Ship Index

Army Ships

Update: 23 January 2012 Design 342 profile photo added.

Army FP/FS Vessels

FP-343 reclassified as FS-343
Naval Historical Center Photo Collection, Photo # NH 74691 titled:
"U.S. Army ship FP-343 underway, 1944"
Design 381 (officially Vessel, Supply, Diesel, Steel, 177')

Why an FS page?

I had not planned to get into specific Army ship types beyond those tying directly to the ships I knew later as cable ships. Both of those groups, the Coast Artillery Corps Mine Planters and Signal Corps cable ships, sources of later Navy cable ships are limited in number. I have a fairly good handle on those ships. The vast fleet of cargo, troop ships and other auxiliaries are another matter entirely. Now I'm making an exception. There are three reasons.

First, they have somehow sort of grown on me as ships. Maybe it is that in that "other life" of daydreams I can see one of these small ships being a home to roam the world. I'm not mad about "yachts" and would prefer one of these little working vessels if given the nearly unlimited funds necessary to keep such a toy. Turn a cargo hold into real living quarters and an FS becomes a really nicely sized seagoing home with an attractive figure as well.

Then Ken Elslip, who served as radio operator aboard FS-291 in the Korean War supporting special operations, sent me photos that showed something new. Most shots are from off the bow or beam. Ken sent one showing the stern. As soon as I viewed the photo I could see myself with a tall cool one sitting on that "back porch" anchored off just about any nice place. I've become mildly hooked on these little vessels.

Army FS-525 and FS-291, Korea (photo from Ken Elslip)

Second, the only mention of the FS in my ship pages is on one fairly obscure page that is a transcription of a list I found at National Archives: Harbor Boat Designations with explanatory Notes. At the bottom I have extracts from the first e-mails in response to the simple mention of the FP/FS classification. They were the first of a number. Second only to USS Neptune people, the ex-Army FP/FS people are the most frequent in contacting me. A number have followed with information and photographs. As a result I have enough real information to do something with these interesting vessels.

Lastly, for the most part these vessels were neither famous nor memorialized. They are hardly even listed. Even though there were hundreds, there is no "FS Memorial." As far as I know there is and has never been an FS candidate for a preserved ship or memorial. They just faded away like MacArthur's old soldier. Now the last of them are vanishing from the world.

Many of the Army's FS vessels were operated by Coast Guard crews during the war and only the Coast Guard has put an effort into recording them in detail. Others were operated by Army Transportation Corps civilian employees and some by Army military personnel. A few, possible FS variants built or acquired in Australia apparently had at least some crew of Australian civilians under contract to the Army (See Forgotten Fleet for information on Bill Lunney and Frank Finch's book on this topic.). The Army was not in particular awe of ships, they were just cargo vehicles for really wet places so it kept no treasured ship histories, even for its great transports, as does Navy.

The Coast Guard has Navy like feelings for ships. As a result the best readily available FS reference may now be found at the U.S. Coast Guard Historian's site: "World War II Coast Guard-Manned U.S. Army Freight and Supply Ship Histories." This is as close as one will come to finding an equivalent to Navy's Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships (DANFS) for these ships. That list forms the foundation for a table I am trying to fill with any mention of FS vessels. I've added a very few, mostly thanks to people sending e-mail as a result of that one mention at this web site.


The Army had a number of small oceangoing vessels generally classed as "Freight and Passenger Boat" (FP), redesignated during the war to "FS" for "Freight and Supply" as apparently was the "FT" category. To confuse the issue, the designation was purely functional. It was applied to many small vessels of widely different designs and to converted merchant vessels with no similarity at all to the "standard" designs. There are also a number of small Army vessels with similar function, different designations and designs:

Aircraft Retrieval Vessel (H/HA) Design 210 of 158' 3" OA length so similar to the FS Design 330D it raises a question.
Cargo Vessel 99' Steel (F)
Cargo Vessel (Air Corps) (FA) also 99' with a different appearance
Freight & Passenger Vessel 65' (T) the somewhat famous "T Boat" still sometimes seen as a party fishing boat
Freight & Passenger Vessel (Sm. - under 100') (TP or TH)
Tanker - 176'
(Y) that were very similar to the FS vessels, appearing to have the same basic hull design and superstructure configuration.

