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USAT America, later USAT Edmund B. Alexander, circa late 1919
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Class: EDMUND B. ALEXANDER (APL-1)
Design: Passenger, 1905
Displacement (tons): 22,000 std. (est.), 34,575 max
Dimensions (feet): 687.0' oa, 669.0' pp x 74.25' max x 33.5' mn.
Original Armament: None
Later armaments: --
Speed (kts.): 10
Propulsion (HP): 15,000
Machinery: Vert. 4-exp., 2 screws
||EDMUND B. ALEXANDER
||Harland & Wolff
||EDMUND B. ALEXANDER
||2 Jan 57
This ship began life in 1905 as the German transatlantic passenger liner AMERIKA. She took refuge at New York upon the outbreak of World War I in 1914 and was seized by the U.S. in 1917 and returned to service as the Navy troopship AMERICA. Briefly in Army custody in late 1919, she was then reconditioned by the Shipping Board and sailed as part of the American merchant marine until 1931, when she was withdrawn and laid up in reserve at Solomons, Md. with three other ex-German ships, including GEORGE WASHINGTON (see AP-19). The Army took over the 35-year old AMERICA on 17 Oct 40, renamed her because her old name was now carried by the new flagship of the American merchant marine, and converted her at Baltimore for use as a barracks ship for the construction workers and troops who were to build the American bases in Newfoundland. Although the speed of the ship as designed was 17.5 knots, by 1942 she was capable of only 10 knots and was still a coal burner, making her unsuitable for regular use as a transport. USAT EDMUND B. ALEXANDER departed New York on 20 Jan 41 and arrived at St. John's, Newfoundland, on 25 Jan.
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, most of which 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. The Navy manned, took over and commissioned 12 of the AP's before the end of July, but it then found that it did not have the personnel to man the remaining ships and on 7 Jul 41 made the first of many revisions to the commissioning schedule. In December 1941 the President suspended the obligation for the Navy to man Army ships. Ultimately the Navy was able to man only 15 of the 26 ships (all AP's). The Navy directive for manning the others, including APL-1, was cancelled on 30 Mar 42. Their hull numbers were officially listed as "not used" and the ships remained under Army control.
USAT EDMUND B. ALEXANDER returned to New York in June 1941. After an unsatisfactory attempt to operate her in the Caribbean, the Army had her rebuilt at Baltimore between May 1942 and April 1943 with new oil-fired boilers and one funnel instead of two. With her speed restored to 17 knots the old ship performed successfully as an Army transport for the rest of the war and, after being modified in 1946 for further service carrying military dependents, was placed in reserve in 1949 and remained there until 1957.
||EDMUND B. ALEXANDER
||Originally German AMERIKA, USS AMERICA (ID # 3006) 1917, S.S. AMERICA 1919. To Army 17 Oct 40 as USAT EDMUND B. ALEXANDER. Not acquired by Navy, remained in Army service. To NDRF 26 May 49. To buyer 16 Jan 57, scrapped by 22 May 58.
Compiled: 26 Oct 2008
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2002-2008