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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORY & HERITAGE COMMAND


Cortland

 

A county in New York State.

(APA-75: displacement 6,800 (full load); length 426'; beam 58'; draft 15'6"; speed 16.9 knots (trial); complement 320; troops 849; armament 1 5-inch, 8 40 millimeter, 10 20 millimeter; class Gilliam; type S4-SE2-BD1)

Cortland (APA-75) was laid down on 12 July 1944 at Wilmington, Calif., by Consolidated Steel Corp., under a Maritime Commission contract (MC Hull No. 1868); launched on 18 October 1944; sponsored by Mrs. Donald O’Melveny; acquired by the Navy on 31 December 1944, construction and conversion having been carried forward concurrently, and commissioned alongside the Navy Supply Pier, San Pedro, Calif., on 1 January 1945, Comdr. François C. B. Jordan in command.

Cortland immediately began fitting out at San Pedro. Fifteen minutes before the end of the first watch on 5 January 1945, S2c C. M. Thompson, the forecastle sentry, “reported seeing a man walking on [the] wooden stringer beneath the pier.” Both the junior officer of the deck and S2d A. A. Smith, the gangway sentry, “investigated but failed to locate anyone and continued the search.” An hour and a quarter into the mid watch on 6 January, Lt. (j.g.) L. W. Soule, USNR, the officer of the deck, saw a man trying to crawl up a piling beneath the pier. When challenged from the ship, the prowler fell into the water. The man obeyed the order to come on board, where an investigation revealed him to be Hans Pflueger, a German naval rating, who had sought to damage the new ship with bombs that he claimed he had carried with him but had dropped into the water when apprehended.

The San Pedro police took the would-be saboteur in custody while Comdr. Jordan notified the operations duty officer of the Naval Operating Base, Terminal Island, of the incident. A sweep of the underwater body of the ship soon thereafter revealed no explosives, while the attack transport shifted berths in the event that the bombs exploded beneath her. Medium harbor tugs YTM-239 and YTM-240 moved Cortland (ordered not use her rudder and propellers) to a berth in the outer harbor.

Cortland completed her fitting out, and reported for shakedown on 13 January 1945. Upon completion of those evolutions, she reported for duty to Commander, Amphibious Training, U.S. Pacific Fleet, at San Diego, Calif., on 25 January. The next day, she was assigned to Task Unit (TU) 13.19.3 to further her working-up. 

Following post-shakedown overhaul at the U.S. Naval Drydocks, Terminal Island, Calif. (10-22 February 1945), Cortland sailed for Seattle, Wash., reaching her destination on the evening of 26 February. After embarking 733 army troops there, as well as 91 civilians and a lone Red Cross employee, she sailed for Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, in company with the attack transport Cottle (APA-147), receiving air coverage from airships up to two days out, reaching her destination on 8 March.  Cortland then carried out training as part of TU 13.10.14 off the west coast of Hawaii (17-22 March) before transporting passengers between the ports of Hilo, Kahului, Maui, and Pearl Harbor, escort being provided by submarine chasers. On 1 April, the ship embarked naval (284 men) and marine (161) replacements for the garrison at Midway as part of the Navy’s rotation program, and sailed on 5 April, escorted by the destroyer Chew (DD-106),  reaching her destination on the 8th. Sailing for Pearl on 10 April upon completion of that assignment, again escorted by Chew, Cortland transported, in addition to her passengers (54 USN and 818 USMC), three Japanese prisoners of war (Superior Private Kadama, Private First Class Suiyami, and a civilian, Kakamatsu), whom she disembarked upon arrival on the 14th. En route, the ship received word of the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.  

After having resumed inter-island transportation duties between Hilo, Kahului, Maui, and Pearl Harbor, Cortland brought her Hawaiian operations to an end with her departure for the west coast of the United States on 31 May 1945 with six other attack transports as part of TU 13.11.23. Released the next day because of her inability to maintain the convoy’s 15.5 knot speed, she arrived at San Francisco, Calif., on 4 June, disembarking the 160 marines on 5 June that she had transported from Hilo.

Cortland sailed for Seattle on 6 June 1945 for voyage repairs at Todd’s Harbor Island yard. With the completion of that work on 22 June, the attack transport embarked 32 officers and 788 U.S. Army troops (Lt. Col. R. A. McCord, Jr, in command), then sailed on the afternoon of 24 June for the Marshall Islands. Crossing the International Date Line on Independence Day [4 July] 1945, thus advancing the date one day, Cortland reached Eniwetok on 8 July, dropping anchor to await the formation of a convoy. She sailed for the Caroline Islands in TU 96.6.6 -- 11 attack transports and the vehicle landing ship Ozark (LSV-2) -- on 14 July, arriving on the evening of the 18th to await the formation of another convoy.

