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USS Hercules (AK-41) on 10 December 1942
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Class: HERCULES (AK-41)
Design: MC C3-E
Displacement (tons): 5,920 light, 14,930 lim.
Dimensions (feet): 473.1' oa x 66.0' e x 27.7' lim.
Original Armament: 1-4"/50 (1942)
Later armaments: 1-4"/50 1-3"/50 4-20mm (1942);
1-5"/51 4-3"/50 8-20mm (1943);
1-5"/38 4-3"/50 2-40mmT 8-20mm (1945)
Complement: 173 (1944)
Speed (kts.): 17.7
Propulsion (HP): 8,000
Machinery: Bethlehem turbine, 1 screw
||14 Jul 41
||Bethlehem Steel, Quincy
||7 Nov 38
||18 Jul 39
||30 Nov 42
||28 Jun 46
||31 Jul 46
||17 Jul 46
||11 Jun 47
FY 1942. Called C3-E cargo by the MC. The C3-E was among the first C3 types built under the Maritime Commission's shipbuilding program, four ships (including EXPORTER) being ordered in August 1938. The C3-E was designed privately for the American Export Line and differed from all other C3's in being shorter (473 vice 489 to 492 feet) and in having an old fashioned counter stern (a distinctive feature of American Export ships into the 1950s). The initial quartet was followed by four more C3-E's (including AP-67 and AKA-10) and then by 15 ships of the nearly identical C3-S-A3 type (including the APA-55 class). Four smaller ships of similar appearance were also built; because of their shorter length they were designated C2-S-A1 even though they had C3 type main propulsion machinery.
On 29 Apr 41 the CNO's War Plans Division listed 33 merchant ships that the Navy would need to carry out the initial movements for which commitments had been made and to give early support to U. S. forces beyond the continental limits. Most of these ships, including the 5 cargo ships on the list, were required before 1 Aug 41. On 10 May 41 the assistant CNO directed the Auxiliary Vessels Board to review and update this list and the Board's own earlier recommendations of 11 Feb 41. In its report of 14 May 41 the Board also came up with a total of 33 ships but increased the number of cargo ships to 10. These were to be fast (15 knots or better) ships such as the EXCHANGE or EXCELLER classes or regular C2 or C3 ships. On 26 May the President increased the number of cargo ships again (probably to provide hulls for two ADs requested by the Navy in January but not yet provided) when he directed the Maritime Commission to turn over to the Navy 19 ships including 12 cargo ships of 15 knot speed. Nine were to be turned over immediately and three by 30 June. The first group (all duly acquired between 29 May and 6 June) became AK 23-31 and the last three, acquired a few weeks later, became AK 41-43.
The Navy was unable to find crews for all twelve of the new cargo ships, given the many other ships being taken into the Navy at the same time, and while it promptly took ownership title to AK 41-43 it then turned them over to private firms for operation by merchant crews. As Navy-owned but civilian-manned ships they were designated "U.S. Naval Cargo Ship" instead of "U.S.S." Initially the Matson Navigation Co. operated AK-41 and AK-43 in the Pacific and Agwilines, Inc., operated AK-42 in the Atlantic. The Navy had an urgent need to transport cargo westbound, and on 15 Jul 41, the day after the Navy accepted her, AK-41 began loading cargo for a voyage to Wake Island, Guam, and Manila. In December 1941 the two ships in the Pacific were assigned armaments of one single-purpose 3", 4", or 5" gun while the ship in the Atlantic was to get 2-3"/50 double purpose guns, all three also getting eight anti-aircraft machine guns. AK-41 probably received 1-4"/50 aft, 1-3"/50 forward, and four .50 caliber AA machine guns in January 1942 at the Moore Dry Dock Co., Oakland, and foundations for three more 3"/50 guns were also to be fitted.
On 16 Sep 42 VCNO directed that AK-41 be given a naval crew and commissioned after her return from her current voyage, which occurred on 11 Nov 42. The ship was to be operated as a general cargo carrier, and her conversion was to be an austere one, limited mainly to accommodations for a naval crew of 15 officers and 104 men, with any other work that might delay the ship's departure on her next voyage being deferred. The ship was commissioned on 30 Nov 42 upon completion of this conversion, which was probably done by the Mare Island Navy Yard. During this period her armament was upgraded to 1-5"/51 and 4-3"/50 guns, all of which were test fired on 19 Dec 42.
On 29 May 44 the ship requested alterations to the magazines for her 5"/51 and 3"/50 guns to remove fire and flooding hazards. When forwarding this request to Washington, ComServPac noted that the ship was then being employed, in view of her speed, by the Amphibious Forces as an AKA and was scheduled to have her 5"/51 gun replaced with a 5"/38. On 3 Oct 44 the ship reported that the magazine and armament alterations had not yet been carried out and that the recent amphibious operations at both Saipan and Peleliu Islands, in which the ship had operated as an AKA, had demonstrated that her anti-aircraft armament, ordnance stowage, and fire control circuits were not adequate for an AK assigned to AKA duty. The report also noted that the ship had been assigned eight LCVP landing craft. ComServPac noted on 2 Nov 44 that the use of AK-41 as an AKA was expected to continue until around April 1945 and recommended augmenting her anti-aircraft armament with 4-40mm single mounts.
In the meantime BuShips was developing apparatus and equipment to transfer ammunition at sea by the conveyor method, and on 9 Nov 44 it asked that a ship be designated to test the prototype equipment. On 17 Nov 44 CNO asked CinCPac to designate a Navy-owned AK capable of 15 knots, preferably AK-41, 42, or 43, and on 9 Dec 43 CinCPac selected AK-41. The equipment was being fabricated at Aurora, Illinois, and was to be ready for installation when the ship arrived at San Francisco in mid-March 1945. At the same time the ship would be converted to an ammunition carrier, her armament would be upgraded and her crew size would be practically doubled, because all ammunition transferred at sea had to be handled by the ship's force. Production of the conveyer system fell behind schedule and its installation on AK-41 was cancelled on 11 Jul 45, but in the meantime the burtoning method of transferring ammunition at sea had proven to be satisfactory and the ship was given an additional burtoning position instead of the conveyor. The Mare Island Navy Yard finally began the conversion to an ammunition carrier in late July or early August 1945, and the work was still in progress when the war ended in mid-August. In late October 1945 the ship made a last voyage to the western Pacific, where she loaded ammunition in the Philippines and the Admiralty Islands and then proceeded to the East Coast. She arrived at Norfolk March 1946 and decommissioned there in June.
||Ex merc. EXPORTER (ID-4998A, completed 28 Sep 39). Merc. EXPORTER 1946 (MC), BOSTONIAN 1947, EXERMONT 1949. Sold by MA 6 Jan 71, scrapped by 15 Oct 71.
Compiled: 10 Jan 2010
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2002-2010