Gallant Ships of World War II Merchant Marine
SS Stephen Hopkins
Early on the morning of September 27, 1942 two German raiders suddenly appeared out of the morning mist to attack the SS Stephen Hopkins. Heavy guns of one raider pounded her hull, and machine gun fire from the other sprayed her decks at close quarters. The lightly armed merchantman exchanged shot for shot with the enemy, placing thirty-five shells into the water line of one of the raiders until its crew was forced to abandon their sinking ship. The gun commander was mortally wounded early in the action, and all of the gun crew were killed or wounded when an enemy shell exploded the magazine of their gun. At the explosion, Edwin O'Hara ran aft and single-handed served and fired the damaged gun with five live shells remaining in the ready box, scoring direct hits near the water line of the second raider setting it on fire. O'Hara was mortally wounded in this action. With boilers blown up, engines destroyed, masts shot away, and ablaze from stem to stern, the gallant merchantman finally went under carrying O'Hara and several of his fighting shipmates with her. [The survivors were rescued after 31 days in a lifeboat.]
The stark courage of her crew in their heroic stand against overpowering odds caused her name to be perpetuated as a Gallant Ship.
In the performance of an act of heroism under unusual hazards, 18-year-old Cadet Midshipman Edwin Joseph O'Hara made the supreme sacrifice. His name will ever be revered as standing for that which is noblest in the ideals of the United States Merchant Marine Cadet Corps. He went to the Cadet Basic School at San Francisco [actually in San Mateo, Calif.] in January, 1942. After completing preliminary training as an Engine Cadet, he went to sea.
On March 15, 1943, the Fifth Anniversary of the United States Merchant Marine Cadet Corps, Cadet-Midshipman O'Hara was posthumously awarded the Merchant Marine Distinguished Service Medal by the President of the United States.
SS Adoniram Judson
In October 1944, the SS Adoniram Judson, the first US Merchant ship to dock at Tacloban, Leyte during the initial invasion of the Philippines, provided the principal air cover for the landing area for two days until joined by other ships of the expedition. Her guns, manned by a skillful and courageous crew, defeated vigorous and continuous attacks by enemy planes in a series of heroic actions. During this period she unloaded steel airfield landing mats and other military materiel vital to the success of the operation.
The stark courage of her stalwart crew against overpowering odds caused her name to be perpetuated as a Gallant Ship.
For more information about the SS Adoniram Judson:
Adoniram Judson Survives 56 Air Raids in Philippines, War Shipping Administration Press Release
SS Samuel Parker
For six months, beginning February 1943, SS Samuel Parker was in continuous service in the Mediterranean transporting troops and materiel which contributed immeasurably to the successes of the North African Campaign and the invasion of Sicily. Throughout this period she was subjected to numerous enemy attacks and, though badly battered, in every case she emerged victorious.
The stark courage of her gallant crew -- in battle and in heroic rescues -- caused her name to be perpetuated as a Gallant Ship.
SS Cedar Mills
In December 1943, SS Cedar Mills and her French destroyer escort were caught in a violent cyclone and became widely separated. The destroyer, short of fuel and unable to maneuver, was in a sinking condition with a 45 degree list when the SS Cedar Mills picked up her distress call. Against strong winds and mountainous seas, she fought through to the other ship's assistance, succeeded in transferring most of her crew, and towed the destroyer for 5 days until rendezvous was made with a British Man-of-War which relieved her.
The stark courage of her gallant crew in this heroic rescue caused her name to be perpetuated as a Gallant Ship.
SS William Moultrie
Emerging victoriously from an extremely battered convoy, numbering many sunken ships, SS William Moultrie arrived at the scheduled North Russian port and discharged her vitally needed cargo. Expert maneuvering and coordinated gun control during the highly concentrated submarine and bombing attacks over a period of one week prevented crew casualties and brought the series of actions to a successful conclusion.
The stark courage of her heroic crew in defeatmg a relentless enemy caused her name to be perpetuated as a Gallant Ship.
SS Marcus Daly
In October 1944, the SS Marcus Daly was one of the first United States Merchant ships to dock at Tacloban, Island of Leyte, during the initial invasion of the Philippines. For six days and nights, her guns, manned by a skillful and courageous crew, defeated vigorous attacks by enemy planes in a series of heroic actions. In December 1944, she again engaged enemy bombers and suicide planes and emerged victorious.
The stark courage of her stalwart crew against overwhelming odds caused her name to be perpetuated as a Gallant Ship.
SS Virginia Dare
For 17 days SS Virginia Dare, loaded with high explosives, was en route to and in a North Russian port where her vital cargo was discharged. Throughout this period she repelled countless enemy bomb and torpedo attacks by accurate fire from her guns and by skillful maneuvering. On a subsequent voyage she was torpedoed in the Mediterranean but, through smart seamanship, was beached and her valuable cargo salvaged.
The stark courage of her heroic crew under violent enemy attacks caused her name to be perpetuated as a Gallant Ship.
SS Nathaniel Greene
During a long voyage to North Russia, SS Nathaniel Greene was under incessant and violent attack by enemy planes and submarines. In most gallant fashion, and in spite of many crew casualties, she consistently out-maneuvered and out-fought the enemy, finally discharging her vital cargo at the designated port. After effecting temporary repairs to her battered hull and rigging, she took part in the North African Campaign. Bound for her last port, with limited cargo, she was torpedoed, and in a sinking condition was successfully beached.
The stark courage of her heroic crew in battle against overpowering odds caused her name to be perpetuated as a Gallant Ship.
SS Stanvac Calcutta
When about 500 miles off the coast of Brazil she was attacked by a heavily armed raider [Stier] which came up close on her in a heavy squall. Though armed with only a 4" rifle aft and a 3" anti-aircraft gun the ship tried to escape in a running fight. On the 5th round fired, the SS Stanvac Calcutta knocked out one of the raiders 15 cm guns but the next round from the enemy guns shattered the pointers scope and sight bar. The crew continued to fight the gun by laying without sights until the ammunition magazine was hit and the ship began to sink. With 14 dead and 14 seriously injured, the crew was forced to abandon ship and were taken prisoners.
This heroic defense against overwhelming odds caused the name of the SS Stanvac Calcutta to be perpetuated as a Gallant Ship.
SS Meredith Victory, awarded Aug. 24, 1960
At the height of the epoch-making evacuation of Hungnam, Korea, by the United Nations forces in December 1950, the SS Meredith Victory was requested to assist in the removal of Korean civilians trapped and threatened with death by the encircling enemy armies. Most of the military personnel had been pulled out and the city was flame from enemy gunfire. Despite imminent danger of artillery and air attack and while her escape route became more precarious by the hour, the Meredith Victory, her tanks full of jet fuel, held her position in the shell-torn harbor until 14,000 men, women, and children had been crowded into the ship. One of the last ships to leave Hungnam, the Meredith Victory set her course through enemy minefields and although having little food and water and neither doctors nor interpreters, accomplished the three-day voyage to safety at Pusan with her human cargo including several babies born en route without a single loss of life. The courage, resourcefulness, