Few words carry as much weight in the annals of Coast Guard history as the word "TAMPA." Four proud cutters have carried that name through a century of Coast Guard activity. The first TAMPA, a little 190-footer of 1,191 tons launched in 1912 (and originally called the MIAMI) is where we will start our journey.
The TAMPA's strongest ties were with the city of Tampa, Florida, where she served in those peaceful days prior to the outbreak of World War I. With the exceptions of a couple of ice patrols, her activities centered around the patrol of regattas and marine festivals. But the war clouds gathered and the TAMPA was soon on her way to battle submarines in the North Atlantic.
Based in Gibraltar, the TAMPA, SENECA (her companion ship of ice patrols), YAMACRAW, OSSIPEE, ALGONQUIN and MANNING made up Squadron 3 of Division 6 of the Atlantic Fleet Patrol Forces. Their mission was to protect convoys from submarine attacks. In the little more than a year left to her, TAMPA escorted 18 convoys, comprising a total of 350 vessels. Her record for this period was outstanding. She was never disabled and her one request for repairs had been on two minor items, in spite of spending more than fifty percent of her time at sea and steaming an average of 3,566 miles a month.
The TAMPA's logs reflect high morale, in spite of rather grueling duty. There were swimming and baseball parties at Gibraltar, and an occasional liberty in London. The logs show many instances of service to others. F.J. Taylor, electrician first class, jumped overboard to rescue a drowning British officer. The medical officer of the TAMPA went to the USS SANTA BARBA to treat an injured boatswain. Two stewards got into trouble for being too helpful. They loaned the cutter's ice cream freezer to another ship without permission.
On September 26, 1918, the TAMPA was escorting a convoy to Wales. The evening found them in the Bristol Channel. The night was dark and cloudy. There was no moon. A moderately heavy sea lashed at the TAMPA's flanks as she steamed along the coast. The TAMPA, perhaps detecting some sign of a submarine, darted out ahead of the convoy. At 8:45 P.M. a loud explosion was heard by people aboard other ships, and later, when they arrived in port, the TAMPA was missing. A search was started by U.S. destroyers and British patrol craft, but all they found were a few pieces of wreckage and two unidentifiable bodies in Naval uniforms.
When the TAMPA sank there were no survivors. 111 Coast Guardsmen, 4 Navy men, a captain and ten seamen of the Royal British Navy, and five civil employees, a total of 131 persons, lost their lives. This loss was the greatest single casualty incurred by any Naval unit as a result of known enemy action, and because of it the Coast Guard suffered the greatest loss, in proportion to is size, of any armed service in the war.
The TAMPA's loss was more painful because she had been considered one of the happiest and most efficient ships of the ocean escort force. Because of the TAMPA's outstanding record and her almost constant readiness for service, Rear Admiral Albert P. Niblack, commanding the Atlantic Fleet Patrol Force, awarded the TAMPA a special commendation just before she departed Gibraltor for the last time.
On November 11, 1999 a unique ceremony was held at Arlington National Cemetery. Secretary of Transportation Rodney E. Slater and Commandant of the Coast Guard Admiral James M. Loy presented the Purple Heart Medal to the Officers and Crew of the Coast Guard Cutter TAMPA. The Officers and Crew of the Coast Guard Cutter TAMPA (WMEC 902) accepted the Purple Heart Medal on behalf of their fallen comrades.
Two other cutters have carried the name TAMPA. The second TAMPA was a 240-foot cutter built in 1921. Assigned to the International Ice Patrol in the North Atlantic, it responded to the distressed ocean liner MORRO CASTLE in 1934 when a fire on board the liner left 114 dead. This disaster led to the Coast Guard’s marine safety and marine inspection programs. This TAMPA also conducted convoy escort duty during World War II. It was decommissioned in 1947. The third TAMPA was originally named SARANAC. It was a 250-foot vessel built in 1930. SARANAC was transferred to the Royal Navy in 1941 as a lend-lease vessel and renamed HMS BANFF. It was active in convoy escort duty during the war and was returned to the United States in 1947. Taking the name TAMPA in that year, the cutter served the Coast Guard well until it was decommissioned in 1954.