Lofland Researches Locally Built WWII Subchasers


Local maritime history enthusiast Joan Lofland is continuing her research on Milford’s long history of shipbuilding. Recently focusing her research on the manufacturing of luxury yachts between the two world wars from the Vinyard Shipyard along the Mispillion River, Joan is now collecting historical information on the 14 WWII subchasers that were built here in Milford during America’s fight against Nazi Germany.

Founded by Wilson Marvel Vinyard in 1886, the Vinyard Shipyard was home to more than 150 ships including the 14 subchasers; according to Joan’s research. Her husband Sudler and she purchased the property 100 years later in 1996 and now live on the land that hosts the Vinyard Shipyard offices and warehouses where the ships were made by almost a hundred skilled craftsmen. Since then, Sudler and Joan have restored three Vinyard luxury vessels; the 1938 Kismet, the 1951 Vignette and the 1927 Augusta.

Vinyard Shipyard in Milford, Delaware.

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Inside the original offices where owners Wilson Marvel Vinyard, Sonny Vinyard and their accountant Tom Baker worked during the 19th and 20th Century, Joan and Sudler have created a tribute to the men of the Vinyard Shipyard and the historical shipbuilding roots of Milford. Her focus on the luxury yachts that were built between WWI and WWII has now evolved into collecting records on the wooden subchasers that were built to defeat the Nazis.

“The subchasers that were made in the Vinyard Shipyard were made of wood, the U.S. Navy saved steal for the larger ships during World War II,” stated Ms. Lofland. “We felt that this part of the shipyard’s history was very important and we had to preserve its legacy.”

According to Ms. Lofland the subchasers that were built here in Milford did not see local combat as several others did searching for German U-boats off the coast of Lewes, Delaware. Rather many of the subchasers built in the Vinyard Shipyard saw service around the world including Pearl Harbor, Normandy and Japan.

According to the United States Navy Historical Archives the SC-497 Class Submarine Chaser #636 was laid down in August of 1941 by the Vinyard Shipbuilding Company in Milford, commissioned in July 1942 and sunk off Okinawa, Ryukyu Islands of Japan in October 1945. Another vessels, the SC-497 Class Submarine Chaser #519, was laid down in June 1941 by the Vinyard Shipbuilding Company, commissioned April 21,1942; decommissioned, (date unknown); transferred to France in March 1944 and was later struck from the Naval Register with an unknown fate.

These questions surrounding the wooden subchasers and what role they played in the larger offensive against Germany and Japan during WWII is at the center of Ms. Lofland’s research. Working with the families of the men who built and served on these subchasers, Ms. Lofland hopes to uncover some of the information that has been lost over the past several decades. Recently in the research process, Joan had the opportunity to meet with Dan Treadwell, son of author Theodore Treadwell Jr. who authored the book, The Splinter Fleet, The Wooden Subchasers of World War II. Among the many accounts in this book are several on the vessels originally built in Milford at the Vinyard Shipyard.

“Dan has contributed greatly to the research process by giving me Naval Archival information as well as the names and stories of the men that served on our ships. One son, Jeff O’Malley has sent me never seen before photographs and records of his father’s subchaser the #520 in Pearl Harbor. It is hard to believe that these ships were even here,” commented Ms. Lofland.

Ms. Lofland hopes that the Vinyard Shipyard will continue to be a place where people from Milford and the surrounding regions can come to experience the history of Milford’s legacy to shipbuilding and its role in the 20th Century war effort. As the research progresses the Lofland’s will be displaying the collection in the original Vinyard Shipyard offices for the public to see.

“I encourage people that may have these materials at home to save them and share them with us. We want to respect and preserve the information so it is not lost.”