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Merrimack III (AO-37)

(AO‑37: dp. 21,580; l. 501'5"; b. 68'; dr. 30'9"; s. 16.7 k.; cpl. 243; a. 1 5", 4 3"; cl. Kennebec)

A river formed by the junction of Permigewasset and Winnipesaukee Rivers at Franklin, N.H., flowing across northeastern Massachusetts before emptying in the Atlantic at Newburyport, Mass.



The third Merrimack (AO‑37) was laid down as Caddo under Maritime Commission contract 12 September 1940 by Bethlehem Steel Co., Sparrows Point, Maryland; launched 1 July 1941; sponsored by Mrs. Arthur T. Roberts; acquired by the Navy from Socony‑Vacuum Oil Co., New York City, N.Y., 31 December 1941; renamed Merrimack 9 January 1942; and commissioned 4 February 1942, Capt. William E. Hilbert in command.

Assigned to the Atlantic Fleet, the new fleet oiler spent the next 2 1⁄2 years steaming the Atlantic seaways carrying oil for Allied ships from Argentia, Newfoundland, to Montevideo, Uruguay, and from ports along the east coast to staging areas in the British Isles and the Mediterranean. Her primary duty was fueling the tireless escorts which protected Allied convoys from U‑boats.

Merrimack's most memorable crossing began 23 October from Hampton Roads when she sailed with the Southern Attack Group of the Western Naval Task Force for operation "Torch," the invasion of north Africa. Twice during the passage she refueled the ships of the task force. A heavy storm broke 4 November threatening the landings, but Adm. H. Kent Hewitt steadfastly kept to the original plan. When Merrimack's southern attack group peeled off from the task force Hewitt's parting message admonished "Keep your eyes to the sky and your ears to the sea." Their mission was to capture the harbor at Safi, French Morocco, to cut off French forces in southern Morocco, and to enable the landing of General Patton's tanks for operations against Casablanca. Before daybreak 9 November, destroyers Bernadou and Cole sped into the harbor, through heavy fire from coast artillery batteries, with assault troops who clambered down cargo nets to establish a beachhead. Shortly before the landings, Merrimack launched two crashboats from her deck. All went well, enabling the tanks to start for Casablanca the following day only to learn en route that the commander of French forces, Admiral Darlan, had ordered a cease‑fire which soon developed into full French participation in Allied operations.

For more than a year and a half after the landings in Morocco, Merrimack carried oil to support operations in north Africa, Sicily, Italy, and France. On her transatlantic voyages, besides oil, she carried passengers and a wide variety of equipment including PT boats, patrol craft, and airplanes. While steaming toward Casablanca 22 June 1943, she joined minesweeper Pilot in rescuing 113 survivors from Lot after that French oiler had been torpedoed.

Merrimack departed Norfolk 14 October for the Panama Canal and Ulithi, arriving 1 December. Allied forces were retaking the Philippines and preparing for operations even closer to the Japanese home islands. Merrimack joined the 3d Fleet's At‑Sea Logistics Support Group to fuel the fast carrier task force which spearheaded the titanic offensive. She began the new year supporting raids on Formosa 3 and 4 January 1945. Her carriers struck enemy airbases on Luzon 6 and 7 January to help neutralize Japanese resistance to the invasion of that strategic island which began on the beaches of Lingayen Gulf on the 9th. Naval aircraft which she supported returned to Formosa on the 15th and hit targets along the China coast the following day. They again lashed out at Formosa on the 21st.

From 16 February through 2 March, Merrimack backed up the American marines and sailors struggling to overcome one of the most fanatical and bloody defensive campaigns waged by Japan during the war, that on Iwo Jima. During the fight for Okinawa, Merrimack alternated between fueling ships involved directly in the landings, and the mighty carriers during raids to wipe out enemy air resistance or reinforcement from the Japanese home islands.

After Okinawa was secure, the 3d Fleet concentrated on operations against Japan itself. From 10 through 29 July, Merrimack supported raids of overwhelming force on Japanese targets which hastened the end of the war. Following Japan's capitulation 15 August, Merrimack made several cruises between the west coast and the Far East bringing oil for ships supporting the occupation of Japan and operating along the coasts of China and Korea. She was assigned to MSTS I October 1949, shortly before beginning preinactivation overhaul. Merrimack decommissioned 8 February 1950 and entered the Atlantic Reserve Fleet at Orange, Tex.

When Communist forces invaded South Korea, Merrimack recommissioned 6 December 1950. Assigned to MSTS, the fleet oiler served the Atlantic Fleet, making periodic deployments to the Mediterranean until she decommissioned 20 December 1954, and entered the Pacific Reserve Fleet at San Diego. She was struck from the Navy list 4 February 1959, transferred to the Maritime Administration, and placed in the National Defense Reserve Fleet at Beaumont, Tex., where she remains into 1969.

Merrimack received eight battle stars for World War II service.

Published: Mon Aug 10 08:05:53 EDT 2015