The lead ship of a class of 32 newly designed attack transports, Gilliam was commissioned on 1 August 1944, at the U.S. Naval Supply Depot, San Pedro, Calif., Cmdr. Hans B. Olsen, USNR, in command. Following the commissioning her crew of 16 officers and 110 enlisted sailors embarked and began loading stores in preparation for the ship’s upcoming shakedown cruise.
On 5 August 1944, Gilliam shifted over to berth 230-E, at the Naval Operating Base, Terminal Island, Calif., and commenced a ten-day availability. During this period “contractors completed unfished and unsatisfactory work.” Gilliam stood out for her first test on 16 August, and then on the 19th, anchored at San Pedro.
At the start of the mid watch on 20 August 1944, Gilliam officially began her shakedown cruise in the waters along the California coast. After a week of at-sea exercises the attack transport anchored in the Los Angeles Outer Harbor on 5 September, technically ending her shakedown. Early the next morning however, she got back underway to conduct additional amphibious training, first in the area of San Diego Harbor and then later at Pyramid Cove, San Clemente Island.
Over the course of the next week, Gilliam participated in numerous, daily “ship to shore movement exercises,” and in the evenings her crew watched training films on amphibious warfare. This training period concluded on 21 September 1944, and Gilliam moored at San Diego, Calif.
Steaming to the Naval Dry Docks at San Pedro on 23 September 1944, Gilliam then underwent a week-long availability. On 5 October, the attack transport conducted full power trial runs and then on 8 October, made her way to San Francisco, Calif., in preparation for her first Pacific voyage. On the 9th, Gilliam moored in the Outer Harbor of the U.S. Army (USA) Port of Embarkation at Oakland, Calif. On 15 October, Gilliam embarked 752 USA personnel and then, the following morning, got underway for Milne Bay, New Guinea (NG).
While en route to her destination on 26 October 1944, Gilliam crossed the equator for the first time and in accordance with time-honored naval tradition her crew “underwent the usual reception given by Neptunus Rex and his Royal Court.” On 3 November, the attack transport passed through the China Strait and at 0822 anchored in Milne Bay. After receiving 4,432 barrels of fuel, Gilliam proceeded on to Oro Bay, NG, arriving there the following morning.
Shortly after reaching her destination, Gilliam discharged her passengers and cargo, and then officially began duties with the Seventh Fleet. On 7 November 1944, she joined Task Unit (TU) 79.15.1, and commenced embarking troops and loading equipment of the USA’s 11th Airborne Division. Gilliam completed loading operations on 9 November, taking on a total of 981 soldiers. At dawn the next day, the attack transport stood out of Oro Bay and “proceeded on various courses and speeds to Dyke Acland Bay to stream paravanes.” Gilliam briefly returned to Oro Bay the same day, and then on the 11th, got underway with her task unit to transport the 11th Airborne Division to Leyte, Philippine Islands.
On 18 November 1944, Gilliam anchored in Leyte Gulf and shortly thereafter commenced discharging troops and equipment in the Dulag area. While conducting unloading operations Gilliam came under intermittent air attack by Japanese planes but “suffered no close calls.” With her task completed at 1813, Gilliam got underway with TU 79.15.1, and shaped a course for Manus, Admiralty Islands. On the 20th, Gilliam’s orders changed and she adjusted course for Hollandia, Dutch New Guinea.
Arriving at Humboldt Bay, Hollandia, on 22 November 1944, Gilliam began a three-day availability during which, she had all her logistics replenished. The attack transport then awaited movement orders for nearly a full week before finally being assigned to Transport Division Five. Attached to Task Group (TG) 77.9, Gilliam then received orders to transport troops and equipment to Lingayen Gulf, Philippines.
On 29 November 1944, Gilliam (acting as the convoy guide) stood out from Hollandia with TU 76.4.7, in a mixed column of 36 ships. Steaming approximately 100 miles east of Mindanao Island, Philippines, on 5 December 1944, Gilliam’s convoy came under heavy Japanese air attack. Already disadvantaged by an engine casualty from the day before, Gilliam reported the first attack at 0840 and as several more occurred throughout the day her crew remained at general quarters well into the evening.
