The Pacific

                              THE PACIFIC

The largest battleground of World War II was the Pacific Ocean,
which spreads across nearly half the globe. There the United States
Navy and the Imperial Japanese Navy fought the battles that made
headlines: Coral Sea, Midway, Guadalcanal, Leyte, Okinawa. At the
same time, in minor actions extending from Southern California to
the Aleutians and from Australia to the Ryukyu Islands, torpedoes,
bombs, and suicide planes left the wrecks of many merchant ships to
testify to the widespread toll of war in that vast sea.

For the merchant marine, the sea war reached to the very shores of
the United States when raiding Japanese submarines torpedoed or
shelled several vessels along the West Coast. The tanker Emidio lost
five men when she was shelled and torpedoed by the Japanese
submarine 18 some 18 miles off Crescent City, California, on 20
December 1941. She was the first ship sunk in American coastal
waters in World War II.

The great American counteroffensive in the Pacific, involving
incredible logistic support, would have been impossible without the
use of a vast merchant fleet, a great percentage of which was
composed of Liberty ships. By 1944 hundreds of these ships were
streaming across the Pacific, delivering millions of tons of food,
ammunition, guns, and other military supplies. They took part in all
the landings after Guadalcanal. Many Liberty ships and hundreds of
merchant sailors were lost getting their cargoes across that vast
ocean area.

The first Liberty ship sunk in the Pacific was the John Adams,
carrying 2,000 tons of gasoline, torpedoed the night of 5 May 1942
near New Caledonia. "A rumbling explosion shook the ship," a
survivor reported. "Lights went out. Things that weren't bolted down
fell and tumbled all over the place." Five Navy gunners were killed.
The rest of the crew, 45 in all, abandoned ship.

The next day a Greek ship found the lohn Adams still afloat and,
hoping to tow her into port, sent a boarding party on board. They
found the midships deckhouse gutted by fire and the ship's cat
purring on the bow. After a heavy explosion in number three hold,
they left as quickly as they could, and the ship sank soon

The next Liberty lost was the William Dawes. She was en route from
Adelaide to Brisbane, Australia, on 21 July 1942 when a torpedo
exploded in her after magazine, blew the stern off, killed three
men, and injured four others. But she refused to sink until HMAS
Southhampton sent her down with gunfire.

The Samuel Gompers was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine on 20
January 1943 near New Caledonia. That torpedo, too, must have hit
the magazine in the stern; the after gun platform was under water in
little more than a minute and within five minutes the Gompers went
down. Heavy seas capsized two boats on launching, but one was
righted and manned. All but one of the 16 men in the captain's boat
were injured in varying degrees. Two boats reached New Caledonia
after rowing and sailing for a week; one was picked up by PTlll
after two weeks.

On their return voyages, Libertys often carried raw materials for
war production and civilian needs. The Peter H. Burnett was not
long out of Newcastle, Australia, with 18,154 bales of wool and
123 bags of mail when, on 22 January 1943, a torpedo hit in number
five hold. It blew the hatch covers off and threw bales of wool on
the deck and into the sea.

All hands abandoned ship except for the Armed Guard officer, the
Army communications liaison officer, two cadets, and the
engineers, who remained aboard hoping to get a shot at the
submarine. But the raider, probably assuming one hit would sink its
victim, disappeared. The Burnett was towed to Sydney, where most of
the cargo was salvaged.

Only a couple of weeks later, on 9 February 1943, the Starr King was
en route to New Caledonia from Sydney when a submarine periscope was
sighted, but it disappeared as soon as the guns were manned. After
several hours, the gunners were relieved from battle stations and
all hands relaxed. The following morning either the same submarine
or another fired four torpedoes at the Starr King, two of which were
hits. HMAS Warramonga tried to tow the vessel into port, but she
gradually settled and went down in mid-afternoon.

The William Williams fared better on 2 May when a torpedo put a hole
40 feet long and 30 feet wide in her port side. The crew abandoned
ship, but when the submarine did not come back to finish the job,
most of them reboarded her, got up steam, and sailed her to Suva
with the help of the USS Catalpa.

Just two weeks later, the William K. Vanderbilt, en route from Vila
Elate to Suva, was hit by two torpedoes. Only one man was lost,
although the submarine surfaced and machine gunned the lifeboats.
Unlike other incidents of this kind, the machine-gunning seemed to
be more a taunt than a deliberate attempt to eliminate survivors,
for the submarine soon disappeared.

For some reason, Japanese submarines had numerous chances to finish
off ships crippled by torpedo explosions but left without doing so,
perhaps to conserve torpedoes, figuring the victim was a helpless
hulk and would be of no further war use.

One such ship was the Matthew Lyon, torpedoed between Guadalcanal
and Espiritu Santo. Despite a 35-foot-long hole in number three
hold, the Matthew Lyon reached Espiritu Santo under her own power.
There were no fatalities, and injuries were limited to a few cuts
and bruises.

In a similar attack two days later, the H. M. DeYoung, en route to
Espiritu Santo with road scrapers, cranes, trucks, and other heavy
equipment, took a torpedo in the engine room that killed the watch
below. She was towed to Nukualofa, Tongatabu, by the tanker Quebec.

A Japanese plane, one of three mistaken for friendly Navy
torpedo-bombers, hit the George H. Himes at Koli Point, Guadalcanal,
on 11 October 1943, while she was discharging cargo. The Himes was
beached by the USS Menominee, and most of the cargo was salvaged.
There was no loss of life. The John H. Couch was hit in the same

Army commanders faced with severe logistical headaches fell in love
with Libertys when they appeared in the South Pacific in 1942; so
much so that they began commandeering them whenever they could for
intratheatre, island-to-island shuttle services. Some became
emergency troopships, being equipped with field kitchens, trough
latrines flushed by fire hoses, and not much more in the way of
accommodations. Each ship carried 900 men, most of whom had to sleep
on bare decks. "Passage on a Liberty ship," an Army general stated,
"serves well as preparation for the hardships that lie ahead." Or,
as the troops were apt to put it, "You spend a couple of weeks in
the troop compartment of a Liberty, and you'll fight anyone to get

Despite protestations by the WSA, the Army always had a number of
these ships on island shuttles; and had as many as 1! serving troop
ships in January of 1943. Many more Libertys worked for the Navy,
and dozens of them were commissioned in the Navy' as cargo vessels.
One of these ships may have been the fictional USS Reluctant, made
famous in the novel, Mr. Roberts, by Thomas Heggen. Ports in the
Pacific were given secret code names, such as Echo, Fold, and Epic,
which Heggen paraphrased most appropriately as he described the
routine of a cargo ship in the backwaters of the war:

"For the most part, it stayed on its regular run from Tedium to
Apathy and back, about five days each way. It made an occasional
trip to Monotony .... "

While some cargo ships in the Pacific experienced brief moments of
action, for most of them the war varied between Tedium and Monotony.
Gunners on the Jose C. Barbosa would have welcomed the sight of a
Zero to break the boredom of unexciting "milk-runs" to South Pacific
supply bases. Her maiden voyage, starting at San Francisco, lasted
nine months and took her to Espiritu Santo, Milne Bay, Buna,
Longemak, Lae, Biak, Hollandia, and Seadler Island.

The maiden voyage of the Benjamin Franklin involved an uneventful
delivery of 10,000 tons of bombs, fuses, rations, trucks, gasoline,
road graders, flour, Army cots, asphalt, lime, and nitrate to Vila
in the New Hebrides. She returned by way of Antofogasta, Chile, for
a cargo of ore. The only break in the routine came when a fireman
did not report on the 4-to-8 watch. "A thorough search was made,"
said the ship's log. "Various members of the crew were questioned as
to when the man was last seen and why he might want to jump
overboard. He was not found."

When it came to long trips, sailors liked to tell about a Liberty
ship that hauled a cargo of barbed wire around the South Pacific for
six months until, finding no one to accept it, the disgusted captain
finally headed back to the West Coast where it was discovered that
the wire should have gone to Italy.

This story, true or not, was probably not greatly exaggerated. The
James Buchanan, on her maiden voyage to the South Pacific in 1943,
carried a deckload of PT-boats, equipment for a complete PT base,
and 200 men of a PT squadron, riding in troop quarters in number two
hold. The cargo was consigned to Pago Pago, but no one there would
accept it. Not intending to roam the South Pacific like the Ancient
Mariner, the skipper had the cargo unloaded and piled neatly on the
waterfront. Two years later, most of it was still there, eloquent
testimony to the waste and confusion of war. No one ever asked him
what became of it.

Some anonymous poet on the .lames Buchanan penned a tribute to the
military supply confusion and titled it The New Guinea Theme Song.

    Things ARE as snafu as they seem,
    Confusion and chaos reign supreme,
    So chuck it back aboard and we're on our way
    To Manus, Finsch and Milne Bay.
    Where we'll drop the hook and wait some more,
    Maybe then they'll know the score.
    But it's odds on end ten to one at best,
    That they're as screwed up as the rest.
    And we'll sit around for a month or so
    With our spirits drooping and our morale low.

But all was not boredom aboard the Buchanan. Early in 1943 she was
unloading bombs and ammunition at Noumea, New Caledonia. As First
Mate Harland Soetan remembered it, the dock was piled with
ammunition when a sling load was suddenly ignited. It exploded,
setting off a pile of charges for fragmentation bombs.

"I was standing on the dock when it started," he recalled. "Chunks
of metal began zooming past me like a scrap iron barrage. I flopped
down on the dock, expecting to be chopped up by flying steel. Navy
longshoremen jumped off the ship into the water. A sailor was
sitting on a staging overside of a ship next to us when a big piece
of metal almost cut him in half."

Peter Tregeboff, the ship's purser, took a fire hose into a hold
when fragments of hot steel started a fire, and braved a hail of
flying metal to let go all forward lines so the vessel could
maneuver out of the dock into the harbor. Fortunately, the explosion
was confined. There was no calamity such as that at Hells Point on
Guadalcanal where she was scheduled to load ammunition a few days
later. The ship arrived at Guadalcanal on the night of the

Explosions were not uncommon when ships were handling ammunition.
The Juan Cabrillo was at the Nickle Dock, Noumea, on 1 November
1943, when ammunition exploded on the pier. Two of her Armed Guard
were killed and three seriously wounded. Lieutenant (junior grade)
Glen L. Davis, the Armed Guard officer, suffered a broken hip and
other injuries.

Another ammunition explosion, far more spectacular and costly,
rocked the San Francisco Bay area the night of 17 July 1944, as the
Liberty ship E. A. Bryan and the Victory ship Quinault Victory
loaded ammunition at the Port Chicago Annex of the Mare Island Navy
Yard. There was an estimated 10,000 tons of ammunition in the ships
or on the docks when a blinding flash filled the sky and two blasts
shook buildings from Sacramento to San Jose. A plane flying 7,000
feet above Port Chicago was peppered by flying debris and made an
emergency landing at Fairfield. Windows were knocked out 50 miles
away. The town of Port Chicago, a mile away, was almost eradicated.
In ten seconds the two ships, the dock, an ammunition train, a
locomotive, and two Coast Guard boats vanished, and with them went
327 men. Only 25 bodies were ever recovered.

Typical of many another Liberty ship peregrination was the ten-month
voyage of the Clarence H. Matson, which started from San Francisco
in March of 1944. With Milne Bay, New Guinea, as a "home port," she
shuttled to bases and forward supply areas all over the southwest
Pacific. In another wartime snafu, the Matson unloaded a cargo at
Hollandia and then picked it all up again on her next trip. More
disgusted than the ship's crew were the sweating Army troops who had
handled the same 6,000 tons of heavy cargo twice.

Wartime snafus did not end instantly the day the war ended, and the
crew of the Ada Rehan spent eleven months learning this the hard
way. The ship left San Francisco in August 1945, bound for New
Orleans, but was diverted to Iquique, Chile, to load nitrates for
Alexandria, Egypt. Before she reached Alexandria, she was again
diverted to Tripoli, where she blundered into a minefield and was
saved only by a plane that spotted her predicament and guided her
out. The captain had a nervous breakdown and turned the ship over to
the first mate. At Port Said the crew refused to work but finally
agreed to sail the ship on to Khorramshahr, Iran.

There they adopted a vodka-drinking ape named Chippy. A few days
out, bound for Ceylon, Singapore, and Shanghai, three women and a
young child were discovered on board, smuggled out of Iran.
Relations between captain and crew reached the boiling point. Then
Chippy disappeared, with the skipper blaming the crew and the crew
blaming the skipper for such monkey business. By the time the ship
reached Shanghai, nine men had deserted and nine aliens had been
picked up along the way to replace them. From Shanghai, the ship
sailed for New Caledonia, where she picked up 21 homesick soldiers
who had been stranded there, and headed for San Francisco. But again
she was diverted and wound up in New York instead, on 5 July 1946,
after an 11-month voyage "to everywhere."

The Uriah M. Rose spent a year as an island-hopper and once at Biak
waited five weeks to discharge cargo. No Japanese were ever seen,
but an Armed Guard gunner shot a shipmate while cleaning a revolver
and another was seriously injured trying to dissect a souvenir

Another island-hopper was the Moina Michael; her maiden voyage out
of New Orleans lasted nine months, and despite the fact that she
went to Manus, Hollandia, Biak, Finschaffen, Leyte, Mindoro, and
Luzon, her Armed Guard officer reported, almost regretfully, "no
enemy action."

The Velva Lockwood was another Liberty that always seemed to just
miss the action. In the invasion of Normandy she had to report "no
contact with the enemy." Then she reached Leyte Gulf in April, 1945,
and waited 33 days for orders.

Such inactivity, together with long, boring trips inevitably led to
friction and general erosion in crew morale. The Armed Guard officer
was taken off one ship because of his proclivity for fighting with
the master, a rough-spoken "squarehead" who was a capable mariner
but not very adept at shipboard diplomacy or wardroom etiquette. The
Armed Guard officers, many of them young business executives and
college graduates, were unable to understand the rough-hewn and
often self-schooled type of prewar merchant ship master and this
could lead to friction, especially when there was a complete lack of
the battle action that most of them desired.

On one ship ill-feeling between the Armed Guard and merchant crew
culminated in a wild fight with bottles of ink from the ship's
cargo. The battle surged into the saloon, which from then on was
known as the "leopard skin room."

Shuttle runs could have their lighter moments. Cargo unloading
operations on one ship increased greatly in tempo when SeaBee
cargo-handlers learned that liquor for an officers' club was stowed
in one hold. The captain posted officers to make sure that the
liquor would reach the club, but when the hold was almost bare and
the liquor had still not come up, he ordered an investigation which
showed, too late, that the SeaBees had merely transferred the liquor
into empty ammunition cases. These were "accidentally" dropped into
the harbor, from whence they were fished out by cooperating landing

Long delays in discharging were common for Libertys on Pacific runs.
The Ada Rehan waited 28 days to unload at Humboldt Bay, Hollandia,
in 1944, because of the lack of dock space. She also lay at anchor
for long periods at Finschafen, Marlin Bay, Morotai, and other ports
waiting to discharge or load. Her Armed Guard officer, Lieutenant
(junior grade) Christianson, reported that morale was much impaired
because "little or no attempt is made to forward Armed Guard or
merchant marine mail as it arrives in New Guinea, although the Army
and Navy enjoy excellent mail service. This situation," he added,
"is the cause of much dissatisfaction."

If there had been boredom and seeming lack of purpose in these
island runs, it all ended when the merchant ships joined convoys for
the invasion of the Philippines at Leyte in October, 1944. In two
weeks, Libertys and other merchant ships delivered 30,000 troops and
500,000 tons of supplies to Leyte, fighting off almost continuous
air attacks. They were credited with shooting down at least 107
enemy planes in the ten weeks after D-Day. Much of this shooting was
done by merchant seamen who took the places of Navy gunners killed
or injured in air attacks.

In the initial Leyte landing, the Adoniram Judson distinguished
herself by not only delivering urgently needed aircraft landing mats
and aviation gasoline for the captured field at Tacloban but also
providing the principal air cover there for several days. The Judson
was honored for her fighting abilities by being named a "Gallant
Ship of the Merchant Marine," joining a select company of ships so
cited by the Maritime Commission for outstanding service under
combat conditions.

The crew of the Judson was virtually sitting on dynamite, for her
holds contained 3,000 barrels of high-octane gasoline. She
anchored at San Pedro Bay on 22 October under a full moon--and a
heavy attack by fighters and bombers. Three Zeros were beaten off by
20-millimeter fire; the 3-inch gun kept the high-level bombers at a
safe distance, and as soon as the attack was over Army troops began
discharging her cargo.

 This is a typical entry from the ship's log:

"Jap Zero making run on the stern. Aft three-inch gun opened fire
and forced him away at 1,500 yards... Jap plane coming in on the
stern. At 3,000 yards opened barrage and plane swerved off to
starboard... two Jap bombers overhead at medium altitude. Poor
visibility. Dropped strings of bombs inshore near MacArthur's
headquarters.., two Jap bombers port side at 5,000 yards. Barrage
diverted them."

The crew was on continuous alert at Tacloban. The Navy gunners ate
and slept at the guns, while the merchant crew carried ammunition,
loaded the 20-millimeter magazines, and helped to man the lighter

The Adoniram Judson was credited by the WSA with being the first
merchant ship to actually dock in the Philippines after the
invasion, although the David Dudley Field claimed to have been the
first American freighter to return to the islands. To celebrate this
historic event, the Field's gunners shot down several enemy
attackers and claimed three "probables." But the ship paid a heavy
price for its good shooting when a suicide bomber crashed into the
after gun tub and severely wounded several men.

The Marcus Daly was another fighting freighter honored as a "Gallant
Ship" for her role in the invasion at Leyte. Two of her crew, killed
trying to save wounded shipmates, were posthumously awarded the
Merchant Marine Distinguished Service Medal. "This ship," said the
WSA, "was under constant air attack for several days and was
credited with shooting down several planes." Merchant seamen
assisted in manning the guns. General MacArthur commended the Marcus
Daly for saving the dock area from serious damage or destruction:

For six days and nights, her guns, manned by a skillful and cou-
rageous crew, defeated vigorous attacks by enemy planes in a series
of heroic actions. In December of 1944, she again engaged enemy
bombers and suicide planes and emerged victorious. The stark courage
of her gallant crew against great odds caused her name to be
perpetuated as a Gallant Ship.

