Michael McFadyen's Scuba Diving - SS President Coolidge - History
As indicated in the page on the building of the SS President Coolidge, the new ship was delivered to the Dollar Steamship Line on 1 October 1931 (almost four months ahead of the contracted delivery date of 26 February 1932). Her maiden voyage was advertised at least in August 1931 (see the advertisement below that I purchased on Ebay) so it was well and truly accurate as the maiden voyage did take place on 15 October 1931. Therefore it took less than 18 months from laying the keel to the delivery voyage, quite an achievement (fat chance of a ship of this size being built as quickly now).
|A rare colour photograph of |
the SS President Coolidge
The maiden voyage was from New York to San Francisco (her home port) under the command of Captain Karl A. Ahlin. Ports visited were Havana in Cuba and the Panama Canal (not sure if this was an actual stop where passengers could leave the ship). As she entered San Francisco Bay she was greeted by hundreds of small vessels and there was a public reception for Captain Ahlin and his senior officers at Pier 42.
|An advertisement from Time magazine dated 10 August 1931 advertising the maiden voyage of the |
the SS President Coolidge
The first normal trip (remember she was built for the Trans Pacific route) was from San Francisco to the Far East on 6 November 1931. The ship arrived in Honolulu on 12 November 1931. The envelope below was mailed from the ship as she arrived in Honolulu. I purchased this on Ebay in November 2008.
|A rare "first day" envelope celebrating the maiden voyage of the |
the SS President Coolidge
Mr E. Mowbray Tate in his book Transpacific Liners tells how in 1932 he went on the fourth voyage of the Coolidge under the command of Captain Karl A. Ahlin and found the ship very comfortable indeed. He tells that it took five days for the San Francisco to Honolulu and a further nine days on to Yokohama. In early 1932 the Coolidge set a new record for a crossing of the Pacific (from east to west) when she steamed from Yokohama in Japan to San Francisco in just over 12 days, taking four hours and four minutes off the record set by the Asama Maru. The average speed was 19.5 knots. However, the fastest crossing was actually 10 days 15 hours by the Pacific Mail Line steamship SS Korea in 1902. The previous trip from San Francisco to Yokohama had been even quicker at a speed of 20.78 knots (not 30.78 as stated in one recent book) and an elapsed time of 11 days, 4 hours and 22 minutes.
In January 1933 the Coolidge set a new Honolulu to San Francisco record of 4 days, 2 hours and 58 minutes taking 14 hours off the previous record set by her sistership, SS President Hoover.
|Another envelope posted from the Coolidge,|
this time on 2 June 1936
For all its life till the years just before the Pacific War started in late 1941, the President Coolidge operated on the Trans Pacific Route. Many famous and wealthy people travelled on the ship during this period. These included the famous Welsh journalist, Gareth Jones, who travelled from Honolulu on 30 January 1935 and arrived in Yokohama on 9 February 1935 (he was to die a few months later when murdered by Chinese bandits) and Baron Henri de Rothchild, the famous physician, who arrived in San Francisco on 11 May 1935.
In 1935 General Douglas Macarthur was travelling from San Francisco to Manila in the Philippines to take up a job as special US Military Adviser (really command of the Philippine Armed Forces), a special role arranged between President Quezon and President Roosevelt when he met his second wife Jean Marie Faircloth (he later called her "my finest soldier"). Macarthur was travelling with his aide (he called him his best clerk), Major Dwight D. Eisenhower (later General and President of the USA). After their marriage in New York in 1937, the Macarthurs travelled on the 10 May voyage from San Francisco to Manila on the Coolidge.
On 6 March 1937 the SS President Coolidge left San Francisco on its regular west bound trip to Honolulu and Yokohama (its 31st voyage). This was her first voyage since November 1936 when the 96 day maritime strike started (see previous page on Coolidge). On board were 678 passengers and 350 crew. As she approached the Golden Gate Bridge, a thick fog rolled in over the bay. At the same time, the SS Frank H. Buck, an Associated Oil tanker, entered San Francisco Bay. It is reported that the skipper of the Coolidge, Captain Ahlin, did not slow down when he entered the fog bank (this was disputed by the crew of the Coolidge. A witness, Julius Larsen, who worked for the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce as a marine lookout, heard the foghorns of both ships as they approached his point. He reported that the two fog horns got closer to each other and he then heard a very loud crash as the two ships collided.
