USS Arcturus (AKA-1) Class
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USS Arcturus (AKA-1) on 9 February 1944
Click on this photograph for links to larger images of this class.

Class:        ARCTURUS (AKA-1)
Design:        MC C2-Cargo (Sun)
Displacement (tons):        7,476 light, 14,225 lim.
Dimensions (feet):        
459.1' oa, 435.0' pp x 63.0' e x 26.4' lim.
Original Armament:        1-5"/51 4-3"/23 (1941: AKA-1, 11)
Later armaments:        1-5"/51 4-3"/23 8<10-20mm (1942: AKA-11);
1-5"/51 4-3"/50 (1941-42: AKA 7-8); 1-5"/51 4-3"/50 8<18-20mm (1942-44: all);
1-5"/38 4-3"/50 21>18-20mm (AKA 6-7, 11, 1943-45);
1-5"/38 2-40mmT 18-20mm (AKA-1, 1944);
1-5"/51 4-40mmT 18-20mm (AKA-8, 1944);
1-5"/38 4-40mmT 18-20mm (AKA-6, 8, 11, 1944-45)
Complement:        321 (1944)
Speed (kts.):        16.5
Propulsion (HP):        6,000
Machinery:        Sun-Doxford Diesel, 1 screw

AKA Name Acq. Builder Keel Launch Commiss.
1 ARCTURUS 20 Sep 40 Sun SB & DD 26 Jul 38 18 May 39 26 Oct 40
6 ALCHIBA 2 Jun 41 Sun SB & DD 15 Aug 38 6 Jul 39 15 Jun 41
7 ALCYONE 31 May 41 Sun SB & DD 12 Jan 39 28 Aug 39 15 Jun 41
8 ALGORAB 7 Jun 41 Sun SB & DD 10 Aug 38 15 Jun 39 15 Jun 41
11 BETELGEUSE 29 May 41 Sun SB & DD 9 Mar 39 18 Sep 39 14 Jun 41

AKA Name Decomm. Strike Disposal Fate MA Sale
1 ARCTURUS 3 Apr 46 5 Jun 46 2 Jul 46 MC/D 17 Apr 47
6 ALCHIBA 14 Jan 46 25 Feb 46 19 Jul 46 MC/D 8 Jun 48
7 ALCYONE 23 Jul 46 15 Aug 46 24 Jul 46 MC/D 9 May 47
8 ALGORAB 3 Dec 45 19 Dec 45 30 Jun 46 MC/D 24 Jun 47
11 BETELGEUSE 15 Mar 46 28 Mar 46 27 Jun 46 MC/D 9 Dec 47

Class Notes:
FY 1941 (AKA 1, 6-7), 1942 (AKA 8, 11). Designated C2-Cargo by MC, the Sun variant being recognizable by its large enclosed bridge wings. In May and June 1938 the Maritime Commission awarded its first contracts for cargo ships, which followed one passenger liner and twelve large tankers. It ordered twenty ships (MC hulls 14-33) designated simply C2-Cargo from four shipyards: three existing (Federal, Sun, and Newport News) and one essentially new (Tampa). Half of these fast (15.5 knot), medium-sized, standard-design freighters were propelled by steam turbines, and half (including those from Sun) were diesel propelled. The Maritime Commission ordered these ships on its own account in accordance with its plans for a rejuvenated American merchant marine and with the intent of finding commercial operators for them as they approached completion.

The Navy's war plans called for wartime requirements for auxiliaries to be handled by conversions of merchant ships rather than by new construction, and as the world crisis deepened the Navy turned to its extensive prewar mobilization studies of the U. S. merchant marine for new AK's. On 26 Oct 39 the Bureau of Construction and Repair sent to the Bureau of Ordnance plans for the emergency conversion to naval cargo ships (XAK) of the Maritime Commission's new C2 diesel-propelled freighters. However when the Commandant, 11th Naval District asked BuC&R on 22 May 40 for the conversion plans for the RED JACKET class, a steam-propelled C2, BuC&R replied on 31 May 40 that the Bureaus had not prepared conversion plans for an XAK because the characteristics were given in the basic planning document for auxiliary conversions, WPL-10, and the scope of conversion work for the XAK was relatively minor.

On 20 Jun 40 CNO, acting as Secretary of the Navy, wrote to the Maritime Commission stating that world conditions made it necessary for the Navy to acquire from the merchant marine 18 to 21 additional auxiliary vessels ranging in size and type from transports to tugs, including two cargo ships (AK) of the Commission's C2 type. The Navy stated a preference for steam propulsion but was allocated a diesel ship from Sun as AK-18 (later AKA-1). This conversion was included in a large group of auxiliaries whose construction or acquisition was directed on 5 Aug 40 in the 70% Expansion Program (the second increment of the Two Ocean Navy mobilization effort) along with many combatant ships. Ultimately, 14 of the Commission's first 20 C2s became naval auxiliaries, including from Sun all five ships of the AKA-1 class plus a sister that became AF-11. (The others became AE 3-4, AF 10, AKS 1-2, AK 42-43, and AKA-2.) AK-18 was acquired for service as a general cargo ship and received a minimal conversion upon acceptance, which included no armament larger than machine guns and no combat loading features. She received a provisional armament of 1-5"/51 and 4-3"/23 guns in August 1941 and upgraded to her designed armament with 4-3"/50s in April 1942. She had a full combat loading capability by October 1942.