On her second voyage to the Philippines, with 1,100 troops on board,
the Marcus Daly was again attacked by Japanese planes. Able Seaman
Alvin R. Crawford was killed instantly. Able Seaman Richard G.
Matthiesen was severely wounded but managed to drag two men clear of
a fire. He died soon after.

The Thomas Nelson, anchored with some 20 other ships at Dulag Bay on
20 November, had 633 Army troops and hundreds of tons of ammunition
still on board when a suicide plane roared through a barrage of
20-millimeter fire and crashed on deck. Its bomb exploded on impact,
killing 140 soldiers, Navy gunners, and merchant seamen.

The USS Sonoma, a small Navy tanker, was tied up alongside the
Augustus Thomas when Japanese twin-engine bombers raided the
anchorage early in the morning of 24 October. The men on the Sonoma
would just as soon have been somewhere else at that moment, for the
Thomas carried 3,000 tons of ammunition plus 1,000 drums of aviation

One bomber, hit by antiaircraft fire, dived on the ship with both
engines on fire, hit the stack of the Sonoma, and bounced against
the Thomas. Its bombs blew a hole in the side of the Thomas and set
the Sonoma ablaze from stem to stern. The Thomas had 548 men on
board at the time, but amazingly, no one was killed.

A suicide plane hit the Benjamin Ide Wheeler on 27 October, and a
gasoline fire in number five hold turned the bulkhead of number four
hold red-hot. Despite the possibility that the ship might blow up,
crewmen poured water into the hold to prevent the spread of the
flames and to cool drums of fuel that had not yet caught fire. When
a man fell into an adjoining hold, Cadet John Allen Wilson went down
into this potential inferno, hot from the nearby fire and filled
with steam, put a line around the helpless sailor, and helped hoist
him to safety on the open deck. The Wheeler sat at Leyte for 76
days, an immobile hulk for most of that time.

Each ship at Leyte had a different story. The Wilbur C. Atwater
logged 165 air raids and alerts during her stay in the Gulf but came
out without harm. The W. B. Ayer towed an LCI into Leyte Gulf and
then laid there for over a month without firing a gun. The Jeremiah
Daly had many casualties when a kamikaze hit her just forward of the
bridge. There was also heavy loss of life on the Gilbert Stuart on
18 November when a kamikaze hit a 20-millimeter gun tub. Although
they could have jumped overboard and probably escaped the deadly
impact, the gun crew fired at the oncoming plane until it crashed on
top of them.

Six crewmen were injured when a bomb hit the William S. Ladd,
completely wrecking the engine room and starting fires that gutted
the ship. The Otis Skinner had a suicide plane crash through the
main deck and explode in the 'tween deck, blasting a 35-foot-long
hole in the hull, but no one was killed or injured, and she returned
to the United States under her own power for repairs. The Floyd
Spencer, approaching Leyte on her maiden voyage, was attacked by a
Japanese torpedo-bomber, but Captain Simpson Blackwood maneuvered to
evade the torpedo, and Spencer's gunners splashed the bomber.

The Matthew P. Deady had just arrived at Tacloban on 3 November when
several Japanese raiders bombed and strafed the shipping. Gunners
on the Juan CabriUo knocked down a plane headed directly for their
ship, but it burst into flames and crashed into the Deady, killing
four of the Armed Guard. Twenty-two soldiers were killed when the
exploding plane set off a load of liquid acetylene. Arthur F. Maxam,
an ordinary seaman on the Deady, received the Merchant Marine
Meritorious Service Medal for heroic action in leading a group of
volunteers into a blazing hold full of carbide and other
inflammable cargo, an action that probably saved their ship. On 12
November another suicide plane missed the Deady and splashed into
the bay nearby. Three more kamikazes were splashed by that ship,
which claimed a total of six planes killed during 44 raids at

More than 400 troops had been off-loaded from the Alexander Majors
when ten Japanese planes raided Dulag harbor at Leyte. A
single-engine fighter, despite the fire of every gun that could
bear, crashed into the mainmast, severed it ten feet above the deck,
and then exploded and showered the deckhouse and the forward part of
the ship with gasoline and bits of metal. Her crew, with the aid of
foamite brought aboard by a Navy LCI, brought the fire under
control. Two crewmen were killed; several gunners were badly

When a bomber hit the Morrison R. Waite, the explosion started a
fire in a load of Army trucks. Able Seaman Anthony Martinez went
below and rescued several Army longshoremen, then dove overboard and
saved two soldiers who had been blown into the water. Twenty-one men
were killed and 43 more were wounded. The Antoine Saugrain beat off
several of 35 bombers during one raid on Leyte. Almost all of her
Navy gunners were wounded, and merchant seamen manned the guns until
the ship was hit and sunk by an aerial torpedo. The Alcoa Pioneer's
merchant crew also manned the guns after most of the Navy gunners
had been killed or wounded.

The Mary Kinney claimed five kills at Leyte, as did the Charlotte
Cushman. The Laurence GianeUa, Sidney H. Short, Clarence Darrow, and
John W. Foster claimed two each. Captain James Blaisdell of the Mary
Kinney received the Merchant Marine Distinguished Service Medal
for his organization and leadership in that ship's protection and

Pacific beachheads took a toll of 44 merchant ships, most of them
Libertys, which were sunk by kamikazes, bombers, shellfire, or
torpedo attack. Many others were seriously damaged but were not
listed as total losses.

For the merchant marine, the Mindoro landings in the Philippines
were the most expensive in terms of ships and men. More merchant
mariners lost their lives at Mindoro, according to the War Shipping
Administration, than did members of the Armed Forces taking part
in the D-Day invasion.

A convoy that left Leyte on 27 December for Mindoro had two
especially tragic and spectacular losses. A dive-bomber hit the
ammunition-laden John Burke, and the ship disappeared in a blast so
devastating that when the smoke cleared away there was not even a
handful of floating debris to mark where the ship and her 68 men had
been. The Lewis Dyche, also loaded with ammunition, was hit by a
kamikaze at Magrin Bay on 4 January. The ship and her crew of 71
were completely disintegrated.

