Arcturus IV (AK-18)
The principal star of the northern constellation Bootes.
The C-2 freighter Mormachawk was laid down on 26 July 1938 under a Maritime Commission contract (MC hull 19) at Chester, Pa., by the Sun Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co.; launched on 18 May 1939; sponsored by Miss Mollie Foulks Lee; named Arcturus on 18 September 1940, in advance of her acquisition by the Navy for conversion to a cargo ship, AK-18; acquired on 20 September 1940; placed in commission "in ordinary" on 26 September 1940; converted to a cargo ship at the Philadelphia Navy Yard; and commissioned on 26 October 1940 as Arcturus (AK-18), Comdr. Russell C. Bartman in command.
Arcturus operated out of ports along the east coast, such as Norfolk, Virginia, as far north as Argentia, Newfoundland, and south to San Juan, Puerto Rico, supporting the U.S. Atlantic Fleet as it geared up for the hostilities that most felt loomed on the horizon. These operations continued through the "short of war" period and the Japanese attack upon the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor in December 1941.
In October 1942, Arcturus received orders to load landing craft and join the Western Naval Task Force (Task Force (TF) 34) for Operation Torch, the invasion of French Morocco. The cargo ship was assigned to Transport Division (TransDiv) 9 of the Center Attack Group and sailed from Hampton Roads on 24 October. Arcturus arrived off Fedhala, just before midnight on 7 November, with the landing scheduled for daybreak on the 8th. The ship's boats moved troops ashore at H-hour, but to facilitate unloading her.cargo, she moved into the harbor later in the day just long enough to unload at the one usable pier.
Arcturus still lay anchored off Fedhala on 12 November 1942 when German submarine U-130 (Kapitanleutnant Ernst Kals, commanding) attacked, torpedoing and sinking transports Tasker H. Bliss (AP-42), Hugh L. Scott (AP-43), and Edward Rutledge (AP-52). Arcturus escaped destruction or damage, and sent her boats to rescue survivors before the Center Group got underway to avoid more submarine attacks. The ships entered Casablanca on 15 November, and Arcturus completed unloading her cargo of small arms ammunition.
Arcturus joined a convoy on 17 November 1942 and returned to the United States where she entered the Norfolk Navy Yard at Portsmouth, Va., for an overhaul that lasted until 18 December. She got underway from Norfolk on 27 December and joined a convoy carrying urgently needed supplies to the southwestern Pacific. Pausing first at Noumea, New Caledonia, on 27 January 1943 and then Brisbane, Australia, four days later, Arcturus returned to the east coast immediately. Redesignated as an attack cargo ship, AKA-1 on 1 February 1943, she then underwent an availability at the Boston Navy Yard from 13 March until 4 April. The ship then trained off the east coast with TF 85 in preparation for the invasion of Sicily.
Arcturus crossed the Atlantic and formed up at Oran, Algeria, with the transports and escorts of the "Cent" force under Rear Admiral Alan G. Kirk. By 8 July 1943, the convoy was underway for Scoglitti, Sicily, where TF 85 was to land as part of a three-pronged attack. H-hour was set for 0245 on 10 July, but delays in organizing the convoy postponed the landing for one hour. As the first waves of boats moved toward the beaches, enemy torpedo bombers attacked. For almost an hour, torpedoes and bombs fell throughout the transport area, but neither Arcturus nor any other ship suffered hits. Landing craft casualties were great, however, because of the heavy surf, lack of recognizable landmarks, and inexperienced boat crews. During the night of 11 and 12 July, another enemy air attack resulted in chaos as the transports and screening ships tried to defend themselves. American transport planes flew over immediately after the attack and were shot up badly by friendly fire. Unloading continued, and by the 13th, Arcturus was on her way back to Oran with the rest of the empty transports.
The cargo ship remained at Oran while plans were firmed up for the landings at Salerno. On 5 September 1943, Arcturus got underway with TF 81, the Southern Attack Force, under the command of Rear Admiral John L. Hall. In spite of repeated enemy air attacks, the convoys arrived off the Gulf of Salerno late on 8 September. By 0335 the next day, the first wave of boats was landing at Paestum. Unfortunately, in the hope of completely surprising the Germans, no pre-landing bombardment preceded the boats, and many men in the landing craft were killed.
The unloading progressed slowly as Arcturus's boats helped move troops and supplies shoreward. One of her boats was lost in crossfire from German machine gun emplacements, with seven men killed and four wounded. By the evening of 10 September 1943, unloading was complete. Arcturus and 14 other empty cargo and transport ships sailed for Oran with an escort of 10 destroyers. Shortly after midnight; screening destroyer Rowan (DD-405) sighted a torpedo wake and pursued what was later determined to be a German E-boat. She lost it, and, as she rejoined the convoy, was hit by a torpedo from another torpedo boat and sank within one minute. The rest of the ships in the convoy proceeded to Oran without incident.
