(AK-97: dp. 14,250; l. 441'6"; b. 56'11"; dr. 27'7"; s. 11 k.; cpl. 206; a. 1 5", 1 3"; cl. Crater; T. EC2-S-C1)
A constellation in the northern hemisphere.
The first Serpens was laid down under Maritime Commission contract (MCE hull 739) on 10 March 1943 by the California Shipbuilding Corp., Wilmington, Calif.; launched on 5 April 1943; sponsored by Mrs. H.P. Needham; transferred to the Navy on 19 April 1943; renamed Serpens and designated AK-97; and commissioned at San Diego on 28 May 1943, Lt. Comdr. M.J. Johnson, USCGR, in command.
Following shakedown off southern California, Serpens loaded general cargo at Alameda and, on 24 June, sailed west to assume provision ship duties in support of operations in the Solomons. By mid-July, she was in the Tonga Islands. At the end of the month, she was en route from New Caledonia to New Zealand; and, by mid-August, she had emptied her holds at Wellington. She then took on more cargo; returned to New Caledonia; and commenced a series of short hauls to Vitu Levu, Tutuila, Penrhyn, Bora Bora, Aitutaki, and Tongatabu.
On 9 November, Serpens returned to New Caledonia. In early December, she moved into the southern Solomons; and, after completing a Florida Island-Banika Island run, she stood off Lunga Point, Guadalcanal, to load cargo for Bougainville. During January 1944, she completed two runs into Empress Augusta Bay. In February, she was ordered back to New Zealand for dry-docking before loading dry provisions.
For the next four months, Serpens delivered consignments to bases in the New Hebrides and the Solomons, returning to New Zealand to reload only once. In July, she was at Purvis Bay for the installation of SF-1 radar. She then resumed operations and, through October, carried general cargo and rolling stock between ports and anchorages in the Solomons. In mid-November, she loaded repairable vehicles from the Russells and from Guadalcanal and sailed for New Zealand where, after offloading, three of her holds were converted for ammunition stowage.
Late in December 1944, the Liberty ship commenced loading at Wellington, finished it at Auckland, and returned to the Solomons in mid-January 1945. On the 29th, she was anchored off Lunga Beach. The commanding officer and seven others, one officer and six enlisted men, were ashore. The remaining 198 members of Serpens crew and 57 members of an Army stevedore unit were on board the ship, loading depth charges into her holds. During the loading, Serpens exploded. After the explosion, only the bow of the ship was visible. The rest had disintegrated, and the bow sank soon afterward. Only two of those aboard survived. The cause of the explosion is unknown.
Serpens (AK-97) earned one battle star for her World War II service.