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A composite view of USS BAK-4 (S.S. Nathaniel Mathews) behind USS PC-1221 circa April 1944
Click on this photograph for links to larger images of this class.

Class:        BAK-1 (S.S. Asa Lothrop)
Design:        MC N3-M-A1
Displacement (tons):        1,677 light, 5,200 lim.
Dimensions (feet):        269.8' oa, 255.0' wl x 42.5' e x 20.7' lim.
Original Armament:        1-3" (British), 2-20mm
Later armaments:        --
Complement:        --
Speed (kts.):        10.25
Propulsion (HP):        1,190
Machinery:        Cooper Bessemer diesel, 1 screw

BAK Name Acq. Builder Keel Launch Commiss.
1 BAK-1 (S.S. Asa Lothrop) 1 Jan 43 Penn-Jersey SB 14 Oct 42 20 May 43 --
2 BAK-2 (S.S. Lauchlan McKay) 1 Jan 43 Penn-Jersey SB 10 Dec 42 27 Jun 43 --
3 BAK-3 (S.S. John L. Manson) 1 Jan 43 Penn-Jersey SB 28 Jun 43 12 Dec 43 --
4 BAK-4 (S.S. Nathaniel Mathews) 1 Jan 43 Penn-Jersey SB 31 Aug 43 23 Jan 44 --

BAK Name Decomm. Strike Disposal Fate MA Sale
1 BAK-1 (S.S. Asa Lothrop) -- 28 Apr 49 15 Jul 47 MC/R 21 Nov 63
2 BAK-2 (S.S. Lauchlan McKay) -- 28 Apr 49 21 Jul 47 MC/R 31 Jul 50
3 BAK-3 (S.S. John L. Manson) -- 28 Apr 49 8 Jun 47 MC/R 30 Mar 51
4 BAK-4 (S.S. Nathaniel Mathews) -- 28 Apr 49 17 Jul 47 MC/R 9 May 51

Class Notes:
Funded under Lend Lease. These ships (with their sisters AK 80-89) originated in a Maritime Commission order for 50 small (250') cargo ships undertaken at British request on a Lend Lease basis. Most of these 50 ships were of a type little different from the World War I Great Lakes-built freighters, but the 14 ships built at Penn-Jersey SB in Camden, N.J. were of a special diesel-propelled type designed by that yard. Called "Bowes Coasters" (Bowes being an employee of the firm), based on a Norwegian type, and designated N3-M-A1 by the MC, they used a mobile Clyde Whirley crane instead of the usual masts and booms to handle cargo. The crane enabled the ships to lift heavy (30 ton) loads and operate efficiently in congested ports. The MC ordered nine ships to this design on 4 Sep 41 and added five more on 15 Dec 41.

On 31 Mar 42 CominCh asked the Auxiliary Vessels Board to arrange for the acquisition of 20 small cargo-carrying transports within a year (ten of them within six months) for interisland use in the Pacific. On 11 Apr 42 the Board determined that the only ships then under construction that might be suitable, besides 15 Algerine-class minesweepers under construction in Canada for the U.S., were the 14 ships of the N3-M-A1 type and recommended acquiring them. The Navy already had two minesweepers and four subchasers (PC) on order at this yard, and on 20 Jul 42 the MC and the Navy decided that the entire account for these ships should be transferred from the MC to the Navy, leaving it to the Navy to finish construction of the ships and determine how many the British would get.

