American Legiona steel-hulled, twin-screw passenger and cargo steamshipwas laid down on 10 January 1919 under a United States Shipping Board (USSB) contract and launched on 11 October 1919. She was delivered to the USSB upon completion on 15 July 1921. For over four years, American Legion remained in the hands of the Federal Government under the auspices of the USSB. On 18 December 1925, as part of a "package deal" which involved the sale of the liners American Legion, Southern Cross, Pan America, and Western World, the government sold these ships to the Munson Line for operation on the New York to South America route. For the next fourteen years, American Legion and her running-mates were familiar sights on that particular passenger-and-cargo route until financial difficulties forced foreclosure of the Munson Line on 13 March 1939. She was then laid up in the Patuxent River. Served as an Army troop ship until acquired by the Navy and classified as a transport, AP-35, on August 22, 1941.
On 22 August, American Legion was acquired by the Navy and classified as a transport, AP-35. She was placed in commission on the afternoon of 26 August and having shed her white Army transport livery for a more businesslike and somber dark gray, was towed to Pier 3, Army Transport Service Pier of Embarkation, Brooklyn, by four tugs on 12 September and commenced taking on cargo that afternoon. Shortly before noon the following day, she began embarking civilian passengers for her maiden voyage as a Navy transport. Underway for the Gravesend Bay Explosive Anchorage soon thereafter, American Legion loaded a cargo of ammunition under the supervision of a detail of Coast Guardsmen from USCGC Arundelearly that afternoon, and, after loading the balance of the cargo the following day, weighed anchor for Charleston, SC at 1412 hours. She reached her destination on the afternoon of 18 September, embarked contingents of troops slated for garrison duties, and sailed for Bermuda on the morning of the 19th. On the afternoon of the 22nd, as she neared her destination, her local escorttwo Army planesarrived overhead and accompanied the ship on the last leg of her voyage. Ultimately at 1945 hours on 22 September, she moored in Hamilton harbor. She disembarked troops the following morning and the following afternoon, sailed for Puerto Rico. American Legion reached San Juan three days later mooring at Pier 7, Puerto Rico Dock Co., shortly after noon. There she debarked civilian passengers as well as thirty-three Army officers and 176 men and embarked passengers for the rest of the voyage. Underway on the afternoon of 29 September the transport reached "Ceriseport"the code name for Saint John, Antiguathe next morning. The ship discharged more cargo and took on board another group of passengers on 2 October before she sailed on the morning of 4 October for Puerto Rico. American Legion returned once more to San Juan on 8 October, mooring at 0956 hours and disembarking naval enlisted passengers brought from Trinidad. Once more, her turnaround was comparatively swift, for she was underway again on the morning of 10 October bound for Hamilton. Late that afternoon the ship's port main engine and steering engine proved troublesome. As American Legion limped back to San Juan, two Navy tugs came out to assist, as did the lighthouse tender, USCGC Acacia. Ultimately it was the small seaplane tender Thrush (AVP-3) that came to the rescue, passing a line to the crippled transport at 1650 hours and taking her in tow back to San Juan. Following repairs, American Legion sailed for Hamilton on the morning of 18 October. Anchoring in Murray's Anchorage on the morning of the 21st, she embarked New York-bound passengers and took departure the same day. Ultimately, on 23 October, American Legion reached Pier 2, Army Base, Brooklyn, and disembarked her passengerscivilian workers and naval dependents evacuated from Puerto Rico. Underway soon thereafter, the transport anchored off Staten Island that same afternoon. American Legion weighed anchor on the morning of the 24th and moored at the New York Navy Yard. Initially slated for repair work at the Morse Drydock Co., Brooklyn, the transport was taken, instead, to the Bethlehem Steel Co. yard in Brooklyn for completion of an overhaul. She remained there into January 1942.