|SS Frank H Buck|
The United States Consul-General to Tientsin, a town in the autonomous municipality of Tientsin, northern China, (now called Tianjin), was on the Coolidge's upper deck when he heard the Buck's blast and then almost immediately saw the tanker's masts. He reported that he heard Captain Ahlin order the engines to be reversed but it was too late. Lifeboats were dropped into the water and most of the tanker's crew of 40 were safely collected by them. Eight crew and the ship's dog were rescued by a boat from the Point Bonita Coast Guard Station. The ships had collided head on and the Frank H. Buck was very badly damaged. Her bow was cut open by the Coolidge's bow and the tanker was losing oil and it was stated as being "bow down and stern up" and thought to be about to sink. However, she floated over to Lands End and went aground on rocks.
A concerted salvage removed most of the 67,000 barrels of oil left on board and the ship was refloated some time later. However, I have seen a photograph of a plaque from near the Golden Gate Bridge which states "The Frank H. Buck was rammed and sunk in 1937 by the passenger liner President Coolidge". It also says that the wreckage of the Buck and another ship can be seen at low tide.
|The Coolidge goes back to the wharf after|
her encounter with the SS Frank Buck
|This is the wreck of the SS Frank H. Buck|
The damage to the President Coolidge was also quite severe. The bow had been bashed in from the waterline to halfway to the top of the bow, there was a hole halfway up and the starboard side had a hole 20 feet wide. Meanwhile, the Coolidge had been taken first to the pier to remove passengers and cargo and then to the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation Dry Dock at Hunters Point, for repairs. It was estimated that it would take 10 days to fix the ship and the cost was expected to be about $250,000 (this included lost fares).
After repairs, the Coolidge left San Francisco on 25 March 1937, by-passing Honolulu. Her next voyage to the Far East started on 10 May 1937 and by June had made up the lost time and was back on her normal schedule.
On voyage number 33 which departed San Francisco on 26 June 1937, the President Coolidge had onboard Mrs Spencer Tracy and her son and daughter. Spencer Tracey was busy in Hollywood making the film "Boystown" (released in 1938) for which he won his 1st Oscar. Also on this same voyage was the legendary silent film era actress Mary Pickford (known as "America's Sweetheart").
Later in 1937, the repaired vessel lowered the Trans Pacific record to 9 days, 9 hours 51 minutes on a trip from Yokohama to San Francisco. As indicated earlier, this record had stood for 35 years. This trip was a full two and a half days quicker than the official record she set in 1932.
|SS Ohioan at left and SS Frank H Buck back right|
aground at Parallel Point in San Francisco Harbor
|The SS President Coolidge in Hong Kong Harbour sometime|
after November 1938 when she came under the ownership
of the American President Line
Although the Dollar Line had lasted right through the Great Depression, the effect on it was there. On 3 June 1938 the SS President Coolidge was arrested in San Francisco for an unpaid debt of $35,000. A bond of $70,000 was put up so the ship could be released for its trip to Asia. After this date, the Dollar Steamship Line Inc (as well as American Mail) were suspended from operation.
In 1938 Gaynor Edwin Field was appointed as the ship's photographer. He served on the ship till war broke out. He later ran Field's Studio of Photography and reportedly had a lot of photos of the ship. He died in Idyllwild, (near Palm Springs, California) on 1 October 1 1998. I was unable to make contact with his family to see if they have some stories or photos that I might be able to obtain for this page.
In October 1938, the Coolidge was refused permission to leave Shanghai (then under Japanese control) as she had on board more than $4,000,000 of silver. After the silver was removed, the ship was permitted to leave.
|A model of the Coolidge in the San Francisco Maritime Museum||Photos courtesy of Richard P. Toulson, Los Altos, USA|
By now, the Dollar Shipping Line existed in name only as detailed in the page on the History of the Dollar Steamship Line. On 1 November 1938, the ownership of the SS President Coolidge (as well as all the other Dollar vessels) passed officially to a new Government owned line, the American President Lines Ltd. There were a couple of changes to the ship then, including removing the $ sign on the funnels and replacing them with an eagle and four white stars and the hull was repainted grey. Despite the change in ownership, the Coolidge continued on its Trans Pacific run.
