(APA-63: dp. 7,080 (lim.); l. 426'0"; b. 58'0"; dr. 16'0" (lim.); s. 16.9 k. (tl.); cpl. 320; trp. 849; a. 1 5", 8 40mm., 10 20 mm.; cl. Gilliam; T. S4-SE2-BD1)
A county in southern North Carolina established in 1734 to honor Martin Bladen, the British Comptroller of the Mint and Commissioner of Trade and Plantations.
Bladen (APA-63) was laid down on 8 March 1944 at Wilmington, Calif., by the Consolidated Steel Corp. under a Maritime Commission contract (MC hull 1856); launched on 31 May 1944; sponsored by Mrs. Gladys Moore McNerney; acquired by the Navy on 17 October 1944; and commissioned on 18 October 1944, Lt. Comdr. Walter P. Hartung in command.
After fitting out from 18 to 29 October, the new attack transport commenced shakedown off the California coast. Emergency drills and tactical exercises honed her crew's skills, and training with other transports prepared Bladen for large-scale amphibious operations. Following post-shakedown availability, the ship got underway on 20 November for San Francisco to embark her first load of troops for transportation to Hawaii.
Bladen arrived in Pearl Harbor early in December 1944 and spent two weeks training and loading supplies. She then embarked "Seabees" of the 103d and 109th Construction Battalions and sailed for the Marianas. Bladen disembarked her passengers at Guam and returned to Pearl Harbor, arriving there on 14 January 1945. There, she found preparations in full swing for the invasion of Iwo Jima.
The attack transport immediately began combat-loading food, supplies, and ammunition and, on 17 January, rehearsed landings off the Maui beaches with four other attack transports. Returning to Pearl Harbor on the 24th, she topped off her fuel tanks and embarked her contingent of Marines. The attack transport got underway on 27 January to join Transport Group "Baker" of the Northern Attack Force. On D-day, 19 February, she put her troops ashore on Iwo Jima in the fifth and sixth waves and later unloaded her cargo. She remained off the beach for two weeks, taking on board some of the many casualties that the Marine Corps suffered in the bitterly contested conquest of Iwo Jima.
From Iwo Jima, she carried the wounded Marines to safety on Saipan, where she also embarked more troops and loaded supplies for the assault on Okinawa. From 16 to 19 March, she rehearsed landings at Tinian with Task Group (TG) 51.2, Demonstration Group "Charlie." Her convoy left the Marianas on 27 March for the southern coast of Okinawa, where TG 51.2 staged diversionary landings on 1 and 2 April to lure the Japanese away from the actual landing site at the Hagushi beaches. This feint received more attention from enemy air forces than did the real landings. Hinsdale (APA-120) and LST-884 both suffered damage by kamikaze planes. During the afternoon of 2 April, Bladen steamed to the western transport area off Hagushi where she remained until 10 April.
She then got underway for Saipan, where she rejoined Transport Squadron (TransRon) 15. After six long weeks of waiting for orders, the attack transport got underway on 4 June and steamed via Tulagi to New Caledonia. At Noumea, Bladen filled her holds with fire brick and set sail for Guam, where she arrived on 2 July. There, welcome news awaited her. She received orders to sail for San Francisco. The attack transport passed the Golden Gate on 21 July, but remained only a fortnight to complete needed repairs before moving on to Seattle, Wash. On 6 August, she steamed into Puget Sound to pick up passengers. Carrying over 800 officers and sailors, the ship set course for Hawaii on 8 August.
When she was a day out of Pearl, the Japanese capitulated. BIaden continued on to Eniwetok where she joined nine other attack transports and two escorts bound for Ulithi. The crew enjoyed some liberty while awaiting the arrival of additional escort to accompany them to the Philippines. Early on 7 September, the attack transport anchored in San Pedro Bay. After her troops left at Guiuan, Samar, she proceeded to Manila Bay to reprovision and then returned to sea until early on the 13th when she anchored off San Fabian in Lingayen Gulf. After loading Army troops and equipment bound for Japan, Bladen rehearsed landing procedures until the convoy formed up on the 20th. Picking her way through minefields, she cautiously entered the Japanese Inland Sea on 25 September.
The ship anchored off Wakayama to begin unloading. Her beach party went ashore in the second landing wave, to be greeted by Japanese newspaper reporters and photographers instead of soldiers. After the LST's and LSM's had unloaded, the attack transport disembarked her soldiers and discharged her cargo. Late the next afternoon, she set sail for the Philippines, where she embarked more occupation troops and loaded supplies for a second trip to Japan. From 24 October to 29 December, Bladen served on "Magic Carpet" duty, carrying veterans home to the United States.
She then received orders to Pearl Harbor for stripping and special rigging for Operation "Crossroads," the two-detonation nuclear test series carried out at Bikini Atoll in July 1946. As one of the 84 target ships, Bladen was anchored in the lagoon by 31 May. After all test equipment was in place, the crew evacuated to Henrico (APA-45) on 30 June for housing. The attack transport was anchored 2,810 yards from "ground zero" for Test "Able" on 1 July. The ship sustained no structural damage from the explosion, and her crew returned to the ship the next day. She remained in Bikini Lagoon and, on 24 July, the crew again shifted to Henrico for Test "Baker" the following day. For this detonation, the transport was stationed 2,480 yards from ground zero. Again, she sustained no physical damage; but the crew did not return on board until 29 July. The ship remained in the lagoon until 20 August, when she sailed for Kwajalein.
At Kwajalein, radiation monitors issued a radiological clearance certificate; and Bladen got underway for Hawaii on 30 August. She arrived at Pearl Harbor on 5 September and underwent another radiological survey. Three of her small boats were declared to be above the safe limits of contamination and were sunk. Bladen headed for San Francisco on 7 September and arrived in the Oakland area on the 13th. The attack transport continued on to Norfolk where she was decommissioned on 26 December 1946 and retained for possible use in conventional explosive tests.
No such tests ever involved her, however, and Bladen was transferred to the Maritime Administration on 3 August 1953. Her name was struck from the Navy list on 20 October 1953, and she was berthed with the National Defense Reserve Fleet at James River, Va., until 1955. Facts concerning her final disposition could not be found.
Bladen received two battle stars for her World War II service.
Mary P. Walke
7 February 2006