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USS Octans (AF-26) at San Francisco on 19 June 1943.
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Class: OCTANS (AF-26)
Refrig. P&C, 1917
7,298 light, 11,600 full
440.0' oa, 425.0' pp x 54.3' e x 26.2' full
1-5"/51 4-3"/50 8-20mm (1943)
Later armaments: 1-5"/38 4-3"/50 8-20mm (1945)
Machinery: Workman, Clark vertical triple expansion, 2 screws
||8 May 43
||11 Jun 43
||6 Mar 46
||20 Mar 46
||6 Mar 46
||17 Sep 47
FY 1943. One of three ships built for United Fruit and completed in Belfast during World War I. One sister, TOLOA, served as a civilian-manned WSA storeship during World War II; the other, TELA, was lost in British service during World War I. ULUA was bareboat chartered by WSA in April 1942 from United Fruit, who continued to operate her under a General Agency Agreement, and was allocated by WSA to the Navy (COMSERVPAC) on a voyage basis. As a merchantman, she was to have received an armament of 1-4"/50 and 4-20mm in May 1942; in April 1943 she had 1-4"/50 and 5-20mm.
On 20 Oct 42 CinCPac reported to CominCh that "increasing number of troops and surface units operating in SoPac area and lack of storage facilities there clearly indicate an urgent demand for additional provision storeships." He stated that BRIDGE was servicing Task Force 8, ANTIGUA, BOREAS, and CALAMARES were on the Hawaii run, while ALDEBARAN, ARCTIC, CYGNUS, DELPHINUS, ROAMER, TALAMANCA, and 9 YP boats were in SoPac service, to be joined soon by TAURUS. He strongly recommended that three more large AF be acquired at an early date. On 23 Oct 42 CominCh directed that the ships be acquired and the Auxiliary Vessels Board concurred on 31 Oct 42. The Board ascertained that there were no additional ships of this type in service which could be acquired for this assignment and that the only suitable ships were the refrigeration store ships being built by the Maritime Commission. It identified three fully-refrigerated C2s then under construction at the Moore Drydock Co., MC hulls 183-185, as the ones that would be completed first and recommended that they be purchased and that the minimum conversion required to provide for Navy crews be accomplished in a manner that would preserve the maximum refrigeration space. On 2 Nov 42 the Navy asked the Maritime Commission for the ships, stating that "their services are urgently required for duty in the Pacific due to lack of storage facilities and greatly increased troop and surface vessel operations in that area." The Joint Chiefs of Staff ruled in favor of the Navy on 25 Nov 42 but the MC took no action to provide the ships.
On 26 Jan 43 Commander Service Force, Pacific, informed the Navy Department that two partially refrigerated "banana boats" then allocated to the Army, PLATANO and MUSA, would be suitable substitutes for two of the C2s. On 15 Feb 43 another Service Force commander stated that his needs would be met if these two ships could be made available in the immediate future and one of the C2s were provided later. The Navy had also realized that the C2s were being constructed to carry frozen beef in bulk and would not be suitable to carry balanced rations, as required of naval AFs that supplied task forces, without considerable conversion to provide insulation between the holds and around the hatches, and in February 1943 COMSERVPAC stated that he would prefer not to have the C2s provided he could get ships that were only partly refrigerated, as the latter would meet the needs of the fleet to better advantage. (The "banana boats" chilled their cargo down to 34 degrees F while the C2s carried frozen products at zero degrees F.) On 18 Feb 43 the Director of the Naval Transportation Service, acting for CNO, approved the acquisition of these two ships, along with the promise of a C2 like those building at Moore to be provided later. The Navy withdrew its request for the three C2s in favor of the new plan on 24 Feb 43 and the Auxiliary Vessels Board endorsed this arrangement on 1 Mar 43.
On 24 Mar 43 the Board noted that PLATANO, by then under allocation to the Navy, was required in the San Francisco-Hawaii service for the present and, to partially relieve the South Pacific situation pending the acquisition of PLATANO, approved the acquisition of ULUA, which was then under allocation to the Navy on a voyage basis and immediately available. On 24 May 43 the Board noted that it had learned that MUSA could not be procured by the Navy and recommended, in effect, that ULUA be considered a substitute for MUSA. ULUA was manned by a Navy crew and bareboat chartered as AF-26 in early May 1943 and completed conversion to a naval auxiliary and was commissioned in June.
ULUA is one of few naval auxiliaries to have had her Navy career recorded in a book: Kenneth G. Oliver, "Under the Southern Cross: A Petty Officer's Chronicle of the USS Octans" (McFarland & Co., Jefferson, North Carolina, 1995).
||Ex merc. ULUA (ID-4878A, completed Sep 17). Served as British troopship to Oct 19. Converted by United Engineering Co., Alameda, Cal. Traded in by owner to MC in partial payment for new refrigerator ships then building and to NDRF as ULUA 24 Apr 46. To buyer 6 Dec 47, scrapped by 27 Aug 48.
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2001