The following events are my personal recollections about the little known quasi-military organization that I served with, its ships, and the men that sailed them.
During World War II the U.S. Army Transportation Service, which later became the Army Transportation Corps (Water Division), was the largest sea-going force on earth; larger even than the U.S. Navy at its peak. It included more bottoms (hulls)....greater tonnage, and operated around the globe in more areas than any other maritime entity.
Many crews of the ATS vessels were of mixed nationalities; in one instance that I was very familiar with, several Swedish officers said that to be allowed to sail aboard American vessels had to change their identities to Norwegian because Sweden was a neutral nation (mentioned in the stories
What is amazing....as I understand the law which passed in 1987 giving veteran's status to merchant seamen....any foreign seamen who sailed under our flag were granted, by our government, the same military veteran recognition and privileges as native or naturalized Americans, even if their own country didn’t recognize their war-time service. I can only surmise that it was because the foreign seamen were compelled to sign Civil Service documents pledging their allegiance to the U.S. during their tours of service.
During the war newspapers were filled with tales of merchant seamen earning astronomical wages and being paid off with huge bonuses. I certainly did not....and I never knew or met anyone who did. I don't know who to credit with those lies but lies they were.
I first signed on a ship as a mess-man in 1943 on a wooden Miki-Miki Large Tug. As I upgraded to more responsible positions and sailed into combat zones I earned better pay. But consider this; a deck sea watch on a mid-size freighter would consist of a Mate, one or maybe two Able Seamen, and an Ordinary. Engine department watches consisted of an Engineer, Oiler, Fireman/Watertender, and maybe a Wiper. Compare that to the watch assignments of the Navy. I am not talking about combat ships but I am comparing two identical service ships doing essentially the same duties. The Navy will have two to three times the men per watch. In our case, with fewer men on watch and more chores to tend to, the burden of responsibility drastically increases. That, in my opinion, would justify our earnings, plus, we received no fringe benefits or allowances....WHATSOEVER. If you were in the hospital or on the beach, your pay stopped.
Within the Army Transportation Service there was a separate entity called the Water Department (small
To list them all here would duplicate the wonderful job that David H. Grover did in his pictorial review U.S. ARMY SHIPS and WATERCRAFT of WORLD WAR II published through Naval Institute Press Annapolis, Maryland. There were many vessels constructed in foreign countries for very specific and unique duties. Only the men who sailed on those vessels would recall their designations such as: OL A's, OL B's, OL W's, FS's, FP's, FS-A's, FS-B's,
The engine crews would at times be a greater mix. I remember on one 112' Australian built Fairmile
While serving in certain forward combat areas we were required by either the area’s military commander or our vessel's skipper to wear undress army uniforms. In several instances while ashore I was challenged for inappropriate attire, they found it hard to believe that I was a civilian and not G.I.
Our mail and payroll records were always late or lost when sent to an old APO address to New Guinea and wouldn’t catch up to us in the Philippines for months, forcing us to draw only small advances from our ship’s emergency fund.
I'll wager many men who sailed with the War Shipping Administration are shaking their heads as they read this wondering how so many of us could get caught up in such an off-beat organization but I am damned proud to have been a part of it. I had only one good eye and as the war progressed I was forced to stay behind and watch all my high school buddies join up. I felt I was as good a man as any of them, and it hurt to be rejected by all the services.
I knew that while working in the shipyards I was performing a patriotic duty, as the construction of ships was vital to the war effort. What we did not realize was just how important our shipyard work was because our government refused to release the tally on the slaughter of merchant ships and men by the U-Boats on the East Coast and North Atlantic. A damned good exposé of the ineptitude at the time by those in charge is divulged in Michael Gannon's
There were many men in similar circumstances to my own. They were either too young, too old, or had physical deficiencies. It was said that if a man had at least one good eye, one good leg and one good arm, and not necessary in that order, the ATS would hire him.
Just why I stayed with the
It was customary to sign up for a one year contract. You agreed to crew in any capacity, on any vessel. It was not uncommon to be assigned to several ships for very short periods of time. Sometimes it was to replace men heading home, taking a promotion to another ship, or going to the hospital; it didn't matter and technically we couldn't refuse to transfer from ship to ship. I personally found it exciting to cover new ground, especially if it meant a promotion or going to a new ship or new area of duty.
General MacArthur considered the ATS his own private Navy.
A few shining moments of World War II that were kept secret long after that war was over, occurred during the Normandy invasion, June 6th
When we arrived home and told of our experiences no one wanted to believe that civilians were involved in the invasion. Our government kept
A supporter in the cause for Army Transport Service recognition is the noted historical writer, Charles Dana Gibson. Mr. Gibson has researched the
While researching material for his documentary of the ATS in World War II he was informed that the ship logs of the
I admit to having led a less than a stellar seagoing career. Maybe the liberties ashore with a few bucks burning a hole in my pocket, mixed with a bit of youthful exuberance, led me in directions that I can only remember now as exciting experiences which, over the years, I have jotted down for someone to read and enjoy long after I'm gone.
I received this Discharge 45 years after the War.
Notice the date of August 15, 1945.
The Actual end of Hostilities.