The Francisco Morazon was the only one of four Liberty ships in this
particular convoy to make the trip without being sunk or damaged.
Lieutenant John J. Hartley, the Armed Guard officer, credited their
survival to the "unceasing alertness of my men and the wonderful
cooperation from the merchant crew. We fired ten tons of ammunition,
all of which the merchant crew passed to us .... The men never left
their gun positions from the time we sailed from Leyte till we
arrived off Mindoro 72 hours later.., we knocked down six planes and
hit three others."

Brigadier General W. C. Dunkel of the West Visayan Task Force
commended Captain John J. Brady and the officers and crew of the
Francisco Morazon for "outstanding performance of duty .... The
Francisco Morazon, with a cargo of bombs and other ammunition,
maintained full efficiency and a well disciplined ship's crew and
guncrew despite its perilous cargo."

At Mindoro the Juan de Fuca was fired at by Japanese surface ships,
strafed by fighter planes, and blasted by an aerial torpedo. Captain
Charles Robbins and his crew beached the ship before she sank, then
helped to salvage the John M. Clayton, another Liberty that had been
torpedoed and bombed.

The James H. Breasted narrowly missed being hit by fire from the
same Japanese task force that shelled the Juan de Fuca, then was
sunk in a bombing attack; hut not before landing 600 Army troops
without a single injury to passengers or crew.

In the same operation the Hobart Baker was sunk by an aerial torpedo
while carrying a load of steel landing mats. The Chie/Charlot,
luckier, shot down a Japanese transport plane taking paratroops to

The David F. Barry escaped an ammunition explosion by the heroic
action of 27-year-old J. F. Parker, an oiler. When fire broke out in
a hold, presumably because of the carelessness of cargo-handlers,
Parker took a heaving line into the hold and made it fast around an
ignited smoke bomb so that the potentially explosive "fuse," laying
among 25 tons of gelatin, percussion caps, and TNT, could be hoisted
out and thrown over the side.

At Luzon, the Edward N. Westcott fired on a bomber headed directly
for the ship and blew the plane to pieces, but the engine catapulted
over the vessel, smashed two cargo booms, and finally crashed
amidships. Six merchant seamen and seven members of the Armed Guard
were wounded.

In mid-afternoon of New Year's Day, 1945, the Floyd W. Spencer was
attacked by a torpedo-bomber, that dropped its torpedo at 1,800
yards. At 1,000 yards all of the ship's 20-millimeters that could
bear opened up and splashed the plane. The torpedo missed by 20
feet. The Gus Darnell, not quite so lucky, was hit by an aerial
torpedo but did not sink. She was patched up and became a floating
storehouse for Army supplies in the Philippines.

Bad weather was welcome, in a way, because it kept the kamikazes at
their home bases, but it slowed up the war in other ways. The Juan
CabriUo's log noted that heavy swells in Lingayan Gulf made it
difficult to handle cargo, and there were many days when it was too
rough for landing craft to come alongside.

There were 500 Army troops and 2,500 tons of vehicles and gasoline
in drums aboard the Kyle V. Johnson as she steamed toward Lingayan
Gulf on 12 January 1945, in a 100-ship convoy about evenly divided
between ships and LSTs. At 0130 the convoy was attacked by six or
more planes, one of which crashed into the starboard side of the
Johnson at number three hatch. The engine plowed through the
hull-plating into a 'tween decks crowded with troops and thence into
the lower hold.

Said a survivor: "There was a blinding flash and an explosion so
heavy it blew the steel hatch beams higher than the flying bridge."
The ship dropped out of convoy to fight the fire, extinguished the
flames, and then rejoined the fleet, but with 129 men killed and
many injured.

Far from the headline-making battles of the central and southwest
Pacific, Liberty ships also helped fight a much lesser-known
campaign of the Pacific war, the defense of Alaska and the recapture
of the Aleutians from the Japanese. The war in the Aleutians had as
much tedium and as many snafus as any other, but it went on in
mists, fog, ice, cold, and howling williwaws and was overshadowed in
history by the strategically decisive battles of Midway and the
Philippine Sea.

Except for the occasional mention of Dutch Harbor, Adak, or Attu in
war communiques, the Alaskan Theatre was as hazy in the minds of
most Americans as if it was on the moon. And so it seemed to the
thousands of GIs sent to the cold, wet, barren Aleutians, where the
campaign ended with an almost comic opera invasion of an island
where the enemy had decamped and disappeared. That dismal land,
wrote Samuel Eliot Morison, "might well be called the Theater of
Military Frustration... sailors, soldiers and aviators alike
regarded an assignment to this region of almost perpetual mist and
snow as little better than penal servitude."

The Alaskan run was no short haul. It was 1,700 miles and 8 days
from Seattle to the closest port at Dutch Harbor--the same as from
Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Kingston, Jamaica--and hundreds of miles
more out to Amchitka and Kiska.

When the Alaskan buildup was accelerated in 1942, the territory had
half a dozen ports capable of handling Liberty-type ships, and some
of them were closed part of the year. Seward was the principal port.
In the spring of 1943, the Army built a new port at Whittier on
Prince William Sound, with a large pier to handle Liberty ships and
a branch rail line to the Alaskan Railroad some 50 miles away.

Within a year this port was handling 55,000 tons of cargo a month. A
dozen other new ports were built plus new or expanded facilities at
Adak, Shemya, Amchitka, Massacre Bay, and Kiska. The Army built a
breakwater and pier at Shemya that was handling 76,000 tons of cargo
a month by 1944.

Port facilities for two Liberty-sized ships were developed at
Amchitka, where the peak load hit 63,000 tons in September of 1943.
By April of 1943, Adak was the busiest port in Alaska, handling as
much as 130,000 tons of cargo a month.

A typical Liberty in the Alaskan shuttle was the John Paul Jones,
which spent more than a year hauling thousands of tons of cargo to
Kodiak, Ketchikan, Dutch Harbor, Seward, Woman's Bay, and Pleasant
Island. The Jonathan Harrington became known as the "Kodiak
Express," making many voyages to the inhospitable Aleutians and
the Bering Sea, including one call at Point Barrow, the extreme
northern tip of Alaska.

Another Liberty, the Daniel L. Lamont, logged more than a dozen
trips between Seattle and Port Townsend, and northern ports of
Seward, Skagway, Cordova, Dutch Harbor, Adak, Cold Bay, False Pass,
Squaw Harbor, and Attu.

The inhospitable weather conditions in the Alaska run are shown by
the log of the Samuel D. lngham, operating out of Seattle in 1943.

Feb. 10--Vessel rolling heavily. Wind force 6.

Feb. ll--Snow squalls. Very rough sea. Wind force 7-8.

Feb. 12--Wind force 7. Overcast with rain and rough sea.

Feb. 19---Freezing weather. Snow storm.

March 1--Rough head sea. Thick rain and mist. Very poor visibility.

Mar. 26--Wind hauled from SE to SW, reaching hurricane force with
rain squals. Reduced speed to 50 rpm. Driving rain and snow.

A particularly vicious storm in the Alaskan area proved what some
people had claimed about Liberty ships--that the welding was not
always of high quality and sometimes let a ship come apart at the
seams--but the aftermath of the affair proved that welding was, on
the other hand, the best way there was of putting her back together.

The Alexander Barano#, delivered by Permanente Metals Corporation of
Richmond, California, on 17 April 1943, was soon thereafter turned
over to the Russians under Lend-Lease and renamed Valeri Chkaluv.
She had made several uneventful trips between the West Coast and
Siberia with food and war supplies when she was caught in a terrific
storm. During the third day of the storm, under the hammering of
tremendous seas, a crack developed in the forward part of the ship
and spread, foot by foot, until, after 48 hours, with a boom like
the roar of a cannon, the Valeri Chkaluv broke completely in two.

All of the crew except one were in the after portion when the bow
broke away. Another Russian ship, this one commanded by a woman,
Captain Anna Schetinina, responded to the Chkaluv's SOS, but huge
seas prevented a rescue.

By the time a U. S. Navy destroyer and two tugs arrived on the
scene, the two sections of the ship were still floating, ten miles
apart. As the weather moderated, both ends were captured and towed
to North Vancouver, British Columbia, where they were welded
together. Then, as good as new, or perhaps even better, the ship
went back under the American flag with her original name of
Alexander Barano# and sailed on through the war.

On 11 December 1943 the Chief Washakie was 10 miles off Cape
Cheerful, in anything but cheerful weather--a northeast gale with
50-to 60-mile winds and seas as high as 40 feet. About 2215 what
sounded like a heavy explosion startled all hands, and immediately
the ship went down by the bow. First Mate Otto Karbbe rolled out of
his bunk and ran to the wheelhouse.

"We discovered within a few minutes," he reported, "that the hull
had cracked at number three hatch and in the 'tween decks below.
There was a two-inch-wide crack across the deck from the hatch to
the rail. When I went down the access hatch into number three hold
to investigate I saw the deck beams cracked and sagging. I got out

The crippled ship limped 30 miles into Makushin Bay, where SeaBees
spent several weeks welding stiffeners over her ruptured plates so
she could return to Seattle. Heavy seas soon broke the temporary
stripping and she put into Dutch Harbor for more patching.
Eventually, in Seattle, she was strengthened with longitudinal
girders and heavier deck straps, and went on to become one of the
most endurable of the Liberty fleet. In 1970, as the SS Chena of the
Alaska Steamship Company, she was still operating to and from

The winters of 1943 and 1945 were among the worst on record in
Alaskan waters. It was common for ships to report winds of 75 to 100
knots and seas from 40 to 50 feet high. The John P. Gaines, on her
second voyage, broke up about 40 miles south of Cherikoff Island on
27 November 1943 and went down with the loss of 11 lives. The John
Burke, in the same area at the same time, experienced no trouble.
That ship made nine voyages to Alaska; then, on her 10th voyage, to
the Philippines, she was lost with all hands off Mindoro on 28
December 1944.

After the John Straub sank in Alaskan waters in April of 1944 with a
loss of 15 men, there was a great hue and cry that the Liberty ship
was a poor product of shipbuilding, although survivors reported that
faulty construction "was not a factor in the sinking" and that, as a
matter of fact, the sea was smooth and the night clear at the time
of the accident.

Much of the criticism came from politicos and editors who didn't
know a strake from a rudder post and who, indeed, probably couldn't
distinguish a Liberty from a Victory or a C2. Their clamor was soon
deflated, however, when an investigation revealed that the ship's
loss was not, as first hastily assumed, caused by weakened deck
plates and sea action, hut rather the result of a violent underwater

Unlike the Germans who frequently offered cigarettes and sailing
directions, the Japanese had a sadistic habit of harassing the
survivors of torpedoed ships. The first vessel experiencing this
savagery in the Pacific was the SS Donerail, a New Zealand-operated
vessel flying the Panamanian flag, en route from Suva, Fiji, to
Vancouver with a load of sugar and pineapple. The submarine that
torpedoed her then surfaced and used its deck gun to send about 20
shells into the hulk while the crew and passengers were abandoning
ship. Sixteen men were killed by this shelling and most of the rest
were wounded. The surviving 24 set out in a riddled lifeboat for a
38-day voyage during which 16 of them died of wounds or starvation.
Those who finally reached Japanese-held Tarawa were taken prisoner.

On 30 October 1944, the Liberty ship John A. Johnson was steaming
from San Francisco toward Honolulu with food, explosives, and a
deckload of trucks. That area of the Pacific was not considered
particularly hazardous then, and the ship was running alone,
although lookouts were posted and the gun crew was ready for action.
The weather was clear, with scattered clouds, heavy swells and a
three-quarter moon.

No one saw the submarine, or the torpedo that struck at number three
hold. The ship was making a heavy roll at the time, and the
explosion at the turn of the bilge was fatal. The crew abandoned
ship, and as the last man left the ship she broke in two.

All hands escaped safely in two lifeboats and a raft. About half an
hour after the ship was abandoned, the submarine surfaced and began
shelling the two sections of the wreck, by then about a quarter of a
mile apart. After a few rounds, the forward section blew up in a
thunderous blast, with flames shooting hundreds of feet into the
air. The after section was set on fire.

Finished with its target practice, the raider then turned on the
lifeboats. One boat, with 28 men on board, was about 200 yards from
the submarine when it surfaced. It was a big one--at least 300 feet
long--with several American flags painted on the conning tower. The
captain was dressed in a white uniform, and the crewmen were
laughing and shouting as they fired into the wrecked ship.

