UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!


AP Troop Ships

Starting with the Spanish-American War, passenger ships were outfitted as a troop ships to transport soldiers all over the world. Convoys of troop ships carryied military people and supplies from North America to Europe and Asia. Soldiers assembled from around the country line up for the tedious task of loading troop carriers at ports. For the vast majority of troops, it is their first time on a ship. Ahead of them are the unknown factors of rough weather, sea sickness, and [by World War I] German submarines.

The Supreme Court of the United States has upheld deviations from standard constitutional rights where there is an imminent threat of harm. For example, in the landmark case of Near v. Minnesota, 283 U.S. 697, the issue came up on the question of prior restraint to stop the publication of a newspaper. And albeit dictum, the Supreme Court of the United States said there could be a curtailment of that kind of a fundamental constitutional right if, for example, the publication of the sailing date of a troop ship would place that ship in jeopardy.

While under Coast Guard escort, no US troop ship en route to France during World War I was successfully attacked by German submarines. In June 1917, the first American troop ship dispatched to France included over 400 black stevedores and longshoremen. In September 1918, the all-black 809th Pioneer Infantry arrived in France. During the 14-day voyage aboard the troop ship President Grant, about half of the 5000 men on board fell ill with "Spanish flu". So many men died en route that their bodies had to be buried at sea. The influenza pandemic of 1918 was one of the worst disease outbreaks in human history. The best evidence indicates that this disaster began at Camp Funston, an army base in Kansas on March 8, 1918. An influenza virus mutated into a lethal strain. It arrived in Europe on American troop ships in early April 1918, and perhaps mutated again. The epidemic traveled fast in three waves of infection, reaching almost every corner of the world by the spring of 1919, when the virus played itself out. Influenza killed over 20 million people in the span of a year. This was more than twice the number of people who died in the horrific battles of World War I.

USS Leviathan, a 58,000 ton (displacement) troop transport, was completed at Hamburg, Germany, in 1914 as the German flag passenger liner Vaterland. Laid up at Hoboken, New Jersey, when World War I began, she was seized when the United States joined the conflict in April 1917. The Navy took custody of the ship soon afterwards, placing her in commission as USS Vaterland in late July 1917, while she was being refitted for service as a troop transport. In early September the ship was renamed Leviathan, and appropriate name considering that she was then the largest ship in the U.S. Navy, and in the World. The Navy would not operate a bigger ship until 1945, when the slightly longer and heavier aircraft carrier Midway entered service.

Leviathan's seagoing Naval career commenced in November 1917, when she made a trial trip from Hoboken to Cuba and back. In December she took troops to Liverpool, England, but repairs delayed her return to the U.S. until mid-February 1918. A second trip to Liverpool in March was followed by more repairs. At that time she was repainted with the British-type "dazzle" camouflage scheme that she carried for the rest of the war. With the completion of that work, Leviathan began regular passages between the U.S. and Brest, France, delivering up to 14,000 persons on each trip. In all, she transported nearly 120,000 servicemen to the combat zone before the November 1918 Armistice brought the fighting to an end.

Shortly afterwards Leviathan, repainted grey overall by December 1918, started to bring American war veterans home. She made nine round-trip voyages for this purpose, completing the last in September 1919. Late in October, USS Leviathan was decommissioned and turned over to the U.S. Shipping Board. She later became the U.S. Flag ocean liner Leviathan. The great ship was scrapped in 1938.

In the early 1940s, as the Navy expanded in response to the threat of involvement in World War II, a large number of civilian passenger ships and larger freighters were acquired, converted to transports and given hull numbers in the AP series. Some of these were outfitted with heavy boat davits and other arrangements to enable them to handle landing craft for amphibious assault operations. In 1942, when the AP number series had already extended beyond 100, it was decided that these amphibious warfare ships really constituted a separate category of warship from conventional transports. Therefore, the new classification of Attack Transport (APA) was created and numbers assigned to fifty-eight APs (AP #s 2, 8-12, 14-18, 25-27, 30, 34-35, 37-40, 48-52, 55-60, 64-65 and 78-101) then in commission or under construction.

In World War II, luxury liner passenger ships, including the famous Cunard "four-stackers," were converted to carry troops to European ports. World War II saw the Queen Mary's conversion to a troop ship know as the "Grey Ghost", carrying up to 15,000 troops at one time. She later carried more than 22,000 war brides and children to the United States and Canada. The Queen Elizabeth was brought to San Francisco to protect it from being damaged by the Germans while it was still under construction. It was converted to a troop ship, that could carry more than 10,000 troops, stacked four high in elaborate cabins which had forty people in them. It took about forty days to zigzag across the Pacific.

At times, intentions are crystal clear, and the branding of an object (by purpose) as a military target becomes rather easy. A good illustration might be that of a civilian luxury liner, which a belligerent overtly plans (already in peacetime) to turn into a troop ship at the moment of general mobilization. Although by nature a civilian object, and not yet in use as a troop ship, it may be attacked as a military objective at the outbreak of hostilities (assuming that it is no longer serving as a passenger liner).

The P-2 Admiral-type troop ships were built in World War II and used by the Army Transport Service to deploy and return troops. Some of these vessels underwent conversion for peacetime transport after the War. Some were placed in ready-reserve status in the Maritime Administration's Reserve Fleet. Others were selected for conversion and upgrade into barracks ships by the Navy.

