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USS Leedstown (AP-72) on 12 September 1942
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Class:        LEEDSTOWN (AP-73)
Design:        Pass. & Cargo, 1933
Displacement (tons):        4,247 light
Dimensions (feet):        508' oa, 484' wl (?) x 72' x 25.9'
Original Armament:        1-4"/50 4-3"/50
Later armaments:        --
Complement:        --
Speed (kts.):        19
Propulsion (HP):
Machinery:        Geared turbines, 2 screws

AP Name Acq. Builder Keel Launch Commiss.
73 LEEDSTOWN 6 Aug 42 Federal SB & DD, Kearny -- 1933 24 Sep 42

AP Name Decomm. Strike Disposal Fate MA Sale
73 LEEDSTOWN -- 7 Dec 42 9 Nov 42 Lost --

Class Notes:
FY 1942. Soon after Congress passed the Jones-White act in 1928 the Grace Line took advantage of it and ordered four handsome new passenger and cargo ships for its service between the United States east and west coasts. 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 company took delivery in 1932-1933 of the four new ships, the SANTA ROSA class, from Federal Shipbuilding Co. Kearney, New Jersey. They were designed by William Francis Gibbs, who had also drawn plans of Matson's MALOLO and was later to design the AMERICA (later AP-23) and the record-breaker UNITED STATES. These ships had some general resemblance to MALOLO, with her great beam, low stern, and large streamlined smokestacks. Their power plants were optimized for efficiency, in that each of the water tube boilers produced 6,000 hp at a pressure of 430 lbs. and each ship could make 18.5 knots with only three boilers active. The main engines were double reduction turbines. The passenger capacity of the SANTA ROSA class was 209 in first class and about 50 in steerage. With the handsome new quartet the Grace Line established the first passenger service between New York and Seattle. The company later moved the ships to its South America and Caribbean services. In 1937 SANTA LUCIA was involved in a rescue of passengers at sea when she took aboard about 100 passengers from the burning Chilean Line steamer PUDETO off Point Atico, Peru.

The Navy's war and mobilization planners saw the potential wartime value of these ships as transports but felt they would be even more useful as converted cruisers (XCA). They appeared as such in the March 1934 edition of the basic planning document for wartime merchant ship conversions, WPL-10, and continued into 1940 to be the only modern ships so designated. The characteristics for the XCA conversion in the 1934 WPL-10 included an armament of 6-6"/53 and 4-3"/50 AA guns and catapults for launching two seaplanes at once, and the most likely employment of the ships was considered to be as an escort for Fleet Train vessels. The Bureau of Construction and Repair circulated on 14 Oct 38 preliminary plans for the conversion of these four ships to cruisers with 5-6" guns (4 broadside and one aft, for which the ships had been fitted with foundations to qualify for their mail subsidies) and, after receiving many comments including a decision of the General Board, circulated a second set on 8 May 39. The finished plans, which provided for one catapult amidships and three VSO aircraft, were distributed to the Naval Districts on 26 Feb 40. In January 1941 the Navy accelerated the priority of work on the XCA project, which may have involved increasing the armament to 6 or 8 6"/50 or 6"/53 guns, and on 9 Jun 41 the Philadelphia Navy Yard, which by then was doing most of the Navy's conversion design work, forwarded a full set of XCA plans to BuC&R. Despite all this attention, all four ships remained in commercial hands until the War Shipping Administration took over SANTA LUCIA in February 1942 to support Army troop movements, probably converting her at New York. She was given 1-4"/50 gun aft and 2-3"/50 forward. She made two voyages carrying Army troops to the southwest Pacific before transiting the Panama Canal in July enroute to New York, where the Navy took her over in August.

On 1 Aug 42 CominCh directed that arrangements be made immediately for the partial conversion and the manning by Navy crews of ten vessels, which he specified by name and which became AP 42-43 and 66-73, for use in connection with "prospective movements overseas of U. S. troops." (the North Africa landings). On 3 Aug 42 the Auxiliary Vessels Board recommended acquisition of these ships, three from the Army and seven including SANTA LUCIA from WSA. The ships were to be Navy manned and converted to modified combat loaded transports. The "must" items for these conversions were that the vessels be able to run, shoot, hoist and lower landing boats and tank lighters, mess and berth their complements, and have bulk gas and Diesel stowage for fueling the landing craft, plus such other items of a combat loaded transport as might be possible during the limited availability. Specifically, the Board recommended that provision be made for carrying the maximum number of landing boats and tank lighters, including adequate fuel stowage for them, along with the accomplishment of such other conversion features as might be applicable on a not-to-delay basis. The Board noted that the program was an urgent one--the conversions were to be completed within 30 days of the arrival of the ships at the conversion yards or as soon thereafter as possible.

The conversion instructions for this ship called for 8 Welin davits and stowage for 28 to 30 landing craft and 2 tank lighters. Following complaints about her condition an emergency inspection of the ship was conducted on 26 Sep 42 which concluded that "the ship is poorly fitted for the task of a combat-loaded transport" and that the conversion had not been well carried out. The ship was badly cut up, badly crowded, and did not stow cargo well. There was much wooden construction throughout the ship, and the holds contained vehicles with partly-filled gasoline tanks as well as ammunition. CominCh concluded that the fire hazards and poor storage and berthing arrangements, while unacceptable, were incident to "the hasty partial conversion of a not too well built merchant vessel" and to the demands of combat loading. Other ships acquired for the Casablanca operation were also criticized for their hasty and poorly designed conversions. LEEDSTOWN was disabled while at anchor near Algiers by an aircraft torpedo that demolished her stern and then sunk by bomb near misses and two more torpedo hits.

WSA took over her three sisters as troopships in January 1942. All supported the North Africa invasion in late 1942. One, SANTA ELENA (ID-4868), was torpedoed off Philippeville, Algeria, on 6 Nov 43 and the other two, SANTA PAULA (ID-4868B) and SANTA ROSA (ID-4868A), resumed passenger service to the Caribbean after the war. They were replaced by new ships of the same names in the late 1950s and were sold to Greek owners in 1961.

Ship Notes:
AP Name Notes
73 LEEDSTOWN Ex-merc. SANTA LUCIA (ID-4868C, completed Jan 33). Converted for Navy by Robins DD (Todd), Brooklyn, N.Y., 5 Aug 42 to 24 Sep 42. Torpedoed and bombed by German aircraft and by U-331 off Algiers.

Page Notes:
AP        1942
Compiled:        05 Jun 2007
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2002-2007