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USS Serpens (AK-97)

United States (1943)
Picture of USS Serpens (AK-97) Cargo Ship

Unheralded logistical ships like the USCG USS Serpens helped to win the war effort in the Pacific Theater.


Detailing the development and operational history of the USS Serpens (AK-97) Cargo Ship.  Entry last updated on 5/9/2013; Authored by JR Potts, AUS 173d AB; Content ¬©www.MilitaryFactory.com

USS Serpens was the 18th Crater class freighter cargo ship constructed for use by the United States Navy in World War II by the Maritime Commission. She was classified as EC2-S-C1 (EC2 = Emergency Cargo, type 2 and S = steam propulsion) and fitted with one propeller. As Liberty type ship, she was commissioned in San Diego in May 1943. The class was comprised of 62 total ships and was the largest class of freighters built for the war effort - thought by many to number the very stars in sky - and, as such, were named after either stars or constellations. World War 2 was arguably won by the logistical support as provided for by ships like Serpens. In contrast, the Japanese Army maintained poor logistical support for her soldiers throughout the war where, in places like Guadalcanal, many would starve to death. Empire soldiers would be called upon to combat the American fighting man - a solider his relative equal but one that was provided for far better through regularly shipped military ammunition, medical supplies and food (though sometimes rationed) and even the occasional mail call from home.

Liberty ships were slightly over 441 feet long by 57 feet wide. They used a 2,500 horsepower steam engine to push them through the water at 11 knots, equaling approximately 11.5 miles per hour. The ships maintained a range of about 17,000 miles. Crew quarters were located amidships while cargo was fitted into one of the five available holds - three situated forward of the engine room and two in the aft portion of the vessel. Each ship could carry up to 10,800 deadweight tons of cargo and 4,380 net tons - effectively the amount of space available for cargo and/or passengers.

Many technological advances were made during the Liberty shipbuilding program. A steel cold-rolling process was developed to save steel in the making of lightweight cargo booms. Welding techniques were developed to produce the first all-welded craft. Prefabrication was introduced resulting in complete deckhouses, double-bottom sections, stern-frame assemblies and bow units inevitably increasing production output of whole ships. On average it took 592,000 hours to build the ship and the average time of construction for one ship by 1944 became just 42 days. The ship required 3,425 tons of steel for the hull along with 2,725 tons of steel plate and 700 tons of metal shaped walls and bulk heads needing 50,000 castings. A total of 2,751 Liberties were built between 1941 and 1945.

USS Serpens was a United States Coast Guard-manned cargo ship with the function of transporting war cargo from point A to point B as directed by the Navy department. She was known as a 10,000-ton cargo ship to which the United States War Shipping Administration would plan the load based on the assignment. The loading manifest itself was based on the weight and cube of each item and its associated packaging. Some products, naturally, could not be stored together such as water and fuel. Unloading of her goods occurred based on space and needs critical to the mission. As such, food was unloaded first followed by ammunition and then larger systems like tanks, etc. Cargo information needed to be planned in advanced so facilities were ready to go on the awaiting docks.

After her shakedown cruise in mid 1943, this in the Pacific Ocean off California, USS Serpens was loaded with general cargo and, in June of that year, she sailed west to support operations in the Solomons as a provision ship. By the end of July she was en route from New Caledonia to New Zealand. Taking on more cargo she returned to New Caledonia and began a series of short hauls to supply US Marines on Vitu Levu, Tutuila, Penrhyn, Bora Bora, Aitutaki, and Tongatapu. In November 1943 Serpens returned to New Caledonia and in December she again sailed to the Solomons. She sailed to Lunga Point, Guadalcanal, to load cargo for Bougainville.

