Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

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Navajo III (AT-64)

1940–1943

The third U.S. naval ship named in honor of the tribe of Athapascan Indians displaced by early American pioneers and currently residing on reservations in Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah. 

III 

(AT-64: displacement 1,270; length 205'; beam 38'6"; draft 15'4"; speed 16 knots; complement 80; armament 1 3-inch; class Navajo

The third Navajo (AT-64) was laid down by Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corp., Staten Island, N.Y., on 12 December 1938; launched on 17 August 1939; sponsored by Miss Olive Rasmussen; and commissioned on 26 January 1940, Lt. Cmdr. Myron E. Thomas in command. 

Following a shakedown and a brief tour on the east coast, Navajo, an ocean going tug, steamed to San Diego, Calif., where, in June 1940, she reported for duty in Base Force, later Service Force, Pacific Fleet. Until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, T.H., her towing and salvage capabilities kept her busy in the central and eastern Pacific, then, after 7 December 1941, in the Pearl Harbor area. 

Interrupted only by a resupply and reinforcement run to Johnston Island at the end of December, she remained in the waters off Oahu into the spring of 1942. In late April Navajo sailed to Canton Island where she attempted the salvage of SS President Taylor, a troopship operated by the War Shipping Administration for the Army that ran aground on 14 February 1942, then returned to Pearl Harbor whence she got underway for the war zone on 12 July. Arriving in the New Hebrides [Vanuatu] just after the landings on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands, she supported operations there with repair and salvage work at Espíritu Santo in the New Hebrides, Nouméa at New Caledonia, Tongatabu, Tonga, and Suva in the Fiji Islands, as well as under battle conditions at Tulagi, Guadalcanal, and Rennell in the Solomons. Towing assignments during those operations took her throughout the island groups of the south Pacific, and once, in late November–early December 1942, to Sydney, Australia. 

In the spring of 1943, Navajo returned to California, underwent overhaul, and in July got underway to return to the south Pacific. Steaming via Pago Pago, American Samoa, she arrived at Bora Bora in French Polynesia on 21 August, and began salvage and repair work on oiler Pasig (AO-89) as she prepared to be decommissioned. At the end of the month, Navajo sailed for Pago Pago, whence she got underway to take self-propelled gasoline barge YOG-42 in tow to Espíritu Santo. While enroute on 12 September, the ship was rocked by an explosion. Within seconds, a heavy starboard list resulted in a submerged starboard side. Navajo began going down, rapidly, by the bow and abandonment commenced. As the ship settled, depth charges secured to port and starboard K-gun projectors exploded. An estimated two minutes had passed before she sank, but 17 of her crew accompanied her to the bottom. 

Navajo earned two battle stars during World War II.

Updated by Mark L. Evans
1 July 2019

Published: Mon Jul 01 15:44:39 EDT 2019