Originally built as the passenger liner Manhattan of the United States Lines and was launched on 5 December 1931.
The Government chartered her on 6 June 1941 for a two-year period and renamed her Wakefield. Converted to a troop transport at Brooklyn by the Robins Dry-dock Co., her costly furnishings and trappings of a luxury cruise liner were carefully removed and stored for future use. All of the ship's external surfaces were painted in Navy camouflage colors. On 15 June, Wakefield was commissioned. On 13 July, Wakefield departed New York to participate in joint Navy-Marine-Army-Coast Guard amphibious training exercises at New River Inlet, NC, in late July and early August. In early November, the troopship proceeded to Halifax, Nova Scotia, to take on board British troops. Wakefield, with 6,000 men embarked, and five other transports got underway on 10 November for Capetown, South Africa. Escorted by a strong screenwhich, as far as Trinidad, included Ranger (CV-4)the convoy arrived at Capetown on 8 December, the day after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. This drastic change in the strategic situation prompted the convoy to be rerouted to the Far East.
1942 - 1943
On 29 January, Wakefield and West Point arrived at Singapore to disembark troops doomed later to capture by the Japanese upon the fall of the city in the following month. On 30 January, Wakefield commenced fueling at Keppel Harbor for the return voyage and awaited the arrival of some 400 British women and children who were being evacuated to Ceylon. At 1100, lookouts spotted two formations of Japanese bombers27 planes in eachapproaching the dock area at Keppel Harbor. Unhampered by antiaircraft fire or British fighter planes, the enemy bombers droned overhead and released a brief rain of bombs on the waterfront. One bomb hit 50 yards off Wakefield's port quarter, and another blew up in the dock area 40 feet from the transport's bow before a third struck the ship's "B" deck and penetrated through to "C" deck where it exploded in the sick bay spaces. A fire broke out, but it was extinguished in less than one-half hour. Using oxygen masks, fire-fighting and damage control crews extricated five dead and nine wounded. Medical assistance soon came from West Point. Completing her fueling, Wakefield embarked her passengers and got underway soon thereafter, burying her dead at sea at 2200 and pushing on for Ceylon. After disembarking her passengers at Colombo, the ship found that port authorities would not cooperate in arranging for repair of her damage. Wakefield, therefore, promptly sailed for Bombay, India, where she was able to effect temporary repairs and embark 336 American evacuees. Steaming home via Capetown, the transport reached New York on 23 March and then proceeded to Philadelphia for permanent repairs. Underway on 11 May for Hampton Roads, Wakefield arrived at Norfolk two days later to load cargo in preparation for Naval Transportation Service Operating Plan "Lone Wolf." This provided for Wakefield to travel, for the most part, unescortedrelying on her superior speed to outrun or outmaneuver enemy submarines. On the 19th, she embarked 4,725 marines and 309 Navy and Army passengers for transportation to the South Pacific and moved to Hampton Roads to form up with a convoy bound for the Canal Zone. Arriving at Cristobal on the 25th, Wakefield was released from the convoy to proceed west. After Borie (DD-215) escorted her out of the Canal Zone, Wakefield proceeded independently to New Zealand and arrived at Wellington on 14 June. Departing one week later, the transport steamed via the Panama Canal and reached New York on 11 July. On 6 August, Wakefield departed New York with Convoy AT-18the largest troop convoy yet assembled. A dozen troop transports made up the bulk of the convoy, escorted by twelve warships - cruisers and destroyers. After proceeding via Halifax to Great Britain, Wakefield received orders routing her and three other transports to the River Clyde, where they arrived without incident. On 27 August, Wakefield departed the Clyde estuary as part of Convoy TA-18, bound for New York. While the transport was en route to her destination, on the evening of 3 September, fire broke out deep within the bowels of the ship and spread rapidly. In the port column of the formation, Wakefield swung to port to run before the wind while fire-fighting began immediately. Ready-use ammunition was thrown overboard to prevent detonation, code room publications were secured, and sick bay and brig inmates were released. Mayo (DD-422) and Brooklyn (CL-40) closed to windward to take off passengers, a badly-burned officer, and members of the crew not needed to man pumps and hoses. Other survivors were disembarked by boat and raft, to be picked up forthwith by the screening ships. At 2100, Brooklyn again came alongside to remove the remainder of the crew, while a special salvage detail boarded the ship. On 5 September, towing operations commenced, and the big transport nosed aground at McNab's Cove, near Halifax, at 1740 on the 8th. When fire-fighting details arrived alongside to board and commence the mammoth operation, fires still burned in three holds and in the crew's quarters on two deck levels. Four days later, the last flames had been extinguished, and the ship was refloated on the 14th. While Wakefield was undergoing partial repairs in Halifax harbor, a torrential rainstorm threatened to fill the damaged ship with water and capsize her at her berth. Torrents of rain, at times in cloud-burst proportions, poured into the ship and caused her to list heavily. Salvage crews, meanwhile, cut holes in the ship's sides above the waterline, draining away the water to permit the ship to regain an even keel. For the next ten days, the salvagers engaged in extensive initial repair work - cleaning up the ship, pumping out debris, patching up holes, and preparing the vessel for her voyage to the Boston Navy Yard for complete rebuilding. Temporarily decommissioned, the charred liner proceeded for Boston with a four-tug tow, and was declared a "constructive total loss." The Government purchased the hulk from the United States Lines and stripped the vessel to the waterline. Construction began, and a virtually new Wakefield arose from her ashes. The repairs and alterations began in the fall of 1942, and lasted through 1943.
On 10 February, Wakefield was recommissioned and she departed Boston on 13 April, beginning the first of 23 round-trips in the Atlantic theater, and three in the Pacific. Between 13 April 1944 and 1 February 1946, Wakefield transported 110,563 troops to Europe and brought some 106,674 men back to America - a total of 217,237 passengers. In many cases, Wakefield operated as a "lone wolf," except for air coverage a few miles out of a port. Her primary port of call in the European theater was Liverpool - visited so often in fact that the transport's crew nicknamed her "The Boston and Liverpool Ferry." The average round-trip voyage took eightteen days. After D day, 6 June 1944, Wakefield began the first of her trips as a casualty-evacuation ship, bringing home wounded GI's. On occasion, she also brought back German prisoners of war for internment in the United States. Sometimes she even carried both evacuees and prisoners on the same voyage.
1945 - 1946
After 13 trips to Liverpool, Wakefield was sent to the Mediterranean theater to carry men and equipment to Italy. She made three visits to Naples and a run each to Marseilles, Oran, Taranto, Le Havre, and Cherbourg. Returning from her 22nd voyage to Europe, the transport departed Boston on 4 December 1945 for Taku, China and a "Magic Carpet" mission - returning to San Diego, Calif., on 1 February 1946. Two round trips to Guam, in February through April, rounded out the ship's active service as a Navy transport. Mooring at New York on 27 May, Wakefield was decommissioned on 15 Junefive years to the day since she first entered service.
Laid up in reserve and out of commission at New York, she remained there into the 1950's until disposed of by the Navy in 1957. After a brief tour with the National Defense Reserve Fleet, Wakefield was struck from the Navy list in 1959 and scrapped in 1964.
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.