On 3 March 1939, Richard Halliburton, an American traveller, adventurer and author, set sail with at least four others, set sail on a purpose-built traditional Chinese junk called Sea Dragon from Hong Kong. The aim was to get to San Francisco for the Golden Gate International Exposition.
On 24 March 1939 the junk was halfway across the Pacific Ocean when a typhoon struck. The SS President Coolidge sighted the junk in mountainous seas 1,900 kilometres west of Midway Island. A radio message was received by the Coolidge from the junk: "Having a wonderful time. Wish you were here instead of me." The next message was different: "Southerly gale. Heavy Rain Squalls. High sea. Barometer 29.46. True course 100. Speed 5.5 knots. Position 1200 GCT 31.10 north 155.00 east. All well. When closer may we avail ourselves of your direction finder. Regards Welch". Welch was the skipper of the junk.
That message was the final time the junk was heard and it is thought that it sank soon after. Despite a huge US Navy search with several ships and planes, no wreckage was found. In 1945, some wreckage identified as a rudder and believed to belong to the Sea Dragon washed ashore in California.
Captain William O. Kolhmeister was appointed as the new permanent skipper of the SS President Coolidge on May 4, 1939 after the Karl A. Ahlin retired. Captain Ahlin had been the ship's only captain since the vessel was launced at Newport News in April 1931.
On 12 July 1939 while on her way to Asia, the President Coolidge sighted another Chinese junk mid-Pacific which signalled it was short of food and water. The 29 ton craft had left Kobe, Japan on 14 June 1939 crewed by two Norwegians under a Russian captain. She was also bound for San Francisco Bay where they intended visiting the World's Fair (probably the same event mentioned about) at Treasure Island. Captain Kohlmeister brought the Coolidge alondside the junk and provided it with provisions. On this same voyage (number 46) that the Coolidge collided with the Japanese freighter Nissan Maru on the Whangpoo River in China. A very event eventful trip! This was just over two years after the Buck incident. The Coolidge suffered minor damage and the side plates were a bit bent.
Another strange event occurred in January 1940 when the Coolidge was on the way from the US to Yokohama. When 700 miles from Yokohama, the ship came across five men and a women (all white) in a small boat. They were without food and after being given some supplies (food, water and medicine), the group continued on its way (wherever this was meant to be).
In October 1940 the Coolidge encountered a typhoon (cyclone) on a trip to Japan. There was only minor damage but five passengers were hurt. In October 1940 the ship evacuated Americans from Hong Kong (and perhaps elsewhere). On 4 December 1940 she left San Francisco and on 20 December 1940 arrived in Manila. The Coolidge departed there on 24 December 1940 and arrived at Kobe, Japan, on 3 January 1941.
On arriving, the Japanese authorities found that one passenger, Frieda Elizabeth Hudson was a British subject. Mrs Hudson and her two sons were incarcerated or perhaps it was intended that they were to be taken off the ship (not sure why as Britain was not at war with Japan at that stage). Anyway, Captain Henry Nelson intervened and proved that the boys were Americans and refused to let them be taken away (from story told by one son, Ron Hudson, as told to Dan Kuhn in 2016).
On 16 January 1941, the Coolidge arrived in San Francisco with 832 passengers (mostly refugees/evacuees) under the command of Captain Henry Nelson. This was a new record for passengers carried on a merchant ship on a regular run. This figure was bettered on 30 May 1941 when she arrived in San Francisco with more than 1,000 passengers.
|Cover of the Menu at right||A menu from 13 (?) June 1941 while |
the ship was on the way to Honolulu
On 28 February 1941, Edward S. Crocker, First Secretary of the US Embassy in Tokyo, boarded the Coolidge in Kobe and travelled back to the United States, arriving in San Francisco on 13 March 1941. It is presumed that he reported to the Government on the situation in Japan, even though he was on leave.
On a trip in June 1941, the Coolidge encountered more than 100 Japanese war and supply ships in the Formosa Strait.