During January 1944, USS Serpens completed two runs into Empress Augusta Bay. In February, she was ordered to New Zealand for repairs in dry dock. For the next few months, Serpens delivered freight to beachheads in the Solomon islands and the New Hebrides. She went off to New Zealand to reload in July of 1944 and was at Purvis Bay for a short refit and the installing of SF-1 radar. SF-1 radar systems maintained a wavelength of 10 cm and was intended for use on PT boats but was found to be too heavy and was instead installed on larger ships like Serpens. Serpens then resumed operations throughout October, carrying general cargo and wheeled vehicles between ports and island anchorages in the Solomon's. In November, she loaded vehicles from Guadalcanal for areas around New Zealand. After offloading the goods and vehicles, three of her holds were converted for ammunition stowage.

Late in December 1944, the Serpens started loading at Wellington and finished at Auckland New Zealand. She returned to the Solomons on January 16th, 1945. Late in the evening on January 29th, 1945, the Serpens was anchored off Lunga Beach, Guadalcanal, a port she new well by this time. The commanding officer - Lieutenant Commander Stinson - along with one other officer and six enlisted men, had gone ashore. As standard operating procedure the loading continued late into the evening. This practice was to allow the men to work at night, away from the heat of the daytime sun while still keeping to a war footing schedule. The remaining 198 members of Serpens crew and 57 members of an Army stevedore unit were on board the ship loading such goods as ammunition, depth charges and general cargo supplies into her holds as she had done many times before. It was during this time that the USS Serpens suddenly exploded.

The force of the explosion was so great that it killed an Army soldier situated on the beach and a public health surgeon - Dr. Levin - who was onboard. After the explosion, only the bow of the ship was visible. The rest of the vessel had completely disintegrated and the bow sank soon afterward. Only two sailors aboard survived the incident - SN 1/C Kelsie Kemp and SN 1/C George Kennedy - escaping from the Bosuns hole. Eyewitness reports stated hearing shells exploding and the sky filled with tracers. Parts of the ship landed in waters throughout the harbor. Boats searched for survivors finding only debris, body parts and dead fish. Fire and oil covered the water and all were horrified at the shock and sight of the bow of the Serpens slowly sinking. No one knew if this was an accident or an enemy attack but after a long investigation it was classified as unknown though not sunk by enemy action on June 10th, 1949. The loss of the Serpens remains the largest single disaster ever suffered by the U.S. Coast Guard.

The military buried the remains of the 250 at the Guadalcanal Cemetery of all services. In 1949, under the return program, the remains of the Serpens incident were returned in a mass recommittal as all were unidentified war dead. The chosen place of rest was the Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C., in section 34 at Macarthur Circle. All the remains were placed in 52 caskets and buried in 28 graves.
Every year, we here in America celebrate Memorial Day and our culture remembers its brave and dead through movies showcasing bravery and valor but it is easy to forget just how many people died in World War 2 like those aboard the Serpens and the Army stevedores doing a tough, dirty and dangerous job like the one they were assigned to do on Serpens. USS Serpens and her brave crew were awarded one Battle Star in World War II.

Visit the USS Serpens Commermorative Website for extended information at www.uss-serperns.org.

May they rest in peace. The crew of the Serpens:

