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USS Shikellamy (AOG-47) on 30 September 1943
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Class: SHIKELLAMY (AOG-47)
Design Tanker, 1921
Displacement (tons): 3,200 light, 10,800 lim.
Dimensions (feet): 391.5' oa, 375.0' wl x 53.0' e 23.9' lim.
Original Armament: 1-3"/50 8-20mm
Later armaments: --
Speed (kts.): 10.5
Propulsion (HP): 2,400
Machinery: 1 screw, Bethlehem vertical triple expansion.
||26 Mar 43
||Bethlehem Steel, Wilm.
||26 Mar 21
||14 Apr 43
||17 Jan 46
||7 Feb 46
||17 Jan 46
FY 1942. In 1921 the Bethlehem Steel (formerly Harlan & Hollingsworth) shipyard at Wilmington, Del. delivered two relatively small tankers, E. R. KEMP and E. W. SINCLAIR, to the Sinclair Navigation Co., a subsidiary of the Sinclair Refining Co. The company renamed the second of these ships DANIEL PIERCE in 1941, by which time both ships were operating in the Caribbean. The Wilmington yard, which had built its first ship in 1844, closed in 1926, although it reopened during World War II to build landing craft.
At the beginning of 1943 General MacArthur's Southwest Pacific Area command told Washington that it had an urgent need for medium sized tankers. As relayed by SecNav to the MC on 14 Jan 43 in the Navy's formal request for the ship, the requirement was for 5,000 to 8,000 ton capacity tankers to distribute petroleum products from southern ports of Australia such as Brisbane to northern ports such as Townsville, Cairns, Darwin, and Port Moresby, some of which had limited depths of water and small shore tankage that precluded direct deliveries by full sized tankers. Smaller tankers having a maximum draft of 25 feet would also be able to supply any forward bases that might be erected in the theater. The U.S. merchant marine contained few ships in this category, but in early January the Maritime Commission and the Army-Navy Petroleum Board identified a candidate, the steam tanker E. R. KEMP, which had been built in 1921 and was in the gasoline shuttle service between Texas oil ports and Tampa, Florida. On 8 Jan 43 VCNO directed that this ship be inspected upon her next arrival at Tampa, on 19 Jun 43 the Auxiliary Vessels Board recommended the acquisition of the ship, and on the same day the MC replied to SecNav that the E. R. KEMP would be made available.
The Navy inspection of E. R. KEMP at Tampa, however, determined that she was not suitable because of poor material condition caused by her long service in the gasoline trade (gasoline cargoes tended to cause extensive rusting in cargo tanks). The Navy therefore cancelled its request for the ship, an action that was confirmed on 16 Feb 43 by the Auxiliary Vessels Board. A replacement was located and on 27 Feb 43 VCNO notified BuShips that the tanker DANIEL PIERCE was being allocated to the Navy under bareboat charter. On 1 Mar 43 the Auxiliary Vessels Board recommended her acquisition, and SecNav formally asked the MC for the ship on 3 Mar 43. None of this correspondence took note of the fact that DANIEL PIERCE was the sister ship of E. R. KEMP and that she had been engaged in essentially the same commercial trade.
VCNO issued his basic instructions to BuShips for conversion of the ship on 27 Feb 43. These were modified in a 15 Mar 43 meeting after BuShips representatives protested being compelled by an urgent operational requirement to take on a ship that was probably in poor material condition, being similar to E. R. KEMP. According to the modified instructions the ship was to be given a limited conversion and, as the vessel was scheduled for service on foreign station, all machinery should be in good operating condition with substantial amount of required spares on board. However structural repairs should be kept to the barest minimum consistent with safety at sea. Her current armament of 1-4/50 single purpose gun and 2-.30 cal. machine guns was to be replaced with 1-3/50 dual purpose gun and 8-20mm machine guns. As the design and size of the DANIEL PIERCE precluded the building in of additional living quarters the crew would be limited to the eight officers and 75 enlisted men who could be accommodated in the existing living spaces when converted. The ship was to be capable of distributing aviation gasoline, standard gasoline, and diesel fuel to vessels moored alongside or to shore, but delivering fuel at sea was not contemplated. The instructions concluded with a statement requested by BuShips that After arrival upon station this vessel will serve as a coastal delivery tanker; she will not be called upon for any extended cruising. The need for this vessel is immediate and urgent. For these reasons all work should be kept to the minimum; no improvements or additions to characteristics herein requested are desired.