At 1218, Gilliam observed a Japanese plane “coming in low on the water, nearly at deck level and headed for the middle of the convoy.” Despite being fired on “the enemy plane managed to release a torpedo,” which, smashed into the Liberty Ship Antoine Saugrain. Only ten minutes later “two more enemy planes came in low and fast,” one of which, hit Antoine Saugrain with another torpedo causing the vessel to go dead in the water. Intense anti-aircraft fire from Gilliam, and the other ships in the convoy, managed to at least temporarily drive the Japanese planes away.
At approximately 1530 the same day, the convoy came under attack again. One of the Japanese planes, which encountered a hail of anti-aircraft fire from the convoy, made a kamikaze dive on the Liberty Ship Marcus Daly, hitting the vessel directly in her bow near the waterline. A second kamikaze attack nearly sealed the ship’s fate, but the plane ended up crashing into the water after being heavily engaged by convoy gunners. Both Antoine Saugrain and Marcus Daly were temporarily kept afloat but the following day Marcus Daly succumbed to a second air attack.
During the course of the raid, convoy ships managed to shoot down a number of Japanese planes. Gilliam’s crew, which stood at General Quarters for nearly twelve full hours, received credit for splashing at least two of them. A few weeks later Gilliam even received authorization to paint two miniature Japanese flags on her bridge in recognition of the hits.
Undamaged, despite the two days of air attacks, Gilliam arrived with her task unit at Leyte Gulf on 6 December 1944. Upon receiving word that the Lingayen landing had been postponed, Gilliam proceeded to San Pedro Bay and reported to the Commander Philippine Sea Frontier for temporary duty. On the morning of 7 December, Gilliam unloaded passengers and equipment off Tacloban, Leyte. While still anchored there the following day, Gilliam embarked 13 officers and 168 enlisted men—all survivors of the destroyer Lamson (DD-367), which had been damaged by a kamikaze attack during the Ormoc Bay landing.
Gilliam remained off Tacloban for most of the next week serving as a support ship. On 13 December 1944, she received 99 survivors from Reid (DD-369), which had been tragically sunk by Japanese aircraft on the 11th. That same day, Lamson’s temporary repairs were completed and her sailors were able to re-board her. On 15 December, Gilliam transported the Reid survivors to the light cruiser Nashville (CL-43) and then on the 18th, she embarked another 29 officers and 218 enlisted men from various other ships that had been sunk or damaged during the invasion of Mindanao.
On 23 December 1944, Rear Adm. Arthur D. Struble, USN, (Commander Amphibious Group Nine) hoisted his flag on board Gilliam. Moored at berth 1 at Tacloban, on 2 January 1945, Gilliam began loading cargo and embarking troops from the U.S. Sixth Army Headquarters. On the 5th, Rear Adm. Struble departed the ship and Gilliam finished embarking troops and loading stores from on shore. With 154 officers and 422 enlisted men on board, Gilliam got underway on 7 January, steaming with TU 79.9.9. Arriving near the entrance to the Surigao Strait, Gilliam then joined company with TG 77.9 (escorted by Frazier (DD-607) and proceeded to Lingayen Gulf.
Reporting to anchorage C-5 at Lingayen, on 11 January 1945, Gilliam immediately commenced the debarkation of troops and cargo, all the while subjected to intermittent Japanese air attacks. At 1400 on the 12th, Gilliam finished unloading and joined TU 19.9.1, (falling in astern of Almaack (AKA-10) bound for Leyte Gulf. While at sea the following day the task unit came under air attack and a kamikaze hit Zeilin (APA-3) amidships. Zeilin managed to survive despite extensive damage and arrived with Gilliam and the others at Leyte Gulf on 15 January.
The day of her arrival at Leyte Gulf, Gilliam anchored in berth 48 and reported to Transport Squadron Twelve. Later that night at about 1913, Gilliam shifted over to the Catmon beach area and then the following morning (17 January 1945) she began receiving USA officers and enlisted men from the 1st Cavalry Division and 32nd Infantry Division.
On 24 January 1945, Gilliam sortied from the transport area with TG 78.4 (an eleven-ship convoy) and shaped a course for Lingayen. While still underway, at 1921 on the 24th, Gilliam’s convoy came under air attack and although Gilliam managed to “splash one of the enemy planes,” the dock landing ship Shadwell (LSD-15) suffered severe damage from an aerial torpedo. Shadwell managed to stay afloat and steamed back to Leyte while Gilliam and the task group pressed on.
