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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORY AND HERITAGE COMMAND
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Baxter


A county in northern Arkansas, midway across the state and right on the Missouri border.

(APA 94: dp. 8,591; l. 468'8"; b. 63'0"; dr. 23'3"; s. 16.5 k. (tl.); cpl. 554; trp. 1,517; a. 2 5", 8 40 mm., 20 20 mm.; cl. Sumter; T. C2-S-E1)

Baxter (APA 94) was laid down on 18 March 1943 at Chickasaw, by Gulf Shipbuildinq Corp. Ala. under a Maritime Commission contract (MC hull 483); launched on 19 September 1943 as Antinous; sponsored by Mrs. R. S. Hendry; acquired by the Navy on 30 November 1943; placed in reduced commission for the trip to New York that same day; decommissioned at Brooklyn, N.Y., on 14 December 1943 for conversion to an attack transport by the Atlantic Basin Iron Works; and commissioned on 15 May 1944, Capt. Valvin R. Sinclair in command.

Following shakedown training in the Chesapeake Bay, the attack transport entered Norfolk on 9 June 1944, embarked the Marine Corps' 61st Replacement Battalion, and loaded a general cargo. Escorted by Bearss (DD 654) and Shelton (DE 4061, Baxter got underway on 20 June, transited the Panama Canal a week later, and proceeded with Bearss to Pearl Harbor where they arrived on 11 July. After disembarking her passengers, the transport shuttled troops between Hilo, Hawaii, and San Diego, making two round trips before she returned to Pearl Harbor on 20 August. In manuevers at Maui with Transport Division (TransDiv) 10, Baxter rehearsed landings in preparation for a projected invasion of Yap. On 15 September, TransDiv 10 got underway in Task Group (TG) 33.2 and headed for the objective. However, while TG 33.2 made its way across the Pacific, the Yap operation was cancelled and the immediate seizure of Leyte substituted instead.

Accordingly, TG 33.2 became Transport Group "Baker," part of the Southern Attack Force under Vice Admiral T. S. Wilkinson; and, on 14 October, Baxter left Manus, in the Admiralty Islands, and steamed toward Leyte Gulf. The attack transport anchored off Dulag on the 20th and began disembarking the first waves of troops. While the rehearsals had prepared the ships and troops for landing over a coral reef, the sand beaches at Leyte presented no such impediment to movement ashore. Thus, during the four crucial days of beachhead expansion, Baxter disembarked her troops and discharged her cargo smoothly and efficiently. She weighed anchor on 24 October and sailed for Hollandia, New Guinea, and Biak, Schouten Islands, to refuel and take on the troops, cargo, and equipment of the Bomber, Fighter, and Headquarters Command, Fifth Air Force. Following training exercises and troop disembarkation drills, the attack transport got underway on 14 November to rendezvous with a task unit carrying reinforcements from Noemfoor, and together they headed for Leyte.

During the transports' approach to the anchorage in Leyte Gulf on 18 November, Japanese planes attacked them, but Baxter weathered the ordeal suffering neither casualties nor damage. She then landed her cargo and troops expeditiously before sailing for Manus later that day. She unloaded three LCM's for the boat pool and continued on to Bergen Bay, New Britain, where she picked up troops, cargo, and LCM's of the 3d Battalion, 185th Regiment of the Army's 40th Division, before returning to Manus on 11 December. Baxter spent a week at Huon Gulf, New Guinea, preparing for the invasion of Luzon at Lingayen Gulf, before departing the Admiralty Islands on the last day of 1944. Constant air alerts made general quarters standard fare as the American ships steamed toward their objective. The ships transited Surigao and Mindoro Straits without incident; but, on 8 January 1945, a kamikaze struck Kitkun Bay (CVE 71) and put that escort carrier out of action. The next day, as the convoy entered Lingayen Gulf, enemy planes again attacked. Baxter fired on one, but could not bring him down. Still, she herself escaped damage and got all her of troops and cargo ashore before heading for Leyte.

The troopship anchored in Leyte Gulf on 12 January, first off Abuyog and later near Dulag. Again, she took on supplies for herself and then loaded cargo and embarked elements of 8th Army's 38th Division. On the 26th, Baxter set course for Luzon's west coast and arrived off San Felipe in Zambales Province on 29 January. The troops--charged with sealing off the Bataan Peninsula to prevent Japanese from prolonging their resistance--streamed off the ship immediately. The first wave, however, was met by friendly Filipinos who were already in control of the area. Baxter unloaded her cargo and retired to San Pedro Bay, Leyte, where she spent the month of February provisioning, doing upkeep, and allowing her crew to relax.

The respite ended on 4 March, when Baxter began loading cargo and embarking the 3d Battalion, 184th Regiment of the Army's 7th Infantry Division. From 14 to 21 March, her crew and embarked troops trained for an assault on Okinawa's beaches. On 27 March, Baxter got underway for the Ryukyu Islands as part of TransDiv 37, Transport Group “Dog” of the Southern Attack Force commanded by Rear Admiral John L. Hall. She arrived off "Purple" and "Orange" beaches in the early hours of 1 April and began dispatching boats to help land the first waves of troops. At 1348, Baxter's own troops began leaving for the shore, and she started unloading cargo. At 1908, she began retiring to an anchorage for the night. The darkness, smoke, enemy aircraft, and the large number of ships nearby made the initial phase of her withdrawal hazardous. After reaching the comparative safety of the transport area, Baxter remained at anchor for five days, during which time she served as a prisoner-of-war ship, though she only took custody of three Japanese airmen and nine civilians, all soon turned over to other authority.

Leaving the Ryukyus behind, Baxter next steamed via Saipan and Pearl Harbor to San Francisco, where she arrived on 30 April. She returned to Pearl Harbor carrying 1,300 construction battalion sailors ("Seabees"), and then headed back to California on 1 June as escort for the transport (fitted for the evacuation of wounded) Pinkney (APH 2), damaged by a kamikaze at Okinawa and traveling without radar, radio, or gyro. In June, July, and August, Baxter shuttled troops and cargo from San Diego, Portland, and Seattle to Pearl Harbor, Eniwetok, and Saipan. On 18 August, she arrived in Seattle to complete her third round trip circuit.

After the Japanese capitulation, the transport returned to Saipan and began transporting veterans back to the United States. On her first trip, Baxter stopped in Guam to load cargo, files, and embark members of Admiral Chester W. Nimitz’s CINCPAC staff for transportation to Pearl Harbor. The transport continued on to San Francisco and arrived there on 9 October. She then made two round-trip voyages to Japan and back, bringing 6,000 veterans home to the United States.

Baxter concluded her final transpacific voyage in San Diego on 10 February 1946. She continued on to Mobile, Ala., where she was decommissioned on 22 March 1946 and returned to the Maritime Commission. Her name was struck from the Navy list on 12 April 1946. Sold into merchant service, she was operated by the Waterman Steamship Corp., Mobile, Ala., as La Salle, a name that did not disappear from merchant registers until 1969.

Baxter earned four battle stars for her service in World War II.

Mary P. Walker



28 February 2006