Edwin A Ables EM2 USCGR
John C Aiken III LT USCGR
Roy G Anderson PHM2 USCGR
Edwin F Antkowiak COX USCGR
Lawrence L Arndt CPL USA
Harry E Aro WT1 USCG
Clifford D Ashby AS USCGR
George C Auble LTJG USCGR
Woodward S Babcock GM3 USCGR
Walter E Baginski PFC USA
Charles E Baillargeon TEC5 USA
Edward A Baker MACH USCG
Jacob Barer S1 USCGR
Charles R Barnhouse S1 USCGR
Robert J Barrett PFC USA
Leland C Barrick PFC USA
Alec Beskosty TEC 5 USA
Joseph Bielinski S1 USCGR
Edwin L Boos PFC USCGR
Derious F Borton JR PFC USA
Billy L Boyd SK1 USCG
Lester L Brandlen S1 USCGR
Gerald C Breen F2 USCGR
Alfred W Brieschke TEC5 USCGR
Chester Brooks ST2 USCGR
James M Broshear QM3 USCGR
Clarence M Buchanan PFC USA
Leo H Burke S2 USCGR
Clifton C Burks PVT USA
Keith D Burns S2 USCGR
Junior W Butler F1 USCGR
Raymond F Callahan S1 USCGR
Gilbert J Camarlinghi S2 USCGR
Anthony Cambria S2 USCGR
Louis S Carey S1 USCGR
James G Carmichael TEC5 USCGR
Charles E Carr S2 USCGR
Peter A Cassaris S1 USCGR
Pete Catgenova S2 USCGR
Philip R Cervantez CM3 USCGR
James E Chadwick MM2 USCGR
Leslie E Chambers S2 USCGR
Fred L Childs SSGT USA
Frank J Ciancio S1 USCGR
Joseph Cope S1 USCGR
James V Cote S1 USCGR
Howard R Cotton PFC USA
William Cowhey S1 USCGR
Charles E Craft S1 USCGR
Lawrence F Creech S2 USCGR
Lovell R Crook S1 USCG
Ranard M Crowe S1 USCGR
Arden O Cummings MM1 USCG
Albert B Curtis F1 USCGR
Fritze O Dahlbrg PVT USA
John C Daly S1 USCGR
John A Dancisak S1 USCGR
James E Davis TEC4 USA
Max E Davis ENS USCGR
Clarence W Day S2 USCGR
Howard E Day Jr S1 USCGR
John C Dedmon Jr RDM3 USCGR
Henry K Deermer S2 USCGR
Samuel DeGaetano S1 USCGR
Robert M Degreve S2 USCGR
Marvin Derouen S1 USCGR
George L Dickerson STM1 USCGR
Lee H Diehl S1 USCGR
Harold C Distel F1 USCGR
Homer A Dix Jr S2 USCGR
William C Doherty S1 USCGR
Edward J Donato CM3 USCGR
Donald R Donovan S1 USCGR
James Drago S2 USCGR
William C Dunn S1 USCGR
Edmund J Durso COX USCGR
Robert A Easterday F1 USCGR
Gustave F Eckart COX USCGR
Billy G Elam PFC USA
Sylvan B Elsasser Jr S1 USCGR
Joseph D Faust COX USCGR
Richard M Feutz PFC USA
John Fidurski S1 USCGR
Ira V Fletchr S1 USCGR
Murray C Flowers HA1 USCGR
Fieldon B Forkner EM3 USCGR
Warren L Fox CM2 USCGR
Glenn B Frank PVT USA
Roger W Fregia S2 USCGR
Jay F French S1 USCGR
Ralph C Fritz S1 USCGR
Lewis L Fulda PFC USCGR
Charles D Furrey TEC5 USCGR
Kayah Gale PFC USA
Jime Gallo COX USCGR
Ely Gamsu S1 USCGR
John L Garzon F1 USCGR
Edward C Gesford PFC USA
Mack E Gibson S1 USCGR
Fred E Gilbert PFC USA
Robert L Glaze CBM USCG
Sheldon G Goldstein HA2 USCGR
Emelio C Gonzales S2 USCGR
John K Goral CPC USCGR
Charles E Graeber PHM3 USCGR
Warren J Granger SC3 USCGR
Daniel L Grant Jr Y3 USCGR
Floyd Grapenthin Jr PFC USA
Jean P D Gray S1 USCGR
Freeman Gregory S1 USCGR
Frank J Gretz S1 USCGR
Stanley R Grisbaum S1 USCGR
Boyce F Guthridge RT3 USCGR
Phillip Gutierrez TEC5 USA
Alan J Guyett PFC USA
Elmer P Hagemeier Jr WT2 USCGR
Arthur C Hagendorn Jr PHM3 USCGR
Raymond C Hamilton RDM3 USCGR
John W Hampton BM2 USCGR
William H Harlow F1 USCGR
Kenneth H Harmon F2 USCGR
Donald J Hart S2 USCGR
James Hartleib F1 USCGR
William C Hartzler MM3 USCGR
Melvin Haskell S1 USCGR
Perry P Headrick S2 USCGR
Alexander Helement PFC USA