Steaming into Lingayen Gulf on 27 January 1945, Gilliam anchored and immediately began discharging cargo and troops. With unloading complete after only a few hours, Gilliam then received 60 USA and USN casualties on board for evacuation to Leyte. Standing out as part of TU 78.4, Gilliam made an uneventful voyage to Leyte Gulf, arriving five miles north of Taytay Point on 30 January, and then shifting from the fleet anchorage to the Dulag transport area on the 31st.
Gilliam sortied out from Leyte Gulf on 2 February 1945, as a part of TU 78.12.9, bound for the Guadalcanal area. The attack transport reached Tulagi, Florida Island, on 11 February (anchoring in berth 7) and then reported for duty with the Fifth Fleet. Gilliam shifted over to Purvis Bay, Florida Island, on 16 February, and then on the 22nd, weighed anchor and proceeded to Lunga Point, Guadalcanal.
On 24 February 1945, Gilliam loaded equipment and troops of the 3rd Amphibious Corps, U.S. Marines. From 1 to 7 March, Gilliam got underway with the rest of Transport Division Twelve to undergo intensive training and landing rehearsals on the beaches of Cape Esperance, Guadalcanal. Upon the conclusion of these ship to shore exercises, Gilliam steamed to Purvis Bay (7 March), Lunga Point (12 March) and then finally back to Bunia Point (14 March) to await deployment orders for the upcoming operation against Okinawa, Nansei Shoto [Ryūkyū Islands].
Getting underway on the morning or 15 March 1945, Gilliam joined company with the Northern Attack Force (TG 51.11) for the Okinawa operation and shaped a course for Ulithi Atoll, Caroline Islands. The task group received logistics at Ulithi on the 21st, and then continued on course to Okinawa on the 27th. Gilliam arrived with the rest of the group off the west coast of Okinawa, just after sunrise on Easter Sunday, 1 April. Gilliam dropped her anchor at an inner transport area and U.S. troops hit the beaches at 0830. As unloading continued over the course of the next four days the task group battled heavy weather and, on several occasions, came under intermittent air and submarine attack. Fortunately, the group suffered no major casualties and Gilliam finished discharging the last of her cargo on the evening of the 4th.
On 5 April 1945, Gilliam departed Okinawa to join TU 51.29.4, en route to Saipan, Marianas Islands. Destroying several floating mines along the way the attack transport anchored at her destination on 9 April. In Saipan, some repairs were made to Gilliam’s starboard bilge keel and then on 10 April, she got underway with Clay (APA-39), Monrovia (APA-31) and Adair (APA-91) to proceed to Pearl Harbor. Although heavy swells marked the first several days of her voyage, Gilliam and her sister ships arrived safely at Point Able, Pearl Harbor, on 20 April.
The day after her arrival at Pearl, Gilliam weighed anchor and shaped a course for San Francisco. Following a brief six-day voyage, the attack transport arrived off the West Coast on 27 April 1945. She then moored starboard side to the Bethlehem Steel Company Docks, Berth 16, and commenced a two-week yard availability and bottom cleaning. During a full power run on 11 May, Cox (T) Stilson J. Ikerd, one of Gilliam’s ship’s company, fell overboard. Despite a “diligent search,” aided by the U.S. Coast Guard, “the man was not found.” After the incident Gilliam returned to port and resumed her availability for another week.
Standing out of San Francisco on 22 May 1945, Gilliam steamed to Port Hueneme, Calif., and started loading men and equipment from the Navy’s 6th Construction Battalion (Seabees). Five days later (on 28 May) with 19 officers and 756 enlisted men on board, Gilliam got underway for Buckner Bay [Nakagusuku Wan], Okinawa. Voyaging by way of Eniwetok (arriving 12 June) and Ulithi Atoll (arriving 2 July) with lengthy pauses in port, Gilliam at last arrived at Buckner Bay on 14 July. Within just a few hours of her arrival, and despite several Japanese air raids, Gilliam commenced unloading troops and cargo.
Amid a major impending storm front, on 17 July 1945, Gilliam’s crew prepared to “get underway in accordance with Typhoon Plan William,” wherein they would steam out to sea to “ride out the storm.” Accordingly, on 19 July, Gilliam and a number of other ships from Buckner Bay stood out of the area and spent several days on the open water endeavoring to weather the typhoon. The group later returned to Buckner Bay on 21 July.
