Until 1916, the Navy moved Marine Corps units using ships such as Prairie and Hancock, two converted commercial vessels that saw action during the US intervention in Vera Cruz. These ships were marginally capable of meeting the demands of individual contingencies, but the sea services nevertheless saw the need for transports specifically designed to carry Marines and their equipment.
The General Board, an advisory body for the Secretary of the Navy, included two transports for the Marine Corps' Advanced Base Force (ABF) in its long-range naval building program proposal of 1908. However, Congress did not appropriate funds for any transports until 1912 (fiscal year 1914). That year, legislators approved the construction of one of two transports the Navy had requested, which allowed the General Board to finally submit its design requirements to the Secretary. Later, the ship was named Henderson (after the fifth Marine Corps Commandant, Colonel Archibald Henderson) and designated Transport Number 1 (AP 1).
Henderson's design was shaped by the demands of the base-defense mission. Initially, the ship required sufficient internal volume to embark and support approximately 1,300 Marines, as well as their supplies, ammunition, and equipment. This equipment included eight artillery pieces and 32 horses that would transport the batteries once they were ashore. In addition, Henderson's crew would be able to provide limited surface fire support with their six 5-inch guns and then dismount them to the beach for use by the Marines. The ship would also carry mines for Marine shore defenses and two 50-foot picket boats to lay these mines and defend the forward base against small-boat attack.
Henderson's other characteristics would reflect Navy and Marine Corps assumptions concerning the ship's employment and the threats she would encounter. To get men and material ashore quickly in the absence of defending forces, Henderson's design featured a shallower draft than that found on other naval auxiliaries, which would allow her to anchor closer to a landing beach. For ship-to-shore movement, the ship could launch embarked small craft that included 11 assorted boats and barges and two to four unpowered lighters, the latter to carry guns, supplies and horses ashore.
Expecting the most serious attacks on the ship to occur during transit to a landing site, Navy designers wanted the transport to have torpedo bulkheads, a double bottom, and a watertight deck for survivability purposes. Driven by steam power generated by either oil or coal, Henderson's maximum speed of 14 knots would allow her to deploy and be protected with the rest of the fleet train.
These general design elements carried through much of Henderson's design process, though there were tensions between General Board requirements, Marine Corps desires, and the realities of the detailed ship design. When commissioned, the ship had less internal volume than planned. She had eight rather than six 5-inch guns, but only four could be moved ashore. Her top sustained speed was slightly below 14 knots. Nevertheless, Henderson was essentially the type of ship the Navy and Marine Corps had envisioned. Henderson was the first large ship to be gyro-stabilized. The stabilizing unit was installed while the ship was being built at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. The gyros being installed through the side of the ship, weigh four-fifths of one per cent of the displacement of the ship, approximately 80 tons. Each of these units contains a wheel weighing 26 tons mounted on a horizontal shaft lying in normal position athwartships. The units are secured to the ship in the gudgeon bearings, the trunions of which are visible on the top of each unit. This allows each unit to turn or precess about a vertical axis to give the spinning gyro rotors the second motion necessary to produce the gyroscopic action to help stabilize the ship. The gyros were capable of holding the ship down to three degrees of roll in the roughest weather. On numerous trans-Atlantic crossings experiments were conducted, rolling the ship with the stabilizers for experimental director gun fire as well as stabilizing the ship for economy in effort in operation and comfort of personnel on board. Henderson was well fitted for these experiments, being equipped with eight five-inch guns and a complete fire control director.
Built at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, the ship was launched on 17 June 1916 and commissioned on 24 May 1917. Entering service during World War I, the Navy quickly assigned the transport a new role: shuttling troops to the European theater. In this capacity as a "point-to-point" transport - as opposed to an expeditionary transport that would land troops as integrated combat units - Henderson carried between 1,700-2,200 men. All told, Henderson made eight more transits to France carrying men and supplies, including material used to establish two large base hospitals in France. During these voyages, the ship survived at least one U-boat attack on the convoy in which she was travelling, as well as a major fire in a cargo hold.
Henderson's employment as a point-to-point transport continued into 1919, and the ship would be called upon to reprise this role repeatedly throughout its career. By December 1919, the transport returned to the mission of supporting the Marine Corps, but most of its tasking involved the rotation of Marine units and equipment between the United States and Caribbean countries such as Haiti and Cuba where the Corps was engaged in long-running expeditionary operations.
After 1927 Henderson's operations focused primarily on the Pacific, where she transported men between the West Coast and the Pacific islands, the Philippines, and the China coast. In 1927, Henderson carried a Marine garrison to Shanghai, China, and from then until 1941 the ship operated between there, the U.S. west coast, the Philippines, and other Pacific islands.
Nevertheless, Henderson reverted to the expeditionary transport role on occasion, participating in amphibious exercises for the first time in 1920. The ship also took part in Fleet Exercise # 3 in 1924, in which she embarked an armored lighter or "beetle boat" (officially known as "Troop Barge A") for testing during a mock amphibious assault on the Panama Canal Zone. The use of the beetle boat - a derivative of the "beetles" the British had used during operations at Gallipoli - marked the start of an intensive Marine Corps and Navy search for a true landing craft.
Henderson continued in her dual role until World War II. Following the outbreak of war between the U.S. and Japan in December 1941, the ship was assigned duty transporting men and cargo between California and Hawaii. In the year and a half following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the ship carried people and cargo between California, Hawaii, and the South Pacific. Ultimately she made over twenty such voyages. On her last voyage as a transport, between July and September 1943, she delivered nurses to Noumea and Seabees to the Solomons. The transport was decommissioned in 1943 and entered an Oakland, California shipyard to be converted to a hospital ship, reentering service as USS Bountiful (AH 9) in March 1944.
During the First World War, Navy nurses served aboard the troop transports USS Henderson and USS George Washington when transporting President Woodrow Wilson to France. After 1943, Navy nurses would yet again serve on Henderson when it was known as the Navy hospital ship USS Bountiful.
Following her October 1943 decommissioning, the elderly transport Henderson (AP-1) was converted to a hospital ship at Oakland, California. Renamed Bountiful (AH-9), she was recommissioned in March 1944. Bountiful carried casualties from several Pacific amphibious operations - including the Marine assault on the island of Peleliu in 1944 - to rear areas for further treatment and convalescence. The ship also featured one of the few afloat blood banks in the Pacific theater.
After a round trip between San Francisco and Honolulu, she arrived off the invasion beaches at Saipan in June. The hospital ship made three transits to Kwajalein with casualties of the Marianas invasions, then served into September as a floating hospital at Manus. During the rest of the year and into 1945 Bountiful transported casualties of the Peleliu landing to hospitals in the Solomons and carried veterans from Leyte to rear bases. In February 1945 she departed Manus to receive casualties of the Iwo Jima campaign, and over the next several months took on wounded from Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and fleet units at sea. Bountiful returned to Leyte in June, departed in July and arrived at San Francisco in late August 1945.
Postwar, Bountiful was sent back across the Pacific and served as hospital ship at Yokosuka, Japan from November 1945 to March 1946. Bountiful hosted observers of the 1946 atomic tests at Bikini Atoll, then made a voyage to the U.S. West Coast. Between May and August she supported the atomic bomb tests at Bikini. USS Bountiful was decommissioned and turned over to the Maritime Commission in September 1946, stricken from the list of Naval vessels in the following month, and delivered to a scrapping firm in January 1948.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|