Leslie Helsem MM2 USCGR
Herman T Helton PVT USA
Felix L Henigan F2 USCGR
Francis V Henry PFC USA
George A Henshaw SC2 USCGR
Robert A Herrington F1 USCGR
Marcus R Hickman STM3 USCGR
Thomas L Higgins S1 USCGR
Nile W Hinerman CPL USA
Henry C Hinson GM3 USCGR
Robert B Hodge S1 USCGR
Robert B Hopkins TEC5 USCGR
Bernard J Houchen S1 USCGR
Robert L Hoyt S1 USCGR
Raymond E Hubacher QM3 USCGR
Otis D Hull S1 USCGR
Colon J Hutchinson S1 USCGR
Vernard C Jacobs MOMM2 USCGR
Paul R Jaissle S2 USCGR
Norman A Johnson S2 USCGR
Richard C Johnson PFC USA
Robert J Johnson LTJG USCGR
Frank Kadilak SK1 USCGR
William G Kayler Jr PFC USA
Milton R Kellar Jr S2 USCGR
Herbert C Keough PFC USA
Arnold E Kettunen F1 USCGR
Ralph D Kiley S1 USCGR
Melvin M Kolar MOMM3 USCGR
William C Kotkas LT USCG
William J Kramer PVT USA
Paul F Kreps PFC USA
Norbert E Krueger S1 USCGR
Vincent J Kurdilla S1 USCGR
Stanley J Kusek S1 USCGR
Charlie G Kyle STM1 USCGR
James E Laird S1 USCGR
Walter P Lambert S1 USCGR
Woodrow Lanham S1 USCGR
David A Latraille PVT USA
Nolan R Lego Jr F2 USCGR
Russell C Leverentz MM3 USCG
Harry M Levin SURGEON USPHS
David F Lewis SC3 USCGR
Walter J Limbacher Jr. SK3 USCGR
Charles T MacFarland MOMM3 USCGR
John H McCarter MM3 USCGR
John L McCaw WT3 USCGR
William J McCullough Jr MM# USCGR
Charles E McDaniel PFC USA
Malcolm W McDaniel RDM3 USCGR
Arnold J McGrath 1st LT USA
Harold M McGuckin Jr SK3 USCGR
Lloyd A McLarty RM2 USCGR
Ted McMahan SGT USA
Joseph J Mackey COX USCGR
Samuel M Maddox S2 USCGR
Albert J Manke COX USCGR
Guy L Mark TEC5 USA
Curtiss D Matney TEC4 USA
Nicholas A May PFC USA
Raymond G Mazzanti COX USCG
Raymond F Medves PVT USA
Alvis J Menard MM3 USCGR
Madge V Miller STM1 USCGR
James J Miron S1 USCGR
Leo E Moore TEC5 USCGR
Huie Morgan PFC USA
William F Nivin S1 USCGR
Douglas H Oakland S1 USCGR
William R O'Donnell COX USCGR
Walter L Okichick TEC5 USA
George E Orton CMM USCGR
Albert L Owen TEC4 USA
Charles C Payne F1 USCGR
William O Pazurek SM3 USCGR
Lincoln F Peterson WT3 USCGR
Warren C Prance LTJG USCGR
John J Preedom TEC5 USA
Frederick E A Qualmann STM3 USCGR
Roy A Questad ENS USCGR
George H Reilly SGT USA
Orville F Reuter S1 USCGR
Hugo Riccardi MOMM1 USCGR
Linton J Robeson TEC5 USA
Fred O Royer RM3 USCGR
Paul Rudy CMM USCGR
Eugene Ruggiero CMM USCGR
Marcus A Ruth TEC5 USA
Roy A Sampay MM3 USCGR
Alfonso C Sandoval S1 USCGR
Lewis J Sarkisoff COX USCGR
John P SchmooK F1 USCGR
Charles E Schrader S1 USCGR
James D Selaya S1 USCGR
William H Seleman Jr COX USCGR
Jacob H Shogren ENS USCGR
Robert J Smith WT3 USCGR
Robert C Sneddon S1 USCGR
Robert H Sorenson MM3 USCGR
Cyril D Steinman Jr RM1 USCGR
William P Stiles PFC USA
Washington E Stillman CPHM USCG
Mryon K Strickland RM3 USCGR
Floyd Stuckey COX USCGR
Ivan B Thomas PFC USA
Robert E Thomas Y1 USCG
James R Thornburgh MM1 USCGR
Hubert Turner MOMM1 USCGR
Vernon H Twait BM2 USCGR
William W Vaughan GM2 USCG
Edgar L Vedder CEM USCGR
Samuel L Villemont WT3 USCGR
Harold L Vincent WT2 USCGR
John F Walko COX USCGR
Eugene J Ward ST1 USCG
Delos R Wardle COX USCGR
Lawton Watts PFC USA
Kinchion D West SM2 USCGR
Woodrow H Wetts S1 USCGR
Alton White S2 USCGR
Charles B Wood SC1 USCGR
Tom Zaffore SSML3 USCGR