Ultimately, Cortland sailed for Okinawa in convoy UOK-45 (31 ships with six escorts) on 8 August 1945, the initial part of the voyage enlivened by attacks on submarine contacts (both with negative results) by the destroyer Mugford (DD-389) during the first dog watch on 8 August and by the high speed transport Begor (APD-127) the following afternoon. Cortland reached her destination on the 12th. Following her arrival off Hagushi Beach, the ship disembarked all but 120 of her contingent of troops. Over the next few days, several air raid alerts occurred, but no enemy planes materialized, as the ship continued to discharge cargo over Yellow Beach No.3 using her own boats. On 15 August, however, the ship received the welcome news contained in AlNav 194 that announced “[the] conclusion of [the] war against Japan.” Three days later, she disembarked the remainder of the troops she had lifted to Okinawa, then fueled on 22 August.

Cortland shifted to Buckner Bay on 26 August 1945, on the opposite side of Okinawa, to load cargo and embark soldiers of the U.S. 10th Army. She embarked 2 officers and 80 service troops of the 10th Army, 17th Infantry, on the 29th, then began loading cargo from the docks at China Point on the last day of August, medium landing ships (LSM) and tank landing craft (LCT) transporting vehicles and cargo and ship’s boats bringing out the troops. Cortland welcomed on board 37 officers and 870 men of the 10th Army (Maj. H. R. Seivers, USA, commanding) between 1 and 5 September.

Task Group (TG) 78.1, that included Cortland in that goodly company, sailed for Jinsen [Inchon], Korea, on 5 September 1945, proceeding through the East China and Yellow Seas. Escorts destroyed mines sighted on 6 and 7 September. At the end of the mid watch on 8 September, the heavy cruiser Minneapolis (CA-36), flagship for Vice Adm. Thomas C. Kinkaid, Commander, 7th Fleet, stood toward the formation, and took station as the first ship. The American force stood through the eastern channel of the approaches to Jinsen. Cortland anchored at noon and within the hour had disembarked assault troops in waves 5 through 8, the men encountering neither opposition nor difficulty. The attack transport then unloaded cargo and disembarked the remaining troops she had lifted from Okinawa (8-11 September). She sailed on the 11th as part of TU 78.12.3, retracing her passage through the Yellow and East China Seas to return to Hagushi Beach, reaching her destination on the 14th.

Embarking 2 officers and 89 men of the First Marine Division upon her arrival on 14 September 1945, Cortland then began loading cargo. Shortly before the end of the morning watch the following day as those evolutions unfolded, a sling slipped off a hook and the edge of a hatch cover struck BM2c W. C. Frederick, engaged in working in number one hold, across his back, killing him almost instantaneously. That afternoon, Frederick’s body was taken ashore and interred with appropriate ceremony at Island Command Cemetery Number 1.

During the mid watch on 16 September 1945, Cortland received a typhoon evasion plan, and five hours later, at 0712, Commander, Service Squadron Ten, signaled: “Execute typhoon plan X-ray, retirement west. Zero hour 1200 I [Item] which may be made earlier if fleet units are clear.” All boats received orders to return to their ships, suspend loading, and secure. At 1035, ships of the division to which Cortland was attached sortied, accompanied by Colbert (APA-145), Butte (APA-68), and Beckham (APA-133) in addition to three Victory ships and three Liberty ships, “to avoid the approaching typhoon.” The ships changed courses and speeds to maneuver, the weather widely scattering the formation through the mid watch on 17 September. During the morning watch the same day, however, the ships encountered man-made dangers, when Colbert, five miles astern of Cortland, struck a mine on her port side at 0649.

While Colbert lost all power, Leon (APA-48) and Butte stood by in the abating typhoon, prepared to either tow the disabled ship or rescue her crew in the event of her foundering. After Leon spread oil on the water, Butte took the mined ship in tow; high speed transport Balduck (APD-132) arrived on the scene and received orders to go alongside Colbert if the attack transport’s bulkheads should gave way. Light cruiser St. Louis (CL-49) arrived later that day, lingering to provide help if needed through the dog watches that day, until released to proceed. Fleet tug Jicarilla (ATF-104) arrived less than an hour after the mid watch ended on the morning of 18 September 1945, and took Colbert in tow.

