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Wharton (AP-7)


Image related to Wharton
Caption: USS Wharton (AP-7).

Franklin Wharton, born in Philadelphia, Pa., on 23 July 1767, was commissioned a captain of marines on 3 August 1798. He served in frigate United States during the Quasi-War with France and subsequently commanded the Marine Barracks at Philadelphia. On 7 March 1804, Wharton took office as the third Commandant of the Marine Corps. During this early period, Wharton's principal task was furnishing marine guards for the increasing number of warships being fitted out to fight the Barbary pirates.

When U.S. naval strength combined with diplomacy to eliminate this longstanding problem, Congress cut back on the Navy's warships and men. During the early lean years of Wharton's tenure as commandant, the new Marine Barracks and the Commandant's quarters in Washington, D.C., were completed, mostly by the labor of marines.

He made substantial contributions to the Corps. Under his leadership, uniforms and military equipment were standardized for the first time; and military practices became uniform throughout the Corps. During his time in office, the Marine Band was established and began winning the national reputation which it still maintains. While still Commandant, Wharton died in New York on 1 September 1818.

(AP-7: displacement 21,900; length 535'2"; beam 72'0"; draft 31'3"; speed 16.5 knots; complement 566; armament 4 6-inch, 8 .50-caliber machine guns)

Southern Cross, a passenger-cargo liner built for the Muson Steamship Line at Camden, N.J., by the New York Shipbuilding Corp., and completed in September 1921, operated in the South American trade until acquired by the Navy from the Maritime Commission on 8 November 1939. Two days later, the ship was renamed Wharton and designated AP-7.

Converted to a troop transport by the Todd Shipbuilding Corp., in the Robbins Drydock in Erie Basin at Brooklyn, N.Y., Wharton was commissioned at the New York Navy Yard, Brooklyn, N.Y., on 7 December 1940, Capt. Ernest L. Vanderkloot in command.

Wharton departed Brooklyn on 7 January 1941, bound for Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where she conducted shakedown before proceeding on through the Panama Canal to her home port, Mare Island, Calif. Assigned to the Naval Transportation Service, Wharton transported service personnel and their families, as well as cargo, on triangular runs from San Francisco, San Diego, and Pearl Harbor. She also made one trip to Midway Island.

When the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on 7 December 1941, Wharton was undergoing overhaul at the Mare Island Navy Yard, Vallejo, Calif. On 6 January 1942, the transport sailed from the west coast for her first wartime voyage to the Hawaiian Islands. A series of runs followed in which Wharton transported service families and dependents home to the west coast on her eastbound passages and troops and cargo to Hawaii on her westbound trips.

From June through September 1942, Wharton made three voyages to the Southwest Pacific theater, loading and unloading at such ports as Pago Pago, Samoa; Auckland, New Zealand; Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides; Noumea, New Caledonia; Canton Island, and Suva, Fiji Islands before returning to the west coast for an overhaul which lasted into October. The troop transport then began a series of trips to the Aleutians which lasted from December 1942 to February 1943, carrying troops from Seattle, Wash., to Kodiak and Dutch Harbor and returning with civilians, troops, and patients. For the remainder of the year, Wharton made five more trips to the Southwest Pacific, during which she revisited Pago Pago, Noumea, Suva, Espiritu Santo, and Wellington, while adding Apia, British Samoa; Guadalcanal, Solomons; and Efate, New Hebrides; to her itinerary.

In January 1944, Wharton joined Transport Division 30 for the Marshall Islands operation. Equipped with seven manned LCVP's, Wharton sortied from Pearl Harbor in Task Group 51.1 on 23 January 1944, bound for Kwajalein and Eniwetok, with 526 Army Headquarters troops embarked. The group operated off the island of Bigej in Kwajalein Atoll from 31 January to 2 February, during the shore bombardment phase of the operation and the initial landings, before moving into the lagoon and anchoring there on 2 February. Wharton remained in the lagoon until she headed for Eniwetok on the 15th. Following her arrival there two days later, the troop transport, while disembarking her troops and unloading her cargo, took on additional duty as a hospital ship. She received on board 85 patients for treatment and subsequently transferred them all to other facilities prior to sailing for Kwajalein on 25 February.

On 29 February 1944, Wharton got underway for the Ellice Islands to embark the 11th and 58th Construction Battalions ("Seabees") for transportation to the Admiralties. At 1700 on 17 April, while entering Seeadler Harbor at Manus, she ran aground due to an inaccurate chart and poor placement of buoys marking the channel. After the ship had been refloated at 0100 on the 18th, a quick check revealed no damage to her hull or machinery.

Wharton later transported 1,782 men of the Royal New Zealand Army from Green Island to Noumea before sailing for Espiritu Santo and Guadalcanal. At the latter island, the scene of bitter struggles from August 1942 to February 1943, the ship participated in training exercises with Transport Division 8. After two weeks of practice landings, Wharton sailed for Kwajalein with 1,587 troops of the 2nd Battalion of the 12th Marines and the 1st Battalion of the 3rd Marines embarked. At Kwajalein, she transferred the latter unit to LST's for the impending operations against the Japanese-held Marianas.