When the submarine headed toward the boat, with the evident
intention of ramming, the men jumped over the side and swam out of
the way. A searchlight was turned on and several Japanese fired on
the survivors with pistols and a machine gun. After the raider
passed, the men could hear a number of their shipmates crying for
help, but there was nothing they could do.

They climbed back into the boat, but jumped out again when the
submarine made another try at ramming, the sailors shouting
"Banzai!" as they went by. This time, however, there was no firing.
When the submarine finally headed off toward the other castaways the
men climbed back into the lifeboat, but several of them had been
shot or drowned.

The raft, with 17 men aboard or clinging to grab-ropes, was
silhouetted by the burning ship and provided a perfect target for
the gunners on the submarine. A machine gun fired several bursts at
it and the submarine tried to ram, but twice a heavy sea rolled up
just in time to carry the raft free. The third time the submarine
sank the raft. Three men were killed by machine-gun fire as it
passed. Then, after one attempt to ram the other boat, the submarine
disappeared into the darkness.

Survivors were spotted the next morning by a Pan American Airways
clipper, which directed the USS Argus to the scene. Ten men were
killed by gunfire or drowned during the night of terror.

Obviously, a ship alone in the empty ranges of the Pacific looked
suspiciously on any other vessel appearing over the horizon. As the
Juan CabriUo headed from San Francisco toward New Zealand on her
maiden voyage in October, 1942, lookouts saw "a large,
suspicious-looking ship on the horizon." Lieutenant (junior grade)
William Canberry sent his gun crews to battle stations. There were
tense moments, for German raiders were thought to be operating in
those waters. Officers thumbed through their ship-recognition
manuals, inspecting the ship through their glasses and trying to
determine whether she was friend or foe.

And then as the gunners swung the 4-inch gun toward the target, the
percussion hand-lever struck the telescope light switch and
accidentally fired the gun. If there had been suspense before, there
was twice as much in the following moments as all hands waited to
see where the shell would hit. They were much relieved when, as the
official report puts it, "the shell hit short and astern of the
other ship, now some 81/~2 miles distant." They never did identify

While the toughest part of the Pacific War for Liberty ships was in
Philippine waters, there were occasional actions in many other
far-flung parts of that vast ocean. On Christmas Day of 1944, the
Robert J. Walker was off the coast of Australia when a torpedo took
off her propeller and destroyed the steering engine. The submarine,
evidently chary of expending any more torpedoes than necessary,
waited around for the ship to sink. When a second torpedo was seen
about two hours later, gunners blew it up only a hundred yards from
the ship. The submarine then tried a third shot that hit, despite a
rain of 20-millimeter shells directed at it. The crew escaped
without casualties and was picked up by HMAS Quickmatch. Despite two
torpedoes, the Robert J. Walker did not sink and had to be sent to
the bottom by the destroyer's guns.

For every ship that was attacked by planes or submarines, there were
a dozen that uneventfully carried out their unromantic task of cargo
delivery. The Henry D. Thoreau spent a year in the South Pacific
under charter to the Australian government, running between Sydney
and Port Moresby, Milne Bay, and other supply bases. She carried
troops, bulldozers, gasoline, cement for airfield construction,
cigarettes and beer. At one time, the Thoreau received 1,500
Australian troops right from the Queen Mary and carried them to New
Guinea. Everyone of them was "a bloke from Tobruk," just back from
three years of service in North Africa, and deserved a better fate
than being crowded aboard a ten-knot Liberty ship for a slow trip to
the jungles of New Guinea.

The Stephen Crane was the object of a mysterious air attack which no
one ever explained. While at anchor at New Guinea, an
airplane--apparently an American P38--approached the ship at low
altitude. When the "friendly" P38 roared over the ship it dropped a
bomb close alongside. Shrapnel from the blast killed an Army officer
and wounded 24 men. All guns opened fire immediately and sent the
plane down in flames. There was no way of knowing whether they had
shot down a confused American pilot, or an enterprising Japanese who
had somehow "borrowed" a P38.

It was in New Guinea, too, that heroic action saved the John C.
Calhoun. This Liberty was discharging ammunition into another ship
that caught fire and became a roaring inferno. Flames leaped between
the two ships and set the Calhoun on fire. Her crew braved the
flames to cut the mooring lines, shifted the ship to a safer
anchorage, and extinguished the flames before they could reach 300
barrels of aviation gasoline.

Many Liberty ships added dramatic sea rescues to their routine war
work in the Pacific. The Edwin T. Meredith was one of several Navy
and merchant vessels that answered the SOS when the troopship Cape
San Juan, carrying 1,429 soldiers, merchant seamen, and naval
gunners, was sunk. The Meredith picked up 443 men. Even a Pan
American Airways clipper landed in the open sea to rescue 40

Two Army airmen whose plane crashed in the western Pacific were
saved by the John Howard Payne. The ship was 75 miles away when it
picked up a radio report of the crash, but it hurried at top speed
to the scene. After several hours of searching, flares and then a
yellow raft were sighted. Although a high sea was running, the Payne
picked up the two men, one injured, and radioed the freighter
Whirlwind, also in the vicinity, which transferred two medical
corpsmen to the Liberty to care for the fliers. Two other men in the
plane were never found, although the Payne and other ships searched
for many hours.

The Pacific was no match for the North Atlantic when it came to bad
weather, but there were times when it kicked up its heels and belied
its gentle reputation.

The Henderson LueUing, westbound in February 1945, ran into such a
bad storm that all hands had to be called to secure the deck cargo.
A wave tore the tail assembly off an airplane, threw it against
Seaman Roy Snell, and broke his leg. Despite this injury, Snell
crawled to a shipmate who had been pinned against the bulwark, freed
him, and dragged him to safety.

Liberty ships saw their last action of the Pacific War during the
invasion of Okinawa, where the Japanese launched hundreds of suicide
planes at naval ships and transports in a desperate but futile
attempt to delay the hour of final defeat.

