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USS Mercy (later AH-4), probably in mid- or late 1919
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Class: COMFORT (AH-3)
Design Pass. & cargo, 1906
Displacement (tons): 5,200 light, 9,450 full
Dimensions (feet): 429.8' oa, 413.0' pp x 50.2' wl x 23.3' mx, 22.7' mn
Original Armament: None
Later armaments: --
Complement 394 (1929)
Speed (kts.): 18.2
Propulsion (HP): 8,500
Machinery: Vertical triple expansion, 2 screws
||19 Jul 17
||William Cramp & Sons
||15 Oct 06
||18 Mar 18
||27 Sep 17
||William Cramp & Sons
||2 Mar 07
||24 Jan 18
||5 Aug 21
||26 May 24
||4 Apr 25
||6 Aug 29
||21 Apr 38
||16 Mar 39
In response to increased demand for its passenger and freight services in the Caribbean after the Spanish-American War, the New York & Cuba Mail Steamship Co. (the Ward Line) ordered two new passenger steamers for its principal route, between New York and Havana. The ships, HAVANA and SARATOGA, entered service in 1907 and remained the flagships of the line until they were requisitioned for war service in 1917. Two larger ships that were to join them, ORIZABA and SIBONEY, were also requisitioned while under construction. In 1908 the Ward Line became an independent subsidiary of the Atlantic, Gulf, & West Indies (AGWI) Lines.
The two ships were initially taken over under bareboat charter by the Army for its first troop lift to France in June and July 1917. USAT HAVANA and USAT SARATOGA were in Convoy Group No. 1 with two other transports, USAT PASTORES and USAT TENADORES. After this single voyage as a troop carrier HAVANA passed under Navy control in July 1917. SARATOGA was rammed while at anchor off Staten Island in July 1917 after returning from her only Army voyage. She was beached, repaired, and passed to the Navy in September 1917. SARATOGA may have had an armament of 4-5"/40 guns in July 1917.
Navy plans for using these two ships as hospital ships predated their Army service. On 12 May 17 the Navy Department received from the New York Navy Yard plans of these ships marked up to show them as hospital ships including changes recommended by a doctor from the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery. The Navy inspected HAVANA on 19 Jul 17 and purchased her on the same date from the Ward Line for $2,240,000, and SARATOGA was purchased for the same amount. The two ships received their hospital ship names on 30 Oct 17 (MERCY, ex SARATOGA) and 14 Mar 18 (COMFORT, ex HAVANA). MERCY was converted at the New York Navy Yard while COMFORT was fitted out by the Robins Dry Dock & Repair Co. (formerly John N. Robins, Co.), Erie Basin, Brooklyn. The ships were commissioned with Medical Corps officers in command and naval reserve officers and regular or temporary navy crews operating the ships, and they wore Geneva Convention hospital ship markings.
COMFORT served as a floating hospital at New York until October 1918 when she joined the Cruiser and Transport Force to return wounded men from Europe. She completed her third transatlantic voyage in March 1919 and in June departed the East Coast to undergo repairs at the Mare Island Navy Yard. She was placed in ordinary at Mare Island on 11 Sep 19 for overhaul of machinery and renewal of boilers. Work was stopped in 1921 and the ship was placed out of commission on 5 Aug 21. At this time all work on the main engines was practically complete and the new boilers were in place, but the boilers were not completely connected up, their brickwork was not installed, and their uptakes and smoke pipes were not installed. Some work on engineering auxiliaries was also not complete. After work stoppped, funds did not permit proper care and preservation work to be undertaken and the ship began deteriorating. BuC&R on 21 Feb 24 recommended that the ship be sold unless the Department intended to place her in service within two or three years, and despite resistance from the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery the Department on 26 May 24 ordered the ship to be sold and stricken from the Navy List. She was sold on 4 Apr 25 to her former owners via the General Metal Supply Co. of San Francisco. After being rebuilt with one funnel and a new superstructure the ship re-entered commercial service in 1928 under her original name of HAVANA. She was renamed YUCATAN in 1935 after grounding on a reef and AGWILEON in 1941 after capsizing at her New York pier and ultimately became the Army hospital ship SHAMROCK in 1943.
MERCY served as a hospital at and near Yorktown, Virginia, until October 1918 when, like her sister, she joined the Cruiser and Transport Force to return casualties from Europe. She completed her fourth and last such voyage in March 1919, and at the end of 1919 she shifted to the Pacific. In 1921 the Navy decided that line officers should command hospital ships instead of the Medical Corps officers who had commanded them since 1908 and that hospital ships should, in time of peace, be administered in all respects as Navy auxiliary vessels. On 10 Nov 21 SecNav ordered that Geneva Conventions markings should be removed from all Navy hospital ships and not restored except in time of war and after the ship was duly designated a hospital ship in accordance with the 1907 Hague Convention. By January 1922 the Navy was down to two active hospital ships, the new RELIEF (AH-1) in the Atlantic and MERCY in the Pacific. The two ships swapped fleets during 1923. Beginning in December 1924 MERCY spent periods in reserve or in reduced commission at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, and she was decommissioned there in 1929 and sold for scrapping in 1939.
||Ex merc. HAVANA (ID-4807). Converted by Robins DD, Erie Basin, Brooklyn. Merc. HAVANA 1925, YUCATAN 1935, AGWILEON 1941, to Army 27 Nov 42, USAHS SHAMROCK 1943. To WSA for disposal 4 Feb 46, to buyer 4 Feb 48, scrapped by 13 Aug 48.
||Ex merc. SARATOGA (ID-1305). Converted by the New York Navy Yard. Sold for scrapping 1939.
Compiled: 28 Jul 2012
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2002-2012