wife of Rear Admiral Ernest L. Gunther and commissioned 8 January 1945, Captain Ben Scott Custer in command.

After Pacific shakedown, the new seaplane tender stood out from San Diego 26 February and steamed for Pearl Harbor. She reported to Commander, Marshall Gilbert Area for training in mid-March, and she arrived Saipan 1 April to provide seaplane tending services.

Norton Sound anchored 1 May at Aka Kaikyo, Kerama Retto, and by 21 June had assisted in splashing three hostile air raiders. Air alerts continued until midnight, 14 August. Word of the Japanese surrender arrived eight hours later, and into September the tender engaged in upkeep and air operations at Okinawa. She steamed for Sasebo, Japan 21 September, returning to Okinawa one week later. Norton Sound called at Shanghai, China 1 October and by the 23d she was at Tsingtao where she tended seaplanes until 7 November. The next day she anchored at Shanghai; and, from that time until April of 1946, she remained on duty with the occupation forces between China and Japan.

Norton Sound departed Tokyo Bay 7 April for Norfolk, Va. After overhaul there she joined the Atlantic Fleet. She operated off the east coast until October 1947, when she steamed for San Diego to rejoin the Pacific Fleet.

Shortly thereafter Norton Sound was selected for conversion to a mobile missile launching platform. She entered Philadelphia Naval Shipyard in February 1948 for seven months, while special equipment was installed for handling, stowing, launching, and controlling guided missiles.

Upon completion of her modifications in October 1948, Norton Sound steamed for her new homeport of Port Hueneme Calif. Enroute she conducted tests with Skyhook balloons and off southern California she underwent a very intensive missile training program. Late that fall Norton Sound successfully launched a training missile, thus marking the beginning of the Navy's shipborne family of guided missiles.

Following installation of launching equipment for Aerobee missiles at Long Beach Naval Shipyard in February 1949, the ship steamed to equatorial waters off the South American coast and successfully launched two Aerobees. These launchings provided fundamental scientific information on the earth's radiation belt.

On 1 July 1949, Norton Sound headed for the geomagnetic equator, some 1500 miles south of Hawaii, and conducted extensive tests with seventeen huge Skyhook balloons and nine smaller balloon clusters, all of which carried aloft scientific instrumentation packages. All of these tests had scientific value and emphasized Norton Sound's value to the Navy as a floating proving ground for developing skills and procedures for future tactical guided missile installations in combatants.

After special modifications in February and March 1950 at San Francisco Naval Shipyard, Norton Sound launched a five ton Viking rocket 11 May in project "Reach". This rocket carried a 500 pound scientific instrumentation package to an altitude of 106.4 miles, and provided additional data on cosmic rays.

Project "Reach" concluded the first phase of Norton Sound's history as a mobile missile launching platform. This first phase was devoted to extending scientific research frontiers and gaining experience prerequisite to firing tactical weapons. The second phase required the application of the resultant knowledge. The newer missiles launched from the ship had a more direct bearing on the future of the Navy's combatant missile capability.

In the fall of 1950 Norton Sound underwent a four month overhaul at San Francisco Naval Shipyard. New handling, launching, stowage, and guidance systems were installed for operations involving the Terrier missile. She was reclassified AVM-1 on 8 August 1951. This was the first of three extensive alterations accomplished through 1955. Research, development and evaluation launchings of Terrier and Tartar missiles continued from this period through 1958.

In 1958 Norton Sound participated in project "Argus" From a position south of the Falkland Islands she launched three rockets which carried low-yield atomic warheads. Detonation occurred at an altitude of 300 miles, and the effects were monitored by the Explorer IV satellite and by other instrumented rockets. Analysis of data from project "Argus" contributed materially to the discovery of the Van Allen radiation belt.

The ship returned to San Diego in June 1959 and resumed Terrier and Tartar test launchings. She continued these operations until June 1962, when she steamed for Norfolk, Va. She decommissioned there 10 August, and in November she was towed to Baltimore, Md. for installation of the Typhon Weapon Control System. The conversion was completed early in 1964, and Norton Sound recommissioned 20 June emerging in her present configuration to continue tasks in weapons research.

Baltimore was designated homeport for Norton Sound, and for several months she operated in Chesapeake Bay, evaluating the Typhon System. Assigned to Port Hueneme, Calif. in July 1965, she arrived there the last day of that month. Her mission was then increased to include evaluation of the Sea Sparrow missile, the first of which she launched 13 September.

During a three month stay at Long Beach Naval Shipyard commencing 15 July 1966, all Typhon equipment was removed following discontinuance of the system. For the next two years Norton Sound evaluated various countermeasures for missile threats to naval surface forces. She also tested hardware designed to enhance ECM capabilities, and equipment involving a new concept in gyro design.

Norton Sound entered Long Beach Naval Shipyard 13 June 1968 for regular overhaul. The yard also installed a new, light-weight 5"/54 gun mount with associated gunfire control components for operational evaluation tests. Into 1969 she continues active in test and evaluation work with the Pacific Fleet.

Norton Sound received two battle stars for World War II service.

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, when the Norton Sound became the test bed for the AEGIS project.

