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  USS President Coolidge

Tons 21,936

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October 26, 1942

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J Tranape 2001

Ship History
Built during October 1931 for the Dollar Steamship Lines. In 1938 when the company collapsed was transfered to the American President Lines. As a luxury liner, the ship had a first class section for 305, tourist class of 133 and steerage class of 402 passengers. Amenities staterooms, lounges, telephones, two saltwater swimming pools, a barber shop, beauty salon, gymnasium and soda fountain. The liner once setting a speed record from San Francisco to Japan.

Wartime History
In 1940, helped evacuate Americans from Hong Kong during 1940. During June 1941, the liner was impressed into US Army service and made transport runs from Hawaii and Manila.

On December 7, 1941 President Coolidge with transport A. T. Scott escorted by USS Louisville (CA-28). was en route from Tarakan to Pearl Harbor. The liner diverted to California where it was converted to a troop transport capable of carrying 5,440 men and was painted gray and armed with defensive weapons.

In her first voyage as a troopship, the Coolidge transported troops and equipment overseas to Melbourne, Wellington, Auckland, Bora Bora, and Suva then returned to California.

On October 6, 1942 departed San Francisco via New Caledonia bound for Espiritu Santo. Aboard were 5,440 troops, mostly from the US Army 43rd Infantry Division. Plus extensive equipment, armaments and supplies.

Sinking History
On October 26, 1942 while approaching Segond Channel off Espiritu Santo Harbor, the vessel collided with two sea mines, laid a month earlier by US Navy destroyers.

Captain Henry Nelson attempted to run the ship aground and ordered an abandon ship. Troops were told to leave all of their belongings behind under the impression that they would conduct salvage operations over the next few days.

Two were killed in the sinking. Fireman Robert Reid was working in the engine room and was killed by the initial mine blast. Captain Elwood J. Euart, US Army Artillery Corps, had safely gotten off the Coolidge when he learned that there were still men in the infirmary who could not get out. He went back in to one of the sea doors, successfully rescued the men but was then unable to escape himself and he went down with the ship. A memorial to Captain Euart is located on the shore near the access points for the Coolidge. Other sources list four or five dead in the sinking.

Over the course of the next 90 minutes, 5,340 men got safely off of the wreck and to shore. There was no panic as the troops disembarked - many even walked to shore. However, the captain's attempts to beach the ship were unsuccessful due to the coral reef. The Coolidge listed heavily on her side, sank, and slid down the slope into the channel. She now rests on her port side with her bow at a depth of 70' and her stern at 240'.

There were three official inquiries surrounding the cause of the sinking. The first preliminary Court of Inquiry convened November 12, 1942 aboard the USS Whitney at the behest of Admiral Halsey. The Court of Inquiry recommended additional charges be laid against Captain Nelson. The matter was referred to a Military Commission which convened in Noumea, New Caledonia on December 8, 1942. This commission acquitted Captain Nelson of guilt. From the Commission of Inquiry it came out that Merchant Marine vessels were not given all available tactical information, most notably regarding the placement of mines. This simple precaution would have prevented the sinking. This outcome did not please the Navy Department, and he was referred to a Coast Guard Investigation Board upon his return to the United States on February 6, 1943. This Investigation Board took no further action.

The ship sank on her port side resting from 70' to 240' underwater.

During November 20-30, 1942 the USS Ortolan ASR-5 salvaged war suppies off the sunken ship.

Salvage operations which recovered items such as the propeller blades, bunker oil, brass casings of shells, electric motors, junction boxes and copper tubing. However, on November 18, 1983 the Vanuatu government declared that no salvage or recovery of any artifact would be allowed from the Coolidge. Since then the ship has been used for recreational diving.

The shipwreck lies on her port side with her bow at only 70', only a short walk and a swim from shore near Luganville. At 45m within the ship is "The Lady" in the first class passengers lounge smoking room. Now she poses for those divers sufficiently experienced to penetrate the wreck.

National Geographic "Ghosts of War"

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Last Updated
August 27, 2014



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