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Liberty II (Id.No. 3461)


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

(Id. No. 3461: displacement 13,130; length 411'6"; beam 55'0"; depth of hold 34'11"; draft 27'0" (mean); speed 11 knots (maximum), complement 158; armament none)

The steel-hull, single-screw freighter Wichita was renamed Liberty prior to her being launched on 19 June 1918, and was completed in September 1918 at Hackensack, N.J., by Federal Shipbuilding Co. for the U.S. Shipping Board. Taken over by the Navy on 7 October 1918, to be manned by that service on a bare ship basis for the U.S. Army account in the Naval Overseas Transportation Service (NOTS). Given the identification number (Id. No.) 3461, Liberty was commissioned at Hoboken, N.J., on 7 October 1918, Lt. Cmdr. Charles Longbottom, USNRF, in command.

“Refitted and refurnished in accordance with Navy practice,” Liberty loaded a partial cargo then sailed on 13 October 1918 for Norfolk, Va., where she completed loading and coaled. She cleared the Tidewater area on 18 October for New York, where she was to join a convoy forming to sail on the 19th for France.

Mechanical difficulties, however, prompted Liberty to come about and return to the port she had just left. There she underwent repairs until 24 October 1918, when she again set course for France. In her assigned employment as an animal transport, she reached the port of Brest on 8 November, then sailed the following day (9 November) for St. Nazaire, where she discharged her horses and offloaded her cargo of supplies. During Liberty’s stay at that port, the Armistice ended the Great War [World War I] on 11 November 1918.

Liberty sailed to return to the U.S. on 20 November 1918. She paused to refuel at Bermuda (12-13 December), then continued on to New York, reaching her destination on 16 December. There she underwent voyage repairs and coaled, after which time she loaded a general cargo of food supplies for the U.S. Army account, then sailed for France on 4 January 1919.

Reaching Cherbourg a little over a fortnight later (19 January 1919), Liberty shifted to Le Havre on the 20th, discharging cargo at that port for almost the remainder of the month of January. Standing out on 31 January, the ship proceeded to Norfolk, standing in to Hampton Roads on 22 February. Drydocking at Norfolk for repairs after she had discharged ballast, Liberty went on to load Army general cargo, after which she set out on 17 March on her third voyage to France.

Putting in to La Pallice on 2 April 1919, she paused there only briefly before moving on to Verdon-sur-Mer, thence to Bordeaux on the 3rd, where she discharged her cargo. Loading 436 tons of Army cargo and 2,072 tons of steel rails, Liberty sailed on 16 April, making arrival at Newport News on the 30th. After unloading, the ship underwent voyage repairs and an inventory was taken, after which, on 16 May 1919, she was decommissioned and returned to the Shipping Board.

In merchant service in the wake of the war, Liberty retained her name as she sailed under U.S. colors. On 20 October 1929, at Le Havre, Seine-Maritime, France, she accidentally sank the French tug Dogue in a collision, the smaller vessel taking two of her crew down with her. A little over four years later, in the Ambrose Channel, Liberty collided with the American-Hawaiian Steamship Company’s Ohioan on 23 November 1933, with the latter being beached near the West Bank Lighthouse where she was refloated three days later [26 November 1933]. Subsequently, Liberty operated in the employ of the Southgate-Nelson Corp., out of Norfolk [1939] until acquired by the U.S. Army in 1940. By the next year, in the spring of 1941, the Navy would contemplate acquiring the vessel for use as cargo ship, going so far as to assign her the identification number AK-35.

U.S. Army Transport (USAT) Liberty soon began her service in a second World War that began with the suddenness of a thunderstorm from a clear sky. On 11 January 1942, the Japanese submarine I-66 (Lt.Cmdr. Yoshitome Zennosuke, commanding) encountered USAT Liberty (Earle L. Evey, Master) on that leg of her voyage from Australia to the beleaguered Philippines. Less than a week into her patrol that had begun at Cam Ranh Bay, I-66 torpedoed Liberty approximately 10 nautical miles southwest of Lombok Strait. The first torpedo punched into the cargo vessel’s port side at no.1 hold, and the second hit at no. 4 hold. After the ship went dead in the water, her 53 sailors and one passenger took to three lifeboats. A Dutch flying boat rescued the 54 men, making two trips, the same day. The first two boatsful were transported to Bali, the third to Surabaya.

Word of the attack resulted in the destroyer Paul Jones (DD-230) and the Dutch destroyer Van Ghent being dispatched to the scene  the following day [12 January 1942]. The latter warship took Liberty in tow and set course for Celukan Bawang harbor at Singaraya on the north coast of Bali. Unfortunately, the torpedoed transport was shipping too much water to reach the north coast, so she was beached off Bali’s east coast, off Tulamben, where she capsized on 14 January, a constructive total loss.   

Tremors from the catastrophic eruption of Mount Agung, a volcano on Bali, began on 18 February 1963 and continued for almost a year, devastating villages and killing up to 1,500 people, caused Liberty to slip off the beach, and ultimately come to her final resting place on a slope of sand in 25 to 100 feet of water. In time, it became a popular site for divers to explore.

Robert J. Cressman

14 July 2022

Published: Fri Jul 15 13:36:30 EDT 2022