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USS Fomalhaut (AK-22) on 20 October 1944
Click on this photograph for links to larger images of this class.

Class:        FOMALHAUT (AKA-5)
Design:        MC C1-A
Displacement (tons):        4,036 light, 11,100 lim.
Dimensions (feet):        412.3' oa, 390.0' pp x 61.0' e x 23.6' lim.
Original Armament:        1-5"/51 4-3"/50 (1942)
Later armaments:        1-5"/51 4-3"/50 4<12-20mm (1942-43); 1-5"/51 4-3"/50 2-40mm 18-20mm (1944);
1-5"/38 4-3"/50 2-40mm 18>12-20mm (1944-45)
Complement:        349 (1944)
Speed (kts.):        14.8
Propulsion (HP):        4,000
Machinery:        2 Nordberg TSM diesels, 1 screw

Construction:
AKA Name Acq. Builder Keel Launch Commiss.
5 FOMALHAUT 16 May 41 Pennsylvania SY 28 Mar 40 25 Jan 41 2 Mar 42

Disposition:
AKA Name Decomm. Strike Disposal Fate MA Sale
5 FOMALHAUT 25 Jun 46 1 Sep 62 1 Sep 62 MA/T 15 Apr 70

Class Notes:
The conversion of AK-22 (later AKA-5) was included in a large group of auxiliaries whose construction or acquisition was directed by SecNav on 5 Aug 40 in the 70% Expansion Program (the second increment of the Two Ocean Navy mobilization effort) along with many combatant ships. The Navy asked the Maritime Commission for a steam C1 of the C1-B full scantling design "for carriage of naval cargo and special purposes as necessity required." (In July 1941 BuShips told BuOrd that the ship was being converted to a "special service cargo ship (to carry 150 troops).") The Maritime Commission resisted giving the Navy the ship it asked for, the JOHN LYKES, which was completed in January 1941, but in February 1941 it agreed to supply the CAPE LOOKOUT, a diesel C1 of the C1-A shelter deck design that had just been launched and that was due for delivery on 12 Jul 41. CNO planned to have the ship converted along the lines of PROCYON (AK-19), to the extent that the smaller size of AK-22 permitted. In October 1941 the complement of boats that the ship was to carry, which previously included no landing craft, was changed to two tank lighters, eight 36' landing boats, and two 26' motor whaleboats.

The subsequent history of the construction and conversion of this ship is typical of the experience the Navy (and Maritime Commission) had early in the war with the smaller and newer shipbuilders and is worth relating in some detail. In late March 1941 the shipyard, Pennsylvania Shipyards, Inc. at Beaumont, Texas, told the Navy that the 12 July date would not be met and that the best the yard could do was 1 Sep 41. The yard estimated it could deliver the ship fully converted only 15 days later, and the Navy decided to acquire the ship incomplete and give the Beaumont yard a contract for the full conversion. The Maritime Commission agreed provided that the conversion work not interfere with its work at the yard, a condition that required the yard to bring in a design agent, Eads Johnson of New York, to produce plans and manage the conversion. At the end of work on 15 May 41 the yard purchased the incomplete ship from the Maritime Commission and immediately sold it to the Navy under a Navy purchase contract. Work continued the next day under a Navy letter of intent of 14 May, later replaced by a conversion contract dated 16 May. Maritime Commission records show the ship as turned over to the Navy on 16 May 41 when 68.4 percent complete and later Navy records also use the 16 May date.

The Navy soon found that the yard was having trouble managing its work because of inexperience and also learned that at the time the ship was taken over work was almost at a standstill because of lack of plans. The new design agent initially proved of little help, being equally inexperienced. On 25 Jun 41 the Navy's Supervisor of Shipbuilding at Orange, Texas, who was responsible for oversight of the work at Beaumont, held a conference of officials from the shipyard, the design agent, and the Navy and concluded that the earliest the ship could be delivered was 29 Nov 41. On 29 Oct 41 SUPSHIPS reported that the ship continued to experience delays, and that in addition it had been found on 20 Oct 41 that the steel structure above the main deck frames 86 to 105 was buckling, a problem soon traced to some egregious errors in the detail design work. The new estimated delivery date was 1 Mar 42. The other ship under construction at the yard, the merchantman CAPE HATTERAS, was experiencing similar delays. This new date held, and the ship was completed on 28 Feb 42 and accepted by the navy and commissioned on 2 Mar 42. FOMALHAUT (AK-22, later AKA-5)) underwent several days of training at Port Arthur, Texas, and sailed on 7 Mar 42 for final outfitting at the Charleston (S.C.) Navy Yard, which was accomplished between 12 and 24 Mar 42. Her boat loadout was reported in February 1943 and again in March 1944 as 2 LCM(3), 8 LCVP, and 2 LCPL. These were served in March 1944 by one 30-ton boom, 4 ten-ton booms, and 6 5-ton booms.