German U-boats stalked allied supply and troop ships headed for the wars in Europe, sinking many. Service aboard the troop ships was hazardous duty - even more hazardous than the other branches of service, its veterans assert. During the long ocean crossings, the ships faced a constant threat from Axis submarines and air raids. To avoid attracting enemy torpedoes to the ships, the lights of cities were dimmed. In World War II New York alone dispatched 50% of the East Coast's war-zone bound cargo and sent off millions of GIs on troop ships. Neon signs at Times Square, including marquees for Broadway shows and the New York Times moving tickertape, were lowered. No lights illuminated office buildings above the tenth floor. Troop ships often left at night to thwart spies and submarines. Many times, the troops ships were part of a large convoy, including merchant ships, protected by Navy vessels.

The US Army Transport Service USAT Dorchester was converted for the purpose of being a troop ship, Built in the 1920s as a luxury cruise ship, the vessel had come out of mothballs to aid the war effort. On Jan. 22, 1943, the Dorchester left Staten Island for an American Base in Greenland. The waters were cold and icy. German U-boats were constantly prowling that vital sea lane. On February 3, 1943, at 12:55 AM, one of the German U-boats with its periscope up breaking the chilly Atlantic waters, had the Dorchester in its sights. Torpedoes were fired, and the hit was devastating and deadly. The Dorcester sank within 27 minutes. Through all the pandemonium, four Army Chaplains brought hope and life to many of the troops in a time of despair and death. Those Army Chaplains were Lt. George L. Fox, Methodist: Lt. Alexander D. Goode, Jewish: Lt. John P. Washington, Roman Catholic: and Lt. Clark J. Poling, Dutch Reformed. When all the life jackets from the storage lockers had been removed, the Chaplains, seeing the need, removed theirs and gave them to four frightened soldiers. In company with the 672 men that died, the four Chaplains passed life's ultimate test. A posthumous Special Medal for Heroism, honoring the Four Chaplains, never before given and to never be given again, was authorized by Congress and awarded by the President January 18, 1961. That medal was intended to have the same weight and importance as the Medal of Honor.

During the 1950s and much of the 1960s, prior to widespread use of trans-oceanic air transportation, most U.S. service personnel assigned to overseas stations were carried there on board ship, including troop transports operated by the Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS). During these voyages, life on board resembled a militarized version of that aboard contemporary civilian ocean liners, with classes of accomodation varying according to the rank of the passengers. Shipboard services were provided by Naval and Military personnel, and by civilian members of the Civil Service crews that operated most MSTS transports.

The Navy Sea Transport Ship (NSTS) ships could quickly be converted to troop ships in time of war, but the ship in peacetime configuration was like a poor man's cruise ship. No bucket seats, a good lounge, private staterooms, open seating mess hall, children's play room, nursery, some group activities, but no glamor.

By 1962 Defense Secretary MacNamara was unable to identify a military contingency for which the strategic sealift of troops would be necessary or desirable. In an emergency, commercial air fleet alone could airlift more troops than US forces were prepared to deploy. Deployment by air would also provide a faster initial response and shorter transit time. In routine peacetime operations the movement of almost all personnel overseas by air could result in direct financial savings. Furthermore, the effectiveness of US forces would be augmented by providing the equivalent of 10-15,000 more man years through reduced transit and collection time. He therefore decided to begin the retirement of all 16 troop ships then in the active fleet.

In the 1900s Doughboys had spent weeks on a troop ships with their units, discussing the horrors of war and generally putting the experiences behind them. "Magic Carpet" voyages between December 1945 and July 1946 returned servicemen from Okinawa, Guam, Peleliu, Manus, Truk, and Kwajalein to the West Coast. As transportation improved the rate of return, soldiers found themselves reunited with their families with the stress of combat fresh in their minds. Vietnam brought the problem to a head as individuals were transported over the course of a few days into and out of combat.

Operation Restore Hope in Mogadishu, Somalia was a humanitarian relief effort. Joint-service/multinational operation to restore order in Somalia and permit world relief agencies to provide food and medical care to more than 4.5 million people dislocated because of clan warfare. As the operation was drawing down in 1993, MSC-chartered and RRF ships troop ships shuttled American troops from Somalia to Keyna for airlift by MTMC. This is believed to be the first use of troop ships to transport American forces since 1968.

Travel by sea is associated with the old cramped troop ships, seasickness, and slow boats. The newer cruise ships are none of these, of course, but the perceptions remain. The big luxury cruise ships would appear years later to replace the ocean liners of the fifties. While the cruise ships offer constant entertainment with gambling, cocktail lounges, live bands and singers, swimming pool, gyms, and shore excursions, the primary purpose of ocean liners was to get the passengers from one place to another. Varying degrees of luxury were provided by "Classes" such as first class down to steerage class.

The two remaining troop ships are used as training ships for Academy maritime cadet during peacetime. They also serve as a Ready Reserve Force troop ship for use during national emergencies. Between 2005 and 2006 these ships were apparently moved from the Ready Reserve Fleet to the National Defense Reserve Fleet, but there is no readily apparent paper trail for this move.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list

Page last modified: 22-07-2011 17:34:33 ZULU