The Achilles

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The single-turret, shallow-draft Casco-class monitor Modoc (q.v.)—launched on 21 March 1865 and completed in June 1865 at the New York Iron Shipyard, New York, N.Y., by Jeronomus H. Underbill—was renamed Achilles on 15 June 1869, but reverted to Modoc on 10 August of the same year.

The unnamed tank landing ship, LST-455, was laid down on 3 August 1942 at Vancouver, Wash., by the Kaiser Co., Inc.; launched on 17 October 1942; and commissioned at her builder's yard on 30 January 1943, Lt. Clarence Cisin, USNR, in command.

Adjudged ready for service, LST-455 sailed from San Diego on 20 February for San Francisco and shifted thence to Hunters Point, and, later, to the Mare Island Navy Yard, Vallejo, Calif., where she completed fitting out and manning. She cleared the Golden Gate on 8 March, bound for the South Pacific and, a month and a day later, arrived in Samoan waters, en route to Australia. She ultimately reached Sydney, New South Wales, via Wellington, N.Z., on 2 May 1943. However, while she had been en route, plans were made that would significantly change her operations in the years that lay ahead.

Amphibious assaults on Japanese-held islands in the South and Southwest Pacific theater had involved virtually hundreds of landing craft of all types and sizes, ranging from small craft to infantry landing craft and tank landing craft (LCI's and LCT's, respectively). Since these specialized assault craft, of comparatively light construction, could not be repaired with the few facilities and men available to them alone, orders went out that several tank landing ships would be converted to special landing craft repair ships (later classified as ARL).

However, modifying existing LST's in stateside yards required time—a critical commodity in the fairly steady pace of the amphibious island-hopping campaigns—that the forces fighting at the front did not have. At this point, LST-455, then in Australian waters, came under the gaze of these amphibious planners.

In one month, lathes, welding machines, as well as cutting outfits and repair tools for the necessary types of craft, were installed on board. Departmental shops of many kinds—ranging from machine shops to motor repair work, to shipfitting, to metalsmith, to electric, and radio repair, took shape in what had once been the cavernous tank deck. Experienced personnel, trained in ship repair work, were assigned to the ship and almost doubled the size of her complement. Ready for service by the latter part of May 1943, the former tank landing ship departed Australian waters, bound for New Guinea, and arrived at Milne Bay on 2 June 1943. She immediately commenced the work for which she had been converted, repairing LCI's under the guidance of the repair officer of Rigel (AR-11). In a comparatively short span of time, LST-455's men, eager and capable, enabled their ship to receive letters of commendation for her efficient work.

While she lay at Milne Bay, further alterations changed the ship's topside appearance: two evaporators were placed on her deck, enabling her to produce potable water for thirsty ships and craft; and a long deckhouse was added amidships. This work was done by the ship's force, working almost 'round the clock. Two king posts for hoisting supplies and gear on board were also added, forward, just abaft the elevator to the old tank deck. LST-455, in the words of her chronicler, "was the front line experiment for landing craft repair ships and as a result of her needs other ships could be more properly fitted out." Meanwhile, according to that historian, her men were developing a special pride for their ship.

On 4 September 1943, Vice Admiral Daniel E. Barbey's 7th Fleet Amphibious Forces put Australian troops ashore on the Huon Peninsula, near Lae, New Guinea. LST-455 moved up to support these operations from Morobe Bay and, at 1100 on 12 September, lay anchored there among the Allied ships, presenting a tempting target by virtue of the nest of LCI's alongside. Nine Japanese dive bombers, escorted by nine "Zero" fighters, attacked the shipping in Morobe Bay and singled out LST-455 for attention, scoring a direct hit aft. A large bomb hit the stern, passed through the galley, and exploded in the crew's quarters, aft, starting fires and trapping men in the after steering room. Determined sailors battled the blaze and cut through bulkheads to rescue the trapped men. The damage control measures were directed by the ship's commanding officer, Lt. E. A. Peterson, USNR (who had relieved Lt. Cisin in August) and won him a Navy Cross for personal heroism.

Although she had been heavily hit, LST-455 shot down two of the attackers. By nightfall, her men had extinguished the blaze and commenced initial repairs. She had suffered the loss of 18 men killed; 11 were wounded; and six men were missing. Sonoma (ATO-12) then towed LST-455 to Milne Bay where the repair ship was berthed alongside Rigel. However, the need for LST-455's services was so urgent that she was soon back to work repairing LCI's even though her own severe damage had not yet been fully corrected.

In March 1944, LST-455 received orders to proceed to Buna, New Guinea, to ready landing craft for the impending invasion of western New Guinea. In May, she shifted to Alexishafen, New Guinea, and over the ensuing weeks tended her charges there, and at Sek Harbor and Bqstran Bay. For her work on two flotillas of LCI's, the ship received commendation from Vice Admiral Barbey, commanding the 7th Fleet's Amphibious Forces.

On 21 August, the ship was named Achilles and reclassified officially as a landing craft repair ship, ARL-41. Soon thereafter, she proceeded north to participate in the reconquest of the Philippine Islands.

Achilles sortied from Hollandia with the first reinforcement group in the invasion of Leyte, reached Philippine waters on 20 October, and anchored off Dio Island on the morning of the 22d. Over the ensuing days, Achilles tended LCI's off the beachhead, often only 1,000 yards from the shore, shifting her anchorage daily at sunset to prevent Japanese reconnaissance planes from pinpointing her position.