Some of these vessels not designated FS look like an FS while some that were designated FS look nothing like an FS. As an example, compare FS-99 to any of these designs. FS-99 is better known as the S.S. Catalina beloved by many for memories of excursions to Catalina Island. That historic ship, sometimes also known as the "Great White Steamship," was allowed to rot in Ensenada, Mexico despite efforts to save her. In any case, as FS-99 that vessel joined several large ferry boats to shuttle troops from the various outlying posts and camps of the San Francisco Port of Embarkation during World War II. It is claimed that FS-99 carried more troops than any other transport vessel during the war on those short voyages from camp to the oceanic transports heading to the war zones.

One has to remember, the Army drafted vessels as it was designing to build vessels and designated them functionally and roughly by size. I have run into several "Navy buffs" insisting on attempting a rigid "classification" of Army vessels more in line with normal Navy practice. That is a mistake in particular with this group of vessels. It included everything from fishing boats, San Francisco ferrys to some very fine, functional and really rather attractive widely built for the purpose designs.

To add to confusion vessels of this designation were built locally and operated in the Southwest Pacific (SWPA) by the Army, often using Australians under contract and wearing ATS uniforms. My review of Forgotten Fleet and links from there gives some indication of this relationship. The book lists a number of FP/FS vessels constructed in Australia as well as mention of some included in the numbers above.

"World War II Coast Guard-Manned U.S. Army Freight and Supply Ship Histories" states that FS-140 through FS-234 were 'Design 330,' and the rest were 'Design 381'" with the numbers seemingly limited to the CG crewed vessels. Those numbers span tonnage differences in other listings. Based on photos I have or have seen I believe this probably refers to a basic deck configuration change. The photo at the top of this page shows the cargo booms in the middle of the main deck. Photos of hull numbers in the group for "Design 330" show the boom just forward of the wheel house. The following photo of FS-177, as seen on the Coast Guard site, shows this clearly.

FS-177-U.S. Coast Guard's "World War II Coast Guard-Manned U.S. Army Freight and Supply Ship Histories"
Design 330-D (officially Vessel, Supply, Diesel, Steel, 180')

I am going to concentrate on the vessels of greater than 500 tons. Of those, the best known are the steel hulled types shown above and at the top of the page. A few of the very large fleet of this type became the Navy's Camano Class Light Cargo Ship (AKL) Displacement 515 t.(lt), 935 t.(fl); Length 177'; Beam 33': Draft 10'; Speed 13kts propelled by two 500hp diesel engines and twin screws.

Many web and some other references indicate the engines were GE; however, John Hazlet noted they were GM6-278A diesels. Ken Chappelle sent an illustration from a manual showing "General Motors Model 6-278A" serial "15901 to 16451 inclusive, manufactured on U.S. Army Contract W-2789-tc-1262" as the FS power plant. The engine illustrated is a V6. The evidence seems to be that these were GM, not GE engines as shown in many web references.

I am interested in the origin of the GE engine information and whether some FS vessels were powered by GE plants. Wartime licenses for manufacturing by other companies were fairly common. Were some engines GE? Were ships selected for transfer to Navy as AKLs variants? We are in the process of trying to find out.

For information on most of these FS vessels transferred to Navy see the NavSource AKL index. At least two of these got some fame, though one is best known by her movie star alias, USS Reluctant.

FS and Some Related Designs
With commentary thanks to and by David Briggs
Images from various sources.

Design 225 (Boat, Supply, Ice-Breaker, Diesel, Steel, 102')

No Photo

3 of these 102' footers were built (by Equitable Equipment Company in New Orleans, Louisiana) in 1942. Where they went, or what they did, I have as yet been unable to ascertain (though I guess either Alaska and/or Greenland for the most part). I don't know what the gross tonnage was on these vessels, since the Army didn't either measure, or use Gross Tonnages. (Gross Tonnages and their sisters, Net Tonnages are a kind of agreed upon fiction between Ship owners and operators, Dock Masters, Canal Operators, the tax man, and others, since it neither describes how many cubic feet of cargo can be placed onboard [both in the cargo holds, as well as on deck] , or how many tons of cargo a ship can safely carry.) These were F-4, F-17, and F-18. According to rumors, following World War Two, the F-17 was sold commercially in the Philippine Islands, while the F-18 was sold here in the United States.

