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Admiral W. L. Capps

 

Washington Lee Capps—born on 31 January 1864 at Portsmouth, Va.—was appointed to the Naval Academy in 1880. Upon graduation, he served in the screw frigate Tennessee for the two years sea duty then customary prior to commissioning. After becoming an ensign in 1886, Capps studied naval architecture at the University of Glasgow in Scotland. After returning to the United States in 1888 and brief duty at the Navy Department, he was assigned to Cramp's shipyard in Philadelphia. Capps moved to the New York Navy Yard in 1889 and remained there joining the Bureau of Construction and Repair in 1892. Three years later he became the superintending constructor at the Union Iron Works in San Francisco. There, he supervised the construction of Oregon (Battleship No. 3), Wisconsin (Battleship No. 9), Farragut (Torpedo Boat No. 11), Marietta (Gunboat No. 15), and Wheeling (Gunboat No. 14). Later attached to the staff of Rear Admiral Dewey, commander of the Asiatic Squadron, he was present during the Battle of Manila Bay. After the capture of Manila, he had three of the Spanish warships salvaged and repaired.

 

Next Capps spent two years with the Board of Inspection Survey, followed by a tour of duty as the Head, Construction and Repair Department at the New York Navy Yard. In 1903, he became the Constructor of the Navy and Chief of the Bureau of Construction and Repair with the rank of rear admiral. During his tenure as Constructor of the Navy, numerous new ideas in warship design were tested and adopted. Notable among his innovations was the decision to mount the main batteries of battleships on the centerline, thereby increasing their broadside weight of metal to the maximum. During his tenure, Rear Admiral Capps served on a number of American and international committees which had been established for such purposes—among others—as improving the organization of the Navy and adopting new safety measures at sea to prevent a recurrence of disasters such as the sinking of the Titanic in April 1912. During World War I, he was senior member of the Navy's Compensation Board which oversaw the cost aspect of the Navy's expanded ship acquisition program. He was also general manager of the United States Shipping Board's Emergency Fleet Corp. Forced by poor health to relinquish these duties for a time, Capps returned to his position on the Compensation Board, became the senior member of the Naval War Claims Board, and served on other boards and committees. Although placed on the retired list effective 31 January 1928, Rear Admiral Capps continued on active duty until the day of his death at Washington, D.C., on 31 May 1935.

 

(AP-121: dp. 20,120 dim.); l. 608'11"; b. 75'6"; dr. 26'6" (lim.); s. 19.0 k.; cpl. 367; trp. 4,680; a. 4 5", 8 40mm.; cl. Admiral W. S. Benson; T. P2-SE2-R1)

 

Admiral W. L. Capps (AP-121) was laid down on 15 December 1942 at Alameda, Calif., by the Bethlehem-Alameda Shipyard, Inc., under a Maritime Commission contract (MC hull 679); launched on 20 February 1944; sponsored by Mrs. James Reed; delivered to the Navy on 18 September 1944; and commissioned that same day, Capt. N. S. Haugen, USCG, in command.

 

Following shakedown training along the west coast, the transport departed San Francisco on 23 November, bound for the southwestern Pacific. En route she visited Noumea, New Caledonia, where she disembarked marines and took on board passengers headed for Guadalcanal. From that island, Admiral W. L. Capps carried another group of passengers to Espiritu Santo. She embarked almost 3,500 troops at the latter port and set a course for home where she arrived on the day after Christmas. The ship put to sea again on 21 February 1945 bound for Hollandia, New Guinea, whence she proceeded to the Philippines. The ship arrived at Leyte on 20 March and departed that island on 8 April for the United States. After arriving at San Francisco late that month, she moved north to Seattle, Wash., where she embarked almost 5,000 troops to reinforce American units fighting on Okinawa. Sailing on 7 May, the transport stopped at Pearl Harbor, Eniwetok, and Ulithi before reaching Okinawa on 2 July. Next she visited Saipan on the 12th and 13th, before getting underway on the latter day bound ultimately for the Panama Canal and the east coast of the United States.

 

Admiral W. L. Capps entered port at Norfolk, Va., on 4 August and, while undergoing voyage repairs, received word at mid-month that hostilities in the Pacific had ended. She stood out of Norfolk on 1 September, with members of the French Navy among her passengers. After dropping them off at Marseille, France, and embarking American troops, she headed back toward the United States and arrived in Norfolk on 20 September. Five days later, the ship once more set out for the Mediterranean, this time to repatriate some 3,765 former Italian prisoners of war. After stopping at Naples and Marseille, she returned to Newport News, Va., on 19 October. Between that time and mid-December, the ship made two more round-trip voyages to France and back—one to Le Havre and the other to Marseille—returning American servicemen home.

 

On 29 December, she put to sea to return to the Pacific. At Pearl Harbor, the transport embarked troops and continued her voyage west on 16 January 1946. She disembarked one group of passengers at Yokosuka, took on almost 4,700 more, and headed for Seattle on 30 January. In March, the ship made a round-trip voyage from the west coast to Okinawa, returning to San Francisco with over 4,800 troops. In April, she moved from the west coast to New York which she reached on the 24th. On 8 May 1946, Admiral W. L. Capps was decommissioned and returned to the Maritime Commission. Her name was struck from the Navy list in June of 1946.

 

The Maritime Commission transferred the ship to the Army which named her General Hugh J. Gaffey (q.v.). She served the Army Transport Service until 1 March 1950 when the Navy re-acquired her. Retaining her Army name, the transport was not re-commissioned, but instead was assigned to the Military Sea Transportation Service and manned by a civil service crew. USNS General Hugh J. Gaffey (T-AP-121) spent almost two decades carrying men and material to American installations throughout the Far East and the Pacific Ocean. She supported American troops during the Korean conflict in the early 1950's and performed similar service during the Vietman involvement in the mid-1960's. On 4 November 1968, General Hugh J. Gaffey was transferred to the Maritime Administration on a temporary basis to be laid up with the National Defense Reserve Fleet facility at Suisun Bay, Calif., On 31 August 1969, she was transferred permanently to Maritime Administration custody. Her name was again struck from the Navy list on 9 October 1969.

 

In 1978, the transport was reacquired by the Navy a second time and her name reinstated on the Navy list. Redesignated IX-507, General Hugh J. Gaffey was placed in service in November 1978 at Bremerton, Wash., to serve as a barracks ship for the crews of ships undergoing major overhaul. As of 1 January 1989, her name was still on the list of active duty service craft.