Originally built as Santa Rita - a twin-screw, steel-hulled, passenger and cargo motorship that was operated between New York and ports in South America and on the west coast of the United States, carrying passengers and freight. She was acquired by the Navy on 6 February 1940 and was commissioned "in ordinary" as William Ward Burrows (AP-6) on 9 February. Converted to a troop transport at the Norfolk Navy Yard, William Ward Burrows was placed in full commission on 15 May 1940.
Sailed from Norfolk on her maiden voyage on 6 July and proceeded to Weehawken, N.J., to take on a cargo of structural steel. Departing that port on the 15th, the transport embarked a company of marines as well as a group of women and childrennaval dependentsfor transportation to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. After delivering her passengers, she embarked to Midway Island, where she dropped anchor on 2 October. William Ward Burrows began what would become a series of voyages that formed part of the belated American attempt to fortify her outposts in the Pacificislands such as Wake, Midway, and Johnston.
She would conduct eight voyages prior to the outbreak of war in the Pacific, carrying construction employees, sailors, and marines, and the miscellaneous cargo necessary to sustain the outposts of the American defense system in the Pacific. On what proved to be her last pre-war voyage to Wake, the transport took westward a cargo of dynamite, as well as employees of civilian contractors and a handful of Navy and Marine Corps personnel. In addition, she towed Pan American Airways Barge (PAB) No. 4, laden with general cargo. She arrived at Wake on 11 November, disembarked her passengers, discharged her cargo, and delivered her tow before she headed back to Hawaii on the 13th. She shifted to Honolulu and embarked 33 marines, 60 sailors, and 55 civilian contractor's employees for transport to Wake on the 28th. She got underway at 0825 on 29 November, towing PAB-7. The ship carried 1,819 tons of cargo - general supplies, lumber, "reefer boxes" (refrigerators), a boat, 10 trailers, and 20 tons of gasoline in tins. At 0705 on 8 December, William Ward Burrows received word of the attack on Pearl Harbor. The crew was called to general quarters; the captain set air and submarine watches; lookouts were alerted, as were the gun crews. Civilian workmen embarked on board immediately volunteered their services "in any capacity." On 9 December, William Ward Burrows received orders to return to Honolulu with her loaded cargo and PAB-7. On 13 December, the transport received word to take PAB-7 to Johnston Island. Accordingly, the ship altered course and on 15 December delivered the barge and embarked passengers for transportation to Hawaii. That evening, William Ward Burrows remained at anchor to the south of Johnston Island in an anchorage deemed safe from submarine attack. At 1810, Ens. J. A. Peterson, USNRthe officer of the decksounded the general alarm; when Comdr. Dierdorff reached the bridge, he saw that enemy ships were shelling Johnston Island from the northward, setting fire to oil storage tanks near the center of the island. One large shell struck 30 yards astern of William Ward Burrows, and another passed over the forecastle. Other splashes erupted from the waters between the ship and the island. Fortunately for William Ward Burrows and her 227 passengers132 of them civiliansthe enemy did not see her. Knowing that his 3-inch guns were inadequate for a surface gunfire duel with ships of unknown size, Comdr. Dierdorff wisely decided not to open fire. Favored by darkness and rain squalls, William Ward Burrows got underway at 1830 and escaped to the southward. By that time, the bombardment had ceased. At about 2330, Johnston Island reported no casualties and advised William Ward Burrows not to return; thus, early the next morning, the transport set course for Honolulu and home.