Design 247 (Vessel, Passenger-Cargo, Diesel, Wood, 140')

FP-107 was a product of Minneford Yacht Yard, Inc. of City Island, New York
The museum has a collection of photos dealing with construction of wartime vessels at the yard.

13 of these vessels were built to four different designs (247, 247-A, 247-C and 247-D, Design 247-C was not listed as Passenger-Cargo, but as just Passenger). According to Grover these vessels were 450 Gross Tons, and the design included the Colonel Gerritt V.S.Quackenbush, the FP-102 to FP-109, and FP-111 to FP-114.

Design 277 (Vessel, Passenger-Cargo, Diesel, Wood, 114')

20 of these vessels, including FP.34, the vessel which Gore Vidal served on, were built, along (possibly) with additional 3 Junior Mine Planters. According to David Grover, they were 270 Gross Tons in size.

These were FP-29 to FP-43, FP-46 to FP-47, FP-56, FP-63 to FP-64, and FP-70, the last three of which were the Junior Mine Planters according to Grover.

Design 330 (Vessel, Supply, Diesel, Steel, 170')

Note the "FP" dating this photo as pre-change to FS

27 of these vessels were built by Higgins Industries during the war. These were the FS's with the large mast just forward of the superstructure. Their hull numbers ran from FS-135 to FS-161.

[This is the smaller, original version of the larger Design 330D below. It may have had an ancestry in the H/HA Design 210 Retrieving Vessel of which eleven were built for the Army Air Forces. That vessel was 150' and this is a 170' vessel. The interesting note is that in general appearance a model of the HA first struck me as a 330D and close examination of the bridge above is almost exactly like the model and drawings of the HA where the 330D is quite different.]

Design 330-D (Vessel, Supply, Diesel, Steel, 180')

55 of these vessels, a lengthened version of the earlier Design 330, 170 footers were built, again, all by Higgins Industries in New Orleans, Louisiana. With 573 Gross Tons their hulls numbers were FS-162 to FS-203, and FS-222 to FS-234.

Design 342 (Vessel, Passenger-Cargo, Diesel, Wood, 148').

Built for the Army as FS-246, she was later renamed by the Army as Lieutenant Raymond Zussman, and eventually turned over to NOAA which used her as the Penguin II. (NOAA Photos/NARA)

Only 15 of these beauties (my favorite design [David]) were built with hull numbers FP-238 to FP-252. According to Grover, they were 540 Gross Tons. Post-war, one of these was taken over by what is now known as National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and used in Alaska.

Design 381 (Vessel, Supply, Diesel, Steel, 177')

120 of these vessels were built by a number of companies around the U.S. [These are my personal favorite.]

According to Grover, these vessels were 560 Gross Tons. According to the "Report of Army Small Boat Construction, 1 July 1940 to 31 May 1945" they carried Hull Number/Names FS-253 to FS-292, FS-309 to FS-319, FS-343 to FS-356, FS-361 to FS-374, FS-383 to FS-400, FS-404 to FS-411, FS-524 to FS-529, FS-546 to FS-550 and FS-552 to FS-554 (the missing numbers were mostly canceled, though some were used for vessels taken over during the War).

Design 427 (Vessel, Supply, Aircraft Repair, Diesel, Steel, 180')

18 of these vessels were also built by Higgins Industries also note that Higgins Industries built 100 FS boats of various sizes. These 573 Gross Ton vessels had hull numbers FS-204 to FS-221. All of these vessels were named after former Army Officers as well.

The Liberty type vessels were:


Major General Herbert A. Dargue

ex Rebecca Lukens

Brigadier General Asa N. Duncan

ex Richard O'Brien

Brigadier General Alfred J. Lyon

ex Nathaniel Scudder

Major General Robert Olds

ex Daniel E. Garrett

Brigadier General Clinton W. Russell

ex Robert W. Bingham

Major General Walter R. Weaver

ex Thomas LeValley

The FS 427 vessels were designated Auxiliary Aircraft Repair Ship (sometimes Aircraft Maintenance Ship) with Merchant Mariner crew and embarked military Aircraft Maintenance Units (Floating):

FS #

Later renamed (See caution below)


