The first and second ships named Solace carried a name “synonymous with mercy.”
(AH-5: displacement 8,900; length 409'4"; beam 62'; draft 20'7"; speed 18 knots; complement 466; class Solace)
Envisioned expressly for cruising between New York City and Miami, Fla., Iroquois—designed by naval architect Theodore E. Ferris for the Clyde Steamship Company of New York—took shape in the skilled hands of the workers at Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co., Newport News, Virginia. Incorporating a cruiser stern and a bulbous bow in her design, the latter adopted to decrease water resistance and a feature more often found on naval (rather than merchant) vessels, Iroquois could carry 640 passengers in first class and 114 in steerage, served by a crew of 166.
The Marine Engineering and Shipping Age praised Iroquois and her sister Shawnee as “the largest and fastest ships in the Atlantic coastwise trade” at the time of their entry into service in the summer of 1927, boasting of “all the latest improvements for the safety, comfort, and enjoyment of ocean travelers.” Iroquois served in that coastwise trade for over a decade, until the war in Europe cast a shadow over such peacetime pursuits with the German invasion of Poland in September 1939.
On 4 October 1939, the U.S. Naval Attaché in Berlin reported that Grossadmiral Erich Raeder, Commander in Chief of the German Navy, had informed him of a plot wherein Iroquois, that had sailed from Cobh, Ireland, with 566 American passengers on 3 October, would be sunk as she neared the east coast of the U.S. under “Athenia circumstances” (i.e., torpedoed without warning) for the apparent purpose of arousing anti-German feeling. Raeder gave credence to his source, in neutral Ireland, as being “very reliable.”
The next day [5 October 1939], the Navy Department informed Iroquois of the word received late the previous day concerning the plot to sink the ship. “As a purely precautionary measure,” President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced, “a Coast Guard vessel and several navy ships from the [neutrality] patrol will meet the Iroquois at sea and will accompany her to an American port.” As the chief executive had indicated, the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Campbell joined Iroquois on 8 October, followed later by destroyers Davis (DD-395) and Benham (DD-397), the latter from the Grand Banks Patrol. The four ships then proceeded in company to New York where they arrived three days later, Iroquois standing in safely to New York harbor with her passengers.
On 18 July 1940, the Secretary of the Navy approved the name Solace—“a name synonymous with mercy”—after which the ship received the identification number AH-5 on the 20th. The Navy took over Iroquois “as is, where is,” at New York City on 22 July, having acquiring her from the New York & Cuba Mail Line (a division of Clyde-Mallory). Converted at the Atlantic Basin Iron Works Corp., Brooklyn, N.Y., the ship received considerable engineering upgrades in addition to the construction on board of essentially a seagoing hospital, but delays in the delivery of certain items of equipment dogged the work. Ultimately, Solace was commissioned at her conversion yard on 9 August 1941, Capt. Benjamin Perlman in command.
Solace moved to the New York Navy Yard, Brooklyn, N.Y., for final fitting out, then proceeded, via Hampton Roads, the Panama Canal, and Long Beach, Calif., to Pearl Harbor, arriving there on Navy Day, 27 October 1941, to begin her work with the Fleet Train. She remained at Pearl into December 1941.
During the first dog watch on Friday, 5 December 1941, Solace discharged and admitted patients. Among those departing was Sea1c Gerald R. Bolling, who left to return to the battleship Arizona (BB-39), that had recently moored on Battleship Row after a brief period of exercises at sea. Soon afterward, Solace embarked Ens. Eugene T. Kirk from Maryland (BB-46), diagnosed with “encephalitis, acute.” Still later, during the first watch that day, F1c D. J. Brackin, also from Maryland, diagnosed with acute appendicitis, departed his ship with orders to report to the Naval Hospital. Apparently, however, Brackin’s decidedly worsening condition compelled the boat crew transporting him to take him to Solace instead, a shorter boat ride than the one to Hospital Point.
Saturday, 6 December 1941, proved a quiet day for Solace. She discharged three patients and received six—sailors from the gunnery training ship Utah (AG-16) and battleship Oklahoma (BB-37) among them.
The next morning [7 December 1941], Lt. (j.g.) John M. Gallagher, D-M, USNR, Solace’s navigator, eating breakfast in the wardroom, glanced toward the ships moored along the northwest side of Ford Island, and noticed Utah beginning to list to port. The training ship’s predicament—unbeknownst to him, she had been hit by two torpedoes fired by a pair of Nakajima B5N2 Type 97 carrier attack planes from the Japanese carrier Sōryū—arrested Gallagher’s attention. “My first impression,” he later recounted, was “that they were having a damage control drill.” Below, in one of the crew’s spaces, a sailor looking out a port saw Utah listing and remarked that it was “…a hell of a time…to be using some old battleship for target practice.” Soon, U.S. sailors and marines noticed Japanese planes attacking the fleet.