The British initially stated that they needed 8 of these ships to relieve port congestion in focal shipping areas, namely the west and south coasts of Africa, the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, the coast of India, and in North Russian ports. In August they indicated that an urgent need had now arisen for these vessels in connection with a secret operation which had been agreed upon by the Combined Chiefs of Staff. (This turned out to be operation TORCH in North Africa.) In October it was decided that the British would get four of the ships and the USN five, plus the other five later. In December it was agreed to allocate to the British MC hulls 466-469 instead of the previously planned 465, 467, 469, and 471. The Navy negotiated a new contract dated 31 Dec 42 with the builder, and the MC transferred all of the rights under its contract of 4 Sep 41 to the Navy effective 1 Jan 43. The four British ships (for which the BAK designation was created) were to be completed according to the original MC plans, but the ten U.S. Navy ships were to undergo a fairly extensive conversion. In early 1943 the hull designations were shuffled again to move AK 83-84 ahead of BAK 3-4 in construction sequence. MC hulls 468-69 were completed as AK 83-84 and MC hulls 470-71 were completed as BAK 3-4. The new designations were confirmed in a BuShips letter of 15 Oct 43. The MC did not make this change in its records, and the previous numbers (466-69 for BAK 1-4) continue to be reported in many sources.

On 2 Sep 43 the Munitions Assignment Committee (MAC), probably at the instigation of the U.S. Army, rescinded the assignment of BAK 1-4 to the U.K. and authorized the U.S. to retain them for use by the Army as port repair vessels. The British immediately appealed, and on 8 Sep 43 the MAC directed that alterations to the ships be held in abeyance. On 16 Sep 43 a BuShips official noted that he and a representative of VCNO were about to visit the recently commissioned ENCELADUS (AK-80) and might decide that the Navy did not want its vessels. This would allow them to be given to the Army. The visit confirmed this impression (and also led to an order to remove the Whirley cranes from the Navy ships), and in late October CominCh directed that all but AK-80 be turned over to the Army for conversion to port repair ships. On 28 Oct 43 MAC reassigned BAK 1-3 to the British and BAK-4 to the U.S. Army Engineers, and on 16 Dec 43 MAC also reassigned BAK-4 to the U.K.

See the ENCELADUS (AK-80) class for the rest of the complex history of the N3-M-A1 type ships in U.S. hands. The four British ships were never naval--they were transferred to the British Ministry of War Transport (MOWT) and were operated by the Currie Line as part of the British merchant marine.

Ship Notes:
BAK Name MC# Notes
1 BAK-1 (S.S. Asa Lothrop) 466 Ex merc. ASA LOTHROP. Completed 23 Oct 43 and accepted from builder 10 Nov 43. Lend-leased to Britain (MOWT) 10 Nov 43-15 Jul 47 as merc. ASA LOTHROP. Merc. ASA LOTHROP (MC) 1947. Operated by MC 23 Jun 49-6 Jun 50, otherwise in reserve until sold. To buyer 11 Dec 63.
2 BAK-2 (S.S. Lauchlan McKay) 467 Ex merc. LAUCHLAN McKAY. Completed and accepted from builder 31 Dec 43. Lend-leased to Britain (MOWT) 10 Jan 44-21 Jul 47, probably as merc. LAUCHLAN McKAY. Merc. LAUCHLAN McKAY (MC) 1947, C-TRADER 1950. Wrecked 6 Dec 63.
3 BAK-3 (S.S. John L. Manson) 470 Ex merc. JOHN L. MANSON. Completed and accepted from builder 22 Feb 44. Lend-leased to Britain (MOWT) 7 Mar 44-8 Jun 47, probably as merc. JOHN L. MANSON. Merc. JOHN L. MANSON (MC) 1947, ALASKA CEDAR 1951. Wrecked 3 Dec 62.
4 BAK-4 (S.S. Nathaniel Mathews) 471 Ex merc. NATHANIEL MATHEWS. Completed and accepted from builder 5 May 44. Lend-leased to Britain (MOWT) 16 May 44-17 Jul 47, probably as merc. NATHANIEL MATHEWS. Merc. NATHANIEL MATHEWS (MC) 1947, ALASKA SPRUCE 1951. Foundered off Port Sudan as GLORY I on 1 Jun 77.

Page Notes:
BAK        1943
Compiled:        26 Oct 2008
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2002-2008