USS Benicia (PG-96)

Photograph of the USS Benicia
provided by Robert W. Robb.

Second US Navy ship to bear the name and named for Benicia, California.  Commissioned 25 April 1970 at Tacoma WA and decommissioned 2 October 1971 at San Diego CA. Transferred to the South Korean Navy; renamed PAEK KU (Sea Gull) 51 PGM 351 and Stricken from the US Naval Register 30 August 1996 in Korean custody.  Scrapped; date unknown.

Each command within the U.S. Navy is authorized to display an emblem and motto symbolic of its mission. mission. The officers and men of BENICIA have designed the following insigne to carry on this tradition. The circular design is intended to focus on the symbolism within. The two stars represent the first and present U. S. Navy ships to bear the name BENICIA. The red, white and blue diagonal bands are symbolic of the American Flag and represent valor (red), integrity (white) and perseverance (blue). The falcon, most intrepid and swift of nature’s creatures, signifies the speed and aggressiveness of the patrol gunboat going forth into battle. The motto, "Volacer et Intrepida", translated from Latin means "fleet and fearless" which is indicative of the patrol gunboat and her crew. Finally the encircling gold band is symbolic of the marriage of ship and crew.

The BENICIA’s histories from commissioning 25 Apr 1970 to decommissioning and transfer to the Korean Navy are missing.

The following article is taken from ALL HANDS magazine (issue date unknown):

SMALLER, FASTER—with more power, maneuverability and versatility than any other Navy ship of her type—this new patrol gunboat and her sister ships are the forerunners of tomorrow’s Navy.

With a length of 164 feet and a width of 23 feet, USS Benicia (PG 96) is smaller and lighter than an ocean minesweeper, requires less than half as many personnel, and has many of the features of a destroyer. But she is also something more than just a gunboat. She is a totally new concept in naval operating procedures.

Benicia is manned by four officers and 24 enlisted men, all of whom were especially chosen for the unusual duties on board. It is the men who man Benicia that make her such a unique vessel.

Each member of the crew as more than one job. For example, Storekeeper 1st Class Moise Hernandez has the primary responsibility of keeping the ship supplied with more than 11,000 repair parts, 80 per cent of which are unique for a patrol gunboat. Hemandez also requisitions all the food, takes his turn as cook, and serves as the skipper’s phone talker. Although Hernandez is one of the key people aboard, every man has a myriad of duties. Benicia and her sister ships are some of the very few Navy ships in which most of the senior enlisted men are qualified as officers of the deck.

COOPERATION AND TEAMWORK among the crew are necessary for the ship’s survival. For example, there is no damage control party aboard Benicia such as is found on conventional Navy ships. All 28 men share the responsibility of damage control. If a man is wounded and unable to man his post, almost any other member of the crew can competently step in to take his place.

This independence on the part of the officers and crew has spawned a certain kind of camaraderie in today’s Navy. They do not function as a typical Navy crew, or even as a team, but rather as a club—a club of professional men who enjoy their work and working with each other. A large part of this attitude comes from the captain, Lieutenant Jim Tumbull.

In one of the few commands left for today’s young lieutenants, Captain Turnbull has laid the foundation for Benicia’s excellent morale. He is an officer who enjoys his work.

This is evident not only to the crew, who share his enthusiasm, but also to anyone who talks to him about his ship. He gives the impression of being not just the commanding officer of a new Navy ship, but the head of a club that operates a high speed yacht, of which he is very proud.

THE MOST REVOLUTIONARY ASPECT of the gas turbine power plant is that it is only about 20 feet in length arid takes up less space than a normal Navy ship’s engine control board. There are no boilers or condensers, just gas turbine power.

Pound for pound, this gunboat is probably the most lethal surface ship in any Navy. She is armed with a 3-inch gun mount forward, a 40-mm gun mount aft, and two twin 50-caliber machine guns amidships. Her crew carries small arms: M-16 rifles, M-60 machine guns, shotguns, 45-caliber pistols, grenade launchers and various other small arms.

Narrative and photos provided by Dave Donaldson.

Note from John Miller, information found on the DANFS Site:

The second Benicia (PG-96) was laid down on 14 April 1969 at Tacoma, Washington by the Tacoma Boatbuilding Co. after a fire in August 1968 destroyed the incomplete hull laid down on 3 January 1967; launched on 20 December 1969; sponsored by Mrs. William F. Petrovic; and commissioned at Tacoma on 25 April 1970, Lt. James L. Turnbull in command.

After fitting out at Tacoma, Benicia made her first port of call in her namesake city of Benicia, Calif. She then cruised south, arriving at her home port of San Diego in early May. Designed for offshore patrol and the control of coastal maritime traffic, the patrol gunboat was equipped with a combination diesel and gas turbine (CODOG) engine system. Ordinarily, she would cruise normally on her diesels but, in an emergency, the gas turbine engine provided extremely high bursts of speed, allowing Benicia to maneuver quickly and radically in confined, coastal waters.

Assigned to Coastal Squadron (CosRon) 3, the gunboat's crew conducted type training exercises and shakedown procedures in Benicia that summer. Operating in the waters off San Diego, the crew conducted turbine evaluations, tested the gunboat's variable-pitch propellers, and familiarized themselves with her communication and navigation systems. After completing her final contract trials in September, Benicia began a post-shakedown availability at the Long Beach Naval Shipyard in mid-October. During this seven-week repair period, the gunboat was assigned to the administrative command of Coastal Division (CosDiv) 32 at San Diego. Following the availability, Benicia spent the rest of the year in port at San Diego.

Starting on 28 January 1971, Benicia began evaluation of a special surface-to-surface guided-missile system designed for gunboats. Part of a larger study intended to develop anti-missile boat warfare doctrine, this system was designed to increase gunboat firepower and counter the anti-ship missile threat from Soviet-made fast attack boats. Equipped with a single Standard ARM missile launcher on the fantail, Benicia conducted fire control and operational tests in preparation for a live-fire exercise. On 6 March, she became the first American gunboat to successfully fire a guided missile.

With the missile study complete on the 12th, the gunboat began another series of experiments. Called the "Seakindliness and Performance Trials," these were designed to test the endurance sea-keeping ability of gunboats in heavy seas. If the gunboats could operate in the open ocean, they could better protect convoys, conduct surveillance missions, and support conventional amphibious warfare operations. Following these successful exercises, Benicia spent the rest of the summer participating in fleet and amphibious training exercises. These included convoy attack and screening tactics, inshore patrol, and a large-scale, joint Army-Navy special forces exercise.

On 15 August, the gunboat's crew received orders informing them that Benicia was to be leased to the Republic of Korea. The South Korean crew arrived in San Diego in mid-September and several weeks of pre-transfer training took place in that port. Benicia was decommissioned on 15 October 1971, and she was transferred to the South Korean Navy that same day. She served as Paek Ku 51 (PGM-351) until decommissioned and returned to United States Navy in 1991. Benicia's name was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on 30 August 1996, and she was scrapped in Korea in 1998.

Timothy L. Francis

Information found on the DANFS Site from the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.

Ship's Muster Sheet (Updated 12 March, 2014)

Boyce, Hunter Brown, Fred Buttice, Robert Corey, Wallace
Crawley, Robert Ellis, Steve Hopper, Jessie Kuettel, Robert
Mayfield, Paul Miller, John Newville, Dennis Pate, Charles
Robb, Robert Saona, Raul Turek, John Turnbull, James
Van Saun, David Wakefield, Robert    

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Muster list updated by Terry W. McManuels