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Tolland (AKA-64)

1944-1946 

A county in the state of Connecticut.

(AKA-64: displacement 13,910 (trial); length 459'2"; beam 63'; draft 26'4" (limiting); speed 16.5 knots (trial); complement 375; armament 1 5-inch, 8 40-millimeter,16 20-millimeter; class Tolland; type C2-S-AJ3)

Tolland (AKA-64) was laid down under a Maritime Commission contract (M.C. Hull 1385) on 22 April 1944 at Wilmington, N.C., by the North Carolina Shipbuilding Corp.; launched on 26 June 1944; sponsored by Miss Beverley Peebles; delivered to the Navy under loan-charter on 13 August 1944; and commissioned at Charleston, S.C., on 4 September 1944, Cmdr. Edward J. Kingsland, USNR, in command.

Assigned to Task Group 29.7, Tolland departed Hampton Roads on 14 October 1944 bound for Hawaii. She transited the Panama Canal on 21 October, and arrived at Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, on 5 November. She then devoted the next month to amphibious maneuvers and exercises off Maui before heading back to the west coast on 6 December and making port six days later. Returning to Pearl Harbor on 23 December, the ship spent Christmas and New Year’s in Hawaiian waters before embarking on further training in preparation for combat operations across the Pacific.

The day and night exercises continued through the third week of January 1945 as the ship’s crew honed its skills in cargo loading and unloading, boat-handling, and antiaircraft gunnery. Tolland got underway with Task Force (TF) 53 on 27 January, bound for Eniwetok with elements of the 5th Marine Division and a construction battalion or “Seabee” unit embarked.

Following brief stops at Eniwetok and Saipan, Tolland anchored off Iwo Jima on 19 February 1945 to commence ten days of unloading. After the initial landings had been blessed with good weather, rough tides hampered subsequent support operations. In spite of these natural impediments, the operations proceeded. In the vicious tidal conditions on the steep beaches, three of the ship’s LCVP's and one LCM sank, but the men on board were saved. One unmanned amphibious craft struck the port propeller, and a Japanese shell clipped a radio antenna for the ship’s only damage. Twenty-five marines, wounded ashore in heavy fighting with the fanatical Japanese defenders, were evacuated to the ship for medical treatment while the ship lay-to off the beachhead.

After the marines’ secured the island after bitter fighting. Tolland and her companion AKAs in the squadron left the Bonins for a period of waiting, training, provisioning, and repairs, while U.S. forces marshalled for the assault on an island one step closer to the Japanese homeland itself: Okinawa. Drydocked at Espíritu Santo late in February, Tolland then combat-loaded elements of the U.S. Army 27th Division and cleared the New Hebrides on 1 April 1945, bound for the Ryukyus.

With Kerama Retto having been secured earlier in the Okinawa campaign, Tolland put in on 9 April 1945 and anchored as a floating reserve with TF 53. American forces endured terrific air attacks from the Japanese, who had been nearly reduced to this last island defense post on their very doorstep. The attack cargo ship’s crew stood to general quarters for hours at a time, night and day, some sleeping and eating at their stations during lulls in the action, to be so many steps closer to their guns at the sound of the alarm. In one of the 22 air attacks encountered during her eight-day deployment off Okinawa, Tolland’s guns downed a Japanese Mitsubishi G4M Type 97 land attack plane [Betty] on 12 April. Three days later, on 15 April, a Nakajima Ki.43 Hayabusa [Oscar] flew low over the transport area, attracting fire and spinning into the sea in flames as Tolland and other ships shared the kill.

Departing from the Ryukyus on 16 April 1945, Tolland proceeded via Saipan, in the Marianas, to Ulithi, in the Carolines, and engaged in nearly continuous exercises and drills through 14 May, when she was ordered to Angaur in the Palau Islands. Loading heavy guns soon after her arrival, she set out for the Philippines, to off-load her cargo at Cebu on 24 May, before moving to Subic Bay and anchoring there for three weeks of upkeep and training.

Subsequent to her rest period at Subic Bay, Tolland proceeded to Manila where she remained from 22 to 28 June 1945. She then steamed to Leyte where she embarked troops, vehicles, and equipment of the U.S. Army 323nd Division for amphibious training.

By this time, preparations for the invasion of Japan were proceeding apace. Estimates of fanatical and suicidal Japanese resistance projected astronomical casualties for both defender and invader alike, with untold devastation forecast. Accordingly, heavy air attacks by American Boeing B-29 Superfortresses pounded key Japanese targets while units of the U.S. and British Navies steamed often close inshore, bombarding coastal targets.

The entire month of July 1945 found Tolland and her sisters engaged in training for the projected invasion of the enemy homeland, conducting exercises in Subic Bay and Lingayen Gulf. While the attack transport lay off Lingayen, word came that B-29s had dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima (6 August) and Nagasaki (9 August). Now hard-pressed on all sides and hemmed in by armadas of sea and air forces, Japan accepted the terms of the Potsdam Declaration and capitulated on 15 August 1945. After a brief stop at Subic Bay from 17 to 19 August, Tolland proceeded to Batangas Bay, Luzon, on the 20th and then moved on to Tokyo where she was present when Japanese representatives signed the formal articles of surrender on the deck of battleship Missouri (BB-63).

Returning to the Philippines, Tolland arrived at Zamboanga on 2 September 1945, where she embarked units of the U.S. Army 41st Cavalry Division for transportation to Kure, Japan, for duty with the Allied occupation forces. Provisioning at Manila after delivering the Army troops, she embarked elements of the Chinese 52nd Army at Tonkin Gulf, French Indochina, and transported them to Chinwangtao, China, at the base of the Great Wall.

On 14 November 1945, Tolland departed Taku, China, and pointed her bow toward home, arriving at Seattle on 20 November 1945 as Task Unit 78.19.6, and remaining in the Pacific Northwest until 28 February 1946, when the ship departed for Port Hueneme.

On 11 March 1946, with cargo loaded on board earmarked for Guam, Tolland departed the west coast. She arrived at Apra Harbor on 27 March and remained there until 20 April when she sailed for Panama. Making port at Balboa on 13 May, she transited the Panama Canal and reported to Commander in Chief, Atlantic Fleet, for duty on 14 May. Departing Panama on the 16th, she set course for Hampton Roads and reached Norfolk, Va., on 21 May.

Tolland was decommissioned on 1 July 1946 and returned to the War Shipping Administration on 2 July, entering the Maritime Commission’s Reserve Fleet at Lee Hall, Va., at 3:30 p.m. that same day. Seventeen days later, on 19 July 1946, her name was stricken from the Navy Register.

Transferred to the firm of Dichmann, Wright & Pugh, Inc., under a general agency agreement at 10:45 a.m. on 3 June 1947, the former attack transport underwent re-conversion by the Gulf Shipbuilding Co., of Mobile, Alabama, delivered at 9:05 a.m. on 15 June. Acquired by the Luckenbach Steamship Co., Inc., on 3 October 1947, she was renamed Edgar F. Luckenbach and operated under that firm’s house flag for 12 years until sold to States Marine Lines, Inc., in October 1959, after which time she was soon renamed Blue Grass State on 16 October 1959. Sold to Panamanian interests on 6 November 1970, she was renamed Reliance Cordiality that same day. Ultimately, she was scrapped at Kaohsiung, Taiwan, in June 1971.

Tolland received two battle stars for her World War II service during the assault and occupation of Iwo Jima (19-28 February 1945) and during the assault and occupation of Okinawa Gunto (9-15 April 1945).

Robert J. Cressman

23 June 2020

Published: Wed Jun 24 09:24:50 EDT 2020