Things were definitely getting worse and on 28 May 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared a state of national emergency and just four days later, on 2 June 1941, the ship was taken over by the Maritime Commission as a troop transport for the Army. On 15 July 1941 she left San Francisco on a voyage to Honolulu and the Philippines carrying, it is presumed, troops. On 4 August 1941, a Japanese intelligence report sent from Manila to Tokyo reported "About six-hundred American soldiers have arrived in Manila on the Coolidge. (This was learned from the crew of the Coolidge.)".
She returned from Manila with 250 Americans, originally intending to travel via Yokohama where she was to collect another 100 Americans but she was refused permission to enter Japan (this may not have been technically correct as a report states that she was able to enter and take home some officials, but not private citizens). The evacuees from Manila and Shanghai arrived in San Francisco on 28 August 1941.
The Coolidge left San Francisco on 8 September 1941 for the Orient, returning on 23 October 1941. During this trip the ship was reportedly "escorted" for part of the Honolulu to Manila section (presumably the last bit) by a cruiser and several patrol boats. The ship again left San Francisco on 1 November 1941 for Honolulu and Manila.
Rosalie Sue Hutchison was 13 years old and living in the Philippines with her parents and 8 month old brother in late 1941. Her father was working at a mine as a mining engineer. In November 1941, her father was told by a good friend that there was going to be a lot of trouble so he decided to send his family back home to the US. He was lucky to obtain tickets for his family on the SS President Coolidge for the trip departing Manila on 27 November 1941.
At the end of the voyage, Rosalie was presented with a fancy certificate about crossing the Equator and 180th Meriden. It is signed "Davey Jones, Keeper of the Locker Keys" and "Father Neptune, Ruler of the Raging Main" and also lists in cryptic terms many things that occurred on the voyage. These will be mentioned below in inverted commas.
The Coolidge left Manila on 27 November 1941 (although it may have been 28 November as I have seen this in some places and in a note written in 1942 by Mr Royal H. Fisher) under the command of Henry Nelson, USNR. From a letter that Rosalie Hutchison (now Rosalie Smith) sent me in April 2002, it is apparent that the ship took a very circuitous trip to Hawaii. More about this in a minute. On board the Coolidge were some pandas ("Chiang Kai-shek's Pandas...") and someone described as "Heaven-Born Daughter of China". Rosalie says that there was another ship with the Coolidge. She thinks that it was called the Scott. This was in fact the US Army Transport USAT Scott. It was a much slower vessel and could, she thinks, only make 6 or 7 knots so the Coolidge had to go that slow as well. The Scott probably travelled faster than this, perhaps 12 to 13 knots, but well below the Coolidge's normal cruising speed of about 20 knots. There was a rumour going around the ship that the Scott was carrying gold bullion from the gold mines in the Philippines.
Rosalie has told me that the morning after leaving Manila, she woke up and went on deck. She found that the ship, which yesterday was white, was now mostly grey, with the crew all busy painting the hull and superstructure with brushes on the end of long poles ("The Sky is Bright but our color Gray..."). In addition, the portholes were locked and the glass painted black. No-one was permitted out on deck after dark. The second day out there was lifeboat drill and all passengers were given lifejackets and told to wear them when sleeping. Rosalie said it was impossible to sleep with it on so she just put one arm though the sleeve.
Life boat drills were held all the time and the showers were switched to use salt water almost as soon as they ship left Manilla. Rosalie told me that she also learnt to swim on the voyage. From her description, the pool was not the main pool on Boat Deck (behind the superstructure) as this was for First Class only but the removable canvas structure that fitted as the hatch cover on Hold 6. This was for everyone else. A Catholic Priest taught her to swim in 15 minutes. She found this amazing as she had previously had lessons over a period of years without learning to swim. The Priest took her up to First Class one day and they looked at the pandas which she said were very interesting.
On 30 November 1941 the Coolidge crossed the Equator. On either 29 or 30 November 1941, they sighted some land, a rocky point as Rosalie described it. A ship came out to the Coolidge and Rosalie believes that they may have taken on fuel. Considering the dates and the fact that they crossed the Equator on 30 November 1941, the ship must have been somewhere near Indonesia.
I have also been sent copies of a letter from Josephine W. Fisher (wife of Royal) to her daughter, E. F. Fisher dated 1 December 1941. In this letter, she says that they passed Ambon in Indonesia the previous day. This is maybe where the fuel came from.