William Ward Burrows entered drydock on New Year's Day for repairs to her rudder and nine days later emerged and began loading cargo destined for Midway. After embarking a draft of marines, the transport got underway on 18 January. She arrived five days later and began working her cargo. Two days later, a Japanese submarine boldly surfaced a mere mile away and began shelling the island. However, about three minutes later, fire from Marine Corps guns ashore drove the submarine away. The ship soon headed back to Pearl Harbor and arrived there on 3 February. Between early February and mid-March, she made two more round-trip voyages to Midway before she conducted an interisland trip among the islands of the Hawaiian group carrying general cargo and transporting Army troops to Hilo and Maui. She next voyaged to Midway, carrying general cargo, lumber, provisions, "reefer boxes," cable reels, and a two-ton truck while transporting naval and Marine Corps personnel. In mid-May, she returned to the west coast of the United States. On 5 September off Kukum Point, she hove to at 0756 finding all available boats engaged in picking up the survivors from Little and Gregory, APD's that had tangled with a detachment of the "Tokyo Express" and been sunk by the gunfire of Japanese destroyers Yudachi, Hatsuyuki, and Murakumo on the night of 4 and 5 September. As those boats passed his ship, Comdr. McQuiston invited them to come alongside and transfer the wounded to the transport. William Ward Burrows picked up 27 that morning and an additional 214 later, all for passage to Espiritu Santo. Her task completed at Guadalcanal, William Ward Burrows, escorted by Gamble, got underway at 1858. At 0715 on 8 September, the transport dropped anchor at Segond Channel, Espiritu Santo, and disembarked the APD survivors and discharging more of her cargo, William Ward Burrows took on passengers and light freight and pushed on alone for New Caledonia on the 12th. Reaching Noumea on the 14th, she continued her voyage through the Pacific war zone to Suva, in the Fiji Islands, in company with USAT Ernest R. Hinds and escorted by Buchanan (DD-484). There, she brought on board more cargo and mail for delivery to Pearl Harbor. Again sailing in company with Ernest R. Hinds and escorted by Raleigh (CL-7), William Ward Burrows made port at Pearl Harbor on 28 September. She remained at that point until 4 October loading cargo. She sailed for the Fiji Islands in company with Tangier (AV-8) and escorted by Wood-worth (DD-460). Upon arrival at Suva on the 15th, the transport worked her cargo and, on the 18th, pushed on for Espiritu Santo where she arrived three days later. Underway for New Caledona on the 27th, William Ward Burrows arrived at Noumea the following day and unloaded her passengers and mail. She stayed there until 14 November, when she pushed on for Samoa. Upon arrival, she discharged passengers and mail; picked up other passengers; and then proceeded back to the Hawaiian Islands, arriving at Pearl Harbor on 27 November.
1943 - 1944
The transport made one round-trip voyage to Midway and back before she shifted to the west coast of the United States for her second "stateside" visit since the war began. Arriving at San Francisco, CA, on 2 February, she spent the next few weeks exchanging cargoes and embarking passengers. She sailed for the Hawaiian Islands on 21 February, in company with Henderson (AP-1) and escorted by Bulmer (DD-222) and Parrot (DD-218). The convoy, designated Task Group 15.6, ran into heavy weather on 25 February and for four days fought through mountainous seas. William Ward Burrows occasionally shipped water over both bow and stern and rolled very heavily in the rough seas and heavy swells, but arrived safely at Pearl Harbor on 2 March. The ship devoted most of 1943 to making interisland transport runs, travelling among the islands of the Central Pacific, especially those of the Hawaiian chain. Late on the 23 July, William Ward Burrows dropped anchor in Tanapag Harbor, Saipan, where she became a base of operations for the harbor development unit and immediately began salvage and harbor development operations, providingwater and stores to the various ships assigned to ServRon 12 as well as small craft from other units. Her stay at Saipan was not without incident. On 30 July, shortly after midnight, a tremendous explosion rocked the area; the concussion from the blast blew in the plywood light shields at the William Ward Burrows' hatches facing the island. Japanese infiltrators had detonated a cache of 84 tons of dynamite. Boats from the ship put out to investigate but could only ascertain that damage to the dump had been done and the guards had disappeared, probably killed in the blast. The following morning, William Ward Burrows disembarked a detachment of four officers and 180 enlisted men of Naval Construction Battalion (NCB) ("Sea-bees") 301 to continue harbor development work at Saipan and stood out of Tanapag Harbor, bound for newly conquered Guam.
1945 - 1946
The cessation of hostilities did not mean an end to the ship's work. The veteran transport participated in the occupation of the enemy's homeland, continuing her vital support role between 2 September 1945 and 26 January 1946. Her task completed in the Far East, William Ward Burrows sailed for the United States in the spring of 1946. She was decommissioned on 16 May. Struck from the Navy list on 15 August 1946, William Ward Burrows was delivered to the War Shipping Administration, Maritime Commission, and simultaneously delivered to the Commission's reserve fleet for lay up. She remained in reserve until she was sold in 1957 and scrapped.
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.