Col. Clifford P. Bradley


Col. Richard E. Cobb


Col. John D. Corkille


Col. Demas T. Craw


Col. Everett S. Davis


Col. Sam L. Ellis


Col. Oliver S. Ferson


Col. Percival E. Gabel


Col. Donald M. Keiser


Col. Douglas M. Kilpatrick


Col. Raymond T. Lester


Col. Donald R. Lyon


Col. William J. McKiernan


Col. Armand Peterson


Col. Charles T. Phillips


Col. Edgar R. Todd


Col. Harold B. Wright


Col. Francis T. Ziegler

Caution: These names were given after the vessels were launched and perhaps after they were on the way to the war zones. It appears some names may never have caught up with the vessel or actually used in the war zone. In any conflict or difference depend on the FS# and not the name. One must always remember that the Army was never as rigid and ceremonial about ships as Navy and Coast Guard. Ships were much more akin to trucks and other military vehicles as far as Army sentiment goes. Army tended to keep unit histories, not histories of tanks, bombers, trucks and vessels.

Related Types

Design 216 (officially Boat, Cargo, Diesel, Steel, 99', Design 216)

49 of these 99 footers were built during the war, mostly in 1942-1943. These were the 180 Gross Tons vessels you talk about. They were hull numbers F-1 to F-3, F-5 to F-16, F-48 to F-55, F-73 to F-79, F-91 to F-96, F-115 to F-122, and F-126 to F-130

Design 235 (Boat, Rescue, Gasoline, Wood, 104')

Another class of vessels which were related to the FS's were the Design 235 (officially Boat, Rescue, Gasoline, Wood, 104') which compromised P-90 to P-121, P-141 to P-150, P-209 to P-226, P-233 to P-244, P-249 to P-255, and P-266 to P-285), and their sisters Design 235-C (officially, Boat, Supply, High Speed, Gasoline, Wood, 104').

These compromised QS-2 to QS-24, and QS-33 to QS-78). All of the Design 235 vessels looked a little like the Navy's more famous SC's.

Notes on Related Vessels
David Briggs

Related vessels include the 1931 built H-1 (H for Harbor; this was a 64' long vessel--not to be confused with the H/HA Design 210 Retrieval Vessels), the Design 259 (officially Boat, Passenger-Cargo, Diesel, Wood, 65') Tenders numbered T-1 to T-50, T-56 to T-58, T-60 to T-65, T-67 to T-81, T-84 to T-89, and T-96, along with near sisters (actually Design 259-C) T-141 to T-223 and T-258 to T-259; some of these vessels were actually built as Design 259-B Fireboats. One additional vessel the Lt.Col.Paul W. Evans (officially Boat, Passenger-Cargo, Diesel, Steel, 65', Design 204) was built during World War Two. During the Korean Renaissance (the rebuild up of the U.S.Military during and shortly after the Korean War, say 1951 to 1954) a closely related series of steel hulled Passenger-Cargo boats were built.

Increasing in length slightly come the Design 333 (officially Boat, Harbor, Diesel, Wood, 96'). These were evidently based on the design of a fishing boat, and they looked something like a tug, but with a small cargo hold; hull numbers were TP-97 to TP-131, TP-133 to TP-134, TP-224 to TP-225 and TP-229 to TP-230.

Another class of vessels which were related to the FS's were the Design 235 (officially Boat, Rescue, Gasoline, Wood, 104') which compromised P-90 to P-121, P-141 to P-150, P-209 to P-226, P-233 to P-244, P-249 to P-255, and P-266 to P-285), and their sisters Design 235-C (officially, Boat, Supply, High Speed, Gasoline, Wood, 104').

These compromised QS-2 to QS-24, and QS-33 to QS-78). All of the Design 235 vessels looked a little like the Navy's more famous SC's.

All of the Army's Y Boats (or Tankers) resembled less the Army's own FS's, and looked more like the Maritime Commission's T1-M-A1 design, or the Navy's YO's, YOG's and YW's with a fat and tall superstructure aft, and a main/weather deck parallel with and just a short distance above the waterline. There were two basic designs, though three lengths.

Design 294 (officially Vessel [or Tanker], Liquid Cargo, Diesel, Steel, 180') comprised Y-1 to Y-12, and Y-38 to Y-42. Next in hull number, and construction was Design 286 (officially Vessel [or Tanker], Dry and Liquid Cargo, Diesel, Steel, 162') which consisted of Y-13 to Y-35 and Y-44 to Y-46. The biggest percentages of these vessels though were members of Design 294-A (officially Vessel [or Tanker], Liquid Cargo, Diesel, Steel, 182'), they were hull numbers Y-47 to Y-59, Y-57 to Y-58, Y-62 to Y-66, and Y-68 to Y-115. During the Korean Renaissance the U.S.Army did build a number of new vessels, including Y Boats and FS's which did use a common hull for both dry cargo and liquid cargo versions, they were Design 7011, 7012 and 7013 if I remember correctly.

