I'm still researching the history of the ship in this image (which I bought for $1 at a store called Cool Stuff Weird Things). But in order to get to that point, I had to first figure out the class (type) of ship using only the clues available in the image. Clearly the number "1277" jumps out as a potential lead, so that's where I decided to start my search...
Now is a good time to mention that I know next to nothing about naval operations or history. As far as WWII goes, I have a decent understanding of the major naval engagements in both main theaters and their context within the war. But before I bought this photo, specifics like "what the numbers on the side of a ship mean" were never something I had studied. (They weren't big on covering the inner-workings of the military at the Quaker college I attended...)
Stupidly hoping that this might have been the only ship designated "1277" used by the U.S. Navy during the war, I began by searching for "USS 1277". This was dumb of me as the U.S. fleet grew to be MASSIVE during WWII. Ships of various classes had been assigned the number - it alone would not be able to take me any further in my research.
Next, I went to the back of the image. On it were two distinct lines of handwritten text...
|2nd Line reads "4th from flag is Walter H Sullivan"|
And speaking of the sailor to whom this photo was given, I'd say the second line makes it pretty clear that it once belonged to Walter H. Sullivan. Unfortunately for my purposes, Walter H. Sullivan is a fairly common name. Googling variations of the name proved to be a case of information overload. Adding "1277" into the mix didn't help either. It would have been nearly impossible to find the Walter H. Sullivan I was looking for until I knew more about the specifics of his military service. But that was what I was hoping he would lead me to, so it was another dead end.
At this point, I realized I would need to use more subtle details within the photo to determine the ship's class. I started by looking at the crew...
From the make up of the crew, I knew that the ship was of a smaller class-size. Four officers and twenty enlisted men is a small crew and a small crew would serve on a small ship. Still, I was able to get a little bit more specific than that by using the crew as a reference to approximate the length of the bow (front) deck.
If the average person is roughly 2-feet-wide and there are 20 people in the front row, then a very rough estimate for the length of the bow deck is around 40 feet. (And the ship would be at least double that, so I was probably looking for something in the 80-120 foot range.) It's not a very scientific process, I'll admit, but it helped me have a general ballpark measurement for comparison later on.
At this point, I began to wonder about the actual measurements of WWII naval vessels. A quick search and I found the technical drawings from the Office of Naval Intelligence ID recognition manual that was issued during the war. Alas, all the ships featured on the site were too big to be the ship in my photo but I still wasted a bunch of time there. (Couple of my favorites - Tennessee & Fuso) I also learned that I would probably need to identify the ship from a profile view, so I turned my attention to the ship's railing...
In many of the drawings from the recognition manual, I had noticed that the railing was not a gradual slope to the bow. Some were stair-stepped or more angular, so I counted this among potential identifiers. Plus, I thought that the guide wire might be distinctive as well.
At the very tip of the bow is a small flagpole. At first, I thought it would be another good ID landmark. But I came to realize that it might not appear on a diagrammed version of the ship. For my purposes, the presence or lack of a small flag pole in the diagram would not preclude a given ship from my search. So I moved on.
|The floodlights indicate that this ship was used on night patrol|
By combining those various details, I knew I was looking for a ship that met the following details:
-bow deck of approximately 40 ft. (roughly 80-120 ft. total)
-gradual, smooth-sloping bow railings
-simple, box structure with 90 degree angle
-single mast (possibly with lots of rigging)
Some further searching lead me to a WWII history site called Acepilots.com and its wonderful U.S. Minor Combatant Types-Naval Ships page. Matching the diagrams against the list of details I had compiled, I narrowed my search down to four classes. After a Google image search for each class; PC-Submarine Chaser, LCI-Infantry Landing Craft, PCE-Patrol Escort and SC-Submarine Chaser, I was fairly confident I had found my match.
The ship in my photo was most likely an SC. The diagram had the sloped railings, the guide wires, the box-like cabin and a single mast. So, of course, my next search was to combine the SC class with 1277. And the very first result was this page (perhaps you'll recognize the first image when you scroll down.)
Finally, I had found the ship. It was the U.S.S. SC-1277.
This post has already gone longer than I had planned, so I'm going to stop here for now. Sometime soon I'll follow up with more about the SC-1277, the history of WWII sub chasers and the next phase of my search. In the meantime, I'm always looking for more input. Please feel free to leave your thoughts and suggestions in the comment section.