USS Casco a steel hulled, twin screw motor vessel built at Long Beach, California, by the Long Beach Shipbuilding Co. and completed in 1920 for commercial service—was acquired by the Navy on 14 March 1942; classified YAG 11; renamed Baranof on 30 April 1942; and fitted out at Seattle. Some records indicate that she was placed in commission on 22 May 1942, but her extant logs do not commence until 1 July.
Baranof was assigned to the Sitka sector of the Alaskan local defense forces, based at Kodiak. She loaded cargo on 30 August at the Naval Supply Depot and, now commanded by Lt. George Jessen, USNR, commenced shuttling passengers and cargo between Alaskan bases. Her ports of call included Sitka, Ketchikan, and Kodiak, as well as the Navy section bases at Port Althorp, Port Armstrong, and Sand Point on the islands of Chichagof, Baranof, and Popof. She also serviced the Army airfields at Yakutat and Annette Island that afforded limited facilities to Navy patrol planes. Her cargo included building materials, machinery, and equipment, and her passengers included soldiers and sailors as well as civilian construction workers and elements of the Navy’s Construction Battalions (“Seabees”).
Baranof lay moored to a dock at Kodiak on 13 October 1942 when Ensign Edward J. Keenan, Jr., USNR, of VS-1-D13, with Seaman 1st Class Harry L. Lawrence as his passenger, took off in a Naval Aircraft Factory OS2N-1 (BuNo 01316) for a convoy patrol flight. Keenan’s Kingfisher became airborne but a strong gust of wind forced it back into the water, the impact tearing the left wingtip float from the plane. Efforts to keep the plane upright proved insufficient and it capsized. Baranof’s fire and rescue party picked up pilot and passenger wet but unharmed; her launch brought the OS2N-1 alongside so that Baranof could hold it afloat with her forward cargo boom until the seaplane wrecking derrick YSD 18 could arrive on the scene to salvage the plane.
Within two months, another Kingfisher figured in the ship’s existence. Baranof reached Sitka at 1915 on 20 December with a load of cargo from the section base at Port Althorp. Two days later, at 1525 on 22 December, the ship got underway with orders to search for a lost seaplane, most likely the Vought OS2U-3 (BuNo 09687) flown by Ensign James A. Wainwright, USNR, who, with Seaman 1st Class Bernard Sullivan as his passenger, had taken off from Port Armstrong earlier that day but had broken away from his experienced wingman shortly before they reached the vicinity of Sitka. A little over an hour later, at 1635, Baranof sighted a wing float from a Kingfisher and lowered a small boat, whose crew retrieved the piece of wreckage. She continued the search under snowy conditions with poor visibility, but the sea yielded no further wreckage; neither Wainwright nor Sullivan were ever found. Baranof shaped a course for Port Althorp, continuing the search until satisfied she had done her utmost, and ultimately headed for Sitka, reaching that port on the afternoon of the 23d.
Upon arrival, she embarked passengers bound for Tyee, Alaska. Underway at 1740 on Christmas Eve, Baranof proceeded to her destination with a salvage party to secure cargo from the grounded merchantman Port Orford. Falling in with the Coast Guard cutter McLane on Christmas Day, Baranof moored at Tyee that afternoon to await more favorable weather. On 27 December, she recovered material from Port Orford and then headed for Petersburg, Alaska.
Early in 1944, Baranof received orders to proceed to San Francisco, Calif., and report to the Commandant, 12th Naval District, for duty. Underway from Alaskan waters on 10 January, she reached San Francisco on the 16th. Baranof was docked and undocked in the floating drydocks ARD-15 and ARD-47 apparently to give their crews practice in those operations and conducted training cruises in San Francisco Bay for engineering students from the naval base at Oakland.
Baranof moored at Treasure Island on 19 February 1944 to be prepared for inactivation. She was decommissioned on 2 March 1944. While little is recorded of her employment thereafter, on 7 February 1945 the Chief of Naval Operations recommended that the names of certain miscellaneous district auxiliary craft (YAG) be cancelled. This received Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal’s approval, and Baranof became simply YAG 11 on 1 March 1945. Six months later, even this alphanumeric “name” was struck from the Navy list in September 1945, and she was placed in reserve at Puget Sound. Turned over to the War Shipping Administration for disposition in January 1947, the ship was acquired by the Washington Fish and Oyster Co., of Seattle, in 1948 and resumed mercantile operations as Western Trader. She retained that name under a succession of owners until disappearing from the American Bureau of Shipping Register in 1968.