The Design Number data is found in several of the FM 55-15's printed circa 1960 to 1980. They did not do this during World War Two though.

Design 377 143' Ocean-Going Tugs (similar in design to the Navy's ATA's), and the

Design 264 Floating Cranes (officially, Crane, Floating, Revolving, Diesel-Electric, Steel, 100-ton).

I think that's enough for now. If you need more information, I have a copy of "Report of Army Small Boat Construction, 1 July 1940 to 31 May 1945" and I'd be more then happy to share any information in it with you. While David Grover's book does have some problems, in general it's fairly accurate in the information that it gives.


David Briggs

Touches of Fame

The USS Hewell (AKL 14) starred as the fictitious USS Reluctant in the movie Mr. Roberts. Previously she had been the Army FS-391, built in 1944. Carl Friberg, former MSC ship Captain, has done an analysis of the modifications made to Hewell for the movie in his A Movie Mystery That Bugged Me. It is interesting to see how a ship was turned into a stage set with some modifications that would not work at sea. These little Army vessels, supplying the forces among the islands and along coasts, are probably more realistic models for the life portrayed in the movie than most naval auxiliaries were. By the way, there has been a flurry of e-mail "corrections" to the ship that was used in the film. Before wasting your time with such a "correction," see a discussion below. There is sound evidence for Hewell.

The other famous member of this group is the USS Pueblo (AGER-2) that was captured by North Korea in 1968. She had previously been classed as an AKL-44 before being converted to a Banner Class Environmental Research Ship, actually an electronic surveillance vessel. Before being acquired by Navy she had been Army FP/FS-344. USS Banner (AGER-1), the Navy class leader, was formerly AKL-25 and before that was Army FS-345. The third of these electronic ships was the USS Palm Beach (AGER-3), ex AKL-45 , ex Army FS-217.

Recent Finds and Personal Stories

Perhaps most pleasant has been the occasional find of what happened to one of these ships, whose fate is largely unknown, in recent years. I know more than a few remained in the islands of the Pacific. After all, that is an area ideally suited to a small cargo vessel. I expect many finished their days, some may even still make a living, as undocumented tramps hauling small cargos about the islands. At least two were recently listed in Jane's serving officially in the Philippines as buoy tenders.

Two others have come to light in the last year:

Every now and then I "Google" the web for ships. During a routine search on various combinations that might turn up FS vessels I got a hit. A web site noted:

I checked my list and saw that FS-553 had "family" as the son of her wartime First Engineer had been in contact and had sent photographs. Ken Chappelle had written:

He then followed up with a number of photographs from his father's album.

Center: Tom Chappelle, 1st Engineer of FS-553, ca. 1944-45
Right: Typhoon.

Photos: Tom Chappelle via his son Ken.

Ken and his father were surprised and happy to find FS-553 after all these years. We have been in contact with the people involved and have confirmed the information. It would be nice to have even more proof, but agree that there is no reason for anyone to have created a phony trail for the people preparing the ship as a reef to find and conclude this was FS-553. We are hoping to find something about the ship's past. Known previous names are Lady Laura and Tauros. She had been so heavily modified that her original profile was gone entirely. Certain key characteristics of an FS' bow and stern were definitive. During our correspondence on FS-553 Ken noted that a "bit of interesting FS-553 Trivia. The Skipper of the FS-553 was Capt. Halliburton of oil company fame" accompanied by a photograph.

Then I heard from another "Ken." Ken Liddane sent mail and photos that ties the FP-47 into my interest in Signal Corps vessels and the Southwest Pacific Area (SWPA). This vessel is one of the variants. It is wooden hulled with a profile nothing like the steel version seen above. As far as I can determine it was one of the wooden 270 ton vessels and built by Martinolich Repair of San Francisco, California in 1943. One of his photographs appears on my Signal Corps ships page along with more description of the vessel and its function.