As the invasion proceeded, all Service Force ships were shifted to anchorages off Samar, in San Pedro Bay. There Achilles saw daily evidence of a new weapon unveiled by the Japanese in their relentless attempt to disrupt the American offensive—the kamikaze ("Divine Wind"), planes flown by Japanese pilots on one-way missions of destruction.

During the first four days of November, the weather provided a respite from the kamikaze, although it came in the form of a typhoon which buffeted the ship. When the clouds finally cleared, the kamikaze returned. Around 1300 on 12 November, after sporadic alerts during the morning, Achilles received a warning that bogeys (enemy aircraft) were in the vicinity. The ship immediately went to general quarters to watch and wait as before. Lookouts soon pinpointed three "Zekes" (Mitsubishi A6M5 "Zero" fighters) heading on a course that would take them across Achilles' bow. As the landing craft repair ship's forward guns commenced firing, one plane passed ahead; the second, however, turned tightly and commenced a dive straight at Achilles as she and the four LCI's moored to her lay immobile.

The repair ship's gunners scored hits on the diving plane, but could not stop the suicider which crashed into the ship, forward, its motor tearing through the main deck. The plane itself hit the forward deckhouse in the carpenter shop, where number one repair party had gathered at its battle station. After the deafening explosion that wiped out the repair party, orange-red flames (caused by gasoline from the burning aircraft) swept across the weather deck, while parts of the "Zeke" tumbled through the air, some landing 250 yards astern. Fires immediately spread, their progress unchecked due to the disruption of the forward fire mains upon impact of the airplane.

By sunset, damage control parties had extinguished the flames and had turned to the grisly task of accounting for the casualties. The kamikaze crash had killed 19 men and wounded an additional 28; 14 men were unaccounted for, many of these literally blown to bits in the explosion that followed the suicider's impacting the ship. Yet, as the ship's chronicler wrote later: "The bravery and coolness of the men battling the fires and helping the wounded makes one proud of the Achilles' crew . . . ."Exemplifying this bravery was Ray Dunwoody, a civilian technician, whose conduct had earned him the recommendation for a Navy Cross. Although regulations did not permit the award of such a decoration to a civilian, Dunwoody did, in fact, later receive a commendation letter in which his heroism was recognized fully.

Although now unable to perform the full range of services she had been providing—since the fires following the kamikaze crash had claimed her stock of spare parts—Achilles remained in San Pedro Bay until 27 November, doing what she could. On that day, she headed for Hollandia, where she received repairs to the damage wreaked by the kamikaze and took on a load of spare parts before continuing on to Manus in the Admiralties. There, she picked up more supplies before returning to Hollandia to resume tending landing craft.

In the latter half of February 1945 and early March, Achilles returned via Biak to Leyte, but quickly proceeded to Subic Bay and Mindoro, spending a week in each place, tending LSM's and carrying out her vital support work. During the latter part of April, Achilles moved down to Morotai, in the Netherlands East Indies, for further tender duty, readying landing craft for the impending invasion of Borneo.

Participating in the initial landings at Brunei Bay, Borneo, Achilles again came under air attack, when a "Dinah" bomber loosed two bombs that landed 50 yards off her starboard beam. This attack, on 10 June 1945, caused no damage to the ship, although shrapnel wounded two men in Achilles' crew. The repair ship remained at Borneo until she returned to the Philippine Islands late in July to join the forces marshalling there for the projected invasion of the Japanese homeland.

However, the capitulation of Japan in mid-August obviated Operation "Olympic" (the assault against the home islands of Japan) but did not end operations for Achilles. She repaired landing craft into the fall of 1945, relieved on station by Proserpine (ARL-21). Proceeding to Hawaii, Achilles, in company with Remus (ARL-40), reached Pearl Harbor on the last day of October.

After five days at that Pacific base, which had provided "the first glimpse of civilization in over two years" to veteran sailors of Achilles, the repair ship departed Hawaiian waters, bound for California, and passed through the Golden Gate on 28 November 1945.

Anchoring in San Francisco Bay and disembarking 165 passengers brought from Pearl Harbor, Achilles proceeded thence to Stockton, Calif., for repairs to her generators and heating system. She remained there until getting away for the Gulf of Mexico on 4 January 1946.

Transiting the Panama Canal on 20 January and lingering for a day at Colon, on the Atlantic side of the isthmus, the repair ship reached New Orleans before the end of January and soon commenced work preparing LSM's and LCS's for inactivation, a task she performed into the summer. Decommissioned on 19 July 1946, Achilles was struck from the Navy list on 28 August 1946.

On 14 March 1947, the Navy decided to transfer Achilles to China under the Lend-Lease Act; and, on 8 September 1947, the repair ship was delivered to representatives of the Chinese Navy at New Orleans. Commissioned as Hsing An, on 5 November 1947, she sailed for China two days later. Little is known of the ship's active service under the Chinese flag, except that in fleeing the Red Chinese advance in 1949, she ran aground. Her crew then set fire to the hulk to deny the Chinese communists her use. The veteran of bombing at Morobe Bay and the kamikaze in San Pedro Bay, however, proved tougher—the communists salvaged her, refitted her, and renamed her Taku San. Her ultimate disposition, however, is cloaked in the mystery that usually surrounds ships that come into the hands of the Red Chinese Navy.[1]

See also


  1. Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships