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Rochambeau

 

The French nobleman, Jean Baptiste Donatien de Vimeur, Comte de Rochambeau was born at Vendôme on 1 July 1726. He had already carved for himself a distinguished reputation as a soldier when the American Revolution brought him across the Atlantic to help the colonies in their fight for independence. General Rochambeau arrived at Newport in the summer of 1780, a dim period in the Revolution. His own talents, coupled with the 5,500 man force he brought with him, were to help decide the final campaign of the war for the United States.

 

Early in their collaboration, it was evident that General Rochambeau would work well with George Washington. The Frenchman was quick to acknowledge Washington's leadership over the allied French and Continental troops, and eagerly sought to cooperate with the Americans. Rochambeau maintained his own troops in an admirably disciplined manner, and at one point even lent $20,000 so that the American Army could pay its soldiers.

 

It was Rochambeau who joined with Washington to press the campaign of 1781 against Cornwallis' forces at Yorktown, with the assurance that the French Navy would be on station to support the armies. While Rochambeau's fellow countryman, the able Admiral de Grasse, defeated the British fleet off the Virginia Capes, 10,000 French and American troops marched toward the final battle at Yorktown. When Cornwallis and his beleaguered army capitulated, General Rochambeau insisted that the surrender be made to the American forces. Nevertheless, without Rochambeau and his troops and the French Navy, the last great victory in the American struggle for independence, Yorktown, would not have been possible.

 

On his return to France, Rochambeau served as Governor of Picardy and, from 1790 to 1792, commanded the Army of the North. Surviving the Reign of Terror, he died at Thoré on 10 May 1807.

 

(AP - 63: displacement 14,242; length 470’10”; beam 63’11”; draft 26’; speed 15 knots; complement 381; troop 303; armament 1 5”, 4 3”, 8 1.1”, 8 20mm.; class Rochambeau)

 

Rochambeau (AP-63) was built as Marechal Joffre in 1933 by the Societe Provençals [sic; Provençale] de Constructions Navales, La Ciotat, France for the Societe des Services Contractuels des Messageries Maritimes. Manned by the Free French after the fall of France in 1940, Marechal Joffre was in the Philippines when the United States entered World War II. After the receipt of the news from Pearl Harbor, merchant vessels in the area were requested to depart for U.S. ports. Marechal Joffre sailed on the 18th for Balikpapan, whence she proceeded to Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. She arrived at San Francisco with a cargo of wool and zircon sand on 19 April 1942. The following day, she was taken over by the U.S. Maritime Commission and transferred to the Navy. Commissioned 27 April 1942, Lt. Thomas G. Warfield in command, she was renamed Rochambeau and designated AP-63 on the 29th.

 

Rochambeau, converted for use as a casualty evauaction [sic; evacuation] ship, departed Oakland, Calif., on 20 October for her first operation, under the U.S. flag. With replacements and reinforcements for the Guadalcanal campaign embarked on her westward passage, she made Noumea; disembarked her passengers; replaced them with casualties from hospitals there, at Suva, and at Bora Bora; and returned to San Francisco on 3 December. At the end of December, she sailed west again. Extending her range to New Zealand and Australia on that voyage, she limited her next run, 9 to 27 April, to New Caledonia and the New Hebrides. On that trip she carried Lt. (jg.) John F. Kennedy to Espiritu Santo where he was transferred to LST-449 and taken to the Solomons.

 

During May, Rochambeau remained in waters off California, then, on 5 June, resumed her passenger/casualty runs to the south and southwest Pacific. Continuing those runs well into 1944, she added ports in New Guinea to her stops in September 1943 and the central Solomons in the spring of 1944. On her last run, 16 November 1944-17 January 1945, she brought back casualties from hospitals on Eniwetok, Guam, and Kwajalein.

 

On 9 February, Rochambeau headed for New York. Arriving on the 25th, she was decommissioned and transferred to the Maritime Commission's War Shipping Administration (WSA) on 17 March. Her name was struck from the Navy list at the end of the month. Then returned to French custody, she resumed the name Marechal Joffre and, operating for WSA, was used to transport American troops from Europe to the United States.


14 October 2005