USS Lejeune (AP-74)

USS Lejeune (AP-74)

USS "Lejeune" (AP-74) [Some sources spell the name "Lejune", but this appears to be an error as the "Lejeune" homepage uses the latter spelling.] was a troop transport that served with the US Navy during World War II. Prior to her Navy service, she operated as a German ocean liner, SS "Windhuk".

"Windhuk" was a passenger liner built at the Blohm and Voss shipyard in Hamburg, Germany in 1936. During the course of her peacetime career, she operated mainly between Hamburg and South Africa as part of the Deutsche-Afrika Linie. Reports that "Windhuk" operated as a German raider in World War II are said to be false. [See "Lejeune" homepage.] Her sister ship SS "Pretoria", however, would later operate as a German hospital ship in the closing stages of the war.

World War II

"Windhuk" was in a Brazilian port in 22 August 1942 when Brazil broke ties with Germany and interned the vessel. Before being imprisoned by the Brazilians, "Windhuk"'s crew managed to sabotage the ship by pouring concrete into her engines and causing other damage. ["Originally built as a German luxury-liner (the ship was equipped with super-sized refrigerators), it was used to transport both passengers and cargo. Escaped the British fleet by entering harbor at Santos, Brazil in 7th december 1939. When ships company learned that the ship would be interned by the Brazilian Government, they sabotaged most of its machinery by pouring concrete into the main turbine engines; draining water from boilers and lighting all burners, thus melting them down; cutting main shafts and its bearings with high temperature metal cutting torches. All electric generators, refrigeration equipment, steering gear, small motors, etc. were damaged beyond repair, but no attempt was made to sink the ship."

"The USN purchased the ship from Brazil, installed a small diesel engine in it and brought it to the Norfolk Naval Ship yard in 1943. When she arrived in Norfolk, it had been stripped of most of its elegant furnishings such as mahogany & teak wood paneling. A Lt. Buchanan and I were assigned to the ship to supervise re-construction for use as a troop transport which took about a year to recoup all that was lost from sabotage." - S. Pickett Edwards, US Navy Yard, Portsmouth, VA. 1942-45, as recounted to his daughter Maureen and recorded at Navsource Online.]

"Windhuk" remained in Santos until January 1942 when she was towed to Rio de Janeiro for repairs, but in May she was purchased by the United States government and two hundred US Navy personnel despatched to Brazil to fit her with a new diesel engine. The work was not completed until March 1943, when the ship made a thirty-day voyage to Norfolk, Virginia for further work and conversion to a troopship. While at Norfolk, she was named USS "Lejeune" (AP-74), after USMC General John Archer Lejeune.

Transatlantic runs

"Lejeune" was fully commissioned in April or May 1944. On 11 June 1944, she began her wartime service in her new role as a US Navy troop transport with a voyage from Norfolk to Glasgow, Scotland with 4,460 soldiers aboard. Her troop capacity would later be increased to 4,650. Beginning on July 12, she then made a trip from New York to Glasgow, with 207 officers and 4,307 Navy personnel. In December, she made an Atlantic crossing with elements of the 69th Infantry Division, which was destined to meet Soviet troops on the banks of the Elbe River deep within Germany five months later, in April 1945.

"Lejeune" made a total of ten round-trip transatlantic crossings before the end of the war, and a further nine crossings were made to the United Kingdom, France or Africa in the months immediately after, until she returned to Norfolk 9 May 1946 for overhaul.

Postwar service

On 28 September 1946 "Lejeune" resumed service. From 19 October 1946 to 1 August 1947, she made a total of four trips to the Pacific, from San Francisco to Shanghai and Tsingtao, China, and to Yokosuka, Japan. She then sailed back to New York, reaching her destination 29 August, and from there returned to San Francisco September 25th.

Decommissioning

USS "Lejeune" departed San Francisco for Bremerton, Washington on October 2 1947, where she was decommissioned 9 February 1948 and placed in the Pacific Reserve Fleet at Tacoma, Washington. She was struck from the Naval Vessel Register in July 1957 and scrapped at Portland, Oregon August 16, 1966. Her ship's bell however was preserved, and in 1971 it was mounted on the flagstaff at Marine Base HQ "Camp Lejeune".

During the course of her career with the US Navy, "Lejeune" transported over 100,000 troops.

Fate of the crew

During internment in Brazil, the crew was sent to some prisioner camps (stables turned into shelters), in little towns far from the shoreline, being used as workforce, while during time offs, being able to play soccer and perform music presentations.As a result, many married brazilian girls and decided to stay in Brazil. After the war, some of the remaining crewmembers, specially elder ones went back to Germany, or what remained of her.

One group of ex-crewmembers which decided to stay after the war started in São Paulo a restaurant bearing the ship's name, serving dishes which once nourished it's passengers.

Footnotes

References

* [http://www.usslejeune.com/History.htm "Lejeune" homepage] .
* [http://www.hazegray.org/danfs/auxil/ap74.htm "Lejeune" AP-74] - DANFS Online.
* [http://www.navsource.org/archives/09/22/22074.htm AP-74 "Lejeune] , Navsource Online.


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