The ship, named SHIKELLAMY after an Oneida Indian chief, arrived at the Tampa Shipbuilding Co. for conversion on 28 Mar 43 and was allowed two weeks for conversion and another five days for outfitting. The ship was drydocked on 7 Apr 43 and the yard reported that it did not believe that any shell plating would have to be renewed. The ship was commissioned on 14 April, completed on 17 April, and departed the shipyard on 18 April, roughly on schedule. The ship's machinery was felt to be in good condition and was not completely overhauled, and no post conversion and repair trial was held.
SHIKELLAMY proceeded from Tampa to Mobile Bay for shakedown, and at this point her troubles began. After being away from dock about two hours she developed engine trouble and a derangement of her telemotor steering apparatus. She proceeded to the Alabama SB&DD Co. at Mobile for repairs. While there her senior officers gave BuShips representatives a list of over 140 deficiencies that included heavy rust on all deck plates, which were very thin in places, and severe corrosion that put the strength of hull and bulkhead tanks in doubt. The ship's CO later stated that the vessel had informal information that 28 plates needed renewing. The ship then sailed for Houston via New Orleans and Galveston and again suffered derangement of her machinery enroute. Minor repairs were made at New Orleans and more extensive repairs at Galveston, where all main engine bearings were found wiped and other key engine parts were found to be misaligned or incorrectly assembled. During the post repair trial run the steering telemotor failed on 11 May 43. At Houston the ship loaded gasoline and departed for Key West. Once again she encountered trouble with her machinery and telemotor system before arriving on 15 May 43. The next day a new Commanding Officer took charge and immediately wrote a letter to the Chief of Naval Operations protesting the condition of the ship. On 27 May 43 CominCh/CNO (Admiral King) directed the Naval Inspector General to investigate the conditions reported by the CO.
After repairs at Key West the ship departed for the Canal Zone via Guantanamo Bay, and by the time she arrived in the Canal Zone she was once again incapacitated by engine problems. On 9 Jun 43 the ship was assigned to Panama Canal shops for repairs to machinery and was drydocked so that her hull plating could be checked. Panama inspectors confirmed on 14 June that the ship had numerous defects in her main engine and some pumps, plus extensive rust on decks and side plating, with a few plates very thin. In the end, however, only three shell plates were renewed and doubling plates installed on 3 others, while inspection failed to disclose any structural weakness or any signs of the ship working. The tops of the cargo tanks were heavily rusted, but this was normal for oil tankers that had been carrying gasoline continuously. At this point the records maintained by the Bureau of Ships fall largely silent regarding further materiel casualties, and the ship proceeded to have an active career in the Southwest Pacific that included frequent movements between remote ports and bases. She was reclassified AOG-47 on 15 Jun 43 effective on 15 Jul 43 to reflect the fact that she was to carry light petroleum products.
On 23 Jun 43 the Naval Inspector General reported on the ship's travails and blamed the Bureau of Ships and the VCNO's ship acquisition organization for the failure to supply in a reasonable time an urgently needed tanker to the Southwest Pacific Command. Officers within BuShips saw the situation differently, pointing out that the nature of the repairs, the fact that the same repairs occurred at Mobile, Key West, and Panama in spite of the previous yards' reports that repairs had been satisfactorily completed, and the fact reported by the IG that the engineering ratings were diesel engineers with little or no experience with steam reciprocating machinery, pointed at mal-operation by the ship's crew as the likely culprit. The Chief of BuShips was more diplomatic, stating in his formal response to the IG report on 24 Sep 43 that This Bureau
believes that a little more competence and determination on the part of the ship's company in this case would have permitted the ship to complete the initial missions assigned. SHIKELLAMY, however, was by now infamous within BuShips -- when another hastily acquired and converted ship, GUYANDOT (AOG-16), was reported by her Commanding Officer on 1 Jul 43 to have structural defects and extensive corrosion, a BuShips officer wrote on the route slip The SHIKELLAMY all over again.
||Ex AO-90 15 Jul 43, ex merc. DANIEL PIERCE, ex E. W. SINCLAIR 1941 (ID-4759, completed April 1921). Converted by Tampa SB Co. Delivered by MC to temporary operator 17 Jan 46 and to owners 9 Apr 46. Merc. DANIEL PIERCE 1946. Beached at Guanica July 1964, condemned 1966.
Compiled: 14 Aug 2010
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2002-2010