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

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- USS Wilhelmina during the Great War -

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USS Wilhelmina

 American Troopship  

USS Wilhelmina

USS Wilhelmina (ID-2168) was a transport for the United States Navy during World War I. Built in 1909 for Matson Navigation Company as SS Wilhelmina, she sailed from the West Coast of the United States to Hawaii until 1917. After her war service, she was returned to Matson and resumed Pacific Ocean service. In the late 1930s she was laid up in San Francisco, California, until sold to a British company in 1940. While a part of a convoy sailing from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Liverpool, she was sunk by U-94 on 2 December 1940.

Wilhelmina—a steel-hulled, single-screw, passenger and cargo steamer built at Newport News, Virginia, by the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Co. for the Matson Navigation Company—was launched on 18 September 1909 and departed her builders' yard on 7 December of that year. Under the Matson flag, Wilhelmina conducted regular runs between San Francisco, California, and Honolulu, Hawaii, carrying passengers and cargo between 1910 and 1917.

World War I.

Inspected by the Navy at the 12th Naval District, San Francisco, on 18 June 1917—two months after the United States entered World War I—the steamship was later taken over by the United States Shipping Board on 1 December. Soon afterwards she sailed for Chile where she obtained a cargo of nitrates. Delivering that cargo at Norfolk, Virginia., Wilhelmina shifted to New York on 23 January 1918. Given Identification Number 2168, the ship was then taken over by the Navy and apparently commissioned on 26 January. Lt. Comdr. Joe W. Jory, USNRF, is listed as being in command in February. Wilhelmina was diverted to "special duty" and made her first voyage to France soon afterwards, departing New York with a general cargo on 1 February and returning on 26 March. Upon her return, she shifted to the New York Navy Yard, Brooklyn, New York, where she was taken in hand and converted to a troopship for service with the Cruiser and Transport Force. When her extant deck logs begin, her commanding officer is listed as Comdr. William T. Tarrant.

On 10 May 1918, Wilhelmina sailed out of New York on the first of six wartime voyages to France and back prior to the November armistice. During these passages, Wilhelmina carried 11,053 troops "over there" to strengthen the American Expeditionary Force (AEF). The transport's half-dozen trips were all made safely, as far as she was concerned, although not totally without incident.

While in convoy with six other troopships and four destroyers, Wilhelmina was present when the transport Covington was torpedoed on 1 July. Nearly a month later, on 30 July, one of Wilhelmina's lookouts spotted what he thought to be a submarine periscope at 07:30. Going to general quarters, the transport surged ahead and opened fire to drive the submarine away. A short while later, when the periscope reappeared, Wilhelmina again fired at it, with the shell falling 50 yards (46 m) short.

Two weeks later, while Wilhelmina and Pastores were steaming under the protection of destroyer Hull, the erstwhile Matson steamship again went to general quarters to drive away what looked like a submarine. Shortly after 2000 on 14 August, while Wilhelmina's crew and passengers were holding abandon ship drill, a lookout spotted what looked like a submarine periscope 200 yards (180 m) from the ship and just forward of the port beam. The captain of the transport ordered the helm put over to starboard soon after the sighting, as the submarine moved away on an opposite course. The one-pounder on the port wing of the signal bridge barked out two shots, both missing. Three shots from the after port 6-inch (150 mm) gun followed, until their angle was masked by the ship's superstructure. The submarine, however, apparently frustrated, submerged. It may have remained in the area to try again, as on the following day, 15 August, a submarine periscope appeared some 200 yards (180 m) away from the troopship, prompting three salvoes which drove the would-be attacker off.

In company with seven other transports—including Wilhelmina—on 23 August, in a convoy escorted by armored cruiser Huntington and destroyers Fairfax and Hull, Pastores spotted what she took to be a submarine periscope at about 09:50. Hull rang up full speed and reversed course; Huntington and Fairfax soon did likewise but found nothing.

Later that day, however, the enemy apparently reappeared. Pastores's commander sighted a periscope at 1904; Hull sighted the same object five minutes later. The periscope appeared to be about 500 yards (460 m) distant, three points off Wilhelmina's starboard bow, and running on a course to the right and nearly opposite that of the convoy. Pastores went to battle stations and headed for the periscope. Wilhelmina, too, turned toward the enemy.

With the 'scope in sight for about 10 seconds, the time allotted the gun crews of the American ships that spotted the enemy was short. Pastores got off one round of 4-inch (100 mm) at the swirling water where the object had disappeared. Frustrated by the submarine's going deep, Wilhelmina, unable to ram, turned aside to port. Hull, rushing to the scene, soon dropped three depth bombs.

Three days later, on 26 August, Wilhelmina noticed a suspicious wake five degrees off her port bow, 2,500 yards (2,300 m) away and passing from port to starboard. Going to general quarters, Wilhelmina fired a shot from one of her forward guns shortly before she loosed three shots in succession from the forward starboard 6-inch (150 mm) battery. Nine rounds came from the after battery on that side; and, as the ship swung, the superstructure masked the forward guns. The wake soon disappeared; both Pastores and the Italian transport Dante Alighieri also fired several rounds at what was possibly a submersible with no apparent success.

Wilhelmina emerged from World War I unscathed, although near-missed by a torpedo on 1 September. After the armistice, she continued her troop-carrying activities, bringing back part of the AEF from France. She conducted seven postwar, round-trip voyages, returning 11,577 men home to the United States including 2,610 sick and wounded.

These postwar voyages were not made entirely without incident either. A fire broke out in a storeroom where blankets and pillows were kept, a little over six hours after the ship departed Bassens, France, standing down the Gironde River on 25 March 1919. The fire, reported at 2152, was put out by 2210. Slight damage had been caused in the fire.

Wilhelmina subsequently entered the Ambrose Channel on 4 April and docked at Pier 1, Hoboken, New Jersey, the following day. There, she disembarked the troops and patients carried back from France. She began her last voyage shortly afterwards, returning to New York on 6 August 1919. There, she was decommissioned, struck from the Navy list, and returned to her owners on 16 August.

John Doran

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