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Thomas Jefferson I (Cargo Vessel) 

1942

The first Thomas Jefferson retained the name she carried at the time of her urgent acquisition in 1942, the second and third ships (the transport AP-60/attack transport APA-30, and fleet ballistic missile submarine SSBN-618, respectively) were named in honor of President Thomas Jefferson.

I

(Cargo vessel: displacement 7,176 (gross); length 442'; beam 57': draft 18'; speed 11 knots, complement 54; armament 1 4-inch, 4 .30 caliber machine guns)

The first Thomas Jefferson was laid down on 18 July 1941 under a Maritime Commission contract (MCE Hull No. 175) at Astoria, Ore., by the Oregon Shipbuilding Corp.; launched on 7 December 1941; sponsored by Mrs. Henry J. Kaiser of Oakland, Calif., wife of industrialist Henry J. Kaiser; and delivered, with an armament of a single 4-inch gun and two .30-caliber Marlin machine guns, to the Waterman Steamship Corp., of Mobile, Ala., on 24 February 1942.

Thomas Jefferson, Capt. Alfred Rader, master, departed the Thirteenth Naval District on 11 March 1942 for San Francisco, California, CBM (PA) James F. Whitten in charge of a 10-man U.S. Navy armed guard unit assigned to the ship to man her single 4-inch gun and four .30-caliber machine guns. A three-man U.S. Navy communication detachment was also assigned to the vessel.

Continuing on to the port of Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii (T.H.), Thomas Jefferson was delivered to, and accepted by, the Commandant Fourteenth Naval District, alongside Pier 28, Honolulu, at 1330 on 1 April 1942, and placed in commission, Lt. Cmdr. James W. Baldwin, D-V(S), USNR, formerly the first lieutenant at Naval Air Station (NAS), Ford Island, T.H., in command. CBM Whitten and the armed guard detachment remained while Capt. Rader and the merchant crew departed the ship in the middle of the first dog watch.

The following morning, Lt. Cmdr. Baldwin left the ship at 0815 for the headquarters of Adm. Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet (CinCPac), “to receive instructions and directions” concerning the ship’s mission.  An hour into the afternoon watch, dry and fresh provisions began arriving on the dock “without invoice, from Navy Yard, Pearl Harbor, T.H.,” and the crew immediately began stowing them away. Lt. Cmdr. Baldwin returned to the ship at 1530, and the stevedores completed the loading 30 minutes later. Soon thereafter, Lt. Gen. Delos C. Emmons, U.S. Army, Commanding General Hawaiian Department, called on the ship’s captain (1615-1620). Workmen from the Navy Yard, Pearl Harbor, then arrived at 1800 to install two 20 millimeter Oerlikon mounts forward, and the crew took on board 12,000 rounds of 20 millimeter ammunition. A half hour before the start of the mid watch, all of the workmen left the ship.

On the morning of 3 April 1942, Thomas Jefferson prepared to get underway, and after embarking Capt. A. N. Hasselgren, Honolulu pilot, sailed “in accordance with Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, orders” at 1020. Clearing the harbor 25 minutes later, the ship disembarked the pilot at 1100. She passed within 500 yards of Diamond Head, abeam to port, at 1131, and continued on her mission with the destroyer Schley (DD-106) as her escort.

Mid-way through the afternoon watch, a crewman noted four inches of fresh water in number one hold. Investigation revealed that the cover of the port deep tank had been removed but not properly replaced, permitting an overflow that damaged sacks of coffee and beans (“amount undetermined”) stowed there. After the cover was properly secured, the hold was pumped dry. Schley transferred 20 life jackets to the ship at 1500, then departed five hours later, leaving Thomas Jefferson to proceed, darkened and alone. At 2130, Lt. Cmdr. Baldwin opened his sealed orders from CinCPac that directed the vessel to proceed to the embattled Philippine Islands.

Thomas Jefferson steamed on through the night, darkened and zig-zagging, then sighted three patrol planes at 0700, an hour before the end of the morning watch on 4 April 1942. That afternoon, members of the crew completed the installation of the Oerlikons brought on board two days before and test-fired them. The following morning (5 April), she encountered rain squalls throughout the morning watch, and sighted two patrol planes – again an hour before the end of the morning watch – in the distance.

Back in Washington, D.C., the Vice Chief of Naval Operations (VCNO) informed the Chief of the Bureau of Ships (BuShips) on 6 April 1942 that the War Shipping Administration (WSA) had allocated Thomas Jefferson to the Navy on a bareboat charter basis, and that the Commandant Fourteenth Naval District, had, as authorized, taken possession of the vessel on 1 April. VCNO concluded by noting that the ship would be classed as a cargo vessel (AK). Consequently, in a letter prepared on 8 April, the Bureau of Navigation (among its responsibilities being the naming of ships) recommended the name Corvus, for the constellation, in keeping with the practice of naming cargo vessels for astronomical bodies. Corvus was to be given the official number AK-57.

