USS Bali (ID-2483)
Cargo Freighter Vessel
USS Bali freighter originated in The Netherlands, was commandeered by the United States during World War 1 and was lost under the Greek flag during World War 2.
Authored By: JR Potts, AUS 173d AB | Last Edited:
The freighter SS Bali was completed at the Rotterdam Dry Dock Company shipyard at Rotterdam, Netherlands in 1917 as a steel-hulled, single-screw cargo hauler capable of 6,694 gross tons. She proved a large freighter at 420 feet, 6 inches (128.2 meters) long with a width of 54 feet, 8 inches (16.7 meters) allowing for 2 kingpost booms to be mounted forward and aft. She fielded a pair of masts for observation and, as light poles, they could support radio antennas, one forward and one aft of the island. Her shallow draught was 29 feet, 3 inches (8.9 meters) allowing her to enter some large rivers and many small island ports. Her deck was flush with a higher superstructure than many freighters of the period, her profile exhibiting a single tall smokestack. As built, she was not armed.
World War 1 began in July of 1914 with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand at the hands of Bosnian supporter Gavrilo Princip. As Ferdinand served as heir to the Austrian-Hungarian throne, the two nations were pitted into war. Long-held alliances then contributed to a world-wide commitment and, before long, Europe was thrown into the first of two major global conflicts. The war would span from 1914 into 1918 before the armistice of November.
The SS Bali was constructed as a standard commercial cargo transport for the purpose of moving any type of product around the world. This purpose drove her to a strange fate when she took on a cargo of rubber from Indonesia to be delivered to a customer in the Port of New York, USA. On March 21, 1918, while she was in the Port of New York, she was seized as a war prize under the direction of a federal customs statute issued during World War I and ultimately transferred to the Overseas Transportation Service (NOTS) of the United States Navy. Founded in January 1918, NOTS operated some 427 freighters and colliers needed to carry war goods to American forces now fighting in Europe and, when the war eventually concluded, be charged with bringing Army supplies and equipment back stateside.
The war effort required a quick turn-around and the now-captured steam ship SS Bali became the USS Bali under the American flag. By April 1st, 1918, she had an American crew and filled coal bunkers for the journey ahead. She carried tons of war supplies when she departed New York Harbor for Europe though, almost immediately, her machinery developed problems that forced her to anchor only 10 miles from her berth for repairs. The repairs were completed to her three-cycle, triple expansion, reciprocating steam engine and she was on her way in eight days after being assigned a new convoy. However, the engine once again proved problematic near Nova Scotia and repairs were required once more, the vessel put to s top. With her boilers repaired, USS Bali crossed the Atlantic and anchored at Brest, France on May 15th, 1918. She then disembarked a cargo of ammunition, truck parts and medical supplies for the American Army.
When she arrived at Brest, the harbor was full of allied shipping vessels all delivering war supplies. This forced Bali to wait her turn before a dock cleared. The American crew was surprised that they would be required to work with German Prisoners of War who were pressed into stevedore jobs. These untrained personnel were not use to unloading ships and served to slow the normally efficient process down some. Bali eventually unloaded her cargo at St. Nazaire and then steamed down the Loire River towards Brest looking for a returning convoy headed across the Atlantic (German U-Boat submarines were a persistent threat in Atlantic waters). Bali was assigned to return by mid-June to which she then sailed for the United States, ultimately reaching New Jersey on Independence Day weekend, July 4th, 1918.
U.S. Navy's NOTS did not have a chance to arm USS Bali before her first voyage to France as weapons were in greater need on French battlefields where American infantrymen were fighting so her self-protection was delayed. With the war continuing, the decision was made to arm the vessel so she could not only defend herself but also add to the total armament of the total ships in any given convoy. USS Bali left Hoboken, New Jersey, after taking on 6,800 tons of supplies - 106 tons over her expected maximum load - to Hampton Roads, Virginia, arriving in mid-July. She docked at the Norfolk Navy Yard. USS Bali, being a freighter, had a number of obstacles on her decks that would restrict gun placement such as hatch covers, twin masts and kingpost booms. These obstacles were necessary for the operation of the ship and would naturally alter any gun's field of fire. The decision was made to install limited armament - a main 5-inch deck gun and a secondary battery consisting of a 6-pounder. After the guns were added and ammunition secured below decks, Bali left the yard, joining another convoy heading for France.
USS Bali made three more convoy voyages to France from the United States, each time carrying war supplies and eventually returning to America once more in early November of 1918. Up to this point, Bali carried standard cargo and light vehicles that could be stowed below decks. Now, with the war expected to be over soon, a need for draft animals was required across Europe so dock crews built stalls for up to 600 horses. In late November, the animals were loaded, along with less than 3000 tons of supplies including horse feed, and the ship sailed for France, arriving at Bordeaux in mid-December where her cargo was unloaded (the official armistice to end World War 1 had already been signed in mid-November). Bali returned to the US in mid-January of 1919 at Newport News and, with the war over, had her guns removed.
From there on, USS Bali proceeded to Baltimore, Maryland, in early February of 1919 where she was then transferred from NOTS service to the authority of the US Shipping Board. Still as the USS Bali, she made two final voyages to Europe for humanitarian relief of the war-torn regions - initially to points at the Low Countries (Copenhagen, Denmark) with food supplies. Her final trip was to Hamburg, Germany with another load of food in May of 1919. Bali then proceeded to Amsterdam where she was decommissioned and returned to her original Dutch owners officially ending her registry as "USS Bali".
Her new owners in the Netherlands continued to operate her as a freighter until 1932 when she was then sold to a Greek shipping company. Her port of registry then became Ithaca, Greece and she was renamed as the "Max Wolf". War came to Europe once more with the German invasion of Poland in September of 1939 and, in time, Axis attention turned to Greece. During World War 2, Bali/Max Wolf continued to act as a freighter under Greek colors. Her career came to an unceremonious end when she was bombed by German warplanes in 1940, forcing her crew to run her aground off of the coast of France. Max Wolf stayed aground until the 1950s when she was sold for scrap (World War 2 in Europe concluded in May of 1945). Her career spanned some 23 years and encompassed two World Wars while steaming under three national flags.