SS Masaya was originally one of a large number of four funnel
flush deck destroyers built for the United States Navy during and immediately
after the first world war. The vessel was built by the Fore River Shipbuilding
Corporation, Quincy, MA.The shipyard was later to become the Bethlehem
Shipbuilding Company, and the Masaya was christened there on the
February 16, 1920 the USS Dale DD-290.
USS Dale was decommissioned
on May 1, 1930. Rather than being scrapped, the ship was sold to Standard Fruit Company and converted to a commercial cargo ship at New Orleans. The four destroyers were: USS Dale (DD-290) renamed SS Masaya, USS Putnmam (DD-287), USS Worden (DD-288) and USS Osborne renamed SS Matagalpa.
Afterwards, operated between between New Orleans
and Central America where her shallow draft enabled her to go up rivers
to plantations thus eliminating rail transportation. Manned by a crew
of 19 men, the ship could carry some 25,000 stems of fruit and her 16 knots
eliminated the need for refrigeration but had air forced into the holds
to keep the fruit fresh.
The Masaya toiled away un-noticed until World War
II when the situation on Corregidor became
desperate. Early in 1942, General MacArthur asked for blockade runners
directly from the United States. The three surviving banana boats were
despatched under the U.S. Army transport bareboat charter, they were
given army gun crews and an array of armament, loaded with sullies
and send on their way. Masaya departed New Orleans on the 3rd March
for Corregidor, via the Panama Canal, Los Angeles and Honolulu, with
a cargo of ammunition aviation gas, medical supplies and mail. While
in Honolulu the Philippines surrendered and the Masaya was diverted
to Australia where she was remained with an Australian crew and she
be became an interisland transport for General MacArthur.
The Masaya had crew of 19 men: an Australian captain,
officers and crew to operate the vessel with U.S. Army gun crews providing
At 0916 hours on the March 24, 1943,
the Masaya sailed from Milne Bay carrying troops and
cargo bound for Tufi on Cape Nelson were she took on additional cargo and departed on March 28, for the forward
supply base at Oro Bay 45 nautical miles away where she was to
take on 50 troops as a local defense force for a new P .T. Boat Base to be built at Douglas
Harbour. The plan called for the Masaya to offload her drums of avgas,
portable radios, spare parts, general cargo and troops
at Douglas Harbour to set up a forward PT Boat Base at that location.
While underway on March 28, 1943, still 6 miles from Oro Bay, a flight
of 18 D3A Vals and 40 fighters attacled Oro Bay.
Spotting the SS Masaya, five dive bombers broke off
from the formation to attack the ship. Six bombs were dropped with three direct hits on the stern section.
The Masaya sunk stern first at 13:13
hrs and hit the bottom hard. Aboard were 500 drums
avgas, portable radios spare parts and other equipment.
Her loss meant that PT Boat operations in the area would require another month
before enough parts could be assembled for the base. This delay in establishing a PT Base at Douglas Harbor made it less desirable as the front had moved further north to Morobe.
Sunk on her starboard
side at 165 feet. Visibility can be from poor to 60 feet. Her stern
has extensive bomb damage as well as damage from hitting the bottom.
Over the past 50 or so years the sea has done major damage to her thin
plates but there is still plenty to see. Damage caused by the bombing
and impact with the seabed are clearly visible just forward of the
stern. The hull is buckled, the stern deck area and associated internal
works are smashed. The deck with the houses attached has broken free
of the hull, has slid down several feet towards the starboard side,
and now rests on the sand. The deck is detached from the stern to a
point forward of no 1 hatch where it remains attached to the hull detachment
of the deck has opened up the internal spaces of the ship and should
make penetration much easier and safer.
"The exact position of Masaya is restricted because of the cargo she
was carrying and the pristine nature of the wreck, we want to keep
it that way. There is another reason due to the depth 175' it is not
a dive that should be undertaken by most divers. The wreck is unstable
and has many places where a diver can get trapped. On the second dive of the
wreck in 1996 we nearly lost a diver who did not follow instructions. He became
trapped inside the wreck with a silt out and escaped by removing all his gear
a squeezing between the roof beams. In the process he lost his new Sony video
camera and housing which has not been found. He then had to perform a blue water
staged decompression while low on air as he could not locate the assent line."
At Close Quarters PT Boats in the United States Navy pages 184
U. S. Army Small Ships Association Inc. - Vernon Kite
Thanks to Don Fettery for additional information
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November 16, 2018