Apparently attracted by the growing tumult at Pearl Harbor, Capt. Erik G. Hakkanson (MC), stood on deck of Solace with a movie camera as the morning watch began on Sunday, 7 December. Shortly after 0800, the 56-year old chief of medical services turned his camera toward Arizona, lying moored less than a half-mile away, and filmed her. He captured images of descending spray from near-misses from ordnance dropped by Japanese high level bombers. Then, with heart-stopping suddenness, a cataclysmic explosion erupted from Arizona as an 800-kilogram bomb dropped from a Type 97 from the carrier Hiryu detonated her forward magazines. Those who had survived that blast, but who had been horribly burned, would soon desperately need the help that Solace could provide. The Swedish-born Hakkanson no doubt steeled himself for the bloody work that lay ahead.
Heavy explosions down at the other end of Ford Island, meanwhile, prompted Lt. (j.g.) Gallagher to exit the wardroom and go out on deck. A Japanese plane passed 500 feet away. As the Japanese attack unfolded, 29-year old Lt. (j.g.) Raynham Townshend, Jr., D-V(G), USNR, the officer of the deck, ordered Solace to general quarters. He sent the hospital ship’s number one motor launch (Sea1c Steve L. Gallos, coxswain) and number two motor launch (Sea1c James V. Saccavino, coxswain), to proceed immediately to the burning Arizona. With the captain’s gig lying immobile in its skids undergoing maintenance, Townshend sent the number two motor boat to the officer’s club landing at the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard to pick up the commanding officer and the executive officer.
Meanwhile, stretcher parties under Acting Pay Clerk John A. Keefer and CPhM Joseph A. Cunningham scrambled on board Arizona as the battleship’s crew abandoned ship. Moving close to the roaring flames, Solace’s pharmacists mates brought off all the survivors they could find. At 0820, Solace began admitting the wounded and bringing on board the dead, some barely recognizable from their horrible burns. Both motor launches returned to the grim work while the doctors, nurses, and corpsmen began treating the casualties, assisted by available men from the deck divisions.
In the absence of senior line officers, Lt. (j.g.) Richard H. Bates, DE-V(G), USNR, a graduate of the USNA Class of 1930, assumed command. With Lt. (j.g.) Gallagher at the conn, Solace, in accordance with orders from Commander, Battle Force, cleared her moorings at X-4 at 0850 and stood up the channel past the destroyer tender Dobbin (AD-3) and the formerly occupied destroyer berths to X-13, in East Loch. She dropped anchor at 1004, then moored between 1025 and 1045. At the latter time, Capt. Perlman, Cmdr. Thomas E. Flaherty, the executive officer, and Capt. Harold L. Jensen (MC), the senior medical officer, returned to the ship. That morning, Solace’s people, aided by Public Health Service doctors and civilian nurses, strove mightily to treat the wounded and the dying. The heroic work accomplished that morning under unimagineable conditions resulted in Solace receiving the Navy Unit Commendation.
In March 1942, Solace was ordered to the South Pacific and preceded to Pago Pago, Samoa, thence to the Tonga Islands, arriving at Tongatabu on 15 April. Ten days later [25 April], as the opposing sides in the conflict, Allied and Japanese, made their moves into the region, an injury to the commanding officer of the heavy cruiser Portland (CA-33) resulted in Solace’s Capt. Perlman receiving orders to relieve him. In the Battle of the Coral Sea [4—8 May] that occurred soon thereafter, Perlman handled the warship with exceptional skill, then returned on 16 May to the hospital ship.
Solace remained at Tongatabu until 4 August 1942. On that day, she got underway and steamed, via Nouméa, New Caledonia, to New Zealand. She arrived at Auckland on the 19th and discharged her patients. From then until May 1943, Solace shuttled between New Zealand, Australia, New Caledonia, Espíritu Santo, the New Hebrides, and the Fiji Islands, caring for fleet casualties and servicemen wounded in the island campaigns. Patients whom she could not return to duty shortly were evacuated to hospitals for more prolonged care.
In June, July, and August 1942, she operated as a station hospital ship at Nouméa. On 30 August, Solace sailed to Efate, New Hebrides, and performed the same duties at that port until sailing for Auckland on 3 October. On the 22nd, the hospital ship departed New Zealand and proceeded via Pearl Harbor to the west coast of the United States. She arrived at San Francisco on 9 November; disembarked her patients; and, on the 12th, sailed for the Gilberts. Solace arrived at Abemama Island on the 24th, embarked casualties from the Tarawa campaign, sailed the same day for Hawaii, and arrived at Pearl Harbor on 2 December.