In the meantime, with the weather improving in the wake of the typhoon, Cortland set course to return to Hagushi, and resumed loading off Yellow Beach during the afternoon watch on 18 September 1945, completing those evolutions the following day. After fueling on the 20th, the ship shifted her anchorage 25 miles north, to Nago Wan, Okinawa, where she completing taking on additional cargo (the total coming to about 451 tons) on the 21st. Embarking more marines on the 22nd, bringing the total number on board to 27 officers and 382 enlisted (Lt. Col. C. G. Gaines, USMCR, commanding), Cortland sailed from Okinawa on 26 September, again as part of TG 78.1, bound for Tientsin, China.

After approaching the transport area in poor visibility conditions, Cortland anchored about five miles east of the light vessel at the Taku Bar at 0740 on 30 September 1945, and at 0915 disembarked marines (6 officers and 87 enlisted), that number including those attached to a pioneer unit, to the medium landing ship LSM-274 for further transportation. She continued the disembarkation and unloading over the ensuing days (1-5 October) utilizing LSMs, infantry landing craft (LCI) and Chinese lighters.

Underway for the Philippines on 5 October 1945, Cortland set course to pass through the Gulf of Pohai, the Yellow Sea, the East China Sea, the waters east of Formosa and through the South China Sea to the westward of Luzon. Again she and her sisters encountered man-made dangers (one of the escorting ships destroyed a mine during the first dog watch one day out (6 October), as well as natural ones, the latter compelling her to slow to 10 knots and begin evading an approaching typhoon. Retiring northward and slowing to 8 knots, Cortland encountered difficulty steering at such low speed on 8 October.  Fortunately, on 9 October, the typhoon “recurved” so that it would pass some 250 miles to the east. Ultimately, Cortland reached Manila Bay and anchored on the afternoon of 13 October.

After a logistics period at Manila Bay (13-21 October 1945), Cortland sailed for Hong Kong as part of Transport Division (TransDiv) 59 (Temporary), in the number three position in the formation. The division reached its destination on the morning of 24 October, anchoring in Junk Bay, east of Kowloon, at 0855. Cortland moved alongside Pier 2, North, Kowloon, a little over an hour later (1000), and completed the embarkation of 61 officers and 901 enlisted men of the 4th Division, 13th [Chinese] Army, 11th Regiment (Col. Tong Swae-Ye, commanding) within seven hours, before returning to anchor in Junk Bay.

At 0652 on 25 October 1945, TransDiv 59 began getting underway; Cortland stood out, again in the number three position in column, the attack transports and attack cargo ships screened by the destroyer escort Ahrens (DE-575). Later that day, Cortland, reporting “dangerous hull vibration due to pounding from seas” requested that the formation’s speed of advance be reduced by three to four knots.

TransDiv 59 reached Chinwangtao, the port settled-upon as the disembarkation point of the Chinese 13th Army, before dark on 30 October 1945, with Cortland and attack cargo ship Sirona (AKA-43) docking first to unload cargo. At daylight on the 31st, Cortland disembarked her troops while Sirona disembarked the 63 officers and 992 enlisted men of the 4th Division, 13th Army, 12th Regiment that she had lifted from Kowloon. Once those two ships had completed their discharge and debarkation, they moved away from the wharf, with Briscoe (APA-65) and Crenshaw (APA-76) taking their places.  With the availability of berths suitable for large attack transports, Leon, the division flagship, and Clearfield (APA-142), moored on the morning of the 31st, the attack cargo ship Trousdale (AKA-79) replacing Clearfield at the wharf. At 1600 on 31 October, TransDiv 59’s ships wrapped up their mission and made ready for sea. The Liberty ship J. H. Quick, docked by mid-morning that day, brought winter clothing to be distributed among the “thinly clad and shivering” Chinese troops by 1500, and off-loaded 36 trucks to conclude the lift of the 13th Army. Her mission complete, Cortland stood out into the Gulf of Pohai, bound for Hong Kong with TransDiv 59.

Reducing speed early on 1 November 1945 to avoid closing TransDiv 69 that was steaming on a parallel course six miles ahead, Cortland and her running mates then increased speed the following afternoon, with escorts destroying two mines drifting in nearby waters. Slowing again on 3 November, the attack transport took Ahrens alongside to transfer U.S. mail, after which time the destroyer escort, having collected mail from the other ships in the formation, then set course southeastward for Okinawa. An escort destroyed another drifting mine late the next morning.

Arriving off the Lema Islands, some 15 miles southeast of Hong Kong, on 7 November 1945, Cortland dropped anchor six miles east of Tamkan Island shortly after mid-day, then transferred Capt. E. L. Sweat, U.S. Army liaison officer, and Y. K. Wong, a Chinese civilian interpreter, to the destroyer escort Leray Wilson (DE-414) by boat, after which the DE stood in to Hong Kong at 1230, returning four hours later. During the morning watch the next day, Cortland formed up with TransDiv 59 and stood in to Hong Kong harbor, mooring alongside Holt’s Wharf No.1 at Kowloon.  During the day, she loaded equipment and embarked the soldiers (140 officers, 652 men) of the 1st Honorable Division, Chinese 8th Army, including Maj. Gen. Wang Pak Fen, Commanding General, 1st Division, and his staff.  Capt. Sweat returned to the ship along with Orr Wai Lan, a Chinese interpreter. Later, the attack transport shifted her anchorage to Junk Bay and fueled. She sailed in company with TransDiv 59 the following day, standing out into the South China Sea.

Cortland proceeded via the East China Sea east of Formosa, and through the Yellow Sea, bound for Tsingtao, China. Reducing speed during the mid watch on 14 November 1945 to avoid closing TransDiv 69, the attack transport stood in to Kiachow Bay at 1120 that same day, and anchored two miles south of Yunei Shan Point. That afternoon, the division moved into Tsingtao’s inner harbor, with Cortland dropping anchor one and a half miles west of Horseshoe Reef light. Boats took her troops ashore and unloaded cargo over the ensuing hours, the disembarkation completed at 1829, with Capt. Sweat, the liaison officer, and the interpreter remaining on board until the following day. The ship remained at Tsingtao until 28 November, receiving what her war diarist called a “much needed engineering overhaul” while there. Also during that time, on the 25th, she received assignment to TG 16.12, designated Magic Carpet.

Underway for Japan on 28 November 1945, she joined Leon, taking station 800 yards astern, setting course to cross the Yellow Sea and to steam south of Saishu To and Goto Retto. Arriving off the entrance to the port of Sasebo shortly before mid-day on 30 November, she dropped anchor three and a half miles west of Kogo Saki to await the arrival of a pilot. Having obtained one, she then entered Sasebo the following day, and began loading cargo on 3 December, a task she completed during the mid watch on 7 December, the ship having loaded a variety of items ranging from officers’ trunks to cots and sea bags, 105 millimeter howitzers and their prime movers (¼ ton trucks) to 7,180 rounds of 105 millimeter ammunition. At 0902 on the 7th, she began embarking homeward bound leathernecks of the 5th Marine Division, 54 officers and 698 men, Maj. J. F. Coady, USMC, in charge, as well as Col. J. A. Bemis, the commander of the 13th Marine Regiment. She later embarked nine U.S. Naval Reservists, then at 1756 got underway for California. Cortland crossed the International Date Line (repeating 15 December), and ultimately dropped anchor in Berth 136, Coronado Roads, San Diego, a half hour before the end of the first watch on 23 December.

Cortland got underway early on 24 December 1945 and stood in to San Diego harbor, mooring to Pier B where she began unloading cargo at 0827 and disembarking passengers three minutes later. Inside of an hour and a quarter, she had brought the latter evolution to a close, and had discharged all cargo mid-way through the second dog watch, except the 105-millimeter ammunition, after which she got underway and moored in berth 213, where she remained over Christmas. 

Underway ten minutes before the end of the morning watch on 26 December 1945 for San Pedro, Cortland anchored in berth L9 at 1522, and began unloading howitzer ammunition to a lighter moored alongside at 1847. Completing the discharge of her ordnance cargo late the next afternoon [27 December], the attack transport once more got underway at 1735, to return to San Diego, anchoring in Coronado Roads shortly before the start of the mid watch on the 28th. She shifted to Pier 3, U.S. Naval Repair Base to begin a period of upkeep and repairs.

Departing San Diego on 19 January 1946, Cortland proceeded to Pearl Harbor, thence to Maui. Departing that place on 28 January with a capacity troop lift of returning marines, she proceeded to San Diego, arriving on 4 February to disembark her passengers. She then shifted to San Pedro.

While Cortland had been en route back to San Diego, although Commander, Amphibious Force, Pacific, had contemplated recommending Cortland’s ultimate disposition be assignment to the Service Force, Atlantic, for conversion to a survey ship (AGS) in lieu of her sister ship Crenshaw, he cancelled that suggestion on 29 January 1946. Commander, Western Sea Frontier, on 1 February, ordered Cortland to report to Commandant, 11th Naval District for stripping, thence to proceed to Pearl Harbor to report to Commandant, 14th Naval District, for assignment to Joint Task Force One. Cortland departed San Pedro on 24 February and reached Pearl Harbor on 1 March.    

image of side profile of the Cortland
Cortland stands toward Pearl Harbor, T.H., on 1 March 1946.  Note that while she retains her single pedestal mount 5-inch/38 aft, her 40-millimeter battery has been reduced by 50% and she carries few 20-millimeter guns. Also note motion picture screen erected aft at the base of the mainmast, accommodation ladder ready for lowering on the port side, and sailors nearby preparing an LCV(P) (landing craft) for hoisting-out on the port side, aft. Close investigation of the photo further reveals a man observing the camera plane from the port side of the bridge, while what is most likely the ship’s commanding officer is sitting back in his chair on the bridge’s starboard side.
U.S. Navy Bureau of Ships Photograph 19-LCM-114543, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Branch, College Park, Md.

Earmarked for employment as a target ship in Operation Crossroads, the attack transport arrived at Bikini on 29 May 1946, assigned to TransDiv 92, of TU 1.2.6 (Merchant Type Unit). For Test Able, fired at 0900 on 1 July, Cortland’s crew, the ship located 3,150 yards west-southwest of the detonation point, had been evacuated to the attack cargo ship Artemis (AKA-21), where they remained until the next afternoon. Cortland’s initial boarding team returned to the ship at 1440 on 2 July, with the remainder of the crew returning to resume normal routine on board a little less than four hours later, at 1831. They found no major damage, although a fire on board a little over five hours after the detonation had apparently caused moderate damage.

In advance of Test Baker, Cortland’s ship’s company evacuated, as before, to Artemis, at 0950 on 24 July 1946. For the second test, Cortland lay 3,870 yards from the detonation that occurred at 0835 on 25 July. An inspection party subsequently cleared the ship for reboarding at 1142, and declared the ship radiologically free at 2312. Further inspection teams did not board Cortland until 1305 on 29 July, with the ship’s crew returning to resume normal routine the following day (30 July). Her commanding officer, however, noted the ship to be “slightly over tolerance in radioactivity near the waterline.”

Cortland shifted to berth 349, Bikini, on 2 August 1946, then conducted a scheduled practice run (4-5 August). On 18-19 August, she embarked 19 officers and 305 enlisted men from the target ship Nevada (BB-36), upon conclusion of which she sailed for Kwajalein, arriving the following day (20 August). Ten days later, on 30 August, the attack transport sailed for Oahu.

Reaching Pearl Harbor on 5 September 1946, Cortland sailed on 7 September for San Francisco, arriving on 13 September. Directed by Commander, Amphibious Force, Pacific, on 19 October to “conduct maximum decontamination measures while enroute,” the attack transport cleared San Francisco for Panama on 5 November.  Although having been authorized a four-day layover in the Canal Zone, Cortland reached Balboa, C.Z., on 15 November and transited the Panama Canal on 16 November. She then set course for Norfolk. Pausing en route for a pre-inactivation overhaul at Bayonne, N.J. (22 November-4 December), the ship reached her ultimate destination on 5 December. She received her final radiological clearance from the Bureau of Ships on 16 December.

Decommissioned at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Portsmouth, Va., on 31 December 1946, Cortland was authorized on 21 March 1947 to be disposed of.  On 26 March, the office of the Chief of Naval Operations directed the Commandant, 5th Naval District, to turn over the ship, deemed “surplus to naval needs” to the Maritime Commission for disposal.

Stricken from the Naval Register on 4 April 1947, the ship was delivered to the Maritime Commission on 31 March 1948. Laid up at Wilmington, N.C., in the National Defense Reserve Fleet, she was advertised for sale as a scrap hull on 2 September 1960 but the Maritime Administration (the successor to the Maritime Commission) received no bids when bidding began on 30 September. Advertised again for sale as a scrap hull on 21 June 1966, she was acquired on 15 July 1966 by Boston Metals Co., Baltimore, Md., three days after bids opened. Ultimately, the veteran of Magic Carpet and Crossroads was broken up at her purchaser’s Baltimore facility.