Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships

Office of the Chief of Naval Operations
Naval History Division • Washington

USS Asterion (AK-63)

A star in the constellation Canum Ven.

(AK-100: dp. 6,610; l. 382'3"; b. 46'1"; dr. 21'6"; s. 10 k.; cpl. 141; a. 4 4", 4 .50-cal. mg.; 4 .30-cal Lewis mg.; 6 dcp.)

Evelyn--a steel-hulled, single-screw steamer--was laid down on 17 January 1912 by the Newport News (Va.) Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co., for the A.H. Bull Steamship Line; launched on 9 May 1912; and delivered on 11 June 1912.

For the next 30 years, Evelyn operated between ports on the eastern seaboard of the United States and the West Indies, carrying passengers and freight. During World War I, she was inspected in the 3d Naval District on 9 January 1918, for possible naval service and was assigned the identification number, Id. No. 2228. However, she wa not actually taken over. Remaining a merchantman, she received a Navy armed guard detachment who protected her between 31 January and 11 November 1918.

Acquired by the Navy from the Bull Line early in 1942, Evelyn was renamed Asterion and classified as a cargo ship, AK-100. That designation, however, was strictly a "cover," for Asterion, like her sister ship Atik (AK-101) (the former Carolyn) was to pursue the far more dangerous game of "Q-ship." While this ruse de guerre had worked moderately well in World War I, it was at best a stop-gap measure adopted in the hope of ending a rash of sinkings of merchantmen in American coastal waters. Given a main battery, machine guns and depth-charge gear hidden in concealed positions, Asterion was placed in commission at the Portsmouth (N.H.) Navy Yard in early March 1942, Lt. Comdr. Glen W. Legwen, Jr., in command.

After brief sea trials, Asterion sailed for her assigned patrol area on 23 March 1942 in company at the outset with her sister ship Atik. The mission assigned each ship was to sail under the guise of a "tramp" steamer, proceeding independently, in the hope of luring a U-boat to the surface and destroying the submarine with gunfire before she could realize what was happening. Once out at sea, the two vessels parted company.

One day out, Asterion picked up a submarine contact on her underwater detection gear. Two days late,r however, her radios picked up ominous traffic. "Carolyn" (Atik) had been torpedoes. Then, after luring her assailant, U-123, to the surface with her "tramp" steamer guise, Atik had engaged the U-boat with gunfire, but succeeded only in wounding a German officer on the submarine's bridge before the German captain wisely broke of the action and cleared the area to await nightfall and a second crack at the Q-ship. U-123 delivered the coup de grace that evening, and Atik exploded and sank. Asterion plodded immediately to Atik's assistance; but, when she arrived on the scene, found only wreckage. Not a man in Atik's crew had survived.

Arriving at Norfolk, Va., on 31 March 1942, Asterion set out for her second cruise on 4 April, and that afternoon witnessed the torpedoing of the tanker SS Comol Rio by U-154. A destroyer arrived on the scene shortly thereafter and took up the search after Asterion had picked up a sound contact.

Operating off Cape Hatteras, N.C., 10 days later, Asterion rescued the 55 men of the crew of a British merchantman that had been torpedoed earlier--saving even the captain's dog. She entered New York harbor on 18 April and there disembarked the sailors she had rescued, cautioning them not to tell anyone of what they had seen on board the "Q-ship."

Asterion's third cruise commenced on 4 May 1942 from New York, and she sailed between Key West and Norfolk, proceeding as an independently routed merchantman or as a straggler from a convoy. The fourth cruise commenced on 7 June 1942, and, due to increased submarine activity in the Gulf of Mexico, the "Q-ship" set course for those dangerous waters. Clearing New York, she sailed down the eastern seaboard, transited the Straits of Florida on 11 June, passed the Dry Tortugas on 14 June; and thence steamed to the Yucatan Channel. Then, after reversing course, she moved to the Mississippi River Delta whence she continued on a westerly course toward Galveston, Tex. She then returned to New York, and arrived there on 6 July.

Departing New York a fortnight later, Asterion went directly to Key West and then sailed north of the Bahamas to the Windward Passage. Returning to New York on 18 August, Asterion sailed at the end of the month for her sixth cruise, which took her through the waters that she had traversed on the fifth patrol. On 25 September 1942, she was redesignated AK-63. Commencing her seventh cruise on 18 November, the ship proceeded to Key West and, while there, carried out on 30 November with a friendly submarine [sic].

On 2 December 1942, Asterion got underway for the British West Indies and, going via the Old Bahama Channel, followed the convoy route to Trinidad, patrolling to the westward of Aruba, in the Dutch West Indies. Departing Trinidad on the day after Christmas the ship headed home and arrived at New York on 10 January 1943.

Over the next few months, Asterion underwent an extensive overhaul, involving the strengthening of her whole structure and modification of her armament. Steaming to New London, Conn., on 4 September, Asterion operated with American submarines, in training. After returning briefly to New York, from 18 to 20 September, she resumed her training at New London before proceeding back to new York for post-shakedown availability. During the ensuing weeks, on 14 October 1943, Admiral King decided that--since the "Q-ship" effort had achieved nothing--Asterion should be assigned to other duties. On 16 December 1943, the venerable auxiliary and erstwhile "tramp" was ordered to proceed to Boston, Mass., where she reported to the Commandant, 1st Naval District, for transfer to the Coast Guard.

Turned over to that service and commissioned by it at Boston on 12 January 1944, Asterion (given the designation WAK-123) wsa converted for service as a weather ship. Ten days later, on 22 January 1944, her name wa struck from the Naval Vessel Register. Based at Boston, Asterion performed duty as a weather patrol ship on Atlantic stations 3 and 4 until decommissioned on 20 July 1944 because of "age, condition of hull and machinery, and lack of speed." Turned over to the War Shipping Administration for disposal in April 1946, Asterion was sold to the Boston Metals Co. on 10 September 1946 and was subsequently scrapped.

Asterion (AK-63) earned on battle star for her World War II service.

Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation