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AP-7 Wharton / 535-Class President
Passenger Vessels

The US Shipping Board 535-ft Class were 535 feet long, with about 14,000 grt and provision for about 550 passengers. These steel-hulled, twin-screw passenger and cargo steamship were started near the end of and shortly after World War I under United States Shipping Board (USSB) contracts. The design was initially intended as Army troop transports for the Great War, but they were completed as combination passenger liners and cargo carriers for mercantile service. Seventy per cent of the entire fleet of passenger liners under construction for the Shipping Board were ordered from New York Shipbuilding Corporation, which built nine of the sixteen 535-foot class. The first four of these liners to be delivered were the product of this yard. Fourth of the 535-foot class to be delivered, the American Legion is a twin-screw, oil-burning vessel of 21,425 tons displacement and has accommodations for 280 first class passengers and 194 third class. The liners of this group have a sea speed of 17 1/2 knots.

Some were among America's fastest and best Pacific liners until the introduction of newer ships in the thirties. Some were originally employed by the Pacific Mail Steamship Co. from 1921 until this line was taken over by Dollar Line in 1925, but continued on the same run. Other ships of the 535-ft Class were operated by Admiral Oriental Line / American Mail Line, Munson Line (American Legion etc.) and United States Lines (Lone Star State / President Harding and Peninsula State / President Roosevelt).

Business men of both Americas were quick to realize the advantage of Munson Steamship Lines's line of ships which runs on scheduled time like a railroad train. They were quick to appreciate the saving in time by these ships operated for the Government by the Munson Lines, which cut from five to seven days off the voyage from North to South America. Less than twelve days to Rio! And less than sixteen days to Buenos Aires, including stops at Rio and at Montevideo. A schedule like this brought these lands opportunity, of romance, of stimulating interest to our very door.

Four sister ships, almost identical in size and appearance, made this run. They were appropriately named "The Pan-America," "The Western World," "The Southern Cross," and "The American Legion," and they opened a new era of safe, fast, luxurious travel between the Americas. In exterior they were as beautiful ships as ever lay up to dock. Absolutely steady, built with every device of the greatest ship builders to insure safety and solidity, though not the largest liners afloat they would challenge comparison with any for riding quality. They combine powerful construction of the hull, beautiful balance of naval architecture and perfectly adjusted super-structure with every modern safely device of a technical kind known to the shipbuilder's science. Oil burning engines, twin screws, closely, spaced water tight bulkheads mean cleanliness, speed and safety.

And they were at the same time operated by carefully chosen personnel, American throughout, under Masters who were among the best tried and ablest navigators on all the Seven Seas. The Captains of these vessels were men who were chosen for their qualities of courage and manliness as well as seamanship to wear the uniform of the United States. The organization of the personnel on these ships wes one of their proudest boasts.

And at the same time that they are splendid ships, they are: like charming summer hotels afloat. Each cabin is a room with a bed - not a berth - with a closet, and in most cases, a tiled bath with hot and cold sea water and fresh water and plenty of lights; and a full length mirror and a small mirror. There was a dresser and a table, a divan with a reading light and plenty of pillows, an easy chair of Chinese wicker. Passengers might lie in your bed and merely touch a button for any want; turn a little device to run the fan or the ventilator, tip the thermos bottle of ice water just to hand; turn another indicator to any desired heat in the electric stove. And there arc two port holes or in other cases a square window opening to the sea.

In the double rooms, the second bed disappears into the wall when it has been made up, so as to give more room when it is not being used. The salon is like a living room in a country home, paneled in delicately tinted wood, hung its curtains of gold colored silk with soft chairs and sofas covered in attractive cretonnes, a really good grand piano, fireplace and book shelves filled with all sorts of interesting books for ship board reading.

Then there is the smoking room, done in dark woods and leather, and, up a flight stairs, the writing room where many comfortable little desks, a type writer, and plenty of stationery are at hand; the tea room where you may take tea in preference to having it on deck, or where passengers drink after-dinner coffee. And there is the bulletin board where they gather to read the latest wireless news, to discuss the ship's run and to find the announcements of the next festivities on the schedule.

A glance at the menu for any meal convinced that nothing has been overlooked in the planning of the meals. Every course includes a choice among offerings and the fine refrigerating plant of the ship insures perfect freshness as well as the presence of plenty of fruits and vegetables in addition to meats, on the tables. But if this were not enough, the Steward prepare in advance any special dish, and indeed seemed delighted to send plates of fruit or delicacies to rooms besides. There is a barber aboard who does other things also, such as take pictures of groups or develop your photographs or take flash lights of the fancy dress ball. And there is a "beauty-shop" completely equipped for shampoos and curls and manicures and facial massages.

There was a laundry, and a pressing service. Passengers put their shoes outside the cabin door to be polished or whitened as the case may be. Passengers were furnished with paper bags for laundry and with wooden hangers by the room steward. And there is a complete bell boy service, also. The stewards and stewardesses lend a hand whenever asked to do so. There was an excellent physician can board who can be consulted should necessity arise any time. And let us not forget the Purser and his assistants who perform a multitude of small services for the passengers, from answering their questions to changing their money. But best of all, perhaps, was the universal good humor with which all services are performed. These people who look after passenger comfort did it as if they were adding to their own happiness by helping you to enjoy the trip.

The decks were commodious enough for walks and games of all sorts, which begin furiously its soon as you are out to sea. The deck steward will give passengers warm rugs and there are all sorts of comfortable chairs, both on the lower deck and on the "verandah" sometimes under roof, sometimes under awnings. And the open-air swimming tank gave plenty of swims in salt water. Every room, besides, was an outside room. Nowhere in the ship was there the slightest odor from cooking or anything else but the clean fresh air from the sea.

And then, in addition to the daytime games and sports on deck, there is dancing on the deck to the strains of one of the finest small orchestras ever. Even the motion pictures were given right out doors. It is an out door trip all the way. In addition to the single and double rooms, there are suites where charming bed room and bath have also their sitting room. These sitting-rooms have large windows opening onto the upper deck and they are very attractively decorated in a quiet color, with the comfortable cretonne covered furniture, mahogany desk and table. They are deliciously cool and breezy in the warmest weather and delightfully quiet. There was a nearby room for personal servant in connection with these suites.

Families who considered taking their children on this voyage did do so with the assurance that their children would enjoy the trip as much as they themselves. There was a prettily decorated play room fitted with things the children like, to help its amusing them. The Steward's stores included the things they ought to eat. And they were so well provided for in advance that there are even perambulators in which they may take their rides on deck. Every ship on the run always carried her complement of children who form a very pleasant part of the ship's life.

In 1937 studies began on the proposed conversion of Dollar Line 535' Class ships to troop transports. During the period of national emergency beginning in 1939 when the war in Europe began and up to the attack on Pearl Harbor, energetic steps had been taken to increase the fleet of transports. Starting in 1939 some of these ships were purchased by the War Department and converted to troop ships.

On the evening of 12 November 1942 the German submarine U-130 slipped in among the ships riding at anchor in Fedhala Roads and fired five torpedoes at three transports. All torpedoes hit their targets, and they burst into flames. The victims were Edward Rutledge (AP-52), Hugh L. Scott (AP-43), and Tasker H. Bliss (AP-42). All were abandoned, and the first two sank shortly; but Tasker H. Bliss burned until 0230 the next morning and then sank.

USS Wharton, a 21,000-ton (displacement) transport, was built in 1921 at Camden, New Jersey, as the 13,788 gross ton civilian passenger steamship Southern Cross. In November 1939, following commercial operation between the US and South America and a period in lay-up, she was acquired by the Navy. Converted to a troopship at Brooklyn, New York, and renamed Wharton, she was placed in commission in December 1940. During the next year the ship was employed carrying personnel and dependents between the U.S. West Coast and Hawaii, with one trip further west to Midway Island. The transport continued this work after the Pacific War began in December 1941, but in mid-1942 she began voyages to the southwestern Pacific to support increasingly intense combat operations in that region.

Harris (AP-8) was built in 1921 by Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corp., Sparrows Point, Md. She served as a passenger ship, Pine Tree State, and was renamed President Grant in 1922. She operated to the Orient for American Orient Line, later American Mail Line, and was one of America's fastest and best Pacific liners until the introduction of newer ships in the thirties. President Grant was idled by the 1936-37 Maritime strike, and lay at Seattle until being taken over by the Navy from the Maritime commission 17 July 1940. Converted to a troopship at Todd's Seattle yard, she was renamed Harris and commissioned 19 August 1940, Lt. A. M. Van Eaton in command.

USS Zeilin, a 21,900-ton transport, was built in 1920 at Newport News, Virginia, as the passenger liner Silver State. Zeilin (AP-9) was started by the Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Co. near the end of World War I as an Army troop transport but completed as SS Silver State, a combination passenger liner and cargo carrier for mercantile service-served during the 1920's and 1930's on the West Coast-to-Far East circuit, first with the Pacific Steamship Line, then with the Admiral Orient Line, and finally with the Dollar Line. Renamed SS President Jackson on 23 June 1922, she served under that name until acquired by the Navy in July 1940. She was converted to a transport and commissioned in February 1942. During the next year, Zeilin made a round-trip voyage to the South Pacific, then took part in the Guadalcanal Campaign, during which she was damaged by Japanese air attack on 9 November 1942. Following repairs, and reclassification as an attack transport (APA-3), she participated in operations in Alaskan waters, including the landings at Attu in May 1943 and at Kiska in August.

Leonard Wood (AP-25), ex-Nutmeg State and Western World, was built in 1922 by the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Co., Sparrow Point, MD. The passenger liner SS Western World, a 17-knot ship of 13,712 tons, which had been running to South America, was purchased by the Army and converted into the transport Leonard Wood. Her capacity by peacetime standards had been 1,500, but this was greatly increased when she became an Army transport. The USS Leonard Wood (APA-12) was taken over by the Navy from the Army Transport Service 03 June 1941; and commissioned 10 June, manned by the Coast Guard. She entered Philadelphia Navy Yard in March 1942 for conversion to an attack transport. She was redesignated APA-12 on 1 February 1943.

USS Joseph T. Dickman, a 21,900-ton attack transport, was built at Camden, New Jersey, as the civilian passenger ship Peninsula State. Completed in 1922, she was soon renamed, initially becoming President Pierce and a few months later President Roosevelt. Operating commercially until 1940, she was then taken over by the War Department, renamed Joseph T. Dickman and converted to a troop transport. In May 1941 the Army transferred the ship to the Navy. Designated AP-26, she was commissioned in June 1941. In February 1942 Joseph T. Dickman received modifications to better suit her for amphibious operations. and was redesignated APA-13 in February 1943.

USS Hunter Liggett, a 21,900-ton transport, was completed at Sparrows Point, Maryland, in 1922 as the civilian passenger ship Pan America. During 1939-1941, she served as the U.S. Army Transport Hunter Liggett. She was converted for military use and made her first voyage beginning in April 1939, steaming from New York to San Francisco, California, by way of the Panama Canal. During the next two years, she carried Army personnel and materiel in both the Atlantic and Pacific areas, and took part in amphibious exercises on occasion. The Navy took her over and placed her in commission in June 1941 with a crew of U.S. Coast Guard officers and men. In February 1943 she was reclassified as an attack transport, with the new hull number APA-14.

Henry T. Allen (AP-30) was launched as an Army transport under the Shipping Board in 1920 by New York Shipbuilding Corporation, Camden, New Jersey. Completed in 1921 as Wenatchee, she was operated by Pacific Steamship Co. until November 1922, and renamed President Jefferson. She then operated for and was purchased by Admiral Oriental Line. The ship was laid up in Seattle in 1938, and was purchased by the Army in October 1940. Renamed Henry T. Allen by the Army, the ship was then acquired by the Navy 6 December 1941 and placed in partial commission for conversion to Navy use at Moore Dry Dock Co., Oakland, Oalif. Henry T. Allen commissioned in full 22 April 1942. On 1 February 1943 she was redesignated an attack transport, APA-15.

J. Franklin Bell (AP-34) was laid down in 1918 as an Army transport by the New York Shipbuilding Corp. of Camden, N. J.; completed 1 March 1921 as a passenger and cargo ship named Keystone State; turned over to Pacific Steamship Co. 28 May and renamed President McKinley 9 June 1922; and transferred to Admiral Oriental Line 21 December to operate in the Pacific until laid up in Seattle in 1938. The Army purchased her 26 October 1940, renamed her J. Franklin Bell, and converted her into a military transport. She was transferred to the Navy 26 December 1941; and commissioned in ordinary before commissioning in full at San Francisco 2 April 1942, and reclassified APA-16 1 February 1943.

USS American Legion, a 13,736-ton transport, was originally built at Camden, New Jersey, as a civilian passenger ship. Atnerican Legion - a steel-hulled, twin-screw passenger and cargo steamship - was laid down on 10 January 1919 under a United States Shipping Board (USSB) contract at Camden, N.J., by the New York Shipbuilding Corp. and launched on 11 October 1919. She was delivered to the USSB upon completion, on 15 July 1921. For over four years, American Legion remained in the hands of the Federal Government, under the auspices of the USSB. However, on 18 December 1925, as part of a "package deal" which involved the sale of the liners American Legion, Southern Cross, Pan America, and Western World, the government sold these ships to the Munson Line for operation on the New York-to-South America run. For the next fourteen years, American Legion and her running-mates were familiar sights on that particular passenger-and-cargo route, until financial difficulties forced foreclosure of the Munson Line on 13 March 1939. She was then laid up in the Patuxent River. Her enforced idleness did not last long. A little under three months after Hitler's legions had marched into Poland, triggering World War II in Europe, the Maritime Commission (the successor to the USSB) transferred American Legion to the War Department on 28 November 1939 for use as the U.S. Army Transport American Legion [unlike the other ships of this class, the transfer did not involve a new name]. Beginning in February 1940, she mainly served along the U.S. east coast and in the Caribbean area, but made one trans-Atlantic round-trip voyage in mid-1940, rescuing the Norwegian Crown Princess and many other persons from the European war zone. In August 1941, after participating in the U.S. build-up in Iceland, the transport was transferred to the Navy and commissioned as USS American Legion (AP-35). She was reclassified as an Attack Transport and given the new hull number APA-17 in February 1943

Tasker H. Bliss (AP-42) was built in 1921 as President Cleveland in Newport News, Va., by the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Co., and was owned and operated as a passenger liner by the American President Lines. The steamship was chartered by the Army in July 1941 and renamed Tasker H. Bliss. She was converted for troop use and made five Pacific voyages for the Army before being routed on to Baltimore, Md., where she arrived on 15 August 1942. There, the ship was transferred to the Navy on 19 August 1942; was converted for use as a Navy transport by the Maryland Drydock Co., Baltimore, Md.; and was commissioned on 15 September 1942.

Hugh L. Scott (AP-43) was built as Hawkeye State for USSB by Bethlehem Shipbuilding Co., Sparrows Point, Md., in 1921. Renamed President Pierce, she sailed for the Dollar Steamship Co., and later for the American President Lines as a passenger liner. Taken over by the Army 31 July 1941, she was renamed Hugh L. Scott and made four voyages to the Far Bast before sailing to the East Coast in July 1942. The ship was taken over by the Navy 14 August 1942, and converted to an attack transport at Tietjen and Lang (later Todd Shipbuilding & Drydock Co.), Hoboken, N.J. She commissioned 7 September 1942.

USAT Willard A. Holbrook was originally BUCKEYE STATE, operated by the Matson Line from June 1921 to March 1922, making three voyages from the East Coast to Hawaii. Transferred to Pacific Mail Steamship Co. June 26, 1922 and renamed President Taft. Sold to Dollar Steamship Co. 1926. Transferred to APL 1938. Taken over by the Army June 1941. Converted to a troop transport and renamed WILLARD A. HOLBROOK in September 1941. Maj. General Willard A. Holbrook, who once was considered for the position of commander in chief of the Allied forces in Europe during World War 1. That job eventually fell to Gen. Pershing, however. Willard Holbrook was a distinguished officer. He became director of the command and general staff college at Fort Leavenworth, KS. He was named chief of cavalry in 1920 and died in 1932. Conversion to a hospital ship was commenced at Mobile, Alabama in March 1943, and the ship tentatively renamed ARMIN W. LEUSCHNER. Work was discontinued with the coming of V-J day and the name WILLARD A. HOLBROOK restored. Vessel proceeded to New York and converted to a military dependent carrier by Todd Shipyard. Remained in this service until the summer of 1946. Sold for scrapping October 29, 1957.

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Page last modified: 22-07-2011 17:34:32 ZULU