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USS Chiwawa (AO-68)

USS Chiwawa (AO-68)
USS Chiwawa (AO-68) at anchor off Okinawa on 7 September 1945
United States
Ordered: as T3-S-A1 tanker hull, MC hull 516
Laid down: as SS Samoset
Launched: 25 June 1942
Commissioned: 24 December 1942
Decommissioned: 6 May 1946
Struck: date unknown
Fate: Sold by the MARAD in 1961, in service as a Great Lakes freighter
General characteristics
Class and type: Chiwawa class oiler
Type: MARAD T3-S-A1
Tonnage: 16,543 DWT
Displacement: 21,077 tons
Length: 501 ft 7.75 in (152.9017 m)
Beam: 68 ft (21 m)
Draft: 29 ft 10.5 in (9.106 m)
Depth: 37 ft (11 m)
Installed power: 7,000 shp (5,200 kW)
Speed: 15.3 knots (28.3 km/h)
Range: 14,500 nmi (26,900 km; 16,700 mi)
Capacity: 133,800 bbl (~18,250 t)
Complement: 13 officers 200 enlisted
Armament: one 5 in (130 mm) dual purpose gun mount, four 3 in (76 mm) guns, four twin 40 mm gun mounts, four twin 20 mm gun mounts
Undated aerial view of USS Chiwawa (AO-68)

USS Chiwawa (AO-68) is a former T3-S-A1 Kennebec-class oiler constructed for the United States Navy during World War II. She was the only U.S. Navy ship named for the Chiwawa River in Washington.


Chiwawa was launched 25 June 1942 by Bethlehem Steel Co., Sparrows Point, Maryland, under a Maritime Commission contract as SS Samoset; sponsored by Mrs. H. G. Smith; acquired by the Navy 24 December 1942; commissioned the same day, Commander Harold F. Fultz in command; and reported to the Atlantic Fleet.

The Chiwawa was designated a T3-S-A1 design, where "T" stood for tanker, "3" meant longer than 500 feet (150 m), "S" stood for single-screw steam propulsion, and "A1" meant first design of its kind.[1][2]

Military Service

Chiwawa cleared Norfolk, Virginia, 13 February 1943 to load oil at Aruba, and returned to New York 25 February to join a convoy for Casablanca, Morocco, which sailed 4 March. Attacked by a wolf-pack east of the Azores, the convoy lost four ships, but aircraft from Port Lyautey, Morocco, drove the U-boats away, and the remainder of the convoy arrived safely 21 March. Chiwawa put out of Casablanca in convoy 11 April for Norfolk, arriving 28 April after a quiet passage. Between 4 May and 17 July she ferried oil on the east coast, loading at Aruba, Netherlands West Indies, and Port Arthur, Texas, and discharging her cargo at Bermuda, Argentia, Newfoundland and Norfolk. She made three convoy crossings, to Scotland, Wales, and Casablanca, between 17 July and 4 December, then resumed operations to Port Arthur and Aruba, except for the period 25 January-8 March 1944, when she again crossed to North Africa.

After two convoy crossings to the British Isles in May and July 1944, Chiwawa sailed 14 July from Norfolk for Mers el Kebir, Algeria, and Naples, Italy, arriving 5 August. From Naples, Chiwawa fueled the ships carrying out the invasion of southern France until she retired to Oran, Algeria, on 2 September. She returned to New York 14 September to resume coastal oil runs until her next convoy to Casablanca in November.

A series of runs between Aruba and New York, then to Guantánamo Bay and Bermuda, and later to Argentia occupied Chiwawa until 31 May 1945, when she entered Norfolk Navy Yard for overhaul until 1 July. She cleared Norfolk to load oil at Baytown, Texas, and on 1 August reached Pearl Harbor. Five days later she sailed for Ulithi and Okinawa, where from 30 August to 29 November she served as station tanker, making one voyage in September to fuel the U.S. 7th Fleet at sea. Homeward bound, Chiwawa put in at San Francisco, California, and Balboa, arriving at New York 7 January 1946.

She sailed 19 January 1946 from Melville, Rhode Island, for ports in England, Germany, and France, called at Casco Bay and Argentia, and put back to Iceland before her arrival in New York 18 March. Chiwawa was decommissioned 6 May 1946 and transferred to the Maritime Commission 23 August 1946.

Civilian Service

A bulk cargo ship sailing on Lake Superior
The Lee A. Tregurtha leaving the upper harbor at Marquette, Michigan after loading iron ore.

She was then rebuilt as a straight decked bulk freighter for Great Lakes service, at American Shipbuilding, Lorain, Ohio, renamed SS Walter A. Sterling and launched, 15 July 1961. That conversion included the integration of a 510-foot midbody cargo section constructed in Germany and towed across the Atlantic Ocean.[3] She was sold in 1985 to Ford Motor Company, renamed SS William Clay Ford (II). In 1989, she was sold again, this time to Lakes Shipping Co. and renamed SS Lee A. Tregurtha. Now owned by Interlake Steamship Co., the Tregurtha had her steam engine room removed in the winter of 2005-2006 and replaced with a diesel power plant.

As a civilian vessel, the Lee A. Tregurtha has a crew of 21, comprising 7 officers and 14 crew, compared to the Chiwawa's wartime complement of about 225 officers and enlisted men.[4]

Awards and honors

World War II campaign ribbons on the Lee A. Tregurtha.

Chiwawa received two battle stars for World War II service.

She was authorized:

  • American Campaign Medal
  • Europe-Africa-Middle East Campaign Medal (2)
  • Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal
  • World War II Victory Medal
  • Navy Occupation Service Medal (with Asia clasp)


  1. ^ Strupp, Jon L. King of the Oilers: The Story of the U.S.S. Chiwawa A0-68. Edina, Minn.: Beaver's Pond Press, 2007; pages 5 - 6.
  2. ^ The Chiwawas were in fact near duplicates of SS Mobilfuel, the basis of the T2 design, but waterline length had crept over 500 feet (150 m).
  3. ^ "M/V Lee A. Tregurtha". Retrieved 27 February 2016.
  4. ^ Strupp, Jon L. King of the Oilers: The Story of the U.S.S. Chiwawa A0-68. Edina, Minn.: Beaver's Pond Press, 2007; page 149.

External links