502 Class Steamship
US Mai Line
United States Line
American President Line
502' | 65' | 28'
2 x large deck guns
2 x 3" AA guns
20mm AA guns
Don Fetterly 1989
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.
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 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.
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.
Post War Salvage
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.