Thomas Jefferson, meanwhile, continued on her solitary voyage, going to general quarters at 1330 on 6 April 1942, then exercised at gun stations and held abandon ship drill. During the forenoon watch the following day (7 April), crewmen secured four .30-caliber machine gun mounts on the number five hatch, and the ship again conducted emergency drills, going to general quarters again at 1330, and holding fire and abandon ship practice.

On 8 April 1942, Thomas Jefferson sighted two scout planes – actually Brewster F2A-3 Buffalo fighters from Marine Fighting Squadron 221 that had been reconnoitering Pearl and Hermes Reef -- at 0815, then breakers abeam to port, 15 miles away, an hour later. At 1340, she sighted Midway Island and began steaming at various courses and speeds as she approached the entrance to the harbor, her arrival covered by Vought SB2U-3 Vindicators of Marine Scout Bombing Squadron 241 that had relieved the Buffaloes. Embarking a pilot, the cargo vessel stood in at 1530, then, assisted by tugs, turned in the channel and proceeded to her anchorage, dropping the hook at 1858. Soon thereafter, she transferred (maladies or complaints not given in the logs) Midshipman H. M. Andersen, E-M, USNR, and an enlisted man ashore to the NAS Dispensary for medical treatment. That same day, on the other side of the International Date Line, in the Philippines, Bataan fell to the Japanese, those American and Filipino forces that could do so withdrawing to Corregidor, a dramatic turn of events that rendered the ship’s urgent mission moot.

Thomas Jefferson got underway the next morning (9 April 1942) and moored to a pier at Midway. She fueled from 0802 to 1210, taking on board 51,744 gallons, and during that period Lt. Cmdr. Baldwin called upon Cmdr. Cyril P. Simard, Commander, NAS Midway (0830 - 1000). Back at Pearl Harbor, CinCPac’s war diarist wrote on 9 April: “The press reports the fall of [the] Bataan defenders, but Corregidor still holds. Thus any relief to that area from here [Pearl harbor] cannot be undertaken.” Someone added a postscript in pencil: “Drum and Thomas Jefferson turned back.”

That afternoon, the submarine Drum (SS-228), her mission to the Philippines having been rendered problematic by the fall of Bataan, visited the atoll (1245-1630), fueled, and then sailed for Pearl. After darkening ship (1810), Thomas Jefferson began discharging a cargo of fuel oil, having been ordered, by CinCPac dispatch received at 1630, to return to Pearl Harbor.  The next day (10 April), the Gudgeon (SS-211) paused at Midway to fuel en route back to Oahu after having conducted her second war patrol.

At 0700 on 11 April 1942, the cargo vessel began discharging material and stores “in accordance with Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet’s orders.” Midway Island’s post exchange received 8,064 candy bars, 3,600 packages of chewing gum, 5652 packages of peanuts, 1,000 Cremo cigars, 4,500 packages of Lucky Strike cigarettes, 3,500 of Camels, 4,000 packages of Chesterfields, in addition to a dozen 8-ounce tins of Edgeworth, 72 plugs of Star chewing tobacco, 12 Corn Cob pipes, 96 tins of Woodbury talc, and 90 packages of single-edge Marlin razor blades. NAS Midway took delivery of 5,124 candy bars, 500 Cremo cigars, 288 packages of peanuts, 7 Corn Cob pipes, 356 cases of .50 caliber machine gun ammunition, 298 cases of hand grenades packed ten to a box, 88 cases of hand grenades packed 25 in a box (a total of 5,180 grenades), in addition to 1,392 cases of 3-inch antiaircraft ammunition for the U.S. Marine Defense Battalion antiaircraft batteries.  At 1610 that day, the ship completed the delivery of 8,754 barrels of fuel oil for the NAS.

The following morning, 12 April 1942, Thomas Jefferson got underway at 0849 in accordance with CinCPac dispatch 100349, cleared the pier and, with the aid of tugs, swung ship. With the captain at the conn, the cargo vessel set course for Honolulu, local escort initially provided by a section of Vindicators from VMSB-241.

Interestingly, the day after Thomas Jefferson sailed to return to Oahu (13 April 1942), events transpired in Washington that saw the name Corvus approved for AK-57 after a VCNO endorsement and a Secretary of the Navy second endorsement on the re-naming. However, a VCNO letter of the same date (13 April) advised that Thomas Jefferson was to be returned to the WSA at San Francisco.

Over the ensuing days, the ship zig-zagged and darkened ship as required, and conducted drills in the afternoons, exercising the .50 caliber watchstanders in firing the after machine guns on 13 April 1942, and the .30-caliber and .50-caliber gun crews in firing at kite targets, and the off-watch sections in use and firing of .30-caliber Springfield rifles on the 14th. During the afternoon watches on the 15th and 16th, the ship put over a float target and carried out gunnery practice with her entire battery, ranging from her single 4-inch gun to the .30- and 20-millimeter weapons.