SecNav approved the acquisition of AK 23-25 on 15 Jan 41 and this time the Navy specified diesel drive, but the Maritime Commission, fearing the impact of large Navy requests on the Commission's primary tasks of satisfying the U.S. need for sealift in wartime and providing lend lease ships to the British, initially resisted providing the ships. The Navy did, in fact, soon want more--in its first report, dated 11 Feb 41, the Auxiliary Vessels Board included four additional AKs (AK 26-29) of the C1 or C2 type in its estimate of the Navy's peacetime needs and recommended their acquisition. It based this request on the demonstrated need to have one of these vessels for every three marine transports in order to carry additional landing boats, guns, tractors, etc. The CNO, however, noted in a cover memo that the President had recently directed that the Navy not make arrangements to take over any other commercial vessels because of shortage of shipping, in effect disapproving the acquisition of 21 ships including AK 26-29. On 14 May 41 the Auxiliary Vessels Board reaffirmed the Navy's need for the ships, and on 26 May the President directed the Maritime Commission to turn over to the Navy 19 ships including 12 cargo ships of 15 knot speed. Nine units, AK 23-31 were to be turned over immediately, including AK 23-25 and 28 (later AKA 6-8 and 11).

AK 23-25 and 28 initially received an austere conversion like that of AK-18 that included only machine guns and no combat loading features. AK-28 embarked the provisional armament with 3"/23 guns in September 1941, AK 24-25 embarked the designed armament with 3"/50 guns in November and December 1941, and by April 1942 AKA-23 had a partial armament of 2-3"/50 guns. The ships were all delivered with one 30-ton commercial heavy boom forward, which had to be replaced with a stronger Navy model. Studies begun in July 1941 on how to configure all recently acquired AKs to carry a minimum of nine 45-foot tank lighters and six 36-foot landing boats, because the transports which the AKs supported could not carry all the boats they would need. This led to a CNO directive on 1 Oct 41 to add a second 30-ton boom to the AKs, although this probably had not been accomplished when BuShips reported on 5 Feb 42 that even with the second boom the ships could not carry more than six tank lighters. In September 1941 the Charleston Navy Yard drew up overall conversion plans for combat-loaded cargo ships that included provisions for larger crews, embarked troops, enhanced survivability, and a large distilling plant. The ships were progressively converted as scheduling and availability of materials permitted, and most if not all probably had at least some combat loading capabilities by mid-1942. The whole class (with the possible but unlikely exception of AKA-11) was further modified later in the war by the substitution of quadrupod masts for the primary kingpost pairs fore and aft.

The Navy experienced frequent machinery breakdowns with the diesel-propelled C2s and quickly relinquished all of them after the war, but diesel ships were in demand in the merchant marine and all five units of this class were sold to foreign flag operators.

Ship Notes:
AKA Name MC# Notes
1 ARCTURUS 19 Ex merc. MORMACHAWK (ID-4996A, completed 27 Jul 39). Ex AK-18 1 Feb 43. Converted by NYd Philadelphia. Merc. STAR ARCTURUS 1947 (Panamanian). Scrapped 1971.
6 ALCHIBA 21 Ex merc. MORMACDOVE (ID-4996C, completed 21 Sep 39). Ex AK-23 1 Feb 43. Converted by NYd Boston. Torpedoed and almost lost on 28 Nov 42, torpedoed again on 7 Dec 42 during salvage operations. Repairs completed at Mare Island in August 1943. Merc. MORMACDOVE 1946 (MC), TJIPINAS 1948 (Dutch). Scrapped 1973 as TONG JIT.
7 ALCYONE 30 Ex merc. MORMACGULL (ID-4996D, completed 13 Oct 39). Ex AK-24 1 Feb 43. Converted by NYd Boston. Merc. MORMACGULL 1946 (MC), STAR ALCYONE 1947 (Panamanian). Scrapped 1969.
8 ALGORAB 20 Ex merc. MORMACWREN (ID-4996B, completed 18 Aug 39). Ex AK-25 1 Feb 43. Converted by NYd Boston. Merc. KAMRAN 1947, MONGALA 1948 (Belgian). Scrapped 1973 as ALOHA.
11 BETELGEUSE 31 Ex merc. MORMACLARK (ID-4996E, completed 29 Nov 39). Ex AK-28 1 Feb 43. Converted by Brewer DD, Staten Is., N.Y. To MC 28 Jun 46 in MC records. Merc. MORMACLARK 1946 (MC), STAR BETELGEUSE 1947 (Panamanian). Scrapped 1972.

Page Notes:
AKA        1940
Compiled:        17-Mar-2006
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2002-2006