AP-23 West Point ex-America
America was laid down under a Maritime Commission contract (MC hull 1) on 22 August 1938, at Newport News, Va., by the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock. With a displacement of 35,400 tons and 723 feet long, America was launched on 31 August 1939; sponsored by Mrs. Franklin Delano Roosevelt, wife of the President of the United States; and entered service as the flagship of the United States Lines on 22 August 1940, when she commenced her maiden voyage.
This ship should not be confused with the USS America, a 21,085-ton transport built at Belfast, Northern Ireland, as the German passenger liner Amerika. Completed in October 1905, she spent the next nine years on the Hamburg-America Line's service between Germany and the United States. In late September 1919, USS America was decommissioned and transferred to the U.S. Army Transportation Service. She was converted back for use as a civilian passenger liner, making her first Atlantic crossing as SS America in June 1921. Except for time out caused by a serious fire in March 1926, the ship continued in this service until the early 1930s, when she was laid up on the Patuxent River, Maryland. She returned to active service in 1940 as the U.S. Army Transport Edmund B. Alexander. Again laid up in 1949, the old ship was sold for scrapping in January 1957.
Although initially slated for the North Atlantic trade, America (MC hull 1) was deployed instead on the New York to West Indies cruise routes, because the war in Europe had resulted in the invocation of the Neutrality Act banning American ships from trade in the war zones. She made several voyages to the West Indies and two to California into the spring of 1941. Hurriedly recalled from a pleasure cruise in late May 1941, America moored at Norfolk and was acquired by the Navy on 1 June 1941 for conversion to a troop transport. Renamed West Point and designated AP-23, the erstwhile cruise ship which had once been the "last word" in luxurious ocean travel, entered her builder's yards on 6 June for conversion. On 15 June, "in a brief and simple ceremony on the after sun deck," West Point was commissioned at Newport News, Capt. Frank H. Kelley, Jr., in command.
Carrying a total of over 350,000 troops during her naval service, West Point had the largest capacity of any Navy troopship in service during World War II. On one voyage in August 1944, she carried, including ship's company, a total of 9,305 people. In addition to troops, she had carried Red Cross workers; United Nations officials; children; civilians; prisoners of war; and U.S.O. entertainers.
Returning to her builder's yard at Newport News, West Point reacquired her old name-America-and immediately began conversion back to her original passenger-carrying configuration. She was returned to the United States Lines on 31 October 1946 and departed New York on 10 November to begin her maiden postwar crossing of the Atlantic. The liner continued to carry passengers between New York and Southhampton, England, into 1964.
With the advent of stiffer international competition in the transoceanic shipping business and the launching of the new United States Lines' flagship-the larger, more luxurious United States-America was sold to the Chandris Shipping Line, a Greek firm, in October 1964. Renamed Australis, the erstwhile transport and flagship of the United States Lines operated as a passenger liner into 1977 on cruises to the Far East and South Pacific. Acquired by an American cruise ship firm in early 1978, the ship's maiden voyage for her new owners was financially unsuccessful, and the ship began a major refit soon thereafter.
When jet travel displaced ocean liners as the primary mode of crossing the Atlantic, she found a new career and a new name - AUSTRALIS. In the twilight of her productive years, she was less successful, and later languished for years at anchor in Greece under a succession of forgettable names. Optimistically renamed AMERICAN STAR, she was headed for a new career as a hotel ship in Thailand when she went aground in the Canary Islands in 1994.
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