Sunday, September 1, 2013

Repairs to USS Taganak

In early September in 1943, Dad's ship, Vestal, began repair work to the generator on the cargo ship, USS Taganak. This ship's history is interesting for both its war service and its many incarnations.

Built in 1917 as the commercial steam cargo ship War Shell, it was acquired by the U.S. Navy during World War I. Then commissioned as the USS Lake Shore, she carried a variety of cargo for the Navy from 1918-1919, including coal and ammunition. She survived this war and the next and was returned to civilian service each time.

In 1923, Lake Shore was sold to a private company and renamed Olympic. She operated along the Pacific coast until being withdrawn from service in 1940.

But at the outbreak of World War II, there was a severe shortage of Navy cargo ships. To cover the deficiency, the Navy acquired various ships and refitted them for carrying cargo. The Olympic was one of these ships reacquired in May 1942. Following repairs and refitting at the naval base at Mare Island, the ship was recommissioned as the USS Taganak in July 1942. By September, she sailed for the South Pacific. From Nouméa, New Caledonia, she made a run to New Zealand. She then shuttled cargo between New Zealand, New Caledonia, New Hebrides, and the Solomon Islands through 1943.

On one of those trips, in August 1943, Taganak was en route from Nouméa to Espiritu Santo with a cargo of ammunition when she was attacked by a Japanese submarine, I-17.* The convoy's escort ship,  HMNZS Tui, attacked the sub with depth charges, forcing it to the surface. American planes were signaled to assist in the attack, resulting in sinking the enemy sub. Apparently there was no damage done to Taganak in the attack, and she sailed on to Espiritu Santo without further incident. So, the work which Vestal performed on the ship from September 1-3, must not have been related to Taganak's brush with the Japanese sub.

Over the next couple of months, Taganak continued supply operations between Nouméa, Espiritu Santo, and Guadalcanal, before returning a load of cargo to the West Coast in November. While in Oakland, the ship underwent extensive overhaul and repairs.

February 1944 saw Taganak again sailing to the South Pacific to resume her duties as an inner-island cargo and personnel transport. Although the ship engaged in no enemy action for the next year and a half, it did share in the important role of consolidating the Northern Solomon Islands under Allied control. In February 1945, Taganak reported to Auckland, New Zealand for general overhaul, then returned to the Solomons where she served until Japan's surrender.

In October 1945, Taganak made its final trip to the U.S. after successfully completing 3 years of war service. The ship's history, written that month while en route to the states, reflects the pride of her crewmen:
While larger, faster, more modern ships had carried the war victoriously from Guadalcanal to the triumphant entry into Tokyo Bay just one short month before, the old steam schooner had plodded monotonously and undramatically through the role assigned it in the tremendous victory which has been attained. As she heads for home, the USS Taganak can reflect with pride and satisfaction upon a record in keeping with the best Navy tradition and upon a job well done.
The USS Taganak was decommissioned in March 1946, and sold later that year. Subsequently, the venerable ship saw service as an international commercial steamer under the names Glento, Pilhamm and Lulu. She was finally scrapped in 1961.

Source: NavSource Online

* The I-17 was assigned duty at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Its mission was to reconnoiter and engage any ships that tried to sortie from harbor during the attack. Perhaps its main claim to fame was on February 23, 1942, when it became the first Axis ship to shell the U.S. mainland in the little-known Bombardment of Ellwood, near Santa Barbara, California. Although causing only minimal damage to  the pier and fuel tanks, the event helped to trigger the West Coast invasion hysteria and influenced the infamous decision to intern Japanese-Americans (most were U.S. citizens) a week later.

Sources: USS Vestal War Diary, September 1943; Ship's History of the USS Taganak; NavSource Online

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