Washington Ship Names

Washington Ship Names

John W. Hough
© 2015

Many naval vessels over the decades have borne the name of the state of Washington, its cities, mountains, rivers and other notable geographic features. Some vessels achieved fame, some served without fanfare, and some were scrapped when events made them unneeded. Here are the stories of each of these vessels.

The newest vessel to bear our state’s name is USS WASHINGTON (SSN 787), the fourth VIRGINIA-class fast attack submarine. Her keel was laid on 24 November 2014 at Newport News Shipbuilding. She is scheduled to join the fleet in 2016. A naming ceremony for WASHINGTON was held in Seattle on February 3, 2013. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus stated: “I am really happy to be in Washington, such a strong Navy partner. It’s very fitting that we welcome Washington back into our fleet after a long absence. Today we celebrate that the next nuclear powered submarine, SSN-787, will be named USS Washington.”

Prior to SSN 787, the third, and largest, naval vessel to bear the state’s name was the WWII battleship USS WASHINGTON (BB-56). She was a 729-foot, 35,000-ton NORTH CAROLINA-class battleship commissioned in May 1941. Armed with 16-inch guns, she served on convoy duty in the North Atlantic, and then took part in several battles in the South Pacific. WASHINGTON gained fame during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. She was the flagship of Rear Admiral Willis Lee. The powerful task force included the battleship USS SOUTH DAKOTA, along with several cruisers and destroyers. On November 14, 1942, Lee’s forced sortied out of Iron Bottom Sound to confront an equally powerful Japanese task force escorting ships with supplies for the beleaguered WaJapanese forces on Guadalcanal. With ships of both sides ablaze or sinking and the SOUTH DAKOTA out of action, WASHINGTON stalked the Japanese fast battleship KIRISHIMA. At midnight, WASHINGTON used her radar to obtain a firing solution and opened fire with her 16-inch guns. KIRISHIMA returned fire, but it was ineffective. In minutes KIRISHIMA was on fire and soon sank. While other big gun naval battles remained to be fought, this was the last battleship duel of the war, and perhaps in history.

After the Battle of Guadalcanal, WASHINGTON continued to play a major role in the Pacific war through the invasion of Okinawa in April 1945. After the war, she brought troops home from Europe. WASHINGTON was decommissioned on 27 June 1947. She was kept in “mothballs” until May 1961 when she was sold for scrap.

Maritime Olympia Cover Library copy

The second vessel to be named after the state was the battleship USS WASHINGTON (BB-47) launched in September 1921. She was the second COLORADO-class battleship. While she was being fitted out, the Washington Naval Treaty was adopted which among other things limited the size of capital ships. The treaty did not permit WASHINGTON, so construction was halted. She was used as a target to test naval gunfire. She was sunk as a target in 1924.

The first vessel named after the state was USS WASHINGTON (C-11), an armored cruiser. She was launched in September 1903 and commissioned in March 1906. She was part of the Pacific fleet and in 1908 visited Port Angeles, Port Townsend, Seattle, Tacoma and Bremerton. She next served on the East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico. In November 1916 she was renamed USS SEATTLE, to free the name WASHINGTON for bShittleship BB-47 THEN under construction. As SEATTLE, during WWI she escorted convoys across the Atlantic. She was idle in the inter-war period. During WWII she was a receiving ship for naval personnel in New York Harbor. She was scrapped in 1946.

The second USS SEATTLE was AOE-3, a 796-foot SACRAMENTO-class fast combat support ship. She was built in the Bremerton Navy Yard and commissioned in April 1969. She was decommissioned in March 2005 and sold for scrap in January 2007.

A number of naval vessels have been named after Washington cities beside Seattle. Perhaps the most storied ship with a Washington place name is the armored cruiser USS OLYMPIA (C-6). She was launched in San Francisco in 1892 and commissioned in February 1895. She is 344 feet 1 inch long and weighs in at 5, 586 tons. She is armed with four 8” guns, large for the day, several smaller guns and torpedo tubes. OLYMPIA was Admiral Dewey’s flagship at the Battle of Manila Bay on
May 1, 1898, where Dewey uttered the famous words: “You may fire when ready, Gridley.” She later became a school ship, and then served as an Atlantic convoy flagship during WWI. In October 1921 she had the honor of bringing home from France America’s Unknown Soldier of WWI. She was decommission in 1931 and is now on display in Philadelphia. OLYMPIA is the Navy’s oldest steel ship still afloat.

The second USS OLYMPIA, SSN-717, is a LOS ANGELES-class nuclear attack submarine. She was launched in July 1983 and commissioned in November 1984. Her homeport is Honolulu and she has visited Olympia once. OLYMPIA has not visited Olympia since the city declared itself a nuclear free zone in 2005. However, the boat’s commanding officers and crewmembers participate in Olympia’s Lakefair activities.

The current USS BREMERTON, SSN-698, is also a LOS ANGELES class nuclear attack submarine. She was launched in July 1978 by sponsor Mrs. Henry M. Jackson and was commissioned in March 1981. Her homeport is Honolulu and she has visited her namesake city several times.

The first USS BREMERTON (CA-130) was a WWII BALTIMORE-class heavy cruiser. She had to earn her name. The Puget Sound Navy Yard on Bremerton bested Mare Island Navy Yard in a 6 month long War Bond selling contest to win the right to name the new cruiser. But she was built by New York Shipbuilding in Camden, NJ. She was launched in July 1944 and commissioned in April 1945. BREMERTON operated on convoy duty in the Atlantic. She was then deployed in the Pacific. She was decommissioned in April 1948. In late 1951 BREMERTON was brought back for the Korean War. In 1957 she was modified to carry surface-to-surface missiles. Decommissioned again in 1960, she remained in the reserve fleet to 1970. She was then was sold for scrap in 1973.

Another nuclear submarine bears a person’s name closely associated with Washington State. She is the USS HENRY M. JACKSON (SSBN- 530). She is named after the highly respected late senator from the state who was a strong supporter of national defense. She is the only OHIO-class ballistic missile submarine not named after a state. The “boomer” was launched in October 1983.

USS SPOKANE (CL-120) was a JUNEAU-class light cruiser and the first naval vessel
named after that city. At 541.7 feet long, she was designed for anti-aircraft defense. Her keel was laid in December 1944 at the height of the Japanese kamikaze attacks in the Pacific, but she was not launched until September 1945, after the war. SPOKANE was decommissioned in February 1950 and sold for scrap in May 1973.

Several vessels have been named after the city of Tacoma. USS TACOMA (C-18, P-32, CL-20) was a DENVER-class cruiser launched in June 1903 at Mare Island, California. After commissioning she visited Tacoma before setting off on a Pacific cruise. In July 1903 TACOMA escorted the remains of naval hero John Paul Jones, who had died in Paris, home to the Naval Academy. For the next 10 years TACOMA protected American interests at hot spots in the Caribbean and West Indies. During WWI she served on trans-Atlantic convoy duty. On one trip home she rushed to Halifax, Nova Scotia to render aid after an ammunition ship exploded in the harbor causing massive destruction and loss of life. After the war she returned to patrolling the Caribbean and West Indies. During a storm on 16 January 1924 she struck a reef off Vera Cruz, Mexico. Efforts to refloat her were unsuccessful and she was sold for scrap.

The second USS TACOMA, PF-3, was the lead ship in the TACOMA class of 304-foot WWII patrol frigates. She was launched in July 1943 and commissioned in November 1943. She initially served as a training ship, but in June 1944 began anti-submarine patrols in the stormy Gulf of Alaska. In August 1945 she was transferred to the Soviet Union on a secret lend-lease program. She was returned to the U.S. Navy in October 1949. During the Korean War, TACOMA had a number of duties typical of her class ranging from shore bombardment, anti-submarine patrols, and convoy escort. TACOMA earned three battle stars during the Korean War. When hostilities ceased, she was donated to the South Korean Navy.

Three other TACOMA class patrol frigates bore Washington city names. Also launched in July 1943, USS HOQUIAM (PF-5) was commissioned in May 1944. She also performed patrol duties in the Gulf of Alaska. In August 1945 she too was transferred to the Russians, who returned her 1 November 1949. During the Korean War HOQUIAM attacked enemy shipping, performed antisubmarine patrols, and conducted shore bombardment. She received five battle stars for her Korean War service. In October 1952 she was transferred to the South Korean Navy.

The TACOMA-class patrol frigate USS PASCO (PF-6) was launched in August 1943 and commissioned 15 April 1944. She initially performed patrol duties off the California coast, then was sent to the Gulf of Alaska. She too was loaned to Russia in August 1945 and, and after heated negotiations, was finally returned in 1950. She was struck from the Naval Rolls and in 1964 was transferred to the Japanese Navy.

The USS EVERETT (PF-8) was another TACOMA-class patrol frigate. She was launched in September 1943 and commissioned in January 1944. As did the others of her class, she performed a variety of duties in the Gulf of Alaska. In August 1945 she also was transferred to the Soviet Union along with her sister ships TACOMA and HOQUIAM. Returned by the Russians in August 1949, she engaged in shore bombardment during the Korean War, earning four battle stars. In March 1950 EVERETT was loaned to Japan. She was returned to the U.S. Navy in December 1961, struck from the Navy List and scrapped.

The fourth TACOMA, PG-92, was an ASHVILLE-class gunboat launched in 1968 at Tacoma Boatbuilding. Vessels of this class were the Navy’s first large all aluminum and fiberglass vessels. She was 165 feet long and powered by gas turbine engines with a top speed of 35 knots. TACOMA served several deployments to Vietnam waters. She later performed patrol duties in the central Pacific. Her last duty was as a reserve training vessel primarily for the Saudi Navy. She was decommissioned in September 1981. She was transferred to Colombia in May 1983.

CHEHALIS (PG-94) was also an ASHEVILLE-class gunboat. She was launched June 1968 at Tacoma Boatbuilding. She served as a plane guard for aircraft carriers training off California. In 1971 she was converted to the research vessel R/V ATHENA.

The first vessel named after the Grays Harbor city was USS CHEHALIS (AOG-48), a WWII tanker commissioned in December 1944. She served in the Pacific during the closing months of the war, and afterwards continued to carry fuel among the Pacific islands. On 7 October 1949, as she lay at Tutuila, American Samoa, one of her gasoline tanks exploded, killing six of her crew. She burst into flames, capsized, and sank.

Four military vessels have been named TAHOMA, the Indian name for the towering peak Captain George Vancouver called Mt. Rainier. The first vessel was USS TAHOMA, built in 1861 during the Civil War. She was a steam powered UNADILLA class gunboat, known as “90 Day Wonders,” for the speed in which they were built.

The second naval vessel to carry the name TAHOMA was a harbor tug. She was purchased by the Navy during the Spanish American War and sold for scrap in 1937.

The third TAHOMA was an armed cutter built in 1909 for the Revenue Cutter Service, now part of the U.S. Coast Guard. The 193-foot vessel served in the Bearing Sea. In 1914 she struck an uncharted reef and was wrecked. However, the entire 62-man crew was rescued. The reef now bears her name.

USCG TAHOMA (WPG-80) was the fourth vessel bearing the mountain’s original name. Built in 1934 for the Coast Guard, the 165-foot cutter was drafted into the Navy during WWII and performed escort duty along the east coast and to Greenland. Following the war she was stationed in Chesapeake Bay. She was decommissioned in May 1953 and sold for scrap.

The current USCGC TAHOMA (WMEC-908) is a 270-foot FAMOUS-class medium endurance cutter. Her keel was laid in June 1983 and she was commissioned in April 1986. After the Sept. 11, 2011 attack in New York she was the first military vessel on site and coordinated harbor protection. Her homeport is New Bedford, Massachusetts.

Several vessels have been named after Captain Vancouver’s name for the state’ s highest mountain: Mt. Rainier The first naval vessel to bear the peak’s current name was the schooner USS RAINIER. She was purchased by the Navy in June 1917 and served as a patrol vessel during WWI. She was decommissioned in 1919 and sold for scrap in 1921.

USS RAINIER (AE-5) was a WWII ammunition supply ship. Based on the design of a C-2 cargo ship, she was launched in March 1941. Decommissioned in1946, she was placed in reserve. RAINER was reactivated for Korea and Vietnam, supplying ships on Yankee Station. She was decommissioned in August 1970 and scrapped.

USNS RAINIER (AOE-7) is a 754-foot SUPPLY-class fast combat support ship. She was launched in September 1991 and was the third ship to bear the name. In 2003 she was transferred to the Military Sealift Command.

