Verdugo Views: USS Glendale went from U.S. use to Russia, then disappeared

The USS Glendale, launched in 1943, served nobly in the Battle of Leyte in the Philippines in 1944.

After returning to Boston harbor for an overhaul, the ship went back into the battle against Japan. But this time, she was flying the flag of the Soviet Union.

After her reconditioning in Boston, the PF-36, a Tacoma-class frigate, made her way down the Eastern Seaboard, through the Panama Canal and up the West Coast to Seattle.

There, she joined a flotilla of other U.S. vessels headed for Cold Bay, Alaska, an Aleutian Island harbor.

They were on a highly secret mission — known as Project Hula — the transfer of U.S. ships and aircraft to the Soviets, in accordance with a wartime agreement that if — and when — the Soviets joined the war against Japan, the U.S. and other Allies would provide the Soviets with the necessary ships and airplanes; plus American personnel to train them, as chronicled on Wikipedia.

The remote island, with its small civilian population, was chosen in order to provide strict secrecy and avoid alerting the Japanese and perhaps provoking an attack on the Soviets.

The Glendale, just one of several hundred vessels gathered in Cold Bay, was decommissioned in mid-July and transferred to Soviet personnel by Lt. Cmdr. Ambros Simko.

He and other commanding officers received custom daggers as a memento of the exchange.

Our ship, renamed and designated as a “storozhevoi korabl,” (escort ship), soon sailed for the eastern shores of the Soviet Union.

The war ended just a few weeks later with Japan’s surrender on the deck of the Missouri in Tokyo Bay.

In accordance with the agreement, the Soviets were to return all ships to U.S. custody after hostilities concluded.

But the ships had vanished into Soviet waters.

Negotiations for their return began in February 1946; by this time, the Cold War had begun and relations between the Soviets and the Allies were deteriorating rapidly.

All that was known of our namesake (just one of 20-plus frigates held by the Soviets) was that it was a “ghost ship behind the iron curtain,” according to a State Department spokesman quoted in the July 8, 1948, Glendale News-Press.

“We don’t know where they are or how the Russians are using them. We have made a firm demand for the release of the vessels,” the spokesman said.

Even though our ship had disappeared, there was one artifact remaining: the tattered flag flown while on duty in the Pacific.

After the war was over, naval officials brought the flag to Glendale and it was hung in the lobby of City Hall.

Unexpectedly, on Nov. 8, 1949, the News-Press announced that the flag, “stained by diesel smoke and tattered by Pacific winds,” had been taken off the lobby wall, carefully framed in a display case and placed on the wall of the City Council chambers, in anticipation of the frigate’s return.

The Glendale and other frigates were returned at the Yokosuka naval base in Japan later that month.

Our ship was recommissioned less than a year later, just in time for another war, this time with Korea.

But that’s another story for another time.

Readers Write:

Two emails re: the July 29, 2017, column on Jack Pike.

Jim Pagliuso recalled seeing a model of Pike’s Verdugo Oaks in the lobby of the Glenoaks Pike’s, where he and his friends would go after Cotillion, “where we were supposedly learning to dance. Pike’s Verdugo Oaks became really the only place in Glendale where large groups could meet.”

From Peter Rusch: “Jack and Mary were always gracious to my mom, Peggy Rusch, a hostess during the lunch buffet for a couple of years. Think of it: a Caesar salad mixed at your table for $1.35. The Sundown Dinner (served from 4 to 6 p.m.) for $2 could be short ribs, liver and onions, a cheese omelet, or a shrimp plate. This included soup or salad, potato, a vegetable, and coffee or tea,” Rusch wrote.

“The regular dinner menu might be a veal cutlet ($2.60), prime rib ($3.85), or, for those well-heeled souls, Chateaubriand “Versailles” for two at a whopping $6 per person,” he added.

“My mom used to marvel at the fact that some ladies attending the lunch buffet ($1.65) would slip extra food into their purses before making their exit. She knew most of them but always kept their secret. Many of us really miss that venue.”

KATHERINE YAMADA can be reached at katherineyamada@gmail.com. or by mail at Verdugo Views, c/o Glendale News-Press, 202 W. First St., Second Floor, Los Angeles, CA 90012. Please include your name, address and phone number.

Copyright © 2017, Glendale News-Press
EDITION: California | U.S. & World
80°