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Pathfinder: Recollections of Those Who Served 1942 - 1971

Compiled by the Office of NOAA Corps Operations

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NAVY History of the USS Pathfinder


The following is a history of the WWII experiences of the USS PATHFINDER which was compiled by the Office of Naval Records and History, Ships' History Branch, Navy Department. The original document was dated 11-20-47 with a revision of 7 June 1950.

uss pathfinder requisitioned for wartime surveys by the navy
USS PATHFINDER underway in Pacific. Note gun-tubs fore and aft. Saw Pacific service from 1942 to 1945. Ship endured over 50 bombing raids and was crashed by a kamikaze at Okinawa It was said, "The road to Tokyo was paved with PATHFINDER charts".


A sea-going arm of the U.S. Navy's Hydrographic Office, the survey ship PATHFINDER spent the war years in paving the way for amphibious invasion. With a team of skilled geographers operating her valuable equipment, she charted and calculated all the way from the early, dark days in the Solomons to the dark hours before the dawn at Okinawa. PATHFINDER data relayed to fleet navigators in map form, made the rugged oceanic road to Tokyo a little more easy to follow.

31 August 1942 the new, 229-foot PATHFINDER was acquired from the Coast and Geodetic Survey and armed and outfitted for Naval service; on 31 August 1942 the USS PATHFINDER (AGS-1) was placed in commission as a full-fledged fleet survey vessel. Captain Bascom H. Thomas, USNR, the PATHFINDER's first skipper, put his new command through her nautical paces during subsequent shakedown in the Puget Sound area of Washington.

Minor repairs and realignments were begun soon after PATHFINDER's 20 September arrival in San Francisco. Loaded with stores and provisions she steamed out of the Bay 10 November 1942 and set course for Pearl Harbor. Eight days were consumed in travelling the 2,091 miles from the West Coast harbor to the Hawaiian bastion, and another ten days within Pearl Harbor itself. On 28 November the PATHFINDER shoved off and, with a pause at Palmyra to the south, she reached Funa Futi in the Ellice Islands 26 December 1942.

War in the Southwest Pacific centered around the U.S. long range plan to break the Japanese grip on the dangerous New Guinea -New Britain-Solomon Islands arc; for nearly two years the PATHFINDER plowed throughout that theater as the bitter land-air-sea conflict raged about her. An isolated reef, an uncharted harbor, a lonely stretch of enemy held coastline -- all presented a different species of nut to crack.

On several occasions, notably at Bougainville, Treasury Island, Green Island, Emirau and Guam, advance PATHFINDER parties were sent ashore under the noses of the Japanese to work in close cooperation with Allied amphibious elements in laying out harbor charts or surveying inland channels.

During most of 1943 Captain Thomas' ship operated in the Solomons and neighboring groups, the Russells, Admiralties, Loyalties, and New Caledonia, with an eleven day breather at Sydney, Australia in August. USS PATHFINDER, although essentially a non-combatant, experienced some fifty bombing raids while working close to the front lines, also showed that she could retaliate when on the defensive; at Goadalcanal on 7 jApril 1943 her anti-aircraft gunners bagged two Nip planes which ventured within range.
There was another period of liberty and relaxation at Sydney in March 1944, then approximately three months of scientific probing around New Guinea. Out of Espiritu Santo the PATHFINDER sailed at the end of September 1944, with the thanks of all U.S. men-of-war in the Southwest Pacific and written commendations from Admirals Nimitz, Kinkaid, and Halsey. Pearl Harbor was reached on the 11th of October, departure taken on the 14th, the PATHFINDER's uneventful voyage home ended 21 October 1944 at Alameda (inside San Francisco Bay), California.

Veteran PATHFINDER headed back to the war zone on 18 December 1944, the superstructure of the Golden Gate Bridge vanishing amidst a downpour of California sunshine. By this time the tide of battle had swept northward and engulfed the Philippines. Guadalcanal was a recreation center and weeds were growing over the battlefields of Saipan and Tarawa, but need for the PATHFINDER rose progressively as U.S. forces pressed deeper into unfamiliar territory.

On 26 December 1944 the PATHFINDER stood into Pearl Harbor and remained there for almost a month. Four days before continuing west on the long cross-Pacific trek the vessel had to change in command, Captain Thomas being relieved by Commander Francis L. DuBois, USNR, on 16 January 1945.

Via Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands (where she stopped 29-31 January 1945), the PATHFINDER sailed onward to reach Guam 4 February. Roughly 350 miles northwest of Guam, Pathfinder Reef was discovered and duly charted for posterity. Further assignment took the ship to remote Casiguran Bay on embattle Luqon Island in the Philippines. On 13 March 1945 armed forces effected a landing in that region -- the first on the eastern coast of Luzon -- and liberated the village of Casiguran.

Such was the nature of the place that it seemed to the PATHFINDER crew that, except for the lack of mail, Casiguran would be an ideal spot in which to spend the war's remaining days. This idea was promptly shelved, however, when on 28 March the ship was assailed by two enemy aircraft. Luck prevailed again, and the vulnerable survey vessel escaped damage.

One month after the initial beachhead was established on Okinawa Jima, on 1 May 1945, the PATHFINDER churned into Hagushi Anchorage (situated about one-third of the way up Okinawa's Japanward side.) Okinawa was the scene of many firsts for the ship, most lamentable of which occurred on 6 May 1945 at 'Suicide Slot,' Sesoko; a Japanese Kamikaze plane crash-dived into PATHFINDER's after gun platform killing one man, starting fires and setting off ready ammunition. Emergency parties quickly brought the flames under control, kept PATHFINDER free of serious harm.

Between her arrival at Okinawa and the final cessation of hostilities the ship was at General Quarters 170 times, and there were moments, particularly at Nago Wan, when it appeared as if the PATHFINDER's run of luck would run out. It never did, even for those who were sent ashore at Nago and underwent the hazards of a fox hole watch, snipers and mortar fire. August 15th brought the long-awaited 'cease all offensive operations' message to a non-combatant who had seen enough of combat.

October 13th 1945 found the PATHFINDER lolling around her anchor at Yokosuka Naval Base, Tokyo Bay; the ship wound up her U.S. Naval Career with a series of surveys among the Empire's home islands in coordination with the Allied occupation. Her last path found and findings interpreted, USS PATHFINDER left Yokosuka 5 December 1945.

Touching at Pearl Harbor on 16 December, the ship steamed northeast to Seattle and arrive 24 December 1945. Berthed at Seattle, Washington the survey ship was placed out of commission on 31 January 1946. On the 22nd of August 1946 she was transferred to the Interior Department [Commerce] and in October 1946 the PATHFINDER was returned to duty with the Coast and Geodetic Survey.

USS PATHFINDER earned two campaign or battle stars for taking part in two major amphibious operations in the Asiatic-Pacific Theater of action.

1. Consolidation of Southern British Solomons. 7 April to June 1943.
2. Assault and Occupation of Okinawa Gunto. 5 January to 30 June 1945.

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Last Updated: June 8, 2006 9:24 AM

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