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USS Aeolus in the Great War - The Wartime Memories Project -

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USS Aeolus



1st January 1917 American Troopship  

USS Aeolus

USS Aeolus (ID-3005), sometimes also spelled Æolus, was a United States Navy transport ship during World War I. She was formerly the North German Lloyd liner SS Grosser Kurfürst, also spelled Großer Kurfürst, launched in 1899 that sailed regularly between Bremen and New York. At the outset of World War I the ship was interned by the United States and, when that country entered the conflict in 1917, was seized and converted to a troop transport.

Originally commissioned as USS Grosser Kurfürst, the ship was renamed Aeolus — after the god of wind in Greek mythology — while undergoing repairs and conversion at a U.S. Navy yard. The ship carried almost 25,000 men to France during the hostilities, and returned over 27,000 healthy and wounded men after the Armistice.

After decommissioning by the U.S. Navy, the ship was turned over to the United States Shipping Board and underwent a $3,000,000 refit in Baltimore, Maryland, and was transferred to the Munson Steamship Company for whom she carried passengers and freight to and from South American ports as SS Aeolus.

In 1922 the ship was assigned to the Los Angeles Steamship Co. and renamed SS City of Los Angeles and sailed to and from Los Angeles and Honolulu. In 1937, the ship was sold for scrapping in Japan.

The United States Navy inspected Grosser Kurfürst and designated her "Id. No. 3005" and earmarked her for service with the Cruiser and Transport Force to carry troops to France. She commissioned as Grosser Kurfürst on 4 August 1917, at the New York Navy Yard, Comdr. Clarence S. Kempff in command. While the ship was undergoing the repairs and alterations necessitated by the German sabotage and in light of her expected role carrying troops across the Atlantic, General Order No. 320 of 1 September 1917 changed her name to Aeolus.

On 26 November 1917, the erstwhile luxury steamship, now wearing warpaint, departed the Port of Embarkation at Hoboken, New Jersey, bound for Europe on the first of eight round-trip voyages during World War I, carrying troops to the Old World. She reached St. Nazaire, France, on 10 December and spent Christmas in that French port before she headed home on 28 December, bringing the voyage to a close when mooring at Newport News, Virginia, nine days into 1918. Shifting thence to Hoboken, Aeolus again sailed to France and returned from Brest again to Hoboken

Two events highlighted the ship's wartime convoy experiences. The first occurred during the beginning of what was to be the ship's third voyage to France. Aeolus, in convoy, departed Hoboken on 23 April 1918. Two days out, a steering gear casualty in the transport Siboney forced that ship to leave her assigned place in the formation. Aeolus, to avoid collision with Siboney, altered course radically, and in so doing struck the transport Huron at about 21:00 hours, 25 April. Fortunately, no lives were lost; but both transports were damaged which necessitated their turning back. Aeolus reached Hoboken on 28 April.

The second event occurred on 1 August 1918, while the ship was returning to the United States from Brest. At 0605, lookouts spotted what looked to be the wake of a submarine periscope, some 6,000 yards (5,500 m) distant. Changing course, Aeolus stood to general quarters and within a minute of the sighting, her number one and three guns commenced firing. For the next few minutes, her gunners fired at the diminishing target until it pulled out of range at 0615.

While the signing of the armistice of 11 November 1918 signalled the end of hostilities — an occasion that found the ship en route from St. Nazaire to Newport News — it only meant the beginning of the task of returning American troops from "over there." During the war, Aeolus had transported 24,770 men to the European battlefront in her eight voyages. In the postwar months, Aeolus conducted a further seven turn-around voyages, bringing back some 22,080 healthy veterans, and some 5,018 wounded and sick. Commencing her last voyage from Brest on 26 August 1919, Aeolus reached New York City on 5 September and was immediately detached from the Cruiser and Transport Force.

Decommissioned at Newport News on 22 September 1919 and turned over to the United States Shipping Board, Aeolus was presumably struck simultaneously from the Navy list.

John Doran


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