The above mentioned Equator Crossing certificate says that after the first crossing, the ship's Captain "piloted her thru Dire Straits, the Sea of Pearl...". This could be the Torres Strait between Australia and Papua New Guinea and the Coral Sea as there was a pearl diving industry here at that time.
After leaving what I presume is Ambon, the two ships travelled on a zig-zag course, changing direction every three minutes. Soon after a ship was sighted off in the distance, running parallel to the Coolidge. Once it came close enough for Rosalie to see sailors on the deck. This ship was the heavy cruiser USS Louisville and was to escort them all the way to Hawaii.
Another part of Josephine's letter reads in part that on 1 December 1941 they were "four days out of Manila, and actually coasting along the northern shore of Australia" and "on one side of us is the General Scott (once the President Pierce) and on the other the cruiser Louisville". She also says that they will pass Thursday Island, off the northern tip of Australia, the next afternoon.
The convoy appears to have headed due east and passed between the Solomon Islands and the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu). On 8 December 1941 the ship was at sea when "The God Mars and his Nippon vassals invaded my Realm Monday, December 8 1941." This was of course when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 but since the ship was west of the International Date Line, the date on board was 8 December 1941. The ship must still have been south of the Equator and it had not yet crossed the International Date Line. It was perhaps north of Fiji at this time. Rosalie says that the passengers were not told of this event, only learning about it when they arrived in Honolulu but Royal H. Fisher says the passengers heard of it when near the Solomon Islands.
The next day, Tuesday 9 December 1941, the ships did cross the 180th Meriden "thereby gaining another Day in our being". It was now 8 December 1941 again.
The small convoy kept on travelling east below the Equator, probably passing north of Samoa. On 9 December 1941 (according to Mrs Fisher) they were off Pago Pago in American Samoa but as the port's lights were extinguished, the Coolidge did not enter. On Sunday 13 December 1941 (probably very early in the morning) the ship crossed the Equator again and "Bid Farewell to my Royal Kingdom". This could be taken to mean that they were leaving the Royal Kingdom of Tonga or perhaps just a reference to King Neptune.
Apparently many of the men took to heavy drinking on the trip and on 9 December 1941 a lot of them partied to daybreak (according to Mrs Fisher).
On about 17 December 1941, the SS President Coolidge, USS Louisville and USAT Scott arrived in Pearl Harbor, Honolulu. The Coolidge had taken about 21 days to travel from Manilla to Hawaii, a voyage that normally took about 12 or 13 days.
The ships in Pearl Harbor were still smoldering and all the passengers, even those continuing onto San Francisco, had to leave the ship for a couple of days while alterations were make a small hospital on board. Rosalie and her family were to stay in a hotel but they ended up staying with some friends who were living in the armed forces barracks with their families. They returned to the ship on 19 December 1941.
On the evening of 17 December, Lieutenant Ruth Erickson, NC (Nurse Corps), US Navy, a nurse stationed at the Pearl Harbor Naval Hospital, was ordered to pack a bag and be ready to leave. With two other nurses, she was transported from the hospital to one of the piers at Honolulu where she boarded the SS President Coolidge. Their job, together with a number of corpsmen, was to accompany injured sailors on the trip back to San Francisco on mainland America. During the day of 18 December supplies were taken on board and the next day 125 patients were taken on board the Coolidge. Also taken on board were a football team from Willamette University, Oregon, who have been on an exhibition trip to Hawaii. Together with the USAT Scott (with 55 patients), the two ships set off late that afternoon in a convoy of 8 or 10 ships.
The Coolidge travelled without exterior lights and the doors and portholes were closed at night to prevent light showing. No-one was allowed on deck, even during the day. Lt Erickson reported that the 20th of December was quite chilly and they understood that the ship had travelled a fair bit to the north so as to not take a direct route to San Francisco. Rumours of submarine periscopes were rife but nothing untoward happened. All passengers wore lifejackets the whole time. The Coolidge passed under the Golden Gate Bridge at 7 am on Christmas Day 1941 and arrived in San Francisco at 8 am, with 124 patients, one man having died Christmas Eve from bad burns. Two ferries met the ship and, with ambulances (perhaps some were boat ambulances), transferred the patients to the naval hospital at Mare Island as well as civilian hospitals. They arrived at Mare Island at 4.30 pm.
