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USS Monticello (AP-61) on 15 September 1942
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Class: HERMITAGE (AP-54)
Design: Pass. & Cargo, 1925
Displacement (tons): 15,639 light, 24,465 lim.
Dimensions (feet): 655.0' oa, 635.0' wl x 76.1' e x 27.0' lim.
Original Armament: 1-5"/51 6-3"/50 12-20mm (both)
Later armaments: 1-5"/51 6-3"/50 16-20mm (both, 1943-44);
1-5"/38 6-3"/50 16-20mm (both, 1944);
Speed (kts.): 20
Propulsion (HP): 24,000
Machinery: Beardmore Co. turbines (AP-54), Stab. Tech. Parsons turbines (AP-61), 2 screws
||21 Mar 42
||14 Aug 42
||16 Apr 42
||28 Jun 27
||16 Apr 42
||20 Aug 46
||25 Sep 46
||20 Aug 46
||22 Mar 46
||12 Apr 46
||27 May 46
FY 1942. In 1925 the Italian Lloyd Sabaudo Line (one of three firms that were combined in 1932 to create the Italian Line) took delivery from a British shipbuilder of a new ship, CONTE BIANCAMANO, for its passenger line between Genoa and Naples, Italy, and New York. Three years later it took delivery of a practically identical ship built in an Italian yard, CONTE GRANDE, for the same service. The new Italian Line transferred both ships to South American service in 1932. The measurements given here for this class are for the British-built AP-54. The limiting displacement of the Italian-built ship was 25,000 tons, her hull dimensions were 651.8' oa, 625.0' wl x 78.1' e x 27.5' lim., and her speed was 19.5 knots. (The most significant difference was the increased beam, which gave the later ship a better stability margin after wartime modifications were added.) In 1945 the troop capacities of the two near sisters were 6,104 for AP-54 and 6,920 for AP-61.
After service as a troop transport in the Abyssinian war and a charter voyage to the Far East, CONTE BIANCAMANO resumed service for the Italian Line on a route between Italy and Valparaiso, Chile. On 21 Jan 40 she helped rescue survivors of the Italian passenger ship ORAZIO which had caught fire off Toulon, France. She was at Cristobal in the Canal Zone when Italy entered World War II in June 1940 and the U.S. neutrality patrol impounded the ship and confined its crew of over 500 men on board. On 30 May 41 the Maritime Commission took control of the ship after discovering that her crew had sabotaged her high pressure steam turbines. The crew was sent to Ellice Island on the Army transport LEONARD WOOD and the turbines were sent to the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co. where they were reconditioned between October 1941 and January 1942.
Following U.S. entry into World War II the U.S. seized CONTE BIANCAMANO and the Maritime Commission had enough repairs done at Balboa, Canal Zone, to allow her to move to the U.S. for conversion to a troopship. It was initially expected that her repaired turbines would be returned around 15 Jan 42, that other repairs then being undertaken in the Canal Zone would be completed by 15 Feb 42, and that the ship would then be ready to sail for Norfolk. On 20 Dec 41 the Auxiliary Vessels Board recommended that, upon her arrival in the United States, she be acquired by the Navy and converted to a convoy loaded transport. The Bureau of Ships assigned her the identification number AP-54 to the ship in early February 1942 and CNO assigned the name HERMITAGE on 11 Feb 42. The Navy took over the ship from the Maritime Commission and placed her in reduced commission at Balboa, Canal Zone on 21 Mar 42 and fitted a temporary armament of 4-4"/50 for her transit to the East Coast. AP-54 arrived at the Philadelphia Navy Yard on 31 Mar 42 and underwent conversion at the nearby Cramp shipyard between 3 Apr 42 and 15 Sep 42.
CONTE GRANDE was interned at Santos, Brazil, when Italy entered the war in June 1940. The German WINDHUK was already there, having been interned in December 1939. Shortly after the U.S. entered World War II Brazil sent two minesweepers to patrol the entrance to the port of Santos and put guards on the pier near the ships but the crews remained on board. The Brazilian Government was sympathetic to the U.S. in the conflict, and in December leaders of the Brazilian Maritime commission asked a visiting U.S. Navy officer why the U.S. did not take over the two ships, as Brazil had no use for them and they should make excellent transports. Brazil severed diplomatic relations with Germany on 28 Jan 42 and soon discovered that the German crewbut not the Italian crewhad sabotaged most of its ship's machinery. The Brazilians sent the crews to prison camps (many stayed in Brazil after the war) and towed the ships to Rio de Janeiro for repairs.
On 7 Mar 42 CNO directed the acquisition of CONTE GRANDE and WINDHUK, then still at Santos, informing the Bureau of Ships that preliminary negotiations had been completed with the Brazilian Government for their acquisition by purchase by the U.S. Navy. On 24 Mar 42 CONTE GRANDE was assigned a temporary battery of 1-4"/50 and 2-3"/50 for her transit to the U.S. The ship was purchased by the Navy and commissioned at Rio on 16 Apr 42. She completed drydock repairs at Rio on 9 May 42 and then steamed to the U.S. under her own power. The ship was converted at the Philadelphia Navy Yard between 29 May 42 and 10 Sep 42.
AP-54 was chartered from the MC by the Army at San Francisco on 20 Aug 46 simultaneously with her return to the MC by the Navy. She was delivered to the MC reserve fleet at Suisun Bay, California, on 8 Nov 46 and was then delivered to the Italian Government at Suisun on 9 Jun 47 for repatriation of Italian POW's and civilian internees. Both AP-54 and AP-61 were on a list of 14 former Italian ships that President Truman in an Executive Order of 16 Mar 48 directed be returned to the Government of Italy. AP-54 was transferred to the Italian government on 29 Nov 48 at Monfalcone, Italy, and was refurbished for postwar commercial service to the Americas. The ship was retired in 1960 and scrapped, but her bridge was preserved and reassembled as an exhibit at the Milan Museum of Science and Technology. AP-61 was delivered by the Navy to the MC reserve fleet at Lee Hall (James River), Virginia, on 27 May 46. She was delivered to the Government of Italy on 29 May 47 for repatriation of Italian POW's and civilian internees. The ship was transferred to the Italian Government on 18 Nov 48 and also returned to postwar commercial service.
||Ex Italian CONTE BIANCAMANO (completed Nov 25). Reduced commission 21 Mar 42, full commission 14 Aug 42. Converted by Cramp SB, Philadelphia. Italian CONTE BIANCAMANO 1948. Scrapped 1960.
||Ex Italian CONTE GRANDE (completed Feb 28). Converted by the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Italian CONTE GRANDE 1947. Scrapped 1961
Compiled: 14 Jun 2009
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2002-2009