On 17 December 1943, Solace sailed from Oahu with embarked patients to be evacuated to the United States. She arrived at San Diego on 23 December, two days before Christmas; and remained there until she sailed on 15 January 1944 for the Marshall Islands. She arrived at Roi on 3 February and departed the next day with wounded for Pearl Harbor. She was there for one day, returned to Roi on 18 February, then proceeded toward Eniwetok on the 21st. After picking up 391 casualties (of whom 125 had been brought by landing craft directly from the beachheads at Eniwetok and Parry Island), she returned to Pearl Harbor on 3 March.
Solace was next ordered to Espiritu Santo and arrived there on 20 March 1944. During the next nine weeks, she shuttled between New Guinea, the Admiralty Islands, and Australia. She was back at Roi on 6 June and departed there nine days later for the Marianas. The hospital ship anchored off Charan-Kanoa, Saipan, on 18 June. While the shores and hills were still under bombardment, she began taking on battle casualties, many directly from the front lines. When she sailed for Guadalcanal on the 20th, all of her hospital beds were filled, and there were patients in the crew's quarters. Altogether, the ship was caring for 584 men. Solace returned to Saipan from 2 to 5 July and embarked more wounded whom she took to the Solomons. From there, she was routed to the Marshalls arriving at Eniwetok on the 19th. Two days later, she sailed for Guam. Between 24 and 26 July, she took on board wounded from various ships and the beachhead for evacuation to Kwajalein. Solace was back at Guam from 5 to 15 August where she picked up 502 casualties for evacuation to Pearl Harbor.
Solace was at Pearl Harbor from 26 August to 7 September 1944. On the latter day, she got underway for the Marshalls and arrived at Eniwetok on the 14th. Three days later, she was ordered to sail immediately for the Palaus. She arrived off Peleliu on the 22nd, anchored 2,000 yards from the beach, and began embarking wounded. All stretcher cases (542) were put on board Solace. She headed for Nouméa on the 25th and arrived on 4 October. The ship was back at Peleliu from 16 to 27 October tending wounded and then sailed to Manus.
Solace stood out of Seeadler Harbor on 29 October 1944, bound for the Carolines. From 1 November 1944 to 18 February 1945, she served as a station hospital ship at Ulithi, providing medical and dental care for the Third and Fifth Fleets. She proceeded to Guam and was dispatched thence to Iwo Jima, arriving on 23 February. Solace anchored within 2,000 yards of the beach, but enemy shells fell within 100 yards of her, and she was forced to move further out. The first wounded were brought on board within 45 minutes of her arrival, and she sailed for Saipan the next day, packed to capacity with patients. She made three evacuation trips from Iwo Jima to base hospitals at Guam and Saipan, carrying almost 2,000 men, by 12 March. The island was declared secure on the 15th.
Solace steamed to Ulithi and joined the invasion fleet for Okinawa Gunto. She arrived at Kerama Retto on the morning of 27 March and began bringing patients on board from various ships. In the next three months, the ship evacuated seven loads of casualties to the Marianas. On 1 July, she sailed from Guam to the west coast, via Pearl Harbor. Solace arrived at San Francisco on 22 July and was routed to Portland, Oregon, for an overhaul that lasted until 12 September. She was then assigned to Operation Magic Carpet, transporting homecoming veterans from Pearl Harbor to San Francisco. She returned to San Francisco from her last voyage on 16 January 1946 and was routed to Hampton Roads, Virginia.
Solace was decommissioned at Norfolk on 27 March 1946, stricken from the Navy Register on 21 May 1946, and returned to the War Shipping Administration on 18 July 1946, being placed in the Reserve Fleet group at Lee Hall, Va., at 4:30 p.m. that day. She was sold to the Republic of Turkey on 14 August 1947, title passing to her purchaser at 12:25 p.m. on 16 April 1948, with the vessel being withdrawn from the Lee Hall group at 12:40 p.m. on 28 April 1948. Renamed Ankara she operated under Turkish colors until withdrawn from active service in 1977, and was broken up for scrap at Aliaga, Turkey, in 1981.
Solace received a Navy Unit Commendation—the only ship of her type so honored—for her work at Pearl Harbor, and seven battle stars for her World War II service in the Pacific Theater, for Pearl Harbor (7 December 1941), for the Gilbert Islands (24—26 November 1943), the occupation of Kwajalein and Majuro (3—4 February 1944), the capture and occupation of Saipan (18 Jun—2 July 1944) and Guam (24 July—15 August 1944), the southern Palaus (6 September—14 October 1944), Iwo Jima (23 February—10 March 1945) and Okinawa Gunto (27 March—27 June 1945).
Updated, Robert J. Cressman
3 April 2020