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USS Lakehurst (APM-9) on 6 August 1943
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Class: LAKEHURST (APM-9)
Design: Rail car carrier, 1940
Displacement (tons): 7,450 light
Dimensions (feet): 483.0' oa, 463.0' pp x 63.5' mx x 27.2' mn
Original Armament: 1-5"/51 4-3"/50 8-20mm
Later armaments: 1-5"/51 4-3"/50 10-20mm (1943)
Complement: 265 (1944)
Speed (kts.): 16
Propulsion (HP): --
Machinery: G.E. geared turbine, 1 screw
||13 Oct 42
||Sun SB & DD
||17 Aug 39
||26 Mar 40
||13 Oct 42
||2 Aug 43
||12 Aug 43
||2 Aug 43
FY 1943. In 1940 the Seatrain Lines took delivery of its second pair of specially designed ships, following the success of its first pair, SEATRAIN NEW YORK and SEATRAIN HAVANA (see APV 1-2) on the New York-Havana route. The new ships, SEATRAIN NEW JERSEY and SEATRAIN TEXAS, were built for a new route between New York and Texas City, Texas. Somewhat larger than their predecessors, the two new ships had an extra deck for freight cars for a total of five cargo decks.
The Navy acquired the earlier pair during 1941 for use as aircraft transports. The later two were soon configured for a different purpose, to carry Army armored vehicles. One of them, SEATRAIN TEXAS, earned a niche in history in July 1942 when she loaded a full load of military cargo including 250 Sherman tanks (the first Allied tanks that could stand up to the German Mark IV Panzers), sailed alone to Capetown and then up to the southern end of the Suez Canal, and delivered her cargo in time for her tanks to play a decisive role in the crucial battle of El Alamein. In October 1942 her sister, SEATRAIN NEW JERSEY, was undergoing conversion by the War Department to carry about 200 tanks by the Atlantic Basin Iron Works, Brooklyn, N.Y. when the Army and Navy together decided that the nature of her proposed employment in connection with the invasion of North Africa required that she be manned with a naval crew. Acting on a 2 Oct 42 letter from CominCh, the Auxiliary Vessels Board recommended her acquisition on 3 Oct 42, and the War Shipping Administration agreed to the assignment of the ship to the Navy with the condition that, after completion of the mission requiring a naval crew, the vessel would revert to her previous status (assigned to the Army under bareboat charter).
On 8 Oct 42 the Navy selected the name USS LAKEHURST for SS SEATRAIN NEW JERSEY. The Army conversion had been scheduled for completion on 12 October, when she had to be ready to begin loading cargo, and on 13 October the ship was commissioned in the Navy as an Aircraft Transport (APV-3). Provisions for a Navy crew had been hastily added during the final days of the conversion. The ship loaded Army equipment at New York and departed for Hampton Roads on 19 October to join the North Africa invasion force. She unloaded her first cargo at Safi, Morocco, in early November and continued to support operations in North Africa through May 1943. On 3 Dec 42 she was reclassified as a Mechanized-Artillery Transport (APM), reflecting the fact that she carried tanks, and had never been intended to carry aircraft. She was given the hull number APM-1, but the Navy quickly realized that the numbers APM 1-8 had previously been used (they were assigned in late 1941 to the ships that in June 1942 were reclassified to LSD 1-8), and LAKEHURST was re-numbered APM-9 on 17 Dec 42. On 29 Jul 43, a few days after the ship's final return from North Africa to Norfolk, CNO noted in letters to the ship and to the War Shipping Administration that the special operations requiring Navy manning had terminated, that the War Department had requested her return, and that the Navy was prepared to hand her back after completion of repairs at the Norfolk Navy Yard on 1 Aug 43. The ship was duly returned the next day and became USAT LAKEHURST, although her Navy armament was retained and a naval armed guard crew was provided to man it.
The two ships were returned to Seatrain Lines after the end of World War II, and their postwar service extended into the Vietnam War. SEATRAIN TEXAS was damaged by a "floating explosive device" while anchored at Nha Be near Saigon in December 1967, and SEATRAIN NEW JERSEY was, according to Internet accounts, "notorious for being shot up more than any other U.S. merchant ship" and "had many symbols of rockets and mortar bombs painted on her bridge wing, each denoting an attack." Like their earlier half-sisters these specialized ships were retired when Seatrain shifted from railroad equipment transport to containerized transport in the late 1960s and were scrapped in 1973.
||Ex merc. SEATRAIN NEW JERSEY (completed July 1940). Converted (for Army) by Atlantic Basin Iron Works, Brooklyn, N.Y. Ex APM-1 17 Dec 42, ex APV-3 3 Dec 42. To Army 2 Aug 43 as USAT LAKEHURST, returned to owner by MC 29 May 46. Merc. SEATRAIN NEW JERSEY 1946, scrapped 1973.
Compiled: 24 Aug 2008
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2002-2008