Key West Scuba Diving Sites – The USNS Vandenberg: A Piece of American History

The 525-foot long General Hoyt S. Vandenberg (T-AGM-10) is one of 30 U.S. Navy General G. O. Squier-class troop transport ships built during WWII. Sunk in May of 2009 six miles SSE of Key West, the Vandenberg sits upright on a sand bottom in 145 feet of water. The Vandenberg has been rated as the number 1 wreck dive in the world by a Scuba Diving Magazine reader poll. It is a must-see for wreck diving buffs, and a perfect adventure dive for beginning and advanced divers alike. The Vandenberg also represents a rich repository of American and U.S. Naval History.

World War II Transport

The Vandenberg’s hull was built in 1943 at the Richmond, CA shipyards by the Kaiser Company and launched on October 10th of that year as the General Harry Taylor (AP-145). The ship was transferred to Portland, OR where it was converted to a transport by the Kaiser shipyards in Vancouver, WA. Commissioned on May 8, 1944 at Portland with Captain James L. Wyatt in command, the General Taylor underwent shakedown off San Diego then sailed out of San Francisco bound for Milne Bay, New Guinea with troop reinforcements.

The General Taylor continued sailing missions to the Pacific with troops and supplies, bringing veterans home on her return voyages. In June 1945 the ship began service in the Atlantic until the end of the war in Europe. After spending the late 1940s and most of the 1950s on various refugee transport missions, the General Harry Taylor was stricken from the Naval Register on 10 July 1958 and placed in the National Defense Reserve Fleet at Beaumont, Texas.

Missile Tracking Ship

In July of 1961, the General Harry Taylor was transferred to the U.S. Air Force. She was renamed the USAFS General Hoyt S. Vandenberg on June 11, 1963. The U.S. Navy acquired the Vandenberg on July 1, 1964 and designated her as T-AGM-10, a missile range instrumentation ship. The Vandenberg was equipped with extremely accurate radar and telemetry equipment, then deployed to Dakar, Senegal in 1974 to begin duty tracking and analyzing the re-entry phase of ballistic missile test flights. The ship carried out missile and spacecraft tracking duties in both Atlantic and Pacific waters until her retirement in 1983. The Vandenberg was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on 29 April 1993.

Key West Dive Site

Transfer of the Vandenberg from the Maritime Administration to the state of Florida for use as an artificial reef was approved in February 2007. After preparation for sinking, the ship was towed to Key West and arrived in the Key West Harbor on April 22, 2009. The Vandenberg was sunk on May 27, 2009 to end up resting with the main deck 100 feet down and the upper decks and super structure 47 feet below the surface.

As the second largest artificial reef in the world, the ship has become home to hundreds of species of fish, coral, and other marine life forms. Signature features available for exploration on dives include giant radar dishes, the bridge, com-rooms, and crown nest. The Vandenberg is rated as an advanced dive because of the depths of the main deck and hull, but the shallower superstructure elements make it a good wreck dive for mixed ability groups.

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