PINE TREE STATE
Built in 1921 by the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation, Sparrows Point, MD for American Orient Line as a fast passenger liner. Her tonnage was 13,524 tons, 535 feet in length, 72 feet 4 inches in the beam and with a service speed of 17 knots. In fact, until the introduction of newer ships in the 1930s she was one of America’s fastest and best Pacific liners which operated the US to Orient service. In 1922 she was renamed President Grant and served the company well until she was laid up by the 1936-37 Maritime strike and lay at Seattle.
In 1940 she was taken over by the Navy from the Maritime Commission and from 17th July she was converted to a troop ship at Todd’s Seattle yard. She was renamed Harris, as seen in this photograph, and commissioned on 19th August. She spent the first few months of her commission service carrying troops to Pearl Harbour and acting as a troop training ship at San Diego.
Her conversion for the Navy provided for four 3 inch guns, six 40mm guns and four 20mm guns and her crew totalled 628 persons.
On 13th April 1942 she sailed for the South Pacific, carrying Marines to occupy strategic points outside the Japanese perimeter of conquest. Her task group arrived at Wallis Island on 31st May and unloaded troops for the defence of the New Caledonia area. She then returned to the United States and operated out of Monterey Bay, California, in amphibious training. After suffering collision damage which required dry-docking until 14 October, she loaded troops at Norfolk to begin training for landings in North Africa. She departed 23rd October with the Southern Attack Force, and acted as flagship for the transport force arriving offshore early on 8th November and after Beradou and Cole, boldly entered the harbor with raider forces, disembarked her Army troops to consolidate the landing. One of the first transports to complete disembarkation she returned to Norfolk on 13th November. She got underway again on 5th December with combat troops for the Pacific, arriving at San Diego on 17th December. There she trained and was re-designated APA-21.
She sailed from San Francisco for Alaska on 24th April 1943 to take part in the recapture of Attu and she arrived at Cold Harbor on 30th April and four days later set course for the barren Aleutian Islands. She skillfully disembarked her troops during the assault and then remained in the Adak-Dutch Harbor area until 10th June, when she returned to San Diego. After training off California, Harris and other ships of the Northern Pacific Force sailed 29th July for the occupation of another Aleutian Island, Kiska. Landings were made without opposition on 15th August, as the Japanese had evacuated under cover of fog. She completed her unloading by 21st August and returned to San Francisco before sailing for New Zealand via Noumea. Arriving Wellington on 30th September, she loaded Marines and trained out of Wellington and Efate, New Hebrides, until 13th November when she sailed with the Southern Attack Force for the invasion of Tarawa, Gilbert Islands, as the Navy began its resistless push across Micronesia to Japan. She arrived the day after the initial landings on 20th November. Despite fire from shore batteries she discharged her troops and cargo during the days that followed. She remained off the island caring for casualties and unloading until 2nd December, when she sailed for Pearl Harbor. Arriving Pearl Harbour on the 14th December she took part in amphibious drills for the invasion of the Marshalls.
She sailed on the 22nd January and arrived off Kwajalein on 31st January. After a week of bloody fighting, assault troops and casualties were re-embarked on board Harris and then she left for Pearl Harbour after which she sailed to San Pedro for needed repairs, and returned to Pearl Harbour on 9th May. She immediately began loading troops and equipment for another Pacific operation, the invasion of the Marianas. She arrived off Saipan on 16th June, one day after the initial landings, and remained in the transport area for five weeks. With the Marianas won, she sailed for Eniwetok, arriving there on 24th June. The veteran transport returned to the Hawaiian Islands and the Solomon’s where she stayed until the 8th September, in order to prepare for the next assault. She then sailed from Guadalcanal for the invasion of the Palaus, wanted as staging bases for later air attacks. Harris conducted a diversionary landing on 15th September on Babelthuap while the main forces stormed Peleliu, and after standing ready with her reserve troops for several days, sailed for Ulithi where she put her troops ashore to occupy this atoll, ideal for a fleet anchorage, and departed 2 days later for Manus. The invasion of the Philippines followed and Harris was once again in the thick of it, embarking elements of the 1st Cavalry Division and sailed for Leyte Gulf on 12th October. After having to leave the formation temporarily to free her paravane from a dangerous live mine she regained position and unloaded her troops and cargo on 20th October. Following the decisive Battle for Leyte Gulf she took on board survivors off Samar between heavy Japanese forces and light U.S. carriers and destroyers. She departed on 28th October, arriving at Guam three days later, and returned to Leyte Gulf with reinforcements. She then sailed for Guadalcanal and Bouganville for additional troops and spent December in landing exercises in Huon Gulf.
Harris departed Manus on New Years Eve 1944 to rendezvous with the assault forces steaming toward Lingayen Gulf. The convoys encountered some of the heaviest air attacks of the war en route, and her gunners gunner were kept very busy, especially on the 8th and 9th January 1945, the days immediately preceding the assault. She disembarked her troops under heavy smoke screen, and departed for Leyte Gulf. Here she embarked more landing forces that she soon landed at La Paz without opposition as the invasion of Luzon gathered momentum. She returned to Leyte Gulf on 1st February where she prepared to take part in the invasion of Okinawa. She sailed on 27th March and arrived offshore for the initial landings, a member of Bear Admiral Hall's Southern Attack Force. Fierce enemy suicide attacks soon developed, and her gunners fought off numerous attacks as ships around her were hit. She completed her unloading under these hazardous conditions by 3rd April and departed for Pearl Harbour after which she continued to San Francisco, but soon returned to the fighting, bringing fresh troops to Okinawa on 28th May. After another round trip from Pearl Harbour to Okinawa, the ship arrived Ulithi on 10th August, having narrowly missed the great August typhoon. Assigned to assist in carrying occupation troops to Japan, she sailed to the Philippines on 17th August, and arrived at Tokyo Bay during the fist week of September. After disembarking her troops she made another voyage to Samar for occupation troops and finally departing Japan on 12th October. The ship made its final occupation voyage to Taku Bar, China, helping to stabilize the volatile situation there, and sailed on 16th November for Guam and the West Coast.
She transited the Panama Canal, and arrived at Boston on 2nd February 1945 and was decommissioned on 16th April.
She was sold to American Ship Breakers Inc. on 20th July 1948 and scrapped.
Much of this information comes from USS Harris (AP-8/APA-21)-Ship History and Specifications and while I realize that I have included much information that might not be of interest to everybody I felt that it shows the busy schedule of a merchant ship in time of war, especially a war that was on the other side of the world to America and the logistics involved.
Photograph belongs to Stuart Smith