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  USS President Grant (Centennial State, President Adams)
USN
Cargo

Former Assignments
502 Class Steamship
US Mai Line
United States Line
Dollar Line
American President Line

10,516 Tons
502' | 65' | 28'
2 x large deck guns
2 x 3" AA guns
20mm AA guns

Click For Enlargement
c1943
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Don Fetterly 1989

Ship History
Launched in December 1920 as 'Centennial State', and completed in May 1921. The ship's maiden voyage was from New York to London in June 1921 for the US Mail Line with a peacetime crew of 117 men. This company was liquidated in August 1921 and the ship was sold to the United States Line.

In May 1922, the ship was renamed 'President Adams' and sold to Dollar Line. Grounded near the eastern edge of the Panama Canal and freed. Afterwards, repaired at San Francisco.

In 1938 the US government purchased the management of the Dollar Steamship Co. and transferred their assets to the American President Line (APL) and operated trans-Pacific and around the world service.

In 1939 this ship was transferred to the US Navy and renamed 'President Grant'. All the APL ships was pressed into US Navy service, with a crew of 140+ men.

Voyage 57
Prior to the start of the war, the ship departed San Francisco on November 9, 1941 under the command of Captain W. S. Tyrrell, stopping briefly at Honolulu, Hawaii and then arrived at Manila on December 6th, the day before the Japanese attack on the Philippines.

Wartime History
On December 8, 1941 Japanese aircraft bombed Manila and the ship came under attack, and was ordered to flee to Darwin on December 11, abandoning passengers and crew. These were interned by the Japanese in POW camps, and two died. Post war, the survivors attempted to sue the APL, for allegedly leaving knowing they were ashore.

During the trip to Australia, the ship's white paint was over painted with gray over four days. Arriving on December 19 at Darwin, the President Grant evacuated 225 women and children, departing on December 23 for Brisbane, arriving eight days later.

Departing Brisbane on January 2, 1942 for San Pedro, where she was converted to a for 1,776 person troop transport with bunk installed and extra latrines, life rafts, ballast. Defensive armament of a deck gun, two 3" AA guns aft and another 3" inch gun is mounted forward. 20mm Oerlikon AA guns were installed around the bridge, on the aft part of the superstructure and between the two after masts. When these conversion were complete, the ship departed on February 20 with a crew of 140 plus Marines attached.

Voyage 62: On July 21, 1942 the President Grant departed with troops aboard, arriving at Noumea on August 10, 1942. Survivors of the HMAS Canberra, rescued by the USS Patterson were transferred to the President Grant and transported to Sydney.

Voyage 63: Departing San Francisco on October 1, 1942 and dropping off troops at Auckland. Then, to Noumea and Honolulu. Transported Marines to Fiji, and transport of troops from Suva and Noumea to Guadalcanal, Tulagi and Espiritu Santo, returning to port on January 31, 1943 without incident.

Voyage 64: Departed for Port Moresby via Sydney then returning to San Francisco on May 7, 1943. Captain Harry Nelson (formally captain of President Coolidge when the ship struck a mine at Espiritu Santo) took command of the ship for the next two voyages.

Voyage 65 & 66: Trips to Brisbane and Townsville.

Voyage 67: Arrived at Brisbane on December 30, 1943, and 120 RAAF trainee airmen boarded for Canada. During this voyage there was a galley fire and the engines stopped for thirty minutes at sea, while an oil cap was repaired.

Voyage 68: The ship had made twenty-three Pacific trips to day. On February 2, 1944 A new captain, Joseph D. Ryan departed San Francisco with 1,600 troops aboard departed for Milne Bay.

Sinking History
Ran aground on February 26, 1944 at 5:10am at 13 knots on Suckling Reef / Uluma Reef. The bow was at 10' draft instead of 20'. The forward hull was damaged, but propellers and rudder undamaged. A 112 day salvage effort was undertaken by American and Australian ships to save the President Grant

On February 27, HMAS Gascoyne was dispatched to render assistance, but could not attach a tow line, for fear of becoming grounded as well. HMAS Gascoyne and USS Sub Chaser PC1121 patrolled for subs (relieved on February 29 by HMAS Geelong and PC 476) , while tugs and salvage experts from Milne Bay included HMAS Reserve and USS Sonoma and attempted to unsuccessfully tow the grounded ship off the reef.

After off-loading the troops to the tugs and LCM to the US Liberty Ship, Dunhan Wright and John T. Rossiter, which departed for Milne Bay. Divers from the submarine tender, USS Fulton inspected the damage.

On February 28, salvage ship Cabrian Salvor arrived, but operations were hampered by deteriorating weather. On March 1 a storm pushed the ship further onto the reef. Gale winds halted work on the 2 - 8, and more crew were taken off the ship.

On March 8, 1944, Marines prematurely attempted to launch a lifeboat was launched and hit several members of the salvage crew, and killing a SSgt J. J. Byrnes, and several were wounded, one later died. Loos cargo was removed from the ship, including removing ballast and 900 tons of concrete block ballast from the holds. An attempt was made to rotate the ship , but weather interfered, causing more damage to the ship before another attempt could be made on March 26, 1944 with four tugs: Arkansas Pass, Reserve, Sonoma and Chetco. The rotation was not achieved until June 9, but the midship was still stuck on the reef, and weather turned bad.

A final attempt was made to flood hold no. 3 and no. 4, but the weather deteriorated more. The weather caused the ground lines to snap, and the bow swung back onto the original grounding position on the reef, and was pounded by heavy seas and sustained more damage, and a wave snapped the ship in too, and flooding extinguished the furnaces and the ship was further damaged on the reef.

Sinking History
The next morning, heavy damage was observed on the ship. the 100 day salvage attempt had failed. On June 2, 1944 the ship was declared a total loss, but cyclone strength winds of 90 knots prevented the rescue of the ship's remaining crew and salvage gear until June 15, concluding the 112 day salvage effort, and the ship was abandoned at June 17, 1944. A maritime inquiry convened on July 10, 1944 and the ship's loss was declared accidental and no charges filed.

Post War Salvage
The wreck was purchased from the PNG Colonial Administration in 1955 by Robert Bunting of Buntings based at Samarai, who savlaged the bunker oil and material above the waterline. Later, Steamships aquired the wreck,

In late 1969, salvager Fritz Herscheid purchased the wreck and salvaged the wreck until June 1970. During that period, they removed non-ferrous metal, the propellers, 50 caliber ammunition and 6" shells from the wreck and area with his dive team and the help of locals.

Returning in late 1970, Herscheid and his team of salvagers recovered more scrap, and removing the ship's 2.5 ton propellers. Among the wreck, they discovered four strands of 3" thick pure copper wire which appeared to encircle the entire ship, possibly for magnetic mine deguassing.

Shipwreck
Usually, it is diveable a few days a year according to Robert Halstead. Other times, large swells make dives difficult.

Don Fetterly reports:
"The President Grant a Liberty ship that had run up on Ulma Reef and broken up over the years. Ulma Reef is located SE of Milne Bay. Visibility was in excess of 200 feet and the sea was glass flat with no wind for two days of fantastic diving on the wreck and drift diving along Ulma Reef. We were the first recreational divers on the wreck and the first to visit the site in 15 years according to Robert Halstead. We were forced south due to poor visibility caused by volcanic action stirring up the sea bed, just happened that the seas were calm and vis was at least 200' at Ulma. There are very few people around who can say they have dived the President Grant."

References
The Last New Guinea Salvage Pirate, pages 53 - 93, 95 - 100, 146 - 152, 465

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Last Updated
February 17, 2013

 

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