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USS Patoka (AO–9/AV–6/AG–125) was a fleet oiler made famous as a tender for the airships USS Shenandoah (ZR-1), USS Los Angeles (ZR-3) and USS Akron (ZRS-4). It was also notable in that its height (177 feet) figured prominently in the design of Rainbow Bridge in Texas
Patoka was an EFC #1106 design and was laid down 17 December 1918 by the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co., Launched 26 July 1919; acquired by the Navy from USSB 3 September 1919; and commissioned 13 October 1919, Comdr. E. F. Robinson in command.
From 1919 to 1924 USS Patoka served as Navy Oiler AO -9. She was then selected as a tender for rigid airship Shenandoah.
A mooring mast some 125 feet above the water was constructed; additional accommodations both for the crew of Shenandoah and for the men who handle and supply the airship were added; facilities for the helium, gasoline, and other supplies necessary for Shenandoah were built; as well as handling and stowage facilities for three seaplanes. This work by the Norfolk Navy Yard was completed shortly after 1 July 1924. Patoka retained her classification of AO–9.
Patoka engaged in a short series of mooring experiments with the Shenandoah, which had reported to the Commander, Scouting Fleet for duty 1 August 1924. The first successful mooring was made 8 August 1924.
In October, Patoka, Milwaukee, and Detroit, were assigned stations in the mid-Atlantic to furnish the airship Los Angeles with the weather reports and forecasts during her flight, 12 to 15 October 1924, from Germany, where she had been built, to Lakehurst, N.J.
Sometime after the 1924 trials the mooring mast was heightened by the addition of a 20’ straight section added near the bottom of the mast. This modified mast can be seen in photos of the Los Angeles & Akron mooring trials of 1931.
During 1925 Patoka operated with both Shenandoah and Los Angeles in demonstrating the mobility of airships, and in reducing the number of ground personnel required to handle them. A projected polar flight by Shenandoah, using Patoka as her base of operations, was cancelled when the airship was lost in a storm 3 September 1925.
Between 1925 and 1932 Patoka operated with Los Angeles and served as her base of supply and operations on her long range flights to Puerto Rico (1925), Panama (1928), Florida (1929), and during the fleet concentration off Panama (1931). During 1932 she also operated with the newly-acquired airship Akron, but the decommissioning of Los Angeles, 30 June 1932 and the crash of Akron, 4 April 1933, foretold a rest for Patoka. She decommissioned 31 August 1933.
In 1939 further modifications were ordered converting her into a seaplane tender, but she retained her mooring mast. Her classification was changed to AV–6, seaplane tender, 11 October 1939. Reclassified in 1940 as AO-9, Patoka served in this capacity until 1944 when she was yet again converted for duty as a mine craft tender and reclassified as a Misc. Auxiliary AG-125.
She was finally decommissioned and scraped in 1946.
Displacement: 5,400 tons empty, 16,800 tons at full load
Machinery One 4 cylinder triple expansion engine, Max Speed 11.2 knots
Dimensions: LOA 477’ 10”, Beam 60’ 3”, Max Draught 27’ 2”
www.navsource.org has a large collection of pictures of Patoka, The Leslie Jones collection at the bottom of the Patoka page has a nice selection of the 1924 trials with USS Shenandoah.