Chronology of USS Norton Sound (AVM-1), 1941-1986

Named for the largest Alaskan Sound; she was the Navy's first guided missile test ship; home port, Port Hueneme, CA
Keel laid in San Pedro Shipyard.
Ship outfitted by Todd Shipyards Corp. Launched and christened 28 November.
Commissioned 8 January. CDR Ben S. Custer, USN, in command. Norton Sound (AV-11) was the first seaplane tender and the largest ship ever built in Los Angeles Harbor area. Her armament, including four 5-inch guns and twenty 40-millimeter antiaircraft guns, was put to the test during her first six months when she found herself participating in the closing campaigns of World War II with the Pacific Fleet.
1946 -1949:
This period included a brief repair period followed by modification at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard to become a guided missile test ship. She then returned to the Pacific to again tend seaplanes.
AEROBEE - Installation of launching equipment; two successful launches to obtain data on cosmic radiation.
SKYHOOK - Seventeen SKYHOOK balloons carrying over 100 pounds of instrumentation were tracked by the ship's radar while collecting data concerning cosmic radiation. 1950:
Fitted with launch and control equipment designed for the five-ton VIKING research rocket, to carry cosmic radiation instruments.
In the fall, new equipment was installed for operations with TERRIER missiles.
Reclassified as a guided missile ship (AVM-1). Research, development, and evaluation launchings of TERRIER missiles continued through 1955.
Operation RIFF-RAFF demonstrated the first launch and control of two Regulus guided missiles.
Helicopter landing deck removed. Helicopters continued landing on her large afterdeck.
Surface-to-Surface target boats used in conjunction with ongoing TARTAR and TERRIER missile experiments. Test launchings continued through 1969.
Terrier Operational Proof High Altitude Target (TOP HAT) operations determined the feasibility of using TERRIER missiles as high performance realistic targets for advanced missiles.
Decommissioned and prepared for the installation of the TYPHON Weapon Control System. This weapon system was being developed to defend carrier task forces against Soviet strike aircraft and their antiship missiles. Its capabilities surpassed the existing 3-T's (TERRIER, TALOS, TARTAR) missile systems. In the following two-year period, another deck level was added for TYPHON's phased array-type radar.
Recommissioned, now more than a launching platform for missiles, she was equipped for searching, tracking and controlling the attack of the new TYPHON all the way to interception. This program lasted through 1965.
Fired the first successful SEA SPARROW missile, to provide short range or "point" defense for U.S. warships.
Mark 45, a new lightweight 5"/54 gun, installed for testing. This was the first new major gun system produced by the United States during the last two decades.
Centralized Automatic Testing Systems (CATS) installed to assess the performance of electronic systems.
Other short-term missile firings also took place, to test the feasibility of achieving rocket accuracy through different launch techniques.
Testing of Mark 86 Gun Fire Control System.
Made first deployment in many years. Temporairly based in and out of American Samoa (Pango Pango). Also visited Pearl Harbor Hawaii, several times during the deployment. This trip is believed to be the only time the Norton Sound ever crossed the equator and she made it across twice during the deployment.
1972 -1973:
Installation of engineering development model (EDM-1) of the AEGIS Weapon System takes place.
System integration testing commenced. A stringent missile firing program continued. Navy personnel were trained to operate and maintain the system.
Preparation for the first all-Navy Preliminary Evaluation (NPE) continued through the beginning of 1975.
AEGIS, entirely Navy-operated, engaged and shot down three missiles, including a low-altitude supersonic TALOS Missile configured for target drone use.
CDR D.B. Dickmann relived CDR J.R. Poole as Commanding Officer.
AEGIS in AVM-1 participated actively in the five-nation fleet exercise, "VALIANT HERITAGE."
ADM M. Weismer (CINCPACFLT) visited for AEGIS briefings.
Tests demonstrated AEGIS could fire both SM-1 and SM-2 missiles.
AEGIS scored a direct hit on a SEPTAR configured boat in its first surface-to-surface firing.
AEGIS fired its first SM-2 and scored a direct hit on a BOM-34A target drone.
Ship and system testing continued.
CDR T.J. Loftus relieved CDR B.D. Dickmann as Commanding Officer.
"SUPER SUNDAY" Mark 26 Guided Missile Launching System (GMLS) Sustained Firing Test conducted. These tests demonstrated the capability of the launching system to support rapid missile firings on a sustained basis.
Preparation made for AEGIS/SM-2 engagements of High Altitude Supersonic Targets (HAST).
Two separate HAST engagements were successfully completed, demonstrating antiship missile attack capability.
First foreign port of call with AEGIS aboard; the ship paid a good-will visit to the Canadian Naval base at Victoria.
Major overhaul, including modification for Vertical Launching System installation, took place.
Norton Sound returned to sea and resumed testing program. Sustained Firing Tests using the GMLS Mark 26 demonstrated the firing of 12 modified improved TARTAR warhead missiles.
"CENTURION" was painted on the launcher arm to signify the successful completion of more than 100 missile firings.
BUZZARDEX- a new fleet record was set for a successful defense against TALOS missile (BUZZARD) targets.
"TRIUMPHANT THURSDAY" became the day two standard missiles were fired in rapid succession from the Vertical Launching System, scoring two direct hits on two separate BOM-34A drone target aircraft.
Norton Sound celebrated her 40th year of service to the Navy.
Decommissioned 16 December. Future testing to take place aboard AEGIS cruisers.
Disposed of by Maritime Administration (MARAD).