National Flag Graphic
National Origin: United States
Service Year / Commissioned: 1943
Classification Type: Cargo Ship
Ship Class: Crater-class Freighter
Number-in-Class: 62
Global Operators:
United States
Structural - Crew, Dimensions, and Operating Weights:

Operational
CREW


Personnel
206

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Dimension
LENGTH


Feet
441.5 ft


Meters
134.57 m


Dimension
BEAM


Feet
57 ft


Meters
17.37 m


Dimension
DRAUGHT


Feet
30 ft


Meters
9.14 m


Displacement
SURFACE


Tons
11,751 t

Installed Power / Machinery - Standard Day Performance:
1 x Reciprocating wngine delivering 2,500 horsepower to 1 x shaft.

Performance
SPEED


Knots
11.5 kts


Miles-per-Hour
13 mph


Performance
RANGE


Nautical Miles
14,773 nm


Miles
17,000 mi


Miles
27,359 km

Armament / Air Wing:

1 x 5" 38 caliber main gun
1 x 3" 50 caliber gun
2 x 40mm anti-aircraft cannons
6 x 20mm anti-aircraft cannons

Aircraft:
None.
Ships-in-Class (62):

USS Crater; USS Adhara; USS Aludra; USS Arided; USS Carina; USS Cassiopeia; USS Celeno; USS Cetus; USS Deimos; USS Draco; USS Albireo; USS Cor Caroli / USS Eridanus; USS Etamin; USS Mintaka; USS Murzim; USS Sterope; USS Serpens; USS Lynx; USS Lyra; USS Triangulum; USS Sculptor; USS Ganymede; USS Naos; USS Caelum; USS Hyperion; USS Rotanin; USS Allioth; USS Alkes; USS Giansar; USS Grumium; USS Rutilicus; USS Alkaid; USS Crux; USS Aleramin; USS Zaurak; USS Shaula; USS Matar; USS Sabik; USS Menkar; USS Azimech; USS Lesuth; USS Megrez; USS Alnitah; USS Leonis; USS Phobos; USS Arkab; USS Melucta; USS Propus; USS Seginus; USS Syrma; USS Venus; USS Ara; USS Ascella; USS Cheleb; USS Pavo; USS Situla; USS Kenmore; USS Livingston; USS De Grasse; USS Prince Georges; USS Allegan; USS Appanoose
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