The Olympic Mountains were honored with USS MOUNT OLYMPUS (AGC-8). She was a 460-foot MOUNT MCKINLEY-class amphibious force command ship. This type of vessel was equipped with extensive communication capabilities and planning spaces for the use of commanders of amphibious operations. She was launched in October 1942 as SS ECLIPSE, a C-2 type cargo vessel. She was converted to a command ship and renamed MOUNT OLYMPUS in December 1943. She served as the command vessel for the invasion of the Philippines during the Leyte Gulf and Luzon operations, earning two WWII battle stars. After the war she transported occupation troops to several ports in Japan and China. In December 1946 she was the command ship for the United States Navy Antarctic Developments Program, “Operation Highjump,” in Antarctica during 1946-47. She next served in the Atlantic and Mediterranean as the command ship for Amphibious Group 2. MOUNT OLYMPUS was decommissioned in April 1956 and joined the Suisan Bay, CA, reserve fleet. She was sold for scrap in January 1973.

A naval vessel named for another prominent Washington peak was USS MOUNT BAKER (AE 4), a WWII ammunition ship. Built in 1940, she was originally named USS KILAUEA and served in the Atlantic theatre. She was renamed MOUNT BAKER in March 1943 to avoid confusion with a similarly named ship. She was decommissioned in 1947 and placed in reserve. MOUNT BAKER was re-commissioned for the Korean War in December 1951. She continued to serve during the Vietnam War, supplying aircraft carriers on Yankee Station. She was decommissioned again in December 1969 and scrapped.

Another city named vessel was USS ANACORTES (PC-1569), a 104-foot submarine chaser. She was commissioned in March 1945. She served in the Pacific in the closing days of the war transferring U.S. troops to occupy islands formerly held by the Japanese. In May 1946 she arrived in Astoria, Oregon, were she joined the reserve fleet for the next fourteen years. In November 1960 she was transferred to the Republic of Vietnam.

The critical need for escort carriers in WWII resulted in USS COMMENCEMENT BAY (CVE-105), the class lead. She was built in 1944 at Todd Pacific Shipyard on Commencement Bay in Tacoma. Decommissioned in December 1946, she remained in reserve status until stricken from the naval rolls in April 1971 and sold for scrap the following year.

USS PUGET SOUND (CVE-113) was also a COMMENCEMENT BAY-class escort carrier. She was too was built in 1944 at Tacoma’s Todd Pacific Shipyard. After the war she served in Operation Magic Carpet, bringing troops home from the Pacific to Seattle. She was decommissioned in June 1946 and placed in reserve. She was stricken from the naval rolls in 1962 and sold for scrap.

The second USS PUGET SOUND, AD-38, was a GOMPERS-class destroyer tender. She was launched Sept. 16, 1966 at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. She served during Vietnam and then in various roles, including supporting Operation Desert Storm, the first Gulf War. Decommissioned in January 1996, she was scrapped.

Two amphibious landing ships were named after Washington points. USS VANCOUVER (LPD-2), named after the city, was a RALEIGH-class amphibious transport dock ship. She was launched September 1972. Amphibious tractors from her well deck landed the first Marines in Vietnam at Da Nang. She also served in the first Gulf War. She was decommissioned in March 1992 and scrapped.

The next of her class, USS POINT DEFIANCE (LSD-31) was named after the guardian of the Tacoma Narrows. She was launched in 1954. In May 1971 she carried the author among a company of Marines through the tail end of a hurricane for an amphibious landing at Camp Lejeune, NC. She was decommissioned in September1983. Kept in the Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet, she was scrapped in July 2007.

The first USS POINT DEFIANCE, LSD-24, was a CASA GRANDE-class amphibious landing ship laid down during WWII, but cancelled when the war ended.

Another vessel canceled when WWII ended was the seaplane tender USS TOWNSEND (AV 18) under construction at Todd Pacific Shipyards in Tacoma.

The only vessel named after a Washington county was USS THURSTON (AP77), a WWII troop transport. She was laid down in December 1941 as the SS DELSANTOS. She was acquired by the Navy from the Maritime Commission in September 1942. She served in both Atlantic and Pacific theaters during WWII, earning six battle stars. THURSTON was decommissioned in August 1946 and returned to the Maritime Commission and renamed DELSANTOS. Sold to the Waterman Steamship Company in 1948, she was renamed SS CHICKASAW. She was lost when she wrecked off Santa Rosa Island, California, 7 February 1962.

SNAKE RIVER (LSM(R)-533) is the only naval vessel named after one of the state’s rivers. She was designed to carry mortars and rockets to support shore bombardment. Launched in July 1945, she was probably intended for the invasion of Japan. She was decommissioned in July 1946. Placed in reserve, she was struck from the naval register in October 1958 and scrapped.

The state of Washington has been honored with a number of naval vessels named after the state, its cities, counties, mountains, sounds and rivers. Many, of course, were launched during WWII. But Washington place-named vessels fought in the Civil War, the Spanish American War, WWI, the Korean War, Vietnam, the Cold War, and the Gulf Wars. We should be proud of the service of all these vessels and the crews that manned them.

The author thanks fellow PSMHS members Joe Baar, Lisle Rose and Mark Shorey for their assistance in reviewing this article. Any remaining errors are the author’s responsibility.


[1] “Keel-Laying Ceremony for USS Washington (SSN787)” PowerShips, Spring 2015. “SECNAV Attends USS Washington Ship Naming Ceremony,” Navy News Service, Feb. 7, 2013. www.navy.mil. Web. Accessed July 3, 2016.

[1] Musicant, Ivan, Battleship At War – The Epic Story of the USS Washington, New York: Avon Books, 1988, 118-131.

[1] Musicant, ibid., 314-321, 326, 332. Naval History and Heritage Command. Web. Accessed April 22, 2015.

[1] Naval History and Heritage Command. Web. Accessed April 24, 2015.

[1] Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, Web. Accessed April 24. A number of vessels have been named after George Washington. Listed in this article are only the ships named after the state of Washington.

[1] U.S. Navy, “USS Seattle.” Web. Accessed May 20, 2015.

[1] Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, Web. Accessed May 15, 2015.

[1] Commander, U.S. Submarine Force Pacific. Web. April 22, 2015. On Olympia’s declaration as a nuclear free zone, see Seattle Times, August 17, 2005.

[1] See, e.g., The Olympian, Olympia, WA, July 18, 2015.

[1] Commander, U.S. Submarine Force Pacific. Web. Accessed April 22, 2015.

[1] NavSource Online, “USS Bremerton.” Web. Accessed May 20, 2015.

[1] USS Henry M. Jackson homepage: www.jackson.navy.mil. Accessed May 20, 2015

[1] U.S. Navy, “USS Spokane.” Web. Accessed May 20, 2015

[1] Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Web. April 24, 2015. It appears that CL-20 was the second vessel named after the city of Tacoma. The first TACOMA, sometimes called TAKOMA, was a harbor tug purchased by the U.S. Navy during the Spanish-American War and later scrapped.

[1] Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Web. Accessed April 24, 2015.

[1] Ibid.

[1] Ibid.

[1] Ibid.

[1] Patrol Gunboat Reunion Assn. www.gunboatriders.com. Web. For a personal account of Service aboard TACOMA (PG 92) see Mark Swarthout’s webpage: swarthoutfamily.org/MarksFamily /Mark/Tacoma.html. Accessed June 21, 2015.

[1] Patrol Gunboat Reunion Assn. www.gunboatriders.com. Web. NavSource Online, Web. Accessed June 21, 2015

[1] NavSource Online. Web. Accessed June 21, 2015

[1] Civil War Wiki, www.civilwar.wikia.com/wiki/USS_Unadilla. Accessed June 21, 2015.

[1] Wikipedia. Web. Accessed May 21, 2015

[1] U.S. Coast Guard. Coast Guard History. Web. Accessed June 21, 2015.

[1] Ibid.

[1] Ibid.

[1]USS Rainier website. Accessed June 21, 2015

[1] Ibid.

[1] U.S. Navy. www.navysite.de. Web. Accessed June 21, 2015.

[1] Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Web. Accessed July 9, 2015.

[1] NavSource Online. Web. Accessed June 21, 2015

[1] NavSource Online. Web. Accessed June 21, 2015

[1] Ibid.

[1] Ibid.

[1] Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Web. Accessed June 21, 2015.

[1] Ibid.

[1] Ibid.

[1] Ibid.

[1] uBoat.net. Accessed June 21, 2015,

[1] Ibid.

[1] Ibid.

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