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The Establishment of the Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS/MSC)



On 15 December 1948 Secretary of Defense James Forrestal issued a statement, "all military sea transport including Army transports would be placed under Navy command." On 12 July 1949 Secretary of Defense Louis Johnson issued a memorandum that spelled out the financing, purpose, and responsibilities of the new Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS). He directed that the titles to the Army's cargo and passenger ships be transferred to the Navy. The initial commander of MSTS, Rear Admiral William M. Callaghan (subsequently promoted to Vice Admiral), coordinated the transfer of the Naval Transportation Service (NTS) with its commander, Rear Admiral A. J. Wellings (re-assigned as Vice Commander MSTS), and Major General F. A. Heileman, the Chief of the Army Transportation Corps (ATS). The command opened for business on 1 October 1949 when NTS was dissolved and its assets and personnel were transferred to MSTS. The fleet initially consisted of 6 troop transports (AP 111-115 and 176), 3 attack transports (APA 18-19 and 30), 12 attack cargo ships (AKA 13-15, 19-20, 53, 55, 58-61, and 100), and 16 tankers (AO 36-37, 39, 41-43, 47, 54, 56-58, and 60-64). These ships were commissioned vessels in the U.S. Navy and manned by military crews, a category that MSTS stopped handling with the retirement of AP 112 in 1966. Also on 1 October 1949, 57 tankers of the Petroleum and Tanker Branch of the Chief of Naval Operations office (OP-422) joined the MSTS fleet. (These were AO 49-50, 65, 67, 73, 75-85, 87-88, 93-96, 101, 111-142, and AOG 68 and 76.) They were government-owned tankers known as U.S. Naval Tankers (USNT) but were contract operated by four commercial firms (Pacific Tankers, Inc. of San Francisco; American Pacific Steamship Co. of San Pedro; Tankers Company, Inc. of New York; and Marine Transport Lines, Inc. of New York), and had licensed civilian merchant mariners aboard.

While these Navy assets were quickly assimilated into MSTS, the transfer of Army assets took a while longer. On 1 March 1950, 72 ships of the ATS based in the continental United States were redesignated from United States Army Transports (USAT) to United States Naval Ships (USNS). Unlike the ships of the NTS, they possessed civilian merchant crews, directly employed by the government and known as civilian mariners. Names, classifications, and hull numbers were approved on 21 February 1950 for Army ships operating out of continental US ports that were to be acquired on 1 March 1950. These became AF 50-53; AK 237-249; AKL 15-17; AKV 3-7; AP 120-127, 134-135, 137-151, 153, 155-159, and 178-187; APC 116; ATA 239; LST 694 and 1010; and YO 242-243 (both at San Juan, P.R.). AP 178-179 and 184-186 had previously been APA 89-90, APH 2-3, and APH 1 respectively. By a separate directive dated 28 April 1950, AP 120/159, 178-179, and 184-186 and LST 694 and 1010, which had previously been stricken, were reinstated on the List of Naval Vessels. Besides these ships, 19 commercial cargo ships under contract shifted to MSTS operational control.

Four months later, on 1 July 1950, the ATS offices and assets based at Bremerhaven, Germany; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Balboa, Panama; Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii; and Tokyo, Japan joined the growing fleet. Names, classifications, and hull numbers were approved on 7 June 1950 for 31 Army and two MARAD-owned ships then operating under Army overseas commands that were to be transferred to the Navy on 1 July 1950. These became AF 44 (ex MARAD); AK 250; AKL 18-32; AOG 2, 4-5, 36, and 77 (ex MARAD); APC 117-118; ATA 240, LST 742, 802, 883, 898, 975, and 1048; YO 244; and YTB 746. All were from the Army's Far East Command except AK 250 and AKL 26-28 (Hawaii); AKL 23, ATA 240, LST 802 and LST 898 (Guam); AKL 21 (Panama); and AKL 25, YO 244, and YTB 746 (San Juan). AF 44, the AOGs except AOG 77, and the LSTs had previously been stricken and were reinstated on the List of Naval Vessels effective on the date of their transfer to the Navy. The five SCAJAP ships that had been AK 180, 187, 188, 198, and 200 were also restored to the List of Naval Vessels on 1 July 1950 although not reassigned to MSTS until 1 April 1951.

Names, classifications, and hull numbers were approved on 31 July 1950 for 18 Maritime Admiminstration ships to be transferred to the Navy. These became AP 110, 116, 119, 154, and 188-195 and AK 251-256. Of these AP 110, 116, 119, and 154 had previously been stricken and were reinstated on the List of Naval Vessels effective on the date of their transfer to the Navy. AP 110, 119, 154, and 189-192 and AK 251-255 were ex-Army ships that had recently been transferred by the Army to MARAD for layup.

Names, classifications, and hull numbers were approved on 7 September 1950 for three Maritime Administration ships then in layup and one Army ship that were to be transferred to the Navy. These became AOG 78-80 and APC 119.

The last portion of the Army's fleet, ten ships stationed in Alaska joined on 1 November 1950, completing the initial Military Sea Transportation Service fleet. These transfers had been put off until after the summer operating season. Classifications and hull numbers were approved on 31 October 1950 for Army vessels and service craft in Alaska that MSTS and the Army's Chief of Transportation mutually agreed would be transferred on 1 November 1950. These became AKL 33-36, ATA 241-244, and LSU 1362 and 1460. The LSUs had previously been stricken and were reinstated on the List of Naval Vessels. This directive also included two small boats and ten non-self propelled barges and lighters.

The prefix "T" for MSTS/MSC ships originated in a letter of 1 December 1949 from Commander MSTS to CNO in which MSTS recommended classification symbols and numbers for a group of Army ships operating out of the continental United States that was scheduled for transfer to the Navy in the immediate future (1 March 1950). The classification symbol for these ships included the prefix "T", meaning "assigned to MSTS." MSTS also recommended that the same identifications be extended to former Naval Transportation Service ships, both commissioned and noncommissioned, while they were assigned to MSTS. However inasmuch as the prefix "T" was to be used for purposes of identification, it was not to appear as part of the classification symbol in the listing of MSTS ships in the Naval Vessels Register (NVR) or Ship Data U.S. Naval Vessels (the Ships Data Book), the information to be provided in those publications by status codes. CNO approved these recommendations on 27 December 1949. This practice continues to this day, though the prefix "T" is no longer used for commissioned vessels. On 22 February 1950 CNO approved the assignment of the status "Active, in service" for all noncommissioned vessels assigned to MSTS.

On 1 January 1966 the Military Air Transportation Service (MATS) was redesignated the Military Airlift Command (MAC) when the Navy announced the inactivation or reassignment of the transport squadrons it was contributing to that force. DOD formally relieved the Navy from MAC responsibilities as of 1 July 1967. On 1 August 1970 the Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS) was similarly redesignated the Military Sealift Command (MSC). Vice Adm. Arthur R. Gralla, then commander of MSC, noted that "Airlift and sealift are the two basic sources of global mobility for our Armed Forces and they operate as a team in moving and supporting defense forces worldwide." MAC became the Air Mobility Command (AMC) in 1992 but MSC remains active as such in 2023.