At least 2,000 kamikazes, plus conventional bombers, attacked the
invasion fleet, sinking 36 warships and damaging 368. A number of
merchant ships were also sunk or damaged. Libertys helped to carry
some of the 182,821 assault troops landed on Okinawa, plus a large
share of the 746,850 tons of supplies and the 503,555 tons of

One of these, the William B. Allison, was hit by an aerial torpedo
while at anchor at Nakagusuku Wan, shortly after breakfast on 24 May
1945. The blast tore a hole 30 feet deep and 13 feet wide in the
port side, demolished the machinery spaces and killed two men on
watch below. A Navy gunner was killed and six crewmen injured. After
temporary repairs made on the spot, the Allison was towed to Kerama

There were only 13 Navy gunners on the Uriah M. Rose when it arrived
at Nagakusuku in May of 1945, but what they lacked in numbers they
made up for in sharpshooting enthusiasm. With the help of the
merchant crew, they shot down at least two enemy planes and claimed
"assists" on six others.

On 3 June, the ship's gunners shot a wing off a kamikaze that was an
estimated 2,000 yards away and headed straight for the ship. At one
time during their stay at Okinawa, they manned their guns for 14
straight hours.

An interview with survivors of the Josiah Snelling made by
Lieutenant E. M. Harris, Jr., USNR, described how she was
crash-dived by a suicide plane at Nakagusuku on 27 May:

Shortly before 2300 hours a Japanese plane was seen approaching from
the North East, taking every advantage of clouds and haze for cover.
Port .20 millimeters and three inch 50 aft gun opened fire. At about
2300 this plane broke through the overcast 5,000 feet off the port
quarter. Two rounds of three inch 50 fire were seen to burst below
the plane and between it and the ship. The plane winged over and
dropped into a power dive directly for the midships house of the
vessel. All guns except numbers one and five .20 millimeters firing.
The attacking plane held a steady course for the ship's top deck.
At 2301 it struck at number one hold, coming in at an angle between
number two gun tub and the foremast. The plane sheared off numbers
one and two port cargo booms and number two port mast stay of steel
cable and demolished both forward winches. The plane then went
through the deck plates at the after coaming of number one hold and
exploded, bursting into flames on the cargo (sacks of cement) in the
bottom of number one hold. The explosion blew the gunners out of
numbers one and two .20 millimeter tubs down onto the main deck.

Miraculously, no one was killed in this attack, although the gunners
could have touched the plane as it roared past them. About a dozen
Navy men, merchant crewmen, and Army stevedores were injured.

The last Liberty ship damaged by the enemy in the Pacific War was
the victim of an unusual and unexpected attack. The Mary Livermore
was unloading at Nakagusuku the evening of 27 May, when lookouts saw
a seaplane taxiing on the water for takeoff a mile or so away. It
was reported to be an American floatplane of a type called the

Perhaps two minutes later, the same plane was sighted in the air,
headed straight for the ship. Before a single shot could be fired,
it struck a boom, bounced off and crashed into a 20-millimeter gun
tub on the starboard side, then caromed into the air and, with a
roar of exploding fuel and flame, crashed into the chartroom and the
captain's quarters. A bomb exploded and wrecked the bridge,
lifeboats and accommodations on the boat deck.

Eleven men, including four of the Armed Guard, were killed and
several were seriously injured in this strange attack. There wasn't
enough left of the plane to determine if it really had been an
American Kingfisher or a Japanese plane camouflaged to look like

After temporary repairs at Okinawa, the Mary Livermore sailed to San
Francisco under her own power and continued a seagoing career that
lasted 25 years. She later sailed as the Concord, World Leader, and
Myrto, and finally went to the shipbreakers on Taiwan in 1968 as the

Note: The following version of what really happened has been provided:
In reference to the Mary Livermore incident of 27 May 1945, I must make a few
corrections on the behalf of my father(still alive and feisty as ever , in his
mid 90s) , Albert Compton who was the third mate and acting captain of the Mary
Livermore from the moment of the incident until her return to San Francisco.

My father had just come off watch and was taking a nap in his bunk when he
incident occurred.

The Mary Livermore was stuck by a kamikaze, not a friendly aircraft. The bridge,
charthouse and forward part of the superstructure were heavily damaged (my
father recalls seeing daylight  up through his ceiling), Captain Stephenson and
the first mate were killed instantly, as was the second mate who was forward
supervising the unloading of cargo munitions (the Mary Livermore was carrying
105mm & 155mm artillery rounds).

As burning fuel from the Japanese plane was threatening the forward holds, my
father ordered them flooded, partially sinking the ship.

My father was originally recommended for some sort of Navy decoration. However,
he is not a stand-up-and-teary-eyed-salute type and his run in with the local
command over the disposition of his dead (he wasn't about to simply hire a
fishing boat and dump the bodies for the sharks a few miles out to sea as he was
instructed - so he had to make his own local arrangements) and sundry
bureaucratic matters led him to counter-suggest to the local Navy staff that
they "take their **** medal and shove it up their ***."

The raw details of the times and occurrences of the attack exist in a
supplementary ship's log (the original having been damaged). If it still exists
(along with the commendation recommendation), it would make interesting reading.
At any rate, my father can be reached at (619) 461-0178. Speak loudly and
reference this e-mail. He'd be delighted to chat.
James AF Compton, son
La Mesa  CA

Probably the most unusual cargo carried to a Pacific beachhead was
delivered to Okinawa by the William R. Davies--a consignment of
2,500 homing pigeons and their Signal Corps handlers. The ship had
plenty of other cargo, too, and it took 22 days to discharge it,
during which time the crew went to battle stations 72 times and shot
down one kamikaze, with another "probable." The records fail to show
what happened to the pigeons.

The ship's most exciting moment came during a night air raid when
the anchorage was blacked out and all hands were scanning the sky
for suicide planes. Just as the first kamikaze reached the target
zone, the deck cargo-lights were accidently flashed on, turning the
vessel into a brightly lit target. The lights were quickly doused,
but not before some fumble-thumb on the ship was soundly cursed by
all vessels in the vicinity.

Not long after that, the Pacific War was over. Japanese sea and air
power was a thing of the past, and cargo lights bloomed out on cargo
ships whenever and wherever they were needed.

As some of the hard-working Libertys then joined in the jubilant
task of bringing the victorious troops home again, General Douglas
MacArthur paid this tribute to merchant seamen in the Pacific war:

They have brought us our lifeblood and they had paid for it with
some of their own. I saw them bombed off the Philippines and in New
Guinea ports. When it was humanly possible, when their ships were
not blown out from under them by bombs or torpedoes, they have de-
livered their cargoes to us who needed them so badly. In war it is
performance that counts.

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