Friday, January 18, 2013

Work on the USS Alchiba

Between November 1942 and November 1943, my dad's repair ship, the USS Vestal, operated out of Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides. There it tackled 5,603 repair jobs on 279 ships and 24 shore facilities. In fact, there were so many battle-damaged ships to repair, that Dad could recall only a few in detail. Often when I asked him what he remembered about a particular ship which the Vestal worked on during that hectic year, his reply was, "It was just another ship." Many of the big cruisers, battleships, and carriers he remembered clearly. Others, like the Alchiba, a vitally important cargo vessel, was "just another ship" among so many others badly in need of urgent repairs.

The USS Alchiba was an attack cargo ship whose job it was to carry troops, heavy equipment, and supplies in support of amphibious assaults, and to provide fire support during those assaults. The ship's role was key to successful delivery and support of invasion troops.

Alchiba was at Guadalcanal on September 18, 1942, unloading cargo to support U.S. Marines in their famous struggle for that island. She sailed back to New Caledonia in October for more supplies, returning to Guadalcanal on November 1. During November, Alchiba shuttled supplies and personnel to Guadalcanal. She was anchored off the coast of Guadalcanal on November 28 when 2 torpedoes from a Japanese midget submarine exploded on the vessel's port side. At that time, Alchiba was loaded with drums of gasoline and ammunition, and the resulting explosion was horrendous. The commanding officer wisely ordered the ship to run up on the beach, undoubtedly saving the ship. However, fire ravaged the ship for 5 days before it was finally brought under control.

Most of her cargo was saved, and temporary repairs were in progress when Alchiba was torpedoed again on December 7, by another enemy sub, striking her port side near the engine room. The blast killed 3 men, wounded 6 others, and caused considerable structural damage. Once the fires and flooding were controlled, salvage operations resumed, and the ship was able to get underway for Tulagi on December 27. On today's date in 1943, Alchiba moved to Espiritu Santo for further repair work by the repair ship, Vestal. After significant structural and mechanical repairs—a lot of it under waterwere completed by crews from my dad's ship, Alchiba sailed on May 6, for the West Coast for permanent repairs.

USS Alchiba on fire off Lunga Point, Guadalcanal, November 1942
Source: NavSource Online

Through 1943-45, Alchiba continued work in the South Pacific, providing service and logistics support for the Allies. In 1946, at 10 years of age, Alchiba was decommissioned. The ship was sold in 1948 to the Netherlands where she saw new life as a merchant ship. In 1973, she was scrapped.

Alchiba won 3 Battle Stars for her WWII service. She also was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation for her service at Guadalcanal from August through December 1942.

Sources: Vestal War Diary, January 1943; Wikipedia


  1. My grandfather Leslie McConnell served on this ship. He passed away from lung cancer in 1967 but I just learned the illustrious history of his service through sites like yours. Thank you and thanks to all military support personnel.

    1. Thanks for your comments about your grandfather. Though gone from us, his brave work is not forgotten nor unappreciated.

  2. My Dad, Bernard Schneider was on the Alchiba. He was a Chief Pharmacist mate. He spoke very little about what he experienced but I have his pith helmet which he used as a diary. A lot of gaps in dates as what they did was secret. He died 34 years ago today.

    1. I appreciate your comments and tribute to your dad. How wonderful that you have such a unique and valuable keepsake from his time on board.