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USS Mount Vernon (AP-22) on 24 July 1944
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Class: WAKEFIELD (AP-21)
Design: Passenger, 1931
Displacement (tons): 22,559 light, 34,600 lim.
Dimensions (feet): 705.0' oa, 685.0' wl x 86.0' e x 31.5 lim.
Original Armament: 4-5"/51 4-3"/23
Later armaments: 4-5"/51 4-3"/50 2-1.1"Q 12-20mm (AP-22, Jul. 1942); 4-5"/51 4-3"/50 2-40mmT 12-20mm (AP-22, 1945);
1-5"/51 4-3"/50 2-1.1"Q 12-20mm (AP-21, May 1942);
3-5"/38 4-40mmQ 32>30-20mm (AP-21, 1944)
Complement: 640 (1944)
Speed (kts.): 20
Propulsion (HP): 30,000
Machinery: New York S.B. turbines, 2 screws
||14 Jun 41
||New York SB
||6 Dec 30
||5 Dec 31
||15 Jun 41
||16 Jun 41
||New York SB
||20 Jan 31
||20 Aug 32
||16 Jun 41
||17 Feb 47
||7 Jun 57
||27 May 64
||18 Jan 46
||7 Feb 46
||18 Jan 46
||30 Jun 64
FY 1942. In 1930 the Transatlantic Steamship Co. took advantage of the Jones-White Act of 1928 and ordered two large new passenger liners for its service on the North Atlantic between New York and Europe. The act provided mail subsidies as an incentive for shipping companies to build their ships in U.S. shipyards and man them with U.S. crews. The two ships entered service with the United States Lines in 1933. The first two ships to be built for the North Atlantic passenger trade in 35 years, they were the largest liners built in the United States until the launch in 1939 of AMERICA (see AP-23). The pair served on the New York-Hamburg route until 1939, when they were displaced by the war first to a New York-Italy route and then to service between New York and San Francisco. AP-22 was chartered by the State Department in October 1940 and by WSA for troop carrying in late March 1941. By May 1941 both ships were being operated by the Army Transport Service on a time charter basis.
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. On 6 Jun 41 the MC bareboat chartered AP 21-23 from the United States Lines and bareboat subchartered them to the Navy for delivery to the Navy on 14 Jun 41 (AP 21-22) and 6 Jun 41 (AP-23). An armament with 4-5"/51 guns was installed on AP-21 in June 1941 and on AP-22 in October 1941.
In the meantime, on 10 May 41 the Assistant CNO directed that the Auxiliary Vessels Board update its recommendations for the acquisition of auxiliary vessels so that a list could be submitted to the Maritime Commission. On 14 May 41 the Board reported that it had recommended acquisition of a total of 46 ships since its first report on 11 Feb 41. Of these 12 had been acquired or were being acquired, 8 had been funded but not acquired, and 26 had been approved by SecNav but not yet funded. Among these 26 were 2 Airplane Transports (APV), whose acquisition the Board considered particularly urgent. These ships were to transport assembled aircraft to a point from which the aircraft could fly off the ships to their destination. The two vessels desired for conversion were the WASHINGTON and MANHATTAN. On 27 May 41 the Board, responding to a CNO directive to submit a list of auxiliary vessels that needed to be ready not later than 22 Jun 41 for a special mission (probably the movement of troops to Iceland), recommended that immediate steps be taken to acquire the two ships for use as transports, although it warned that they might not be suitable for a mission where depth of water or maneuvering room were limited. Although to be used for the present as AP's, they were also designated for later conversion to APV's. Much design work was done during the remainder of 1941 for the aircraft transport conversions, and in November the designations AVG 2-4 were reserved for the converted AP 21-23 respectively. AVG 2-3 were to be converted at Newport News and were to have a 587-foot long flight deck with the pilot house below its forward edge and hinged smokestacks fitted outboard. But on 31 Dec 41 CNO informed the Bureau of Ships that it had been decided not to proceed with these conversions. The reasons were the extensive time required to carry out the conversions and the present need for the ships as transports. The AVG designator remained in use for the ships that in 1943 became escort carriers (CVE).
WAKEFIELD caught fire on 3 Sep 42 off Newfoundland and had to be abandoned at sea. The still burning ship was taken under tow on 5 Sep 42 and beached near Halifax, Nova Scotia on 8 Sep 42, where the remaining fires were finally brought under control on 12 Sep 42. She was refloated on 14 Sep 42 but was then nearly capsized by torrents of rain from a cloudburst. The ship arrived at the Boston Navy Yard under tow on 2 Oct 42, was declared a constructive total loss, and was placed "out of commission, not in service" on 2 Nov 42. She was then cut down almost to the waterline to remove the damaged hull structure and was rebuilt as a practically new ship. On 15 Apr 43 the Bureau of Ships proposed shifting the restoration of AP-21 and four ships severely damaged at Pearl Harbor (CALIFORNIA, WEST VIRGINIA, CASSIN, and DOWNES) from its repair account to its new construction account to reduce the adverse effect of these long overhauls on new construction (repairs had higher priorities for materials, etc., than did new construction). AP-21 was finally recommissioned on 10 Feb 44. Following the fire that nearly destroyed AP-21 the Navy purchased both ships, AP-21 on 18 Sep 42 to compensate her owners for her loss and AP-22 on 26 Sep 42 to remove the limitations that her charter placed on modifying the ship to reduce fire hazards and increase troop capacity. Their troop capacities were rated in 1945 as 7,020 for AP-21 and 6,031 for AP-22.
AP-22 returned to commercial service in February 1948 as S.S. WASHINGTON with one deck returned to its pre-war luxury standards. The United States Lines returned her to the U.S. government in October 1951, and she then transported soldiers and their dependents between New York and Bremerhaven until laid up in the MA reserve fleet in 1953. AP-21, which had been rebuilt to troopship standards following her 1942 fire and was unsuitable for reconversion to civilian use, completed her final voyage and commenced inactivation at Bayonne, N.J., in May 1946
||Ex merc. MANHATTAN (ID-4864, completed 27 Jul 32). Converted at Robins Dry Dock (Todd) Brooklyn. In USN reserve 1946-57. To buyer 5 Mar 65, scrapped by 9 Aug 65.
||Ex merc. WASHINGTON (ID-4864A, completed May 33). Converted by the Philadelphia Navy Yard (armament installed at Boston Oct 41). Renamed MOUNT VERNON 5 Jun 41. Merc. WASHINGTON 1946, to MA reserve fleet 12 Feb 53. To buyer 28 Jun 65, scrapped by 3 Feb 66.
Compiled: 27 Feb 2009
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2002-2009