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Harry Lee (AP-17)


Harry Lee—born in Washington, D.C., on 4 June 1872—was appointed a second lieutenant in the U.S. Marine Corps on 2 August 1898, during the war with Spain. He served at the Havana Naval Station during the war and in various ships of the Navy and Marine Corps stations following it. Joining the Sixth Regiment in 1917, Lee commanded it at Chateau Thierry, St. Mihiel, and the Argonne Forest and marched with the Army to the Rhine. After the war he commanded the Marine Brigade in Santo Domingo, sent in 1921 to pacify the country and establish constitutional government. For three years he served as military governor of the country. Later General Lee commanded Marine Barracks, Parris Island, and while in command of the Marine base at Quantico, Va., died on 1 March 1933. For his service in the Great War, Major General Lee was awarded the Army and Navy Distinguished Service Medals, the French Legion of Honor, as well as other decorations.

(AP-17: displacement 9,989; length 475'4"; beam 61'6"; draft 25'4"; speed 16 knots; complement 453; troop capacity 959; armament 4 3-inch, 8 .50-caliber machine guns)

The passenger and cargo steamship Exochorda was completed in 1931 at Camden, N.J., by the New York Shipbuilding Co., and operated in the Mediterranean area for American Export Lines. Acquired by the Navy on 30 October 1940, she was converted at Tietjen & Lang Dry Dock Co., Hoboken, N.J., and commissioned as Harry Lee (AP-17) on 27 December 1940, two days after Christmas, Capt. Robert P. Hinrichs in command.

Harry Lee spent the first few months of her commissioned service transporting U.S. Marine combat units to the Caribbean for training exercises, helping to build the amphibious teams which were to find such great success in the later stages of World War II. After a stay at Norfolk, the transport was assigned in July to the Iceland route, carrying troops and supplies to that country from Norfolk and New York. After making two such passages, she returned to Boston on 22 December 1941 to take part in additional training exercises. With America then in the war, Harry Lee spent the next 18 months in amphibious maneuvers in the Caribbean area. During this time the ship carried out many valuable experiments with lauding craft and boat control procedures. Harry Lee was redesignated as an attack transport, APA-10, 1 February 1943.

Returning to Boston on 6 April 1943, Harry Lee was designated for use in the upcoming offensive in the Mediterranean, and sailed on 8 June for Algeria. She anchored at Oran on 22 June to prepare for the landing and found herself off the southwest coast of Sicily on 10 July with Vice Adm. H. Kent Hewitt’s Western Naval Task Force. During this invasion Harry Lee debarked her troops through the heavy surf at Scoglitti and withstood several Axis air attacks before retiring two days later.

After the success of the Sicilian operation, the transport returned German prisoners of war to the United States, arriving Norfolk on 3 August 1943. It was then decided that her amphibious prowess was needed in the Pacific, and she sailed on 24 August for Wellington, New Zealand, via the Panama Canal and San Francisco, arriving on 12 October. At Wellington, Harry Lee embarked marines in preparation for the big push of the invasion of the Gilbert Islands. She proceeded to Efate, New Hebrides, (1—7 November) and for the next few weeks held amphibious practice landings in preparation for the landings on Tarawa. The transport departed for Tarawa on 13 November, and arrived offshore on 20 November. There she launched her marines onto the beaches, under threat of submarine attack and air attack and sailed the next day for Pearl Harbor.

Harry Lee participated in rehearsal landings in Hawaiian waters after her arrival at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1943, and sailed on 23 January 1944 for the invasion of the Marshall Islands, next step on the island road to Japan. She arrived off Kwajalein on 31 January. She effectively carried out her role in this complicated operation by landing troops on two small islands in the atoll; they met little opposition. Harry Lee remained off Kwajalein until departing for Funafuti on 5 February. From there she sailed to Noumèa on 24 February and by 14 March was anchored off Guadalcanal to load troops and continue her amphibious preparations.

After carrying troops to Bougainville and New Guinea in April, Harry Lee sailed to Aitape, New Guinea, under Rear Adm. Daniel E. Barbey for the Hollandia operation. She arrived on 23 April after the initial assault, unloaded her troops, and proceeded to bring reinforcements from other points in New Guinea to the landing area. This accomplished, the transport arrived Espíritu Santo on 11 May.

