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USS Rappahannock circa the early 1920s.
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Class: RAPPAHANNOCK (AF-6)
Design Cargo, 1913
Displacement (tons): 6,557 gross, 14,200 full
Dimensions (feet): 497.75' oa, 471.2' pp x 59.2' wl x 24.8' mx, 24.2' mn
Original Armament: 1-5"/51 1-3"/50 (1918)
Later armaments: None (1920)
Complement: 282 (1929)
Speed (kts.): 11.5
Propulsion (HP): 4,850
Machinery: Vertical triple expansion, 1 screw
||7 Dec 17
||10 Mar 13
||8 Dec 17
||10 Dec 24
||19 Jul 33
||5 Oct 33
POMMERN was the third of 12 RHEINLAND class freighters built for the North German Lloyd line's Australia service. Eight of the ships were built by Bremer Vulkan and the four were split between two smaller German yards, all being delivered between June 1912 and February 1915. POMMERN, like her sisters, was considered a good cargo carrier, partly because her two after lower holds and orlop holds could carry about 100,000 cubic feet of cold storage cargoes. As a U.S. Navy storeship in January 1924, the ship had holds for 98,341 cu.ft. of frozen and chilled stores, 59,000 cu.ft. of vegetables (not chilled), and 132,323 cu.ft. of non-perishable food. This provided enough fresh meat (including eggs) and dry stores for 60,000 men for 30 days and enough vegetables for 60,000 men for 15 days. Three of POMMERN's sisters ended up in U.S. service during World War I: ELSASS (seized at Samoa) as the Shipping Board's APPELES and MARK (seized at Manila) as the naval troop transport SUWANEE.
Following the outbreak of war, POMMERN took refuge at Honolulu on 19 Aug 14. On 31 Jan 17 Germany notified the United States that it intended to resume unrestricted submarine warfare the next day and smoke was seen rising from the smokestacks of the German ships at Honolulu beginning on the same date as the German crews dry-fired their boilers. The ships were taken into custody and crews removed on 4 Feb 17 and were seized on 6 April 1917. POMMERN, whose main engines and electrical system had also been sabotaged, was towed by Matson's MANOA from Honolulu to San Francisco and was repaired at the Mare Island Navy Yard for use by the Shipping Board. POMMERN was one of 87 seized ex-German ships whose ownership was transferred to the Shipping Board by an Executive Order of 30 Jun 17 and USSB representatives took possession of the ship on 6 Jul 17. Platforms and foundations were fitted over the forecastle and poop for two guns to be manned by an armed guard, but they remained empty because the 5" guns at Mare Island were already committed to other ships. The Shipping Board selected names for its 87 ex-German ships before mid-September 1917, including RAPPAHANNOCK for POMMERN, but the ship appears to have continued to operate under her original name. Initial repairs were completed on 2 Oct 17 and, managed by the Panama Railroad Steamship Line, S.S. POMMERN departed San Francisco on 13 Oct 17 with a full cargo for the East Coast. This voyage ended at New York on 19 Nov 17 and the ship was sent to a local shipyard for conversion to military requirements, which included the fitting of 1-5" and 1-3" gun.
On 8 Nov 17 the Shipping Board agreed to assign the ship to the Navy on or about 1 Dec 17. The Navy planned to take her over on bare ship charter basis and order her to Philadelphia for loading, during which some repairs and alterations were to be made. She was delivered to the Navy on 7 Dec 17 and commissioned the next day. The Navy formally changed her name from POMMERN to RAPPAHANNOCK by a General Order of 8 Dec 17. A Navy memo dated 26 Dec 17 stated that she could be arranged to transport about 1,500 men or arranged to handle about 850 horses. Her sister SUWANEE (ex MARK) became a troopship but RAPPAHANNOCK was assigned to the Naval Overseas Transportation Service as a cargo ship when NOTS was organized on 9 Jan 18. RAPPAHANNOCK sailed from Norfolk two days later on her first of four wartime voyages to France with cargoes of "general supplies." Returning to New York on 20 Dec 18 she was sent to Boston on 30 Jan 19 and there was inspected and found suitable as a supply ship for the Fleet. Assigned to Train, Atlantic Fleet, on 4 Feb 19, she first made one more voyage to Europe, departing with general cargo on 9 Mar 19 and returining with Welsh coal on 25 May 19. On 26 May 19 she was detached from NOTS and joined Train, Atlantic Fleet. The ship departed New York on 9 Jun 19 for Portsmouth, N.H.
RAPPAHANNOCK was transferred from the Shipping Board to the Navy Dept. by Executive Order 3106 of 30 June 1919 but her actual status seems to have been unclear for at least the next year. After arriving at Portsmouth, N.H. on 11 Jun, she remained there in temporary reserve status in commission until mid-1921. She was designated AF-6 when the Navy's standard hull classification scheme was implemented on 17 Jul 20, and by August she had been assigned to the Pacific Fleet while BRIDGE was assigned to the Atlantic Fleet. However as of 30 Jun 20 the Shipping Board listed RAPPAHANNOCK as a Shipping Board vessel assigned to the War Department, it included the ship in its listing of its ships as of 1 Aug 20 (reproduced on this web site), and after her arrival at San Francisco in September 1921 it reportedly listed her in its publications with San Francisco registry. Her authorized armament remained 1-5"/51 and 1-3"/50 gun during this period, although it was probably no longer on board.
On 19 Jul 21 the San Francisco press reported that Commander Train, Pacific Fleet, had learned that RAPPAHANNOCK had sailed from Philadelphia for San Francisco, Bremerton, and San Diego carrying a large number of officers and men who had been assigned to duty on West Coast ships and stations. She arrived at Balboa on this voyage on 18 Aug 21 and at San Francisco on 16 Sep 21. She then remained in port about 10 weeks before arriving at the Navy base at San Diego on 6 Dec 21. The storeship sailed from San Diego on 10 Mar 22 and operated along the West Coast during much of the rest of the year, joining the fleet at Seattle on 26 Jul 22. Over the next two years she made several voyages transporting naval supplies and personnel between the east and west coasts. During 1923 her new authorized armament of 4-5"/51 and 4-3"/50 was reserved in navy yards for her but not put on board. She was decommissioned on 10 Dec 24 at Mare Island.
On 28 Dec 31 RAPPAHANNOCK was ordered stricken and sold, and on 5 Oct 33 she was awarded to the Luckenbach Steamship Co. for $55,000. The ship was taken to the Oakland yards of the Moore Dry Dock Co. in late October to have specifications and plans for a $150,000 conversion drawn. Luckenbach had bought her sister SUWANEE (ex MARK) from the USSB in 1922, operated her as PAUL LUCKENBACH, and found her very satisfactory. The former RAPPAHANNOCK was towed by J. L. LUCKENBACH for reconditioning at Todd Dry Docks, Seattle, where she arrived 5 Feb 34. Nearly totally rebuilt over the next 8 months, she ran trials as WILLIAM LUCKENBACH in September 1934. After busy peacetime and wartime service the freighter was sold to the Italian Government on 4 Dec 46 and resold to the Costa Line as MARIA C. She served in Costa's freight service until being laid up at La Spezia in December 1952. She was sold by Costa on 18 Apr 53 to Savona breakers who scrapped her that year.
||Ex merc. POMMERN (ID-1854, completed 3 Jun 13). Merc. WILLIAM LUCKENBACH 1934, MARIA C 1946. Scrapped 1953.
Compiled: 28 Jul 2012
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2002-2012