On the latter date (16 April 1942), in Washington, the VCNO, in view of Thomas Jefferson’s return to the WSA, recommended that the name Corvus, and the official number AK-57, be cancelled. Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox approved the cancellation later the same day.

As Thomas Jefferson neared Oahu, she logged the presence of U.S. Navy patrol bombers, one that circled and exchanged recognition signals on the morning of 17 April 1942, and a second, during the first dog watch, that conducted the same maneuvers as the first but then carried out an anti-submarine search along the ship’s course, covering her passage. The high speed minesweeper Dorsey (DMS-1) arrived at 0548 on 18 April, and began providing an anti-submarine screen, prompting Lt. Cmdr. Baldwin to secure his gun crews and extra lookouts. Soon, the presence of U.S. Navy patrol planes provided additional security, and at 1605, Thomas Jefferson stood in to Honolulu harbor and anchored alongside, then moored to, Pier 28. The ship transferred 11,000 rounds of 20-millimeter ammunition ashore late the following afternoon [19 April] in addition to 5,400 rounds of .30 caliber ammunition. Thomas Jefferson then began working cargo on the 20th and continued discharging or loading over the next four days alongside Pier 28, then shifted berths to Pier 10 on the 24th.

After embarking two passengers, Lt. Cmdr. Baldwin’s wife Carolyn and Irene Hollingsworth, the wife of Lt. John C. Hollingsworth, the ship’s engineering officer, Thomas Jefferson got underway on the afternoon of 25 April 1942 and sailed for the west coast of the United States in Convoy 4095. The ship maintained her position, adjusting to course and speed changes, occasionally rolling and pitching heavily due to her shallow draft. She conducted drills and exercises during the passage that proved uneventful, and sighted the Farallon Islands late in the morning watch on 6 May.

Thomas Jefferson entered the net gate of San Francisco harbor later on the morning of 6 May 1942, and, assisted by the tug Cloem, moored port side to the Port of Oakland’s Seventh Street Dock to unload automobiles (1515-1620). She shifted moorings the following afternoon and continued discharging cargo over the ensuing days, and disembarking her passengers on 8 May. Assisted by the tug Sea Scout, the ship got underway the following morning, then proceeded to Moore’s Drydock yard, Oakland, where she entered dry dock. At 1400 on 9 May, the ship’s log notes that all confidential publications were turned in to the Twelfth Naval District intelligence officer at that time. All communication message files were burned.

As Thomas Jefferson lay on keel blocks at the Moore yard, preparations began at 0800 on 11 May 1942 to return the ship to the Maritime Commission, and at 1000, the log notes, “hauled down commission pennant and jack.” While the bulk of the officers and men were transferred ashore, the armed guard, CBM Whitten in charge, remained with the ship.

Thomas Jefferson resumed operations under the Waterman Steamship Corp., with a U.S. Navy armed guard for the duration of hostilities in World War II. Ultimately, after a period of time in the Reserve Fleet at Suisun Bay, Calif., the “Liberty” ship that had been engaged for, then embarked upon, a hazardous highly secret supply mission only to be re-directed to return to Honolulu, was advertised for sale on 30 December 1960 and sold as a scrap hull on 31 January 1961.

Commanding Officer                                                            Period of Command

Lt. Cmdr. James W. Baldwin, D-V(S), USNR                          1 April – 11 May 1942

Sources  

Thomas Jefferson (no official number assigned) deck logs (RG-24) -- erroneously included along with logs for Thomas Jefferson (APA-30) -- and Thomas Jefferson Armed Guard Reports (RG-38) (which revealed the ship’s armament); war diaries of Naval Air Station Midway, Marine Aircraft Group 22, Marine Fighting Squadron 221, and Marine Scout-Bombing Squadron 241 were consulted (also in the RG-38 holdings at the National Archives and Records Administration facility at College Park, Maryland, formerly held by the Naval Historical Center/Naval History & Heritage Command). In addition, the war patrol report for Gudgeon (SS-211), one of the two submarines that called at Midway during Thomas Jefferson's stay, was consulted, as well as the Ship Name and Sponsor Files that yielded the information about the name assignment, and cancellation, of Corvus (AK-57), a name that was subsequently assigned to AKA-26. In addition, War Plans, CinCPac Files, "Captain Steele's Running Estimate and Summary, 7 December 1941 to 31 August 1942 ['CinCPac Greybook']" proved helpful in establishing when the fall of Bataan impacted Thomas Jefferson's mission. The latter records are among the holdings of the Naval History & Heritage Command, Building 200, Washington Navy Yard, Washington, D.C.

Robert J. Cressman

27 October 2015

Published: Mon Nov 30 09:16:33 EST 2015