Assigned to the Naval Transportation Service (NTS) on 6 February, American Legion embarked men slated for duty at a destroyer base being established at Londonberry, Northern Ireland, and sailed, in convoy, on the first leg of her voyage bound for Halifax. Engineering difficulties, however, soon came to the fore again and "engineering unreliability" caused her to be sent to the Boston Navy Yard for repairs. Accordingly, escorted by Nicholson (DD-442) and Lea (DD-118), American Legion reached Boston on 4 March after a two-day passage from Nova Scotia. Ultimately deemed ready for service once more, American Legion reported for duty with the NTS on 28 March. On 9 April, American Legion sailed from New York for the Panama Canal Zone bound ultimately for Tongatabu, in the Tonga, or Friendly Islands, which she reached on 8 May. There she disembarked her passengersArmy officiers, nurses, and enlisted men who were to establish a field hospital on Tongatabuand proceeded on to Wellington, New Zealand arriving there on 20 May. American Legion remained at Wellington through mid-July, earmarked for participation in the United States' first offensive landing operation in the Pacific Warthe invasion of Guadalcanal in the Solomons. Three days before she was to sail from Wellington, she received an augmentation of her antiaircraft batterya dozen 20 millimeter Oerlikon machine guns. American Legion's ship force installed the battery on the ship's former sun deck in 48 hours, laboring continuously in inclement weather and having the battery in firing order by the time the ship upped-anchor and sailed on 18 July. Rendezvousing with TF-4 on the following day, the transport with elements of the 5th Marines embarked, proceeded to Koro in the Fiji Islands for rehearsals for Operation "Watchtower." During that training and practice evolution, the ship embarked war correspondent Richard Tregaskis, whose experiences would later be chronicled in the book, Guadalcanal Diary. Assigned to Task Group "X-ray," ten attack transports and five attack cargo ships, American Legion proceeded to the Solomon Islands. On the morning of 7 August, she went to general quarters at 0545 hours and manned "ship to shore" stations fifteen minutes later. At 0614 hours attending cruisers and destroyers opened fire on the beachheads - softening up the beaches for the impending landing. American Legion and Fuller (AP-14) soon landed the first troops to go ashore on Guadalcanal. That afternoon while the landings proceeded, American Legion joined in the anti-aircraft barrage that repelled the initial Japanese air attacks on the invasion fleet, as she did the next day. Discharging cargo at "Red" Beach on the morning of 8 August, the transport got underway as a wave of Japanese twin-engined bombers came after the shipping off Guadalcanal. At noon, American Legion sighted the incoming planes which dropped their bombs near the supporting cruisers and destroyers before heading toward the amphibious ships. During the action, one Mitsubishi G4M1 Type 97 land attack plane ("Betty") passed from starboard to port directly over American Legion's stern at 100 feet. The after 20-millimeter guns and .50-caliber machine gunsas well as the larger 3-inch gunsall opened up in a deadly fusillade, while men on board the transport could see the Japanese aircrew manning their own machine guns to sweep the decks with gunfire. Some of this return fire fatally wounded Seaman 1st Class Charles Kaplan. Riddled from practically all quarters, the "Betty" crashed into the water close aboard on the port quarter. American Legion still lay off "Red" Beach in the predawn hour of the 9th and began observing heavy gunfire commencing at 0148 hours to the northwestward. Lookouts also saw flares and tracers with parachute flares brilliantly lighting up the area to the northeastward. With this, Transport Group "X-ray" ceased discharging cargo and darkened ship, remaining shut down for the rest of the night with crews at general quarters. American Legion's men did not know it at the time but they were witnessing the disastrous Battle of Savo Island in which three American heavy cruisers were sunk, one American heavy cruiser damaged and an Australian heavy cruiser sunk. The next morning, the transport began embarking survivors from the sunken heavy crusier Quincy (CA-39) and from the destroyer Lto(DD-398), completing the transfer by 1400 hours. Within a half hour, American Legion got underway with the majority of her cargo having been unloaded by her busy boat crews who had labored almost continously since the 7th with almost no sleep and subsisting only on sandwiches and coffee. She left behind one officer and 19 enlisted men as part of the burgeoning naval base at Guadalcanal, having transferred them on the evening of the 8th. American Legion, with the rest of the amphibious ships of TF 62, then proceeded to Noumea, New Caledonia which she reached on 13 August. Soon thereafter, she transferred her Quincy survivors to the auxiliary Argonne (AG-31) and the transport Wharton (AP-7). Over the next several months, American Legion carried out a series of supply runs including as ports of call Guadalcanal, Tulagi, Auckland, New Zealand; Noumea; Brisbane, Australia; and Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides.
Arriving at Brisbane on New Year's Day, she sailed soon thereafter for Melbourne, Australia then proceeded to Tongatabu, Pago Pago, Espiritu Santo, and Guadalcanal. Early in this period, on 1 February, the ship was re-classified to an attack transport, APA-17. She then carried out a series of training landings at Upolu, American Samoa, between 9 April and 10 May and then later at New Zealand, at Paikaiariki, between 13 and 16 June. While there, a landing accident claimed the lives of one officer and nine enlisted men when one of American Legion's landing boats capsized in a heavy surf. Troop and cargo runs then followed between Auckland, New Zealand, Noumea, New Caledonia, and Guadalcanal before she put into Efate, in the New Hebrides on 22 October in preparation for the invasion of Bougainville, Solomon Islands. Arriving off Cape Torokina, Bougainville on the morning of 1 November, American Legion proceeded into the earmarked transport area in Empress Augusta Bay and anchored at 0646 hours. Japanese planes arriving in the vicinity prompted the ships to get underway, the transport's men observing Aichi D3A2 Type 99 carrier attack planes ("Vals") attacking nearby destroyers and losing two or three of their number in the process. "Zeke" (Mitsubishi A6M "Zero") fighters then strafed the beach area sinking an LCPL from American Legion. Securing from general quarters at 0937 hours, American Legion anchored in the transport area a few moments later, observers on board noting beaches Red 2 and 3 littered with broached landing craft - 2 LCMs and four LCVPs from American Legion among them. Ordered to cease unloading off beach Red 2 and to proceed to beach Blue 3, the transport got underway and proceeded soon noting the presence of shoal water. At 1246 hours, the ship's war diary recounts "several slight shocks to hull" as American Legion grounded. Ten minutes later, enemy planes were reported approaching as the ship began using her engines in an attempt to work herself free of her predicament. While the other ships in the task unit got underway and stood out, American Legion remained fast aground. The ship, assisted in the effort by Sioux (AT-75) and Apache (AT-67), fired on "Vals" attacking the beachhead and eventually worked free by 1506 hours. After standing out to sea during the night, the transport returned to the transport area the following morning and completed discharging cargo. Following the landings at Cape Torokina, American Legion returned to the United States via Pago Pago, Samoa, and reached San Francisco on 8 December having traveled 83,140 miles since leaving New York the previous spring.
American Legion then underwent repairs at San Francisco into the spring of 1944. Departing San Francisco on 12 April, American Legion proceeded to San Diego where she became part of the Transport Training Division, Amphibious Training, Pacific. Based at the Amphibious Training Base at Coronado, CA, American Legion operated in the training capacity for the duration of World War II, exercising off Coronado, off Aliso Canyon, near Ocean-side, CA, and the Marine Corps Base, Camp Pendleton, and at Pyramid Cove, near San Clemente Island.
Departing San Diego on 7 September 1945, American Legion proceeded to San Francisco, stopping there only briefly before sailing on 11 September for Pearl Harbor and Guam. Returning to San Pedro on 24 October, American Legion sailed for her second Pacific voyage on 8 November bound for the Philippines. After calling at Manila and Tacloban, the veteran transport returned to the United States reaching San Francisco on 12 December.
Departing San Francisco for the last time on 6 March, she reached Olympia, WA on the 9th. She was decommissioned there on 28 March and was turned over to the War Shipping Administration for disposal. Her name was struck from the Naval Vessel Register the same day.
Ultimately sold for scrap on 5 February 1948 to Zidell Ship Dismantling Co., of Portland, Oregon.
See Also -
USAT American Legion (US Army)
These specifications and ship histories are adapted from the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships (US Naval Historical Center) and from various other sources. These summaries may not reflect the most recent information concerning the ships' status or operations. If you find an error or discrepancy, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out our online crossing submission form.