FP-47 Photos from Ken Liddane with a group photo of the Signals detachment

I highly recommend the pages at AboutWW2.com for a better understanding of the function of this vessel and others like it. That site is based on the papers of Lt. Colonel O. Howard ("Dave") Davidsmeyer who was a senior Signals officer in SWPA.

Jack DeWeese provided some further information on FP-47 in telling of FS-175:

* * * *

Then come the FS stories and observations. My personal favorite has been over on the page that started all of this. It illustrates both manning of these vessels and an innovative way of getting home at war's end when transport was so short:

I have always gotten a little grin of appreciation for this. Getting home was a real problem despite Operation Magic Carpet that pressed even combatants into troop lift. Life on the troop transports from the viewpoint of the "passenger" is fairly well covered in all its misery. John ingeniously got on his way home more quickly and much more interestingly than he might have.

John's problem leads to an aside. We hear so much today about how the WW II veteran got the hero's welcome and the "Magic Carpet" treatment. I was watching that great movie, Best Years of Our Lives, a short time ago. I've seen it before, but this time I was hit by one small part of the introduction. There is the Army Air Forces Capt., the hero, returning home. At the airport counter he is told there is no room and he will have a long wait or an expensive ticket. He is told to stand aside as a fat businessman with golf clubs checks in. He then trudges over to the dismal little terminal where he may be lucky enough to catch a military hop. We've built a comfortable myth about how well the WW II veteran was treated on arrival home. It wasn't so smooth at all. The "grateful nation" too often treated these men and women as intruders with a problem.

David Briggs is writing about the World War II Army vessels and noted a difference in crewing when the Army FS bcame Navy AKLs. Navy has always been noted for massive crews living squished together. In the days of wooden ships and iron men that was necessary. Sailing took lots of muscle as did manning those guns. A crew could expect heavy casualties as the balls and, worse, the splinters flew. One needed those hundreds of men to hope to survive battle and disease with a working crew. The tradition lingers, perhaps for less reason. Anyway, David wrote to Carl Friberg and me about the fact the complement for an AKL was fifty two people. This again reveals the Army's crewing of these ships.

The book mentioned is, FS's, the Little Ships that Could: a history of the campaigns in the Pacific and the personal experiences of the author on the U.S. Army FS-268 (George P. Alton).

Not the USS Hewell (AKL 14) in the movie? Think again.

Now and then someone sends e-mail with a "correction" on the ship used as a stage set to film Mr. Roberts. Evidence, with one exception, points clearly to the USS Hewell (FS-391/AG-145/AKL-14).

These "corrections" almost always contend the Army's FS-289 that became the Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS) USNS T-AKL-17 was used for the film. That ship later acquired the name USNS New Bedford (T-AKL 17) after operating out of New Bedford servicing Air Force Texas Towers in the Atlantic. T-AKL 17 was placed "out of service" in 1963, meaning MSTS no longer had a requirement for the vessel, and picked up for "station" duty as New Bedford (IX-308). As such the vessel was not an oceanic transport, but a specialized asset of the torpedo test station at Keyport, Washington and carried on the register in the same way naval yard craft are carried and tied to a particular local command. The ship was retired at Keyport and sold into commercial service to became the fishing vessel Sea Bird.

More than once I've been on a ship and heard such tales about an incident in the ship's history. The trouble was that I knew that incident because I'd been abroad the actual ship involved at the time and it was a completely different ship! As crews come and go the legends get passed about until they become "fact."

The exceptional "evidence" for the New Bedford claim is found in a local publication of the Keyport torpedo test station. The latest dealt with the retirement of IX-308 and states it had been the vessel used in the film. That claim is countered by considerable evidence to the contrary. Local publications are great at writing up awards won, personalities on the job and even station history. More than one has gone aground when trying to do "history" for things outside the station itself. This is often the case with ships that often come with lore and legend in the form of what naval types often term "scuttlebutt" and "sea stories." These may be accurate, a bit accurate or just "full of it." After careful review of all the evidence I am convinced the local public affairs organ at the torpedo station picked up one of these legends.