She got underway for Guam on 12 June 1944 and spent 17 days at sea before returning to Kwajalein, because fierce Japanese resistance on Saipan had forced Adm. Chester W. Nimitz to postpone U.S. landings on Guam. Underway again on 17 July, the transport made landfall off Guam four days later and soon disembarked her assault troops. That night, she retired to sea until midnight, when she reversed course to return to the beachhead for her role as casualty evacuation ship.

On the day that followed, she continued this pattern of operations. Although not designed for such work, Wharton performed yeoman service off the beaches. Two of the ship's lifeboats were kept ready in their davits for instant deployment, and litters containing casualties were brought alongside in landing craft and transferred to these boats which were then hoisted up to the promenade deck level to be rushed to emergency dressing stations in the passenger officers' wardroom spaces. During the landing operations, some 723 patients were logged into Wharton's sick bay, most of them coming on board by way of this improvised "lifeboat elevator."

Operating in company with the transport fitted for the evacuation of wounded Rixey (APH-3), Wharton returned to the transport area each morning for eight successive days to receive casualties and send an occasional beach party ashore. These latter groups worked on the offshore reef, unloading supplies and ammunition from LCM's--which could not cross the coral to waiting amphibian tractors which carried the cargo to the beachhead. Working often in 24-hour stretches, these men on occasion came under enemy mortar fire. On 29 July 1944, her part in the Guam operation completed, Wharton headed for Eniwetok with 519 patients embarked.

Following the Marianas operation, Wharton returned to the United States, reaching San Francisco on 25 August 1944. After two months of repairs, the ship resumed her transport duties and made a voyage to Guadalcanal, Espiritu Santo, and Noumea before returning to the United States late in the year.

On 7 January 1945, Wharton got underway for the Philippine Islands, carrying troops and cargo in support of the operations to wrest the islands from the Japanese. She disembarked 1,386 troops and 131 tons of cargo at Samar on 14 February and, two days later, unloaded 134 tons of cargo and 869 more troops at Leyte Island. Underway for home on the 17th, the transport stopped at Ulithi before pressing on eastward and arriving at San Francisco on 12 March.

Wharton next participated in the operations against Okinawa, arriving offshore on 19 May 1945. The transport soon disembarked 2,118 troops (including 30 U.S. Army nurses) in LCM's sent from shore, as Wharton ordinarily carried no landing craft of her own. Several times, the ship went to general quarters and was screened by smoke, but she emerged from the campaign unscathed by kamikazes that had taken such a dreadful toll on American ships. On 22 May, the transport departed for the Caroline Islands, with 273 troops and 29 casualties embarked, and arrived at Ulithi on the 28th.

Wharton took part in no further combat operations and returned home, via Seeadler Harbor, Guadalcanal, Espiritu Santo, Noumea, and Suva, to San Francisco on 25 June 1945. The ship remained there until 3 August, when she moved to Seattle, Wash., before returning to Pearl Harbor.

Hostilities had then ended, but the gigantic job of returning troops from the far-flung bases and islands nonetheless remained. Wharton conducted three voyages to the western Pacific--calling at Eniwetok, Guam, Saipan, Samar, Tacloban, and Puerto Princessa through the end of 1945 to pick up Army, Navy, and Marine Corps veterans and return them to the United States in Operation Magic Carpet.

In the spring of 1946, Wharton participated in Operation Crossroads, transporting observers to Bikini Atoll for the atomic bomb tests which were to be conducted there in July. She remained there until the completion of her duties on 27 August. She made one round-trip cruise from San Francisco to Guam and one from San Francisco to the Far East, adding Yokohama and Sasebo, Japan, and Shanghai, China, to her list of ports of call.    

The transport returned to the United States on 28 January 1947, when she made port at San Francisco prior to heading north to Seattle, and arrived there on 9 February 1947. On 11 March, the Secretary of the Navy declared Wharton "surplus to Navy needs" and accordingly authorized her disposal. Decommissioned on 26 March 1947, Wharton entered the Reserve Fleet, Area C-16, at Olympia, Wash., at 9:00 a.m. the next day [27 March 1947]. She was stricken from the Navy Register on 4 April 1947.

Although bids for the vessel were opened on 19 December 1947, the Maritime Commission rejected all bids on 20 April 1948 and directed that she be retained in the Reserve Fleet. The ship's "very poor general condition," however, dictated that retention would most likely not be for long: "one engine has broken reduction gear and [low pressure] turbine [is] stripped. Requires extensive repairs. Both hull and engine. Said to have leak in forepeak and to be drawing nearly 28 feet aft and 18 ft. forward." Ultimately, bids re-opened on 1 February 1952, and Bethlehem Pacific Coast Steel Corp. purchased the ship on 21 March 1952, the purchaser withdrawing their acquisition from the Reserve Fleet at 9:40 a.m. that day.

Wharton was awarded three battle stars for her World War II service, one for the Marshall Islands operation, specifcally for the occupation of Kwajalein and Majuro Atolls (31 January--8 February 1944) and for the occupation of Eniwetok Atoll (17--25 February 1944); for the Marianas operation, specifically the capture and occupation of Guam (21-25 July 1944), and for the assault and occupation of Okinawa Gunto (19-22 May 1945).

Robert J. Cressman

29 March 2022

Published: Tue Mar 29 17:07:00 EDT 2022