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USAT Henry Gibbons or USAT Will H. Point in Alaska in 1941
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Class:        WEST ELCASCO (AK-33)
Design:        EFC 1013
Displacement (tons):        12,225 full, 5,701 gross
Dimensions (feet):        423.75' oa, 410.4' pp x 54.0' mld. x 24.2' load
Original Armament:        2-4"/50 (1941: AK-33, planned for others)
Later armaments:        --
Complement:        63
Speed (kts.):        11.25
Propulsion (HP):        2,500
Machinery:        Turbine, 1 screw

AK Name Acq. Builder Keel Launch Commiss.
33 WEST ELCASCO -- Skinner & Eddy 8 Jul 18 21 Sep 18 --
36 WILLIAM R. GIBSON -- Northwest Steel 29 Mar 19 21 May 19 --
40 WILL H. POINT -- Columbia River SB 1 Oct 18 2 Jan 19 --

AK Name Decomm. Strike Disposal Fate MA Sale
33 WEST ELCASCO -- -- 30 Mar 42 Canc. --
36 WILLIAM R. GIBSON -- -- 30 Mar 42 Canc. 3 Jan 47
40 WILL H. POINT -- -- 30 Mar 42 Canc. 23 Jul 47

Class Notes:
No FY assigned. These ships were among 86 vessels in the most numerous class of large freighter built in the World War I emergency shipbuilding program. The design, called the "Robert Dollar" type, was probably a private design adopted by the Emergency Fleet Corporation as its Design 1013. The Army acquired WILLIAM R. GIBSON and WILL H. POINT from the Maritime Commission on 5 Feb 41.

WEST ELCASCO was acquired in December 1940 or in early 1941 to fulfull an Army requirement for an ammunition carrier. She had been laid up at New Orleans for a number of years; the Maritime Commission converted her there at Army expense and the completed vessel, by then renamed HENRY GIBBONS, was delivered to the Army on 12 Jul 41. Notable as the only ammunition ship specially configured as such for Army service during World War II, her special features (developed in consultation with the Navy Department) included elaborate fire detecting and extinguishing equipment, small special magazines for special explosives, sheathing of all metal girders, etc, in the cargo compartments, insulation where needed for protection from heat, steel hatch covers for protection against machine gun fire from aircraft, additional electrical generation capacity, and adequate armament and degaussing equipment. She seems to have been intended primarily to transport ammunition to Panama.

Back in 1935 the Army and Navy had agreed that the Army would operate its own ships except where naval opposition was expected, in which case the ships would be Navy manned. However, experience in the first part of World War II indicated that naval opposition by the enemy, in the form of submarines, could be encountered anywhere. In April 1941 the CNO proposed to the Chief of Staff of the Army that a board review the issue. The Board recommended on 28 Apr 41 that the Army "surrender operation of its transport service for the term of the present emergency" following procedures that it enumerated, the first of which was that the Navy would commission the Army transports with Navy crews as soon as possible. (The Army used the term "transports" for all ships in the Army Transport Service, including cargo ships and other types.) On 14 May 41 the Auxiliary Vessels Board recommended the implementation of this plan, which then covered 26 Army ships, and on 22 May 41 the Secretary of War approved the transfer of the ships, noting that jurisdiction over each ship was to pass at the time it was manned by the Navy. On 5 Jun 41 the Secretary of the Navy approved names for the 26 ships, all but three of which (AP 21-22 and AK-39) retained their Army names. The hull numbers AP 20-36 (less 23), AK 32-40, and APL-1 (for the barracks ship in Newfoundland) were soon assigned to them.

The Navy soon decided that the nine Army cargo ships on this list were unsuitable for operations in hostile waters because of their age (all dated from World War I) and lost interest in manning them. On 11 Jun 41 the CNO informed major Navy commands that the commitment to man the nine cargo ships in August could not be met and that would be held in abeyance until the Bureau of Navigation could furnish Navy crews. The Navy manned, took over and commissioned AP 20-29 and 31-33 before the end of July but personnel shortages then greatly slowed down the process. In December 1941 the President suspended the obligation for the Navy to man Army ships. The Navy directive for manning AK 32-40 as well as two other low-interest vessels, AP-36 and APL-1, was definitively cancelled on 30 Mar 42 and their hull numbers were officially listed as "not used." AK-33 received 2-4"/50 on 24 May 41 at New Orleans and the others either received or were intended to receive a similar armament.

On 24 Jul 41 CNO informed the Bureaus that the WEST ELCASCO had been renamed HENRY GIBBONS by the War Department and converted to an ammunition ship. On 11 Aug 41 BuShips informed CNO that it had therefore assigned her the identification number AE-7. The ship thus went from WEST ELCASCO (AK-33) to HENRY GIBBONS (AE-7) in Navy records.

Ship Notes:
AK Name EFC Notes
33 WEST ELCASCO 1927 Ex merc. WEST ELCASCO 12 Jul 41 (ID-3661, completed 23 Oct 18). Served in USN (NOTS) 1918-1919 (to be listed separately). To USAT HENRY GIBBONS ca. July 1941, to AE-7 in Navy records ca. 11 Aug 41. Sunk by submarine in the Gulf of Mexico 23 Jun 42 while enroute from Panama to New Orleans with a cargo primarily of coffee.
36 WILLIAM R. GIBSON 1420 USAT WILLIAM R. GIBSON, ex merc. WEST SEGOVIA 5 Feb 41 (ID-4180, completed 27 Aug 19). From Army to WSA (NDRF) as WEST SEGOVIA 29 Jul 46. Merc. OURANIA GOUNARES 1947, GAMBLER 1959. Sank enroute shipbreakers 14 Jan 60.
40 WILL H. POINT 1083 USAT WILL H. POINT, ex merc. WEST CORUM 5 Feb 41 (ID-3982, completed 8 Feb 19). Served in USN (NOTS) 1918-1919 (to be listed separately). From Army to WSA (NDRF) as WILL H. POINT 6 Jan 47. To buyer 22 Aug 47, scrapped by 26 Dec 47.

Page Notes:

AK        1941
Compiled:        10 Jan 2010
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2002-2010