Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

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Awahou (YAG-24)

1942-1944 

The Navy retained the name carried by this vessel at the time of her acquisition. 

(YAG-24: tonnage 410; length 146'0"; beam 25'; depth of hold 9'1")

The twin-screw steamer Awahou, built in 1912 by Fullerton & Co., Paisley, Scotland, and owned, by 1942, by Richardson & Co., of Wellington, New Zealand, was acquired by the U.S. Navy from the New Zealand government on 4 November 1942.

Classified a miscellaneous district auxiliary and designated YAG-24, Awahou was placed in commission at Auckland, New Zealand, that same day. Hereafter, records are ambiguous as to whether or not the ship was "officially" listed as having a name or not, the Naval Vessel Register for 1943 carried her as "ex-Awahou" and as YAG-24. Another source indicated that she was Awahou (YAG-24), and her log uses both interchangeably.

In any event, Awahou, assigned to Service Squadron 8, Service Force, Pacific Fleet, stood out of Auckland harbor on 11 November 1942, bound for New Caledonia. Reaching Dumbea Bay on the 17th, she spent the next few days shuttling about the harbor, shifting berths until the 29th when she commenced discharging her cargo of lubricating oil to the light cruiser Helena (CL-50) and to the civilian tanker Donnell. After loading cargo and fueling, the vessel sailed for Espiritu Santo two days before Christmas, escorted by the high speed transport Manley (APD-1). Sailing thence for the Solomons on the 29th, Awahou reached Guadalcanal on 2 January 1943 and anchored off Lunga Point that morning to commence working her cargo.

For the next four months, Awahou performed vital, but unsung, local ferry and cargo-carrying service between Guadalcanal, Tulagi, Malaita, and Cactus, the shore near Henderson Field. Her cargo consisted at one time or another of such items as "portable runways" (Marston matting for airfield construction), aircraft bombs, gas cylinders, perishable commodities, and mail.

Highlighting her operations during this period was the heavy Japanese air raid on Tulagi on 7 April 1943, part of the last offensive (Operation "I") unleashed by Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku. Awahou's deck logs disclose that, over the previous two months, her crew had been called to general quarters on several occasions by air raid alerts ("condition reds") only to learn later that the warnings had been false. However, the one that came on the afternoon of 7 April proved quite different. The previous day, Awahou had taken on board potable water from the motor torpedo boat tender Niagara (AGP-1) and then moored to a dock at Tulagi. She was still lying there at 1445 on the 7th, when a "flash red" was received, as 76 Aichi D3A Type 99 carrier bombers [Vals] covered by 110 Mitsubishi A6M Type 0 carrier fighters [Zeros], droned toward Guadalcanal.

At 1500, Awahou's lookouts counted 36 Japanese dive bombers in their ship's vicinity. Two minutes later, they commenced their attack on the shipping in Tulagi harbor. One Val scored a direct hit on the New Zealand Navy corvette HMNZS Moa, which had been moored, fueling, alongside the station tanker Erskine M. Phelps (YON-147) and the unfortunate little ship sank "in about four minutes." The bombing also left Erskine M. Phelps in a sinking condition as well. Awahou got underway and, with the assistance of tugs, kept the damaged tanker afloat. Awahou moored to her starboard side and remained there throughout the night.

Fears over a return visit by more Japanese planes a few days later prompted Awahou to shift her berth to the vicinity of Gavutu Island where she dropped her port anchor in four fathoms ofwater and put out bow and stern lines to trees on the beach. "Believing enemy aircraft would be in this vicinity," Awahou's log records, "we went ashore and cut brush and palm limbs and camouflaged ship."

On 2 May 1943, Awahou, under tow of Bobolink (AT-131), cleared Guadalcanal and headed for the New Hebrides. She arrived at Espiritu Santo on the 5th for availability alongside Vestal (AR-4). Unmooring on the 12th, and again under tow of Bobolink, Awahou was taken to Havannah Harbor, Efate Island in the same group on the 16th. Taken thence to Auckland, in company with Taupata (YAG-26), under tow of Coucal (ASR-8), and escorted by Talbot (APD-7) and Taganak (AG-95), Awahou underwent voyage repairs there through mid-July 1943.

Over the next few months, Awahow conducted four cargo-carrying voyages from Auckland to Norfolk Island, in the Australian commonwealth some 930 miles northeast of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, and served one brief stint of duty at Auckland as a passenger ferry. She wound up her last Norfolk Island-to-Auckland return voyage on 26 January 1944. She got underway and cleared the port on 5 February 1944, but collided with the ferry Eagle Hawk. The accident forced her to return to port where she moored to a dock. This proved to be her last underway period as an American naval vessel for, on 28 March 1944, Awahou was decommissioned and returned to her owners. Her name was stricken from the Navy Register on 8 April 1944.

Robert J. Cressman

23 October 2017 

Published: Mon Oct 23 21:04:41 EDT 2017