Harry Lee was next to take part in the invasion of the Marianas. After landing operations conducted around Guadalcanal the ship sailed to Kwajalein and got underway in convoy for Guam on 12 June 1944. During this gigantic operation, in which troops were projected over 1,000 miles of ocean from the nearest advance base, Harry Lee was held in reserve for the Guam landings. She arrived off Agat, Guam, on 21 July 1944 and debarked her troops. The transport then remained offshore embarking and debarking troops for tactical purposes until 25 July, when she steamed with her fellow transports to Eniwetok. They arrived on 29 July, and two days later sailed for Pearl Harbor.

Reaching Pearl Harbor on 7 August 1944, Harry Lee set course for California and a much-needed overhaul. She arrived San Pedro on 18 August and remained in California until departing 21 October with troops for Seeadler Harbor, Manus. Until 31 December the ship conducted practice landings in New Guinea and the Solomons for the upcoming invasion of Luzon, and departed the last day of 1944 for Lingayen Gulf. Japanese planes attacked the task force savagely with suicide planes and bombers en route, but Harry Lee escaped damage. She entered Lingayen Gulf on 9 January 1945 and began landing troops under constant air alert. That night the transports retired off the beaches under smoke screens, returning next day to resume the dangerous job of landing supplies. Harry Lee sailed on 10 January for Leyte Gulf, anchoring on 14 January.

With troops ashore at Lingayen, Harry Lee departed on 19 January 1945 for Ulithi and arrived two days later. She soon was back in action, however, sailing on 17 February for Iwo Jima. The transport arrived via Guam on 22 February, three days after the initial landings, and after sending a reconnaissance unit ashore on 24 February disembarked her troops. The ship remained off Iwo until 6 March, acting as an evacuation vessel. She then sailed with casualties to Saipan (6—9 March)

Harry Lee spent the rest of her time in the Pacific transporting troops and supplies, as the American thrust at Japan neared its final phase. She touched at Tulagi, Noumèa, New Guinea, Manus, and the Philippines, bringing reinforcements and vitally needed supplies. The ship was at Leyte Gulf 20 July when ordered back to the United States, and she arrived for a brief stay 8 August. It was during this time that news of Japan's surrender reached the veteran transport.

The ship reached Manila on 16 September 1945 to aid in the occupation of Japan, and after loading troops at various ports in the Philippines stood in to Tokyo Bay on 13 October 1945. Assigned to Operation Magic Carpet, and the huge job of bringing U.S. veterans home from the Pacific, Harry Lee arrived San Francisco on 4 November, and made another round trip to the Philippines and back, arriving on 20 January 1946. From San Francisco she sailed on 23 January for New York, via Norfolk. The ship arrived on 9 February 1946, was decommissioned at the New York Naval Shipyard, Brooklyn, N.Y., on 9 May 1946, and entered the Maritime Commission’s Reserve Fleet, Hudson River, at noon on 12 September 1946. She was stricken from the Navy Register on 20 September 1946, resuming her former name, Exochorda.

Turned over to the Moran Towing & Transportation Co. (agents for the Turkish Government) at Jones Point. N.Y., at 11:00 a.m. on 16 September 1947, she was towed to Baltimore, Maryland’s Key Highway Shipyard. Formal transfer to Turkish ownership occurred at 12:25 p.m. on 16 April 1948, being transferred at Hoboken, N.J. Renamed Tarsus, the former troopship had undergone a conversion at Baltimore, receiving accommodations for 465 passengers (189 of whom were first class) and restoring much of her pre-war luxury. Operated by the Turkish State Maritime Line, Tarsus called at Mediterranean ports such as Istanbul and Izmir, Turkey; Piraeus, Greece; Naples and Genoa, Italy, and Marseilles, France, as well as New York City and Miami, Florida.

On 14 December 1960, Tarsus lay awaiting repairs when a collision occurred between the Yugoslavian-flag tanker Peter Zoranic, laden with 12,065 tons of 90-octane Benzine and 11,330 tons of diesel fuel, and the empty Greek tanker World Harmony, in the Bosporus. A fierce fire broke out engulfing the tankers, which drifted, ablaze and out of control, ultimately involving Tarsus and rendering the once-luxurious liner a total loss, to be scrapped subsequently.

Harry Lee received seven battle stars for World War II service.

Updated, Robert J. Cressman

14 May 2021

Published: Fri May 14 14:08:36 EDT 2021