Re: Finding a ship my father was ordered to
Posted by Ron Carlson on February 5, 2018, 11:33 pm, in reply to "Finding a ship my father was ordered to"
Thank you for your inquiry. I am able to provide what I hope will be useful information. I’m an ace at this kind of thing if I may say so.
SS ARAM J POTHIER was a Liberty ship, one of some 2,700 basically identical cargo ships built immediately before, during and immediately after World War II. Liberty ships were the most common U.S.-flag merchant vessels in service during the war. Some Liberty ships were converted, or purpose-built, to carry troops as well as cargo. All Liberty ships were powered by steam engines (technically, triple expansion reciprocating steam engines, a relatively simple and very dependable although outdated engine by then), thus the designation “steam.” The “SS” prefix to the ship’s name means “steam ship” and was the typical way to designate merchant ships powered by steam.
ARAM J POTHIER was constructed in 58 days by the New England Shipbuilding Corp. in South Portland, Maine. Her keel was laid May 1, 1944, she was launched June 16, and she was completed on June 28, 1944. She survived the war, was laid up (“mothballed”) in Beaumont, Texas, and was scrapped in Brownsville, Texas, in 1970. She probably never sailed again following the end of the war. See http://www.shipbuildinghistory.com/shipyards/emergencylarge/newengland.htm and scroll to hull number 3036. Also see http://www.mariners-l.co.uk/LibshipsA.html#AndrewM and scroll to the name of the ship. She was named for Aram J. Pothier (1854-1928), who served multiple terms as governor of Rhode Island in 1909-1915 and again 1925-1928, dying in office.
I believe I have identified the convoys in which your father was aboard ARAM J POTHIER. The ship departed New York on or about February 2, 1945, in convoy HX-336, a convoy of 47 merchant vessels and 21 escorts, destination Liverpool. Your father joined the crew on January 22, 1945, with the shipboard position of messman, an entry-level position in what is known as the stewards’ department, responsible primarily for planning, preparing, serving and cleaning up after meals. The crew list describes him as being 17 years old, 5 feet 9 inches tall and 158 pounds. The convoy reached Liverpool on February 14, 1945, without having suffered any losses to the enemy. ARAM J POTHIER likely did not call at Liverpool but rather proceeded on to Antwerp, Belgium, arriving on or about February 22. She crossed the English Channel to London, departing there on or about March 12 and then joined westbound convoy ON-290 (70 merchant ships and 16 escorts). The convoy reached New York without incident on March 29, 1945.
In researching your question, I discovered that your father served aboard at least one other ship after ARAM J POTHIER, of which you may or may not be aware. I found him in the crew of Liberty ship SS WILLIAM H JACKSON when she departed New York on or about June 18, 1945. Because the war in Europe had ended in May, there was no need for ships to travel in convoy any longer. Her stated destination was London. On this voyage your father was described as 17 years old, 5 feet 9 inches tall, 160 pounds. Further, he is identified as a native of Illinois with next of kin being his father, Thomas, of 1207 21st Avenue, Rockford, IL. He also has a “Z number” (merchant marine identification number) of Z-615729, as best I can make out; the crew list copy is a bit hard to read. More about Z numbers later. Does any of this family information ring true?
Interestingly on this voyage his shipboard position was ordinary seaman, an entry-level position in the deck department. It may seem peculiar that someone would be part of the steward’s department on one voyage and then be found in the deck department on the next voyage, but not so. The U.S. Coast Guard issues “seamen’s papers” to U.S. merchant mariners. In your father’s case, those documents authorized him to hold the entry-level positions of messman in the steward’s department, ordinary seaman in the deck department, or wiper in the engine department as assigned, without additional knowledge or experience, although with plenty of on-the-job training, to be sure. An ordinary seaman would be part of the deck crew, handling mooring and tugboat lines, operating deck machinery including the anchor windlass, stood watch as a lookout, and would have been trained to serve as a helmsman, along with other more mundane operational, maintenance, and repair responsibilities.
WILLIAM H JACKSON arrived in London on an unspecified date, and departed London July 27, arriving New York on August 8, 1945. The war in the Pacific was effectively over – the U.S. dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima on August 6 and another on Nagasaki on August 9 – and apparently your father’s war was over also.