Unfortunately, on the evening of her return, Gilliam and her group fell prey to a Japanese air attack that targeted the harbor. Marathon (APA-200), at anchor just 1,500 yards distant of Gilliam, suffered severe hull damage from a large underwater explosion. Rescue boats sent out from Gilliam, stood by and eventually transported eleven casualties from Marathon.
The morning after the attack, Gilliam stood out with convoy OKU-14, bound for Ulithi Atoll. Only a few hours after getting underway S1c Alfred U. Abruzzese, one of the injured sailors from Marathon, died. He was subsequently buried at sea the following day. Other than a close encounter with a floating mine, which reportedly came within 20 feet of the ship, Gilliam arrived at Ulithi without further incident on 26 July. The attack transport briefly refueled and then got underway again the same day for San Francisco, arriving there on 10 August. Upon her return to California, Gilliam commenced an availability period during which she received voyage repairs and had additional portable berthing facilities installed.
Ready for sea again on 21 August 1945, Gilliam embarked 891 passengers for transport to Pearl Harbor. Arriving at Pearl on the morning of the 27th, Gilliam disembarked her passengers and unloaded her cargo, and then steamed for Kahului, Maui, T.H. In the wake of Japan’s surrender (14 August), Gilliam prepared to transport occupation forces. Moored at Kahului on 28 August, she commenced loading 450 tons of equipment and 569 marines from the Headquarters and Service Battalions of the V Amphibious Corps.
Gilliam completed loading operations on 29 August 1945, and steamed back to Pearl Harbor. At mid-day on 1 September, Gilliam stood out from Pearl with TG 54.21, and shaped a course for Saipan, Marianas. Arriving on 13 September, the attack transport moored in berth L-50 and replenished her logistics. On the 16th, the task group put back out to sea and arrived at last at Sasebo, Kyushu, Japan, on the 22nd. Over the course of the next several days occupation forces and equipment were successfully put ashore at Sasebo.
On 22 September 1945, Gilliam pushed off from pier I-6 in Sasebo Harbor, and sortied with TU 54.21.2, to pick up more occupation troops standing by at Lingayen. Gilliam reached her destination on 3 October, and began embarking 457 troops from the U.S. Army, 129th Field Artillery Division and 32nd Infantry Division. On the morning of the 9th, Gilliam got underway with TG 54.4, bound for Japan. On 14 October, the attack transport anchored at the Matsu Shima anchorage, and the following morning, steamed into Sasebo Inn Harbor. Dropping her anchor with 30 fathoms of chain to port, in berth H-14, Gilliam then commenced unloading.
Having discharged her troops and cargo, on 22 October 1945, Gilliam got underway for the Philippines. Upon her arrival on the 29th, she moored portside to the Customs House Dock at Cebu Harbor, Cebu. The ship’s arrival at Cebu marked the beginning of her participation with the Magic-Carpet fleet (TG 16.2)—tasked with bringing service members back to the United States. At Cebu, Gilliam embarked 301 enlisted and 23 USN officers for passage to the West Coast.
A few days into her voyage, Gilliam received orders from the Port Director, Port of Guiuan, Samar Island, to divert course. On 3 November 1945, she arrived in Guiuan Bay and received an additional 747 enlisted men and 14 officers. Gilliam stood out the same day and shaped a course for San Francisco. While steaming north of the Hawaiian Islands, Gilliam encountered heavy weather and diverted course to Portland, Oregon.
On 21 November 1945, Gilliam entered the Columbia River and not long thereafter moored starboard side to berth 1, pier 2, Municipal Terminal Docks, Portland, to discharge her passengers. Acting on verbal orders from the port director’s office, Gilliam then got underway again on 28 November and proceeded to Kaiser Ship Yard, Swan Island, Oregon, to undergo voyage repairs.
Fully operational again on 18 December 1945, Gilliam re-fueled at the Union Oil Dock and then got underway for Samar to pick up more troops. Afflicted by heavy weather during the entirety of her voyage, Gilliam finally arrived off Samar (at Guiuan Harbor) on 9 January 1946. She remained in port taking on cargo and passengers through the end of the month, and then on 3 February 1946, got underway for Pearl Harbor.
Gilliam moored at Pearl Harbor on 16 February 1946, and then prepared to participate in the atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll, scheduled for the summer of that year.
Gilliam received two battle stars for her service in World War II, one for her participation in the Leyte Landings (18 November 1944), and one for the Assault and Occupation of Okinawa Gunto (1-5 April 1945).