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Panda (IX-125)


A bear-like carnivore of Tibet and southern China.

(IX-125: displacement 14,245; length 441'6"; beam 57'; draft 27'8⅞"; speed 11 knots; complement 84; armament 1 5-inch, 1 3-inch, 8 20 millimeter; type Z-ET1-S-C3)

Opie Read was laid down on 19 October 1943 under a U.S. Maritime Commission contract (MC Hull No. 1929) at New Orleans, La., by the Delta Shipbuilding Co.; renamed Panda and designated as an auxiliary, miscellaneous (IX-125) on 27 October 1943 upon charter from the War Shipping Administration (WSA); launched on 3 December 1943; delivered on 31 December 1943; accepted by the U.S. Navy on 5 January 1944 for service as a mobile oil storage tanker, and commissioned in the Eighth Naval District on 6 January 1944, Lt. Nicholas Polk, D.M., a Russian "emigre," in command.

Panda reported for her shakedown training on 14 January 1944. Delayed briefly en route by necessary repairs to stop seepage from her oil storage tanks, Panda reported to Commander, Seventh Fleet, for duty on 1 February 1944. Sailing from Balboa, Canal Zone, on 5 February, she joined the logistics forces of the Seventh Fleet in the Southwest Pacific, and served as floating oil storage facility, providing diesel fuel, lube oil, and gasoline, in the waters off New Guinea, at Milne Bay, Langemak, and Hollandia, until late October 1944, when she followed the invasion forces to San Pedro Bay, Leyte.

Later, her chronicler wrote, "The Japs made life miserable for the Panda in San Pedro. Laden with drums of oil and high octane gasoline, [Panda] swung at anchor through numerous air attacks, realizing that should any of the attackers connect with a bomb hit or Kamikaze crash, her crew's chances of survival wouldn't be worth a plugged nickel." On 26 October 1944, Panda's gunners splashed a Japanese plane, then, on 12 November, damaged a Mitsubishi A6M Type 00 carrier fighter (Zero) that turned and crashed the nearby landing craft repair ship Achilles (ARL-41).

A little over a fortnight later, on 27 November 1944, Panda's 20-millimeter guns scored numerous hits on a Japanese plane that emerged from a heavy overcast, but could not inflict enough damage to splash the suicider before he could crash the floating dry dock ARD-19. Later that same day (27 November), a Japanese torpedo bomber swept in low and fast and strafed the ship, wounding Lt. Polk and five other men, before the auxiliary's gunners splashed the attacker as he attempted to escape the area. Five days before Christmas, on 20 December, Panda's 20-millimeter guns again scored, shooting down what her men identified as a Mitsubishi G4M Type 97 land attack plane (Betty).

Panda remained in the Philippines, at Mindoro, Subic Bay, and Manila, in succession, serving the fleet through the end of hostilities. When operational requirements permitted, she sailed for Norfolk, Va., on 4 April 1946. Standing out of the waters off Samar on that date, she paused briefly at Pearl Harbor, T.H., (29-30 April), then continued on her voyage, transiting the Panama Canal en route. She arrived at Norfolk on 4 June 1946, where she was decommissioned on 12 July 1946. Returned to the WSA on 15 July 1946 at Lee Hall, Va., Panda was stricken from the Navy Register on 31 July 1946.

The ship served in a mercantile capacity for two decades, first as Westport (1948-1954), undergoing conversion to a dry cargo ship at the Todd Hoboken (N.J.) yard in August 1949 during her time with the Eastport Steamship Corp., New York, N.Y.; then as Pardalina (1954-1963) under the Liberian flag with the Cia Nav Pardalina, SA (Blidberg-Rothchild Agency Corp., of New York City); and ultimately, also under Liberian colors, as San Antonio (Ceres Shipping Co., Ltd., London, England, and Ceres Shipping Co., Inc., of New York) (1964-1967).

Ultimately -- and ironically -- the ship that had, as Panda, supported the fleet in the war against Japan, arrived at Hirao, Japan, on 20 January 1968 to be broken up for scrap.

Panda received one battle star for her World War II service.

Robert J. Cressman

Published: Tue Feb 09 11:55:20 EST 2016