Monday, August 12, 2013

Battle damage repairs to the SS Matthew Lyon

On today's date in 1943, Dad's repair ship, Vestal, began an underwater inspection of the cargo ship, Matthew Lyon, for torpedo damage received earlier that day. It will continue to repair the ship until mid-September. No doubt, there was a significant amount of welding work, for which Dad was well qualified.

Launched in April 1943 under a Maritime Commission contract, SS Matthew Lyon, first saw duty under a civilian contractor during the summer. On today's date, while voyaging to Espiritu Santo, she received severe damage from a torpedo fired by a Japanese submarine. Despite a gaping hole in her port side the freighter limped into Espiritu Santo, apparently headed for scrapping. But over the next several weeks, crews from Vestal were able to repair her sufficiently for a move to nearby Pallikulo Bay on Espiritu Santo Island, where she languished for several months.

In October 1943, Matthew Lyon's value was finally recognized, and she was taken over by the Navy and pressed into emergency service as the net cargo ship, renamed Zebra. So successful was she in her new role of installing nets, that in February 1944, the Navy decided to completely repair her and officially recommission her as a net cargo ship. Returned to drydock at Espiritu Santo for overhaul, it was discovered that the ship needed reconstruction of an entire hold. During the same time, Zebra was reconfigured to accommodate a much larger crew. In June, she was finally assigned her first duty as a Navy net cargo ship.

USS Zebra in drydock at Espiritu Santo, February 1944
Source: NavSource Online

Zebra conducted operations from New Caledonia to the Fiji Islands. She completed a circuit of various South Pacific islands to collect nets and equipment salvaged from the harbor defense installations and delivered cargo to the Ellice Islands later that fall. By the end of 1944, Zebra conducted net-laying missions around ships and in harbors in the Palau Islands. From October through November 1944, Zebra, along with 2 other ships, laid 10 miles of net to protect ships in the harbor on the Ulithi atoll in the Caroline Islands. Dad will be one of the beneficiaries of Zebra's work, when he is stationed for several months at Ulithi on the repair ship Hector, beginning November 1944.

Ulithi Harbor: One of the most powerful naval fleets ever assembled.
Source: Historic Wings

After repairs and further modifications at Pearl Harbor at the end of 1944 through January 1945, Zebra participated in the assault and occupation of Iwo Jima, arriving there in February and staying until April. She then left for the West Coast to complete her conversion to a net cargo ship. Zebra had barely been returned to service when Japan surrendered on September 2, 1945. Her final assignment was in the Western Pacific to collect salvaged net equipment. Stopping at Saipan in November 1945, Zebra received passengers and equipment, then made her return to the United States.

Her 3 years of war service now at an end, Zebra was decommissioned in January 1946 and returned to the War Shipping Administration. She was finally scrapped in 1972. USS Zebra was awarded 1 Battle Star for her WWII service.

Sources: USS Vestal War Diary, August & September 1944; "War History of the USS Zebra (AKN-5), U.S. Pacific Fleet, September 26, 1945"; Wikipedia

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