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USS Saturn (AK-49) on 5 August 1942
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Class: SATURN (AK-49)
Design: Cargo, 1939
Displacement (tons): 5,088 light, 9,760 lim.
Dimensions (feet): 423.0' oa x 55.4' e x 24.0' lim.
Original Armament: 1-5"/51 4-3"/50 4-20mm (1942)
Later armaments: 1-5"/38 2-3"/50 8-20mm (1943); 1-5"/38 2-3"/50 2-40mmS 4-20mm (1944)
Complement: 180 (1944)
Speed (kts.): 17.5
Propulsion (HP): 5,600
Machinery: AEG turbo-electric, 1 screw, 2 LaMont boilers
||20 Apr 42
||20 Apr 42
||23 Jul 46
||15 Aug 46
||25 Jul 46
||12 Sep 72
FY 1942. In August 1939 the Bremer Vulkan yard at Vegesack, Germany, delivered the turbo-electric freighter ARAUCA to the Hamburg-America Line. The ship was an unusual product for her builder, whose output in 1938-1939 was almost entirely diesel-propelled ships, but her buyer apparently preferred turbine driven ships. Two apparent sisters, ANTILLA and ORIZABA, were built the same year in a different yard and lost in 1940. ARAUCA left Germany later in August 1939 with general cargo for Mexico. By the time she had discharged this cargo war had been declared and British warships were hunting down German vessels. ARAUCA was chased and fired upon by the light cruiser HMS ORION off Port Everglades, Florida, in December 1939 and just barely succeeded in taking refuge in the then neutral port. She remained there for the next 15 months, unable to leave because of British control of the seas and legal actions taken against her in American courts. For most of the time she flew a small a small swastika flag from her stern, but one day in March 1941 when President Roosevelt boarded the Presidential yacht POTOMAC (AG-25) in the harbor for a fishing vacation she flew a huge one. On 6 Jun 41 Presidential Executive Order 101 authorized the Maritime Commission to take over foreign merchant vessels lying idle within the jurisdiction of the United States and place them into operation to assist in the national defense. The MC soon used this authority to take control of a number of foreign ships in U.S. ports including ARAUCA, which it took over on 28 Jul 41 at Port Everglades, Fla.
Immediately after taking over the ship the MC delivered her on 28 Jul 41 at Port Everglades to the South Atlantic SS Co. of Savannah for operation. She may have been renamed STING and placed under Panamanian registry at this time, though this is not clearly shown in official records and the name ARAUCA continued to be used in correspondence. The ship was towed out of Port Everglades on 19 Aug 41 and taken to the Alabama DD Co., Mobile, Ala., for overhaul. There the MC and the commercial charterer leaned of the extremely advanced and automatic features of her propelling and control equipment, including two Lamont high-pressure forced-circulation boilers and turbo-electric drive, and concluded that neither the MC nor commercial American firms would be capable of operating her successfully. (During her first and only voyage under German control one boiler had been disabled by a burned out superheater and many other engineering casualties had been experienced.) On 14 Nov 41 the Auxiliary Vessels Board took cognizance of an informal offer from the Maritime Commission to transfer the ship to Navy custody upon reimbursement of the funds that the MC had spent on repairs and upkeep. Despite the alleged difficulty of operating the ship with other than highly skilled personnel, the Board was of the opinion that she would be an extremely valuable addition to the Navy and recommended her acquisition and manning by a Navy crew. The South Atlantic SS Co. redelivered the ship to the MC at the repair yard at Mobile, Ala., on 2 Dec 41, and the MC continued to manage the repairs until the Navy took delivery of the ship in April 1942. The Bureau of Navigation recommended the Navy name SATURN for the ship on 6 Dec 41. The Navy conversion was initially limited to fitting the vessel for Navy manning and making some essential changes in the engineering plant, with completion expected in late December, but the repair period was soon extended several months because of the complexity of the ship and the opportunity was taken to add more conversion features, including a full armament.
Initially the Navy had a lot of difficulty with the ship's engineering plant. Her first attempt to depart Mobile for her fitting out yard at Charleston, S.C. was foiled on 3 May 42 by the failure of her condensate pumps, steering gear, anchor windlass, make up feed pump, main feed pumps, evaporators, fuel oil service pumps, turbine driven exciter, etc. The ship's crew blamed these problems on the refusal of the MC and the shipyard to allow Navy experts to participate in the repairs. The ship experienced more problems on her trip to Charleston between 3 and 14 June which required additional extensive repairs. On 11 Aug 42 she attempted to depart Charleston for Norfolk but was stopped by the failure of the water circulating pumps (an essential element in a Lamont boiler) in both boilers. She probably made it to Norfolk later in August, but two months later she need emergency drydock repairs at Boston to her stern tube, which had to be replaced by one of a different design. This work lasted into December. In late July 1943 BuShips described to the Norfolk Navy Yard its plans for the replacement of much of the ship's boiler, feed, and condensate system in response to the high oxygen content and loss of feed water that the ship had experienced, but it is not clear that the work was performed. After this the files of BuShips are silent regarding problems with the ship's machinery, which may finally have been brought under control. In the meantime the ship had experienced unacceptable blast effects when attempting to use her two after 3"/50 guns in conjunction with the 5" gun on the stern. The ship wanted to substitute two twin 40mm mounts for the 3"/50 guns but had to accept four more 20mm guns instead when the 5"/51 gun was replaced by a 5"/38 in December 1943.
On 20 Feb 44 ComServLant requested that SATURN be converted to a refrigerated cargo ship (AF Cargo), and CominCh approved the request on 7 Mar 44. The Atlantic Fleet had an urgent need for reefers since all but about four of the Navy's AF's had been sent to the Pacific. The conversion, carried out at the Norfolk Navy Yard between April and June 1944, involved installing refrigeration equipment in three of the ship's four cargo holds, leaving her able to carry only refrigerated cargo except for her own provisions and stores. By this time the 40mm twin mounts desired by the ship had become available and they were fitted in place of the four after 20mm guns. By the end of the war the ship had also been given an underway replenishment capability. After brief postwar service, she entered the MC reserve fleet in 1946 and remained there until sold for scrap in 1972.
||Ex merc. ARAUCA 1941 (German, completed 12 Aug 39). Converted by Alabama DD Co., Mobile, Ala. To AF-40 10 Apr 44. To NDRF 25 Jul 46 as ARAUCA. To buyer 8 Dec 72 as SATURN.
Compiled: 10 Jan 2010
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2002-2010