Here is just part of the contrary evidence. For simplicity I will tend to use the AKL numbers; AKL-14 for Hewell and T-AKL-17 for New Bedford:

First, The Naval Historical Center, that does not make such changes in the official histories of the ships lightly or without evidence, updated the authoritative Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, commonly known as DANFS entry for Hewell on 19 June 2007 with:

T-AKL-17 was part of the mass transfer of vessels from the Army directly to MSTS March 1, 1950. I have the hard copy list, but you can see this at the USMM site by jumping to Ships transferred to Military Sea Transport Service from Army Transportation Service, March 1, 1950 and scrolling down to the cargo ships. There you will find "USNS T-AKL 17." USNS is the abbreviation for United States Naval Ship, a ship "in service" rather than commissioned (USS) and civilian crewed by MSTS. The "T" in T-AKL is also the MSTS designator. Unless the claim is also made that the civilian crewed, MSTS operated T-AKL-17 was the film platform the claim falls apart. The ship that became New Bedford was never military crewed or designated USS. I've never seen any reference to anything except a military crewed USS vessel for the part.

AKL-14 was transferred from Army to Navy before the mass transfer. By the time that happened the USS Hewell (AKL-14) had been in the Western Pacific for some time and began operating in the Japan/Korea area during the Korean War. This vessel was always commissioned with a military crew. The official DANFS history notes: "With the end of hostilities in Korea in August 1953, Hewell continued to make frequent supply voyages from Japan to occupying troops until June 1954, when she made a final swing through the Pacific island bases. Hewell departed Hawaii for home in mid-October 1954, remaining at Astoria, Oreg., until she decommissioned there 15 March 1955 and joined the Pacific Reserve Fleet." [Emphasis added]

Thus USS Hewell, the military crewed vessel, made a documented swing through the filming location in the Hawaiian Island chain at the time the film was being shot. Billy Levy's John Ford: A Bio-Bibliography on page 176 states: "Filmed September-November 1954. Location shooting off Midway Island in the Pacific and Keneoke [sic] Bay, Honolulu in Hawaii aboard the U.S.S. Hewell" thus making another link to the Hewell.

Carl Friberg has done a great job of describing the interesting modifications required to make an AKL became a movie set. Remember, none of the interior shots were on a ship. Anyone familiar with ships, particularly small ones, will immediately see the director/cameraman nightmare of tight spaces. All the interior shots were shot on sound stages. To pin down the Hewell more firmly, he has a first person account on his page A Movie Seastory That Bugged Me. There Waylon Smithey recalls the filming with details matching the official DANFS history.

Here I have to make a major update and revision of what I thought was evidence against New Bedford, but was not. Photos of T-AKL-17 show an entirely different FS design than that seen in the movie. USS Hewell (AKL-14) was definitely a Design 381 with mast amid ships between cargo hatches. Photos of T-AKL-17 show the configuration of a Design 330D with the mast back against the superstructure. Did the Navy go to the very expensive and non trivial expense of gutting the cargo area down to the seat of the mast and associated machinery to accomplish this?

I thought it doubtful, but finally found evidence the Navy did just that. Even earlier photos show New Bedford with the center masts, in no way a 330D configuration. The Navy apparently made this radical ship alteration to convert the ship into a very robust Texas Tower support vessel that had plenty of open deck for large cargos to be lifted by the tower's crane and at least some "tanker" capability. Photos clearly show fueling hoses from New Bedford snaking up to the tower. When I consider other ship alts, to make a cargo ship into a cable ship and such, I suppose it makes sense and is cost effective to gut the cargo areas of a fine little cargo ship to reset the mast and make room for special tanks while retaining all her other fine qualities.

Finally, anyone making the "not USS Hewell" argument to me can just save keystrokes unless they have something much more than one naval test station's in-house public affairs pamphlet written decades after the filming as "proof" to outweigh the evidence we do have for Hewell. It just does not fly, float or whatever and fits in with "just scuttlebutt" that got into a publication.

An interesting Question

On casual inspection the Army's "Design No. 210, 150 Foot Steel Diesel Retrieving Vessel" (H/HA) looks almost exactly like the FS Design 330D seen above. Except for some details and being twenty-two feet shorter the appearance of this eleven vessel group is strikingly similar. Is there a relationship between the Army air arm's (U.S. Army Air Corps/U.S. Army Air Forces) aircraft Retrieving Vessel and the FS Design 330D?

US Army (Aircraft) Retrieving Vessels
The "H" and "HA" are interchangeable with "H" in the construction records. The "H" is probably an early term similar to the early "FP" designation that became "FS" within a short time. A builder's model of HA2 recently on Ebay clearly shows the stern with "U.S. ARMY" over "H.A.3 VAN NOSTRAND" as the usage. The "retrieving" was clearly "aircraft" but the specification sheets simply designate the vessel as "Design No. 210, 150 Foot Steel Diesel Retrieving Vessel" with no mention of aircraft.

