Skip to main content
Related Content
  • Boats-Ships--Support Ships
Document Type
  • Ship History
Wars & Conflicts
File Formats
Location of Archival Materials
John Penn
(AP-51: dp. 9,360; l. 475'4"; b. 62'; dr. 26'; s. 16 k.; a. 15", 4 3", 820mm.)

John Penn was born in Virginia 6 May 1740. He was admitted to the bar in 1761; and, after practicing in Virginia, moved in 1774 to Granville County, N.C. There Penn became active in public affairs, served for a brief time in the Provincial Congress, and was elected to the Continental Congress in 1775. Serving in Congress until 1780, he voted for and signed the Declaration of Independence. Penn became a member of the North Carolina Board of War in 1780 and returned to the practice of law in 1781. He died 14 September 1788.

John Penn (AP-51), formerly Excambion, was launched in 1931 by the New York Shipbuilding Co., Camden, N.J., for American Export Lines; acquired by the Navy 8 January 1942; and commissioned 6 April 1942, Captain Harry W. Need in command.

After fitting out and training, John Penn began preparations for what was to be one of the largest overseas expeditions ever undertaken; the North African Invasion. From 4 to 16 October 1942, John Penn loaded Army equipment, cargo, and troops, then topped off with fuel. She sortied from Hampton Roads 23 October with Admiral Hewitt's Western Naval Task Force. As a unit of Rear Admiral Monroe Kelly's Northern Attack Group, she arrived 8 November in the transport area off Mehdia, Western Morocco, where she began landing troops and putting cargo ashore. Although hampered by heavy surf and fire from enemy shore batteries, she unloaded with efficiency and dispatch. At 1053 an enemy aircraft attacked John Penn, but her after batteries quickly splashed the intruder. On 15 November she departed for Casablanca, arrived that same day, and unloaded the remainder of her cargo. She sailed for Norfolk 17 November, arriving the 30th.

John Penn departed Norfolk 17 December for deployment to the Pacific, arriving New Caledonia via the Canal Zone 18 January 1943. She departed New Caledonia 24 January; and touching at Espiritu Santo 3 days later, got underway to pick up survivors from Chicago, sunk off Guadalcanal 29 January. In all, she received 1,003 men and 63 officers, including Captain R. C. Davis, the lost cruiser's commanding officer. After debarking her grateful passengers at Noumea, New Caledonia, she spent the next 6 months delivering supplies, equipment, and troops to Guadalcanal from the New Hebrides, the Fiji Islands, and New Zealand. Reclassified APA-23 on 1 February 1943, she continued to bring supplies and troops into this bitterly contested island.

On 13 August John Penn had just finished unloading a cargo of 155-mm. ammunition off Lunga Point, Guadalcanal. At 2120 she came under attack by enemy torpedo planes. Three minutes later, when the transport took one of the planes under fire, it burst into flames and crashed into her mainmast. About that same instant a torpedo hit from another plane hit the ship. Although vigorous efforts were made to save her, John Penn went down stern first at 2150.

In her naval service, the transport had played a key role in the assault and occupation of French Morocco and contributed greatly to the struggle for Guadalcanal. In war there are always losses, but John Penn's crew, reassigned to other ships, took part in later decisive naval victories.

John Penn received one battle star for World War II service.