Minesweepers of steel: Kitsap’s other shipyard

Minesweepers of steel: Kitsap’s other shipyard

Forgotten today, the Winslow Marine Railway and Ship Building Company was Kitsap’s other major World War II shipyard.

Editor’s note: This story first appeared in Kitsap Weekly. It is part of a 12-month series, Kitsap Goes to War, which explores how World War II affected Kitsap County and its residents. For earlier stories in the series, go to KitsapDailyNews.com and type “Kitsap Goes to War” in Search.

It’s almost all gone now. Nothing remains of the old shipyard on Bainbridge Island except for some railroad ties and the pilings south of the ferry terminal that appear at low tide like the stumps of blackened teeth.

Visit gentrified Bainbridge Island today and it is difficult to imagine what life on the island must have been like in the desperate years of World War II when 2,300 residents worked around the clock in Kitsap County’s second-largest shipyard to build the weapons of war.

Bainbridge Island 1943

There was no Agate Pass bridge at the north end of the island. There was, however, an anti-submarine net stretched across the narrows to keep out enemy submarines. Following news of the Pearl Harbor attack, local military personnel had assembled it in just three days from thick, stranded steel cables and heavy clamps, according to local reports.

The middle — indeed, most — of Bainbridge Island in those days was devoted to agriculture. When Bainbridge Island Japanese-American residents were sent to internment camps in early 1942, the Kitsap Herald reported the U.S government had confiscated a strawberry crop worth $250,000 (the equivalent buying power of $3,894,064.52 in 2017).

At the south end of the island was Fort Ward, the first military installation on the U.S. mainland to receive word that Pearl Harbor was under attack by the empire of Japan, according to Bainbridge Island Historical Museum Curator Rick Chandler.

And above Fort Ward, on the southeastern side of the island, was Eagle Harbor and the Winslow Marine Railway and Ship Building Company.

Kitsap County’s other shipyard

Founded in 1903, the company was originally called Hall Bros. Marine Railway & Shipbuilding Company and occupied 77 acres near the village of Winslow, named in honor of the deceased brother of the owner, Henry Hall. In 1916, Captain James Griffiths purchased the shipyard and renamed it the Winslow Marine Railway & Ship Building Company.

The shipyard originally built lumber schooners and, after the Great War, made a business of repairing Puget Sound ferries, according to “Hall Brothers shipbuilders” by G. M. White. In 1938, the Boeing Clipper flying boat came to Winslow to be weighed, painted and have some other work done before its final certification, according to the company newsletter, “The Minesweeper.”

Before the war, the shipyard employed 300 people, by Jan. 1943 that number had grown to 2,300. Workers came from all over the country and 160 wartime houses and a nursery school were built in Winslow to help house them.

Supporting the rest of the fleet

Bremerton’s Puget Sound Naval Yard repaired major combat ships from the US Navy Pacific Fleet. It fell to the Winslow shipyard to build and repair the merchant vessels and work boats that were vital to the war effort. Photos at the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum, 215 Ericksen Ave NE, Bainbridge Island, show a liberty ship with “RUSSIA” painted on its side, large, flat-bottomed landing craft (LSTs), tugboats and the Black Ball ferry Malahat after it burned in March, 1943.

The yard also converted old sailing schooners into barges for the U.S. Army to use as transport during its successful campaign to regain the Aleutian Islands in 1943. It seems likely this included cod-fish schooners commandeered from the Poulsbo cod-fishing fleet. (To learn more about the battle for the Bering Sea, see “Captain Shields’ “one man war,” www.kitsapdailynews.com/news/captain-shields-one-man-war.)

Minesweepers of steel

But, most famously, the year built steel minesweepers; the small ships that went in ahead of the destroyers, cruisers, battleships and troop ships to clear the shallow waters of mines off the places like the Philippines, Tarawa and Iwo Jima. It was unglamorous, dangerous work and one Winslow-built minesweeper, the USS Salute, sank after striking a mine.stuck a mine off of Japanese-held Borneo on June 8, 1945.

Between June 1942 and Oct. 1944, the shipyard launched 17 steel ocean-going (AM) minesweepers — one every 2 months — according to “The Minesweeper” and www.shipbuildinghistory.com.

Winslow-built ‘sweepers

The Winslow shipyard built two classes of minesweepers, the Auk class and the more popular Admirable class, accounting for the change in hull numbers of the 17 minesweepers that were constructed.

The following list was compiled from the company’s newsletter and www.shipbuilding.com.

Auk-class

  • USS Pursuit (AM 108), launched June 12 1942, scrapped 1964.
  • USS Requisite (AM 109), launched July 25 1942, scrapped 1964.
  • USS Revenge (AM110) launched Nov. 7 1942, scrapped 1967.
  • USS Sage (AM111), launched Nov. 21 1942, sold to Mexico 1973.

Admirable-class

  • USS Salute (AM 294), launched Feb. 6 1943, sunk by mine 1945.
  • USS Saunter (AM 295), launched Feb. 20, 1943, scrapped 1946.
  • USS Scout (AM 296), launched May 2 1943, sold to Mexico 1963, scrapped.
  • USS Scrimmage (AM 297), launched May 16 1943, Sold 1962, later cable ship Giant II, research vessel Mahi, reefed in Hawaii 1982.
  • USS Scuffle (AM 298), launched Aug. 8 1943, sold to Mexico 1963, scrapped.
  • USS Sentry (AM 299), launched Aug. 15, 1943, sold to Vietnam 1962 as Ky Hoa, scrapped.
  • USS Serene (AM 300), launched Oct. 31 1943, sold to Vietnam 1963, scrapped.
  • USS Shelter (AM 301), launched Nov. 14 1943, sold to Vietnam 1963, scrapped.
  • USS Garland (AM 238), launched Aug. 26 1944, scrapped 1960.
  • USS Gayety (Am 239), launched March 19 1944, 1944, sold to Vietnam 1962, to the Philippines 1975.
  • USS Hazard (AM 240), launched May 21 1944, sold 1968 to Omaha, Nebraska to be used as a museum.
  • USS Hilarity (AM 241), launched July 30 1944, sold to Mexico 1962, scrapped.
  • USS Inaugural (AM 242), launched Oct. 1 1944, sold to St. Louis, Missouri, 1968 as museum, swept from moorings and sank 1993.
  • USS Illusive (AM 243), cancelled 1945.
  • USS Imbue (AM 244), cancelled 1945.
  • USS Impervious (AM 245), cancelled 1945.

The end

The defeat of Germany and Japan in 1945, lead to ship cancellations and layoffs. Three hundred workers had already been laid off by Aug. 24 1945.

While there were smaller contracts, the decision was made to sell the shipyard operation in 1948.

The purchasers renamed the company the Commercial Ship Repair of Winslow.

Ultimately, the business closed in 1959. The property was then divided into a marina, an apartment complex and a Washington State Ferries maintenance facility, according to the website, ShipbuildingHistory.com.

Minesweepers of steel: Kitsap’s other shipyard
Minesweepers of steel: Kitsap’s other shipyard

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