Kenneth Kogan has looked into these vessels and sent me drawings he obtained from the Transportation Museum at Ft. Eustis. A there is striking similarity between the bridge of the HA and that of the Design 330, not the 330D, above. They are almost identical and further leads me to believe the origin of the 330 series was in the HA design.


Dimensions: 158' 3" LOA, 150' LWL; 32' beam (moulded) at deck; 14' 3" depth (moulded) at midship; 8' draft

Power: 2 300 hp Superior PTD diesels driving two 3 bladed 60" propellers, 1 RH and 1 LH, at 337 RPM for 12 knots ; 2 50 kw, 120 v generators

General: Loaded displacement 615 long tons; 2 holds with space of bales-19,825 and grain-21,380 (21,880? indistinct digit); a range of 2,641 (normal) and 5,644 (emergency) statute miles; water: 18,139 gallons with 936 gallons of potable water

From ShipbuildingHistory.com:
Sturgeon Bay Shipbuilding & Dry Dock, Sturgeon Bay, WI

Army #

Hull #


Eventual Names

HA 2




HA 3



Van Nostrand and Ensenada II 

HA 4



Miller and Babun 

HA 5




HA 6




HA 7




HA 8




HA 9




Hulls 141-150 were 99' "F" type USAAC coastal freighters-there was no #151

HA 10




HA 11




HA 12




The interesting thing in the complete table is that all Army construction until Hull #169 had been for the Army Air arm. Hull number 170, delivered March 1944, was for the first "FS" Coastal Freighter from this builder. That ship was FS-361 that later became USN's USS Ryer (AG 138/AKL 9). Hulls 170-183 were FS 361 through FS 374 and then came a block of ST tugs. The FS vessels in that block were all Design 381 (officially Vessel, Supply, Diesel, Steel, 177') while the HA construction was a slightly shorter (158') version of a vessel looking almost exactly like the FS Design 330-D (officially Vessel, Supply, Diesel, Steel, 180') .

That leads to the interesting question of whether there is a design relationship between this air arm Design 210 and the FS Design 330D. Records I reviewed at NARA showed the USAAC/USAAF was diverging even then from Army's overall policy. There were some heated letters and memos dealing with the air arm going its own way in contracting for ships, sometimes competing with Army's overall efforts. There were definitely a number of vessel designs peculiar to air requirements. Was the 330D perhaps an outgrowth of the 1942-43 retrieving vessel design? Did Army's main transportation effort find merit in an AAC/AAF design and expand upon that or was there a 330D design in progress that the air people modified? If I had to place a bet I'd probably go with the first.
I am really taken by these little ships and am continuing to look into their history. Any readers with corrections, help, stories are urged to contact me. I intend to revise and add to this page as information is located.

FS reference links:

World War II Coast Guard-Manned U.S. Army Freight and Supply Ship Histories lists the FS vessels by number with a brief history of each. A great number of wartime FS vessels had Coast Guard crews. This is the best single reference to the FS vessels and as close an equivalent to the Navy's Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Vessels (DANFS) as can be found.

Coast Guard-manned U.S. Army FS-184; Pacific Theater, World War II is the story of U.S. Army FS-184.

John H. MathisYacht Building Co., under the heading "World War II Coast Guard-Manned U.S. Army Freight and Supply Ship Histories" is a bit on the Army's design types for the FS.

WWII Construction Records U.S. Army Cargo Ships (FS) This appears to be a good record; however, there also seem to be a few discrepancies with other information.

NavSource's Light Cargo Ship (AKL) Index

Naval Historical Center's SHIPS of the UNITED STATES ARMY

The Complete Library of Jack's Joint, "An Unofficial Coast Guard Library and More" contains:

Hard Copy: Williwaw (1946) was Gore Vidal's first novel. It was republished as Dangerous Voyage and takes place on an FS in the Aleutians. It is based on his experience aboard FS-35 during the war. See American Masters, Gore Vidal for more background.
Ship Index

Army Ships

Page and text Copyright©Ramon Jackson 2004-2007. Photos copyright held by original donors.
U. S. Government official photographs are public domain.