Despite her shortcomings as an AKA--because of her size, she never could carry the usual AKA allocation of landing craft, and her trial speed of 14.8 knots was significantly less than the 16.5 knots of most other AKAs--FOMALHAUT operated intensively in the Pacific from April 1942 until arriving at New York in August 1944 for a much needed overhaul. At this point her shortcomings caught up with her. In April 1944 the ship recommended alterations that would permit it to carry up to four more LCVP's, a request that evidently prompted BuShips to start designing new cargo handling facilities for the ship. (Her stowage appears then to have been for 2 LCM(3), 11 LCVP's, and 1 LCPL.) However on 2 Jun 44 BuShips, citing oral instructions received, told CNO that it would "take no further action with regard to improving cargo handling facilities and increasing boat stowage in the subject vessel," and asked if outstanding alterations that were suitable for an AKA but not an AK should be carried out. The Bureau also stated that the main engine casualties reported by the ship led the Bureau to suspect that the ship's Nordberg diesels were overloaded, which if true would require a smaller propeller and possibly a reduction in speed. CNO replied on 23 Jun 44 by asking the Bureau to hold off on the alterations due to heavy work load at West Coast yards, the inability of the ship to carry the average AKA allowance of LCM(3)'s and LCVP's, and the prospective speed reduction mentioned by BuShips. CNO then noted that, upon the reporting of additional new AKA's to the fleet, consideration would be given to reclassifying FOMALHAUT back to AK. On 15 Jul 44 BuShips told an official in San Francisco that a shipalt providing for fitting FOMALHAUT with quadruped masts had been cancelled. On 15 Aug 44 CNO recommended reclassifying the ship AK-22 effective 25 Aug 44, an action approved by SecNav on 17 Aug. On the basis of speed trials conducted in mid-July off Norfolk, the ship's propeller was reduced in diameter during the New York overhaul and tested immediately after completion of the overhaul in standardization trials at the Navy's range off Rockland, Maine, on 4 Nov 44. The ship later reported a severe reduction in speed--when it implemented the BuShips guidance for the new propeller it made only 10.33 knots fully loaded and 12.45 knots partly loaded--but the Bureau replied that the ship had been overly cautious in applying the guidance.

In late October the Navy decided to use the newly-reclassified AK as an ammunition carrier. The need for such ships had increased during 1944, and on 5 Oct 44 the Auxiliary Vessels Board approved the acquisition of ten Victory ships, without any conversion, for use in transporting replenishment ammunition (they became AK 227-236). On 26 Oct 44 BuShips directed the Norfolk Navy Yard to start planning to modify FOMALHAUT for carrying aircraft bombs and anti-aircraft ammunition but, unlike the AK-227 class and other AK's then serving as ammunition transports, she was also to be equipped for transferring her ammunition to aircraft carriers at sea. The work was done at Norfolk immediately following the Rockland speed trials, between 11 and 25 November. Some 20mm guns had to be removed to clear the decks for handling ammunition at sea. The ship was also to be fitted with towing gear similar to the type used by AO's in fueling vessels astern at sea where the AO took the receiving ship under tow. On 25 Jun 45, the ship reported that she had not carried out any underway replenishments, but she had rearmed numerous combatant vessels and attack transports at various ports and objective areas. In addition to bombs of every description, she had handled both 14" and 16" projectiles for battleships.

On 27 Dec 48 CNO noted that alterations performed on FOMALHAUT had changed her characteristics to those of an AE and recommended she be reclassified AE-20. SecNav approved the change on 4 Jan 49. By that time, however, the ship had been in reserve for over two years, and she never returned to active service under her new designator.

Ship Notes:
AKA Name MC# Notes
5 FOMALHAUT 138 Ex merc. CAPE LOOKOUT. Delivered 68.4% complete, converted by builder. Ex AK-22 1 Feb 43, to AK-22 25 Aug 44, AE-20 4 Jan 49. In USN reserve 1946-61. To NDRF 19 Jun 61, to buyer 5 May 70. Resold by buyer 17 Nov 70 for scrapping in Spain.

Page Notes:
AKA        1941
Compiled:        26-Mar-2006
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2002-2006