Arcturus remained at anchor off the coast of Algeria until November 1943 when she steamed to the recently captured and cleared port of Naples for amphibious.training. In December, the cargo ship joined a westbound convoy and sailed for the United States. A two-day storm encountered on the return voyage resulted in a fire in the pyrotechnic locker and the loss of 5-inch ammunition on the after gun deck. Ultimately, however, the storm broke, and the ships arrived safely in the United States, Arcturus put into the Philadelphia Navy Yard on 2 January 1944 and commenced a brief overhaul. The cargo ship set sail on 27 February for the Mediterranean. After rehearsals at Salerno for the amphibious landings in southern France, Arcturus joined TF 85, the "Delta" Force in this operation, and stood off the designated beaches at La Nartelle on 15 August, awaiting H-hour, 0800. The assault progressed like a textbook drill due to excellent gunfire support, air cover, and experienced boat crews. The unopposed landing resulted in Arcturus's suffering neither casualties nor loss of landing craft .
Just as Arcturus weighed anchor to retire from the transport area, she received orders to take on wounded, mainly German prisoners of war. The cargo ship slipped out under cover of darkness and rejoined her convoy en route to Naples to discharge her passengers. Until late October, Arcturus carried cargo from Naples and Oran to Marseilles and St. Tropez as the Allies advanced up the Rhone River valley. Released from this assignment on 21 October, the cargo ship returned to the United States for overhaul at the Philadelphia Navy Yard beginning on 10 November.
Arcturus completed her repairs and alterations in mid-December 1944 and set course for the Pacific. Transiting the Panama Canal on 9 January 1945, the cargo ship reached Pearl Harbor on 23 January and immediately unloaded her cargo. As soon as a new load was stowed on board; Arcturus got underway for Tulagi and Guadalcanal for training, rehearsals, and loading. She then steamed to Ulithi where she joined Transport Group "Baker" of the Northern Attack Force for the invasion of Okinawa. On 26 March, the ships stood out of Ulithi and set course for Okinawa.
Arcturus anchored at her assigned location in the transport area off the Hagushi beaches in the early hours of 1 April 1945, but waited five days before she could unload her cargo of gasoline and small arms ammunition. The transports and cargo ships retired seaward at night to minimize the danger from kamikaze attacks. Many other ships were hit, but in her fortnight in the transport area, Arcturus suffered no damage. The cargo ship's gun crews were credited with two assists in shooting down enemy attackers.
On 15 April 1945, Arcturus received orders to Saipan where she was routed on to Pearl Harbor and San Francisco, arriving at the latter port on 18 May. After loading cargo and supplies, Arcturus returned to the western Pacific to resupply the troops advancing on Okinawa. After a brief stop at Eniwetok on 11 June, the cargo ship dropped anchor at Okinawa on 5 August. Enemy air attacks continued, but less frequently and with decreasing intensity. On 15 August, when Japan capitulated, Arcturus still lay off Okinawa. She was then assigned to ferry occupation forces to Korea and China. On 5 September, the ship departed Okinawa in a convoy carrying Army troops and cargo to Jinsen, Korea. The convoy arrived at Jinsen on 8 September, and the occupation troops were joyfully received by the newly liberated Koreans.
Arcturus returned to Okinawa to load more cargo and troops but had to steam seaward to avoid a typhoon. Finally, on 19 September 1945, she was again loaded with marines and vehicles in convoy to Tientsin, China, where she anchored on 30 September. Arcturus ferried troops and equipment from Manila and Zamboanga in the Philippine Islands to China before receiving orders stateside.
The attack cargo ship got underway on 4 December 1945 from Shanghai, China, for Seattle, Wash., where she arrived three days before Christmas (22 December). No longer needed for service, Arcturus steamed to Portsmouth, Va., where she was decommissioned on 3 April 1946. Her name was stricken from the Navy register on 5 June 1946 and she was re-delivered to the Maritime Commission on 2 July 1946. Sold to Wallern and Company, on 24 June 1947, she was renamed Star Arcturus, and operated under the house flag of Compania Naveira Puerto del Sur, S.A., of Panama, until sold for scrap in early 1969. Ultimately, she arrived at Kaohsiung, Taiwan, on 17 May 1969, to begin the breaking-up process.
Arcturus was awarded five battle stars for her World War II service.
Revised and updated, Robert J. Cressman, 29 January 2007