WILLIAM H JACKSON was constructed by the Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyard in Baltimore in 41 days. Her keel was laid May 22, 1943, she was launched June 23, and she was completed July 2, 1943. She survived the war as well and had a long post-war commercial career. She was sold to a private shipping company in 1947 and renamed, sold again in 1951 and renamed, sold yet again in 1960 and renamed, sold in 1961, 1964 and 1967, sailing under at least the Honduran, Panamanian, and Lebanese flags before being scrapped in Shanghai in 1968. See http://www.shipbuildinghistory.com/shipyards/emergencylarge/bethfairfield.htm and scroll to hull number 2156; also see http://www.mariners-l.co.uk/LibShipsW.html#WilDH and scroll to the name of the ship. She was named after William H. Jackson (1835-1903), a Confederate general from Tennessee.
The crew list information above that I found came from the subscription website Ancestry.com (www.ancestry.com), a site commonly used for genealogical research which has information about crew members and passengers arriving in certain U.S. ports of entry following a foreign voyage. The convoy information comes from the excellent public website ConvoyWeb, http://www.convoyweb.org.uk/hague/index.html.
It seems possible that your father may have sailed at least one other time between his arrival in New York aboard ARAM J POTHIER on March 29, 1945, and his departure from New York in WILLIAM H JACKSON on June 18, 1945. That interval of about ten weeks would have been sufficient for another round trip between New York and Britain, aboard either of the two ships in which I found him, or possibly in a third ship. Therefore you may be interested in obtaining your father’s full merchant marine service record, by contacting the U.S. Coast Guard. See this web page from the website I manage: http://armed-guard.com/searchmil.html. In particular see section A.2. Records of Individuals – Merchant Marine. You will have to contact the U.S. Coast Guard’s National Maritime Center in Martinsburg, West Virginia. The Coast Guard was and is responsible for issuing certain documents and officers’ licenses to U.S. merchant mariners, so they may have information about your father. His record would likely include information on training, the ships to which he was assigned, any serious injuries or illnesses, applicable dates, etc. You will need to provide as much identifying information as possible about your father. This is where his Z number, which I note above, will be useful. Aside from his name, the single most important piece of identifying information for him will be his Z number. There will be a fee for this service but the Coast Guard would not begin work without informing you of any charges.
Finally, I don’t know where you live, of course, but you may be interested to know that there are two surviving, operational Liberty ships still in existence. One, SS JOHN W BROWN, is located in Baltimore; I am a volunteer crewman aboard this ship and the former webmaster for Project Liberty Ship which owns and operates JOHN W BROWN. See http://www.ssjohnwbrown.org/. This ship was built in the Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyard, as was WILLIAM H JACKSON. JOHN W BROWN offers dockside tours year-round, and also six-hour day cruises on Chesapeake Bay during the warmer months of the year. The other Liberty is SS JEREMIAH O’BRIEN in San Francisco, built in the same shipyard in Maine as was ARAM J POTHIER. JEREMIAH O’BRIEN is open for dockside tours and also conducts day cruises on San Francisco Bay. Additionally there are two operational Victory ships; the Victory class succeeded the Liberty class, with about 550 Victory ships being built. The two ships are SS AMERICAN VICTORY in Tampa, and SS LANE VICTORY in San Pedro, California. Google searches for any of these ships will produce their respective websites and additional information. Visiting any of these ships will give you some small understanding, if only in your imagination, of your father’s experience aboard his two ships.
In 2007 JOHN W BROWN made a week-long visit to Portland, Maine, site of the shipyard that built ARAM J POTHIER and JEREMIAH O’BRIEN. I was fortunate enough to be on that voyage as a crew member, along with my wife, son and daughter, all volunteers as well. During the week in Portland we were the hottest ticket in town, with thousands of visitors, many of whom had had family members who worked in the shipyard. My wife and I visited the actual site of the shipyard, which has totally disappeared, although there is an abstract sculpture of the bow of a Liberty ship pointed out toward the ocean. That voyage was truly one of the high points of my life.
If you ever plan to visit Baltimore, please let me know in advance and I will give you a personal guided tour of JOHN W BROWN.
Ron Carlson, Webmaster
Armed Guard / Merchant Marine website