Built by by California Shipbuilding Corporation, Wilmington, California as EC2 class "Liberty Ship".
Laid down March 10, 1943 as liberty ship SS Benjamin N. Cardozo (MCE hull 739). Launched April 5, 1943. Transferred to the U. S. Navy (USN) on April 19, 1943 and renamed USS Serpens (AK-97). Commissioned May 28, 1943 at San Diego. Assigned to Captain Magnus J. Johnson, USCGR and manned by crew from the U. S. Coast Guard (USCG).
On January 29, 1945 Serpens was anchored off Lunga
Point on Guadalcanal and was being
loaded with depth charges.
Late in the evening, the ship suddenly exploded. Aboard, 193 U. S. Coast Guard (USCG) crew,
56 U. S. Army stevedores and a Public Health Service physician were killed
in the blast. The force of the explosion was so great that it
killed a U.S. Army soldier ashore. Only two sailors aboard
survived the incident. At the time of the explosion, the commanding oficer and enlisted men were ashore. The cause of the explosion was never
determined. The sinking of the Serpens was the largest single
disaster ever suffered by the U. S. Coast Guard (USCG).
Robert Brock adds:
"A ship anchored off Lunga Point on Guadalcanal
exploded one night and covered the beach area and inland for several meters with
debris. An article was in 'Ripleys Believe-it-or not' several years
ago in which it stated that one man survived the blast and was blown through
a porthole. I helped recover bodies the next day. Many of the casualties were
stevedores from Fiji."
During 1944, this shipwreck was first identified by Ewan Stevenson. The bow is upside down off Lunga Point on Guadalcanal.
Liberty Ships built by the United States Maritime Commission in World War II - 0739 - Benjamin N. Cardozo - Completed as AK 97 Serpens
The Coast Guard Manned USS Serpens AK 97 Commemorative Website via Wayback Machine July 28, 2011
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February 4, 2018