USS Pueblo and Army FS ships

We had a commenter in our series on the Falklands mention the seizure of the USS Pueblo. Did you know the Pueblo was an Army ship? Sorta.

In World War II, the Army faced the enormous logistical challenge of moving about 6 million men overseas. And their equipment. And keeping them resupplied with fuel, food ammunition and spare parts. The only practical method of movement was by ship. Accordingly, the Army quickly amassed a huge fleet of ships. Remember, in the days before the Department of Defense, the War Department and the Navy Department were two separate cabinet branches of government. There wasn’t always the level of cooperation and mutual support we might have wished for. The Army had a long history of operating its own fleet of vessels to fulfill its transport needs (maybe Craig can give us a history of Army vessels in the American Civil War), as well as a robust past of owning and operating harbor and river craft.

We’ve briefly mentioned Army transports and Army landing craft.  The middle ground of small seagoing ships is new ground for us though.

Let’s presume a civilian or Army large transport has moved a few hundred tons of ammunition to the SouthWest Pacific Area. Getting this load of ammunition forward from an established port facility to one of the myriad small island objectives the Army seized was a challenge. The distances were too great for landing craft, and the ports and harbors not developed to handle large ships.

The Army’s answer was to buy a series of of small freighters, originally known as FP ships, and later designated FS. The FP stood for “Freight and Passenger.” The later FS designation better reflected is usual role of “Freight and Supply.” While there were more than one series of ships designated FS by the Army, the most common was the 177 foot long, diesel powered steel ship. Known as Design 381, a variety of small shipyards throughout the country cranked out 120 of these handy little ships during the war.

fs-343b

Higgins, famous as the builder of the Higgins boat landing craft, built 55 of the very similar 180’ steel hulled Design 330D.

The small size, shallow draft ships were just the thing to move supplies forward, often discharging their cargoes only a couple miles from the front lines.

The Army owned hundreds of these and similar vessels. While some were crewed by Army soldiers, a great many more were Army owned, but crewed either by the Coast Guard, or by civilians hired by the Army. Many were crewed by Australians hired by the Army. They toiled away from the limelight, but the Army was very happy with its fleet of small freighters, and used them for years after the war.

With the consolidation of the services under the Department of Defense in 1947, the Navy lobbied for control of all sea transportation. In 1949, the Department of the Navy established the Military Sea Transport Service. The Army transferred its remaining FS ships to the Navy. Under the Navy’s designation system, they were redesigated AKL ships, or Small Freighters.

Three AKLs were extensively modified as Auxiliary Environmental Research Ships. In reality, they were electronic and signals intelligence gathering ships. The former FS 344, later named AKL-44 USS Pueblo by the Navy, was modified and redesignated AGER-2.  About six months after her conversion, the Pueblo was operating in international waters off the coast of North Korea. On 23 JAN 1968, she was seized by small combatants of the North Korean navy. While the crew was eventually released, the ship herself is still held by North Korea.

There’s one other FS ship you might know. Mister Roberts, John Ford and Henry Fonda’s great movie was set on the fictional USS Reluctant. The Navy in 1954  loaned an ALK to use for exterior shots.

I’ve long been fascinated by the small craft and small ships of the Army. And while the MSC (the modern version of the MSTS) does a fine job, it’s sad that the Army no longer has the ability to use the waters as a logistical highway.

10 thoughts on “USS Pueblo and Army FS ships”

  1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USAV_Spearhead_(TSV-X1)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Frank_S._Besson,_Jr._class_Logistics_Support_Vessel

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Runnymede_class_large_landing_craft

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MGen._Nathanael_Greene_class_large_coastal_tugs

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/7th_Sustainment_Brigade

    Not all watercraft are gone from the US Army Transportation Corps!!!

    I got to be a test officer in ealry 1989 on the LCU-2000s (they were built in Savannah near FT Stewart). We found out the ramp pins had to be reinforced….M1s didn’t like them.

    1. The LSV’s have ocean going capability, but the LCU-2000s are more a lighterage type.

      The Army does maintain the ability to conducts Logistics Over The Shore (LOTS), but no longer regularly moves its logistics point to point by the water, at least not long haul.

  2. My understanding is that the Army is transferring its remaining oceangoing vessels to the Navy. The Navy has been agitating for it for years, and seems to have finally gotten its way.

    Like CAS, I think this is a serious mistake. The army had those ships for a good reason. MacArthur was able to prosecute the war in his theater because of the Army fleet. Much, if not most, of his logistic support was carried in army bottoms. The Navy simply could not handle it.

    1. the JHSV will be operated by MSC. The Navy was not asking for other USAVs. It was the Army’s idea, and the Navy said no.
      Just got on the USNS Spearhead last week. Full of Army specs but classed as a naval auxiliary NOT as a sealift ship – go figure (no just remember NAVSEA did it)

  3. Pueblo was built by Badgers, as were a surprising number of ships. The subs out of Manitowoc were known as the Cadillac Boats in the Fleet, as they were better built than the Electric Boat ones.

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