(AKA-12: dp. 10,713; l. 459'2"; b. 63'; dr. 20'6"; s. 15.5 k.; cpl. 405; a. 1 5", 4 3"; cl. Arcturus)
The seventh sign of the Zodiac; a southern constellation between Virgo and Scorpio.
Libra (AK-53) was laid down as Jean Lykes by Federal Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co., Kearny, N.J., under contract for Lykes Steamship Co., Galveston, Tex.; launched 12 November 1941; sponsored by Mrs. Hale Boggs, wife of Congressman Boggs of Louisiana; acquired by the Navy 30 December 1941; named Libra 9 January 1942; and commissioned 13 May 1942, Comdr. W. B. Fletcher in command.
Completing conversion at New York City 26 May 1942, Libra loaded combat equipment at Hampton Roads and sailed 10 June for Wellington, New Zealand, arriving 11 July. Laden with cargo for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force, she sailed 22 July for rehearsals in the Fijis for the first Allied offensive in the Pacific, the Solomons campaign. Libra arrived off Tulagi 7 August and began an unloading interrupted six times in the next 3 days, as enemy air attack caused her to go to general quarters and stand off to maneuver in open waters. In the early morning 9 August she heard heavy gunfire to the northwest, where Allied men-o'-war engaged the Japanese in the Battle of Savo Island, fighting to protect the transports and their vital cargo. Later the same day, empty, she sailed for Wellington, arriving 20 August.
For the next 2 months, Libra sailed from Noumea to the Ellice Islands and Espiritu Santo, base for the Guadalcanal operation, building up supplies.
She returned to Guadalcanal 11 November, and her group almost immediately came under enemy air attack. The determined enemy sent another seven planes against the transports next day; all were splashed by Libra and her sisters. She sailed for Espiritu Santo 13 November as the Battle of Guadalcanal, just south of Savo Island, raged to a victory which gave the Allies sea control off the southern Solomons. Returning to Espiritu Santo 15 November, Libra prepared for two additional voyages to Guadalcanal during the next month, bringing cargo essential to the epic struggles of the marines to wrest the island from the Japanese.
From mid-December 1942 through March 1943, Libra, redesignated AKA-12 on 1 February, carried war equipment from New Zealand to bases in the New Hebrides. Joining the 3d Fleet 20 March, she returned to Guadalcanal 3 April, and 4 days later joined in fighting off landbased enemy aircraft. She returned to Espiritu Santo 10 April, and during the next 80 days made four voyages carrying cargo for the occupation of Guadalcanal. For her superlative performance of duty through the Guadalcanal campaign, Libra received the Navy Unit Commendation. She earned it in part 30 June when, unloading cargo at Rendova, her task group came under heavy enemy air attack. Deadly antiaircraft fire downed 17 of the 25 attacking torpedo planes before they could launch torpedoes, but got through to strike McCawley after passing under Libra, unladen and high in the water. Libra took the stricken transport in tow. Later the same day, the two were attacked by eight divebombers, three of whom they splashed. Relieved of the tow later that afternoon, Libra returned to Guadalcanal.
Aside from a repair period in New Zealand in August, Libra gave the next 4 months to building up the base on Guadalcanal with cargo from New Caledonia, then was part of the assault force for Bougainville, arriving Empress Augusta Bay 1 November. Promptly unloading, she sailed the same day for Guadalcanal for additional cargo, with which she arrived Bougainville 8 November, immediately to splash one of 25 dive bombers attacking her transport group.
Libra carried cargo among the New Hebrides, Solomons, and Marshalls until June 1944, when she prepared for the assault on Guam. Arriving off Guam from Eniwetok 21 July, she quickly discharged heavy equipment for the 3d Marines on the Asan beaches, then sailed for San Francisco, arriving from Pearl Harbor 19 August.
Overhauled, Libra sailed from San Francisco 20 October for Milne Bay, New Guinea, and Manus, where she readied for the Lingayen Gulf landings. She entered the gulf 11 January 1945, off-loaded her vital cargo, and sailed for Leyte, Ulithi, and Guam. Her final amphibious operation was Iwo Jima, off which she arrived 19 February. For 2 weeks she maneuvered off the volcanic beaches, avoiding enemy shore batteries as she landed marine combat gear.
For the remainder of the war, Libra carried cargo from Noumea to Leyte and intermediate ports. In the first of her post-war cargo runs supporting the occupation of Japan, she entered Tokyo Bay 2 September. Such duty complete 21 November, Libra steamed for Seattle, arriving 31 November.
Serving with the Pacific Fleet out of San Francisco for the next 2 years, Libra made four voyages to the western Pacific for essential cargo operations. She departed Guam 6 October 1947 for Hawaii, the Panama Canal, and Boston, where she arrived 26 November. Here she decommissioned 19 April 1948 and entered the Atlantic Reserve Fleet.
With the increased demand on cargo facilities brought on by the Korean conflict, Libra recommissioned 28 August 1950 to join the Amphibious Force, Atlantic Fleet, supporting its training operations along the east coast and in the Caribbean. She served in the Mediterranean with the 6th Fleet 18 January 1954 to 12 May, then trained reservists, sailing often with them to the Caribbean.
Libra decommissioned 6 October 1955 to join the Reserve Fleet at Charleston, S.C., where she remained until transferred to the Maritime Administration in July 1964. She entered the National Defense Reserve Fleet in the James River, Va., where she remained into 1969.
Libra received nine battle stars for World War II service.