USS Big Horn (AO-45)

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USS Big Horn (AO-45/IX-207) was a Q-ship of the United States Navy named for the Bighorn River of Wyoming and Montana.

Gulf Dawn, a single-screw oil tanker, was built in 1936 at Chester, Pennsylvania, by the Sun Shipbuilding & Drydock Corp. and operated by the Gulf Oil Corporation. Acquired by the Navy on 31 March 1942, she was renamed Big Horn and given the hull designation symbol AO-45 on 3 April 1942. Her conversion began at the Bethlehem Shipyard in Brooklyn, New York. She was commissioned 15 April 1942, under the command of Commander James A. Gainard, USNR, formerly master of SS City of Flint, which had become the center of an international incident at the beginning of the war, and was later sunk by a U-boat.


Atlantic Fleet

Sailing to Boston on 23 April, Big Horn entered the Boston Navy Yard for conversion to a Q-ship. A disguised heavily-armed merchantman, the decoy ship was intended to lure unsuspecting U-boats to the surface and sink them with gunfire. While at Boston, Big Horn completed her disguise as a fleet oiler and was given extra watertight integrity — in case she was torpedoed — by the installation of thousands of sealed empty drums in her cargo tanks. That work was completed on 22 July 1942.

After two days on the degaussing range and in calibrating compasses and radio direction finders, Big Horn proceeded to Casco Bay for training under Commander, Destroyers, Atlantic Fleet. This training period was followed by a shakedown cruise which was completed on 26 August 1942, at which date USS Big Horn put in again at the Navy Yard, Boston, for further alterations and repairs until 12 September.

As U-boats had been attacking bauxite ore cargo ships in the West Indies, the Q-ship sailed south to help defend the convoy routes there on 27 August.


The first cruise of USS Big Horn began on 27 September 1942, when the ship proceeded from New York with a convoy bound for Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, taking a position which permitted the vessel to act as a straggler. The trip was made without incident, and thereafter Big Horn was semi-attached to NOB [Naval Operating Base] Trinidad, with orders to operate from that base over the bauxite route to and from ports where that commodity was loaded. Many ships in this area had been sunk in recent weeks. Ships proceeding from Trinidad were convoyed to a designated point from which they fanned out to take various routes to their ultimate destination. Big Horn was directed to proceed to that point and drop down on independent routes to and from bauxite ports.

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