Lt Erickson stated that she believed that only the USAT Scott and the Coolidge entered San Francisco harbor and the other ships travelled elsewhere.
In April 2002 Rosalie (Hutchinson) Smith lives in Cedar City, Utah. She still has menus, passenger lists and other memorabilia from the voyage. After the outbreak of the War, her father subsequently enlisted in the US Army and was captured at the fall of Corregidor, sent to a Japanese Military Prison Camp and spent the war in various camps in the Philippines. He was released when the US recaptured Manila.
Royal H. Fisher even wrote a song about the SS President Coolidge which I have but there is no music to go with it.
By the time the Coolidge returned to San Francisco on Christmas Day, 25 December 1941, the United States was at war with Japan, Germany and the Axis Powers.
Within six weeks of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour and the US's entry into the war, the Coolidge was converted to a troopship in January 1942 even though the War Shipping Administration was not proclaimed by President Roosevelt until 21 February 1942. This brought all US shipping under Government control.
During the conversion, the President Coolidge was modified by adding guns on the bow (two) and stern (three) and 12 anti-aircraft guns. The ship was painted in normal navy standard grey and much of the fine furnishings were removed (probably all of them) and fixed features were covered up (including the Lady and the Unicorn). In addition, one single cabin on the Promenade Deck adjacent to the First Class Smoking Room was removed and a set of three rows of toilets (41 - 13, 13 and 15 I think) was installed. It was reported by Staff Sergeant Stephen Parisi that there were wooden partitions four feet high between the toilets (rows or each toilet?). There is no trace of these today. In addition, the showers were converted to use salt water instead of fresh water as it was obviously not possible to carry enough fresh water for six times the normal number of passengers.
The ship was then able to carry over 5,000 soldiers.
For the next nine months the Coolidge was used to ferry troops and equipment across the Pacific to the war front. A report that I found on the Web claims that the 4th Air Depot Group of the US Army 5th American Air Force (USAAF) departed San Francisco on 14 December 1941 (but in reality it was 12 January 1942 - perhaps they left somewhere else on that date) on the SS President Coolidge and arrived in Melbourne at 1700 hours on 1 February 1942. Note that this web site is now I think located at http://st.net.au/~dunn. It was claimed that she travelled in convoy with SS President Polk as part of the USS Pensacola convoy. It is further claimed that the Coolidge (and Polk??) were carrying 125 P40 Tomahawks and five DC-3 aircraft as well as the pilots, crew and support staff. The 4th Air Depot group alone numbered 550 men. Also, the 16th Squadron of the 27th Bomber Group was also said to be on the Coolidge for this trip. Another report says that the Coolidge was carrying 32 P-40s, the Polk 19 and USAT Monroe 67.
Another report on Peter Dunn's Australia at War Web Site says that the 49th Fighter Group of the 5th Air Force travelled on the voyage (most were on the USAT Mariposa). This site claims that the ships were escorted by the USS Phoenix but there is no mention of the Pensacola or the Polk as being in the convoy. As well, it is said that the 808th Engineer Aviation Battalion was also on the Coolidge while their equipment was on the freighter SS Luckenbach. This may be the SS Nira Luckenbach which was escorted by the USS Tucker in August 1942, just before the Tucker sank at the opposite end of the same channel where the Coolidge was going to sink just a few weeks later. There were also other ships called SS xxxx Luckenbach. It is said that the USAT Monroe was also in the convoy.
Another page of Peter Dunn's Australia at War Web Site states that the convoy was also escorted by two other (unnamed) destroyers. It says that the convoy was bound for Java in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia) but they were then ordered to Brisbane but because of the fear of Japanese submarines, they diverted again to Melbourne.
Yet another page on the web, To China and Back says that the 16th Pursuit Squadron of the 51st Pursuit Group was also on this voyage and that they were also accompanied by the freighter SS Sea Witch.
As mentioned above, the first voyage of the Coolidge was on 12 January 1942 when she travelled to Melbourne (1 February 1942) in Australia, then Wellington in New Zealand and back to San Francisco. The ship arrived in San Francisco on 7 March 1942 and left on 19 March 1942, this time bound for Melbourne again, arriving on 7 April 1942 (see comments in next paragraph). The ship was carrying, amongst others, the 8th Photographic Reconnaissance Squadron of the 5th Air Force.
It is reported at http://www.flash.net/~hfwright/dl29mr42.htm that on 1 April 1942 HMNZS Achilles put to sea from Fiji after lunch and after being used as a training target for American P-39 fighters, she head south to the Kermadec Islands to meet the heavy cruiser USS Chester, which was escorting two small ocean liners (this is relative when you see the other linre involved), SS Mariposa (18,000 tons) and SS President Coolidge (22,000) and one large (huge) liner, RMS Queen Elizabeth, 84,000 tons, carrying an American infantry division to Australia. Reported next stop for all ships was Sydney.
In some reports it is stated that the Coolidge arrived in Melbourne on 17 April 1942. However, I have been contacted by Robert Dodd of Eagan, Minnesota, whose father was on this trip. He was a member of the US Army's 164th Infantry Regiment, which would later be the first army unit to fight on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. He confirms that the Coolidge arrived in Melbourne on 7 April 1942. Therefore, it appears that the Coolidge passed by the Kermadec Islands (north of New Zealand) on about 3 or 4 April 1942 and went direct to Melbourne (perhaps the rest of the convoy went to Sydney), arriving on 7 April 1942. Robert says that his father remembers staying in Melbourne for a few days on leave before departing for Noumea in New Caledonia. They did not travel on the Coolidge but transferred to smaller freighters for the journey, arriving in Noumea on 19 April 1942.
It is not clear what the Coolidge did between 7 and 20 April (see later), but it is possible that she travelled to Sydney and back, perhaps arriving back in Melbourne again on 17 April 1942 hence matching up with the reports that state that she arrived in Melbourne on that date.
It is certain that she left Melbourne again on 20 or 21 April (probably 20th) for Bora Bora in French Polynesia and arrived back in San Francisco on 5 or 8 May 1942 (probably 8th). On this trip, Manuel Quezon, President of the Philippines, and General Douglas Macarthur and his staff were aboard. The Coolidge was met by the cruiser USS St Louis off Bora Bora, Tahiti, and escorted all the way back to San Francisco. The Coolidge was not often escorted during the war as far as I can see so this time it was presumably because of her important passengers.
The whereabouts of the Coolidge for the next three weeks is not clear. On 26 May 1942 she departed San Francisco for Suva in Fiji in a convoy of six ships. On board was Sanford S. Silverman who was a member of the 37th Infantry Division. On board there were also other units. In this convoy the whole of the 37th (15,000 troops) were being carried. The cruiser USS San Francisco and two destroyers accompanied the convoy. The convoy was also provided with some air cover. The next morning only the San Francisco remained and for the next few weeks it escorted the six ships in the convoy.
It appears that the Coolidge arrived in Suva on 9 June 1942 (the other ships may have went straight to Auckland) and seems to have stayed here till 16 June 1942 (why a week here?). Most or all of the 37th were unloaded here and then the Coolidge went to Auckland in New Zealand taking with them New Zealand troops. They arrived in Auckland on 19 June 1942 with more of the 37th's troops who were on other ships and left 24 June 1942 arriving back in Suva again on 27 June 1942.
She left Suva on 2 July 1942 and travelled back to Auckland (6 July to 11 July) taking more of the 37th back to Suva (14 July to 20 July) and again back to Auckland (23 July 1942). There was apparently another trip to Suva (presumably with more 37th Division troops) and she left there on 10 August 1942 and went back to Auckland arriving 12 August 1942. From here, she returned to San Francisco arriving there on 29 August 1942. The Coolidge had been away from her home port for over three months. The ship's location for the next five weeks is not clear. The 37th Infantry Division apparently replaced New Zealand troops who were sent onto North Africa to fight the Germans under Rommel.
The 37th Infantry Division ended up on Espiritu Santo and many had to share their clothes with the survivors from the Coolidge when she sank in October 1942.
|Another certificate presented to Lt Charles J. Stephenson for crossing the Equator. This one was obviously on the way to Australia.|
On 6 October 1942, the Coolidge sailed from San Francisco for New Caledonia (20 to 24 October) and Espiritu Santo in Vanuatu. This was the ship's very last voyage.
For the next part of the SS President Coolidge story, click here.
For links to all the information on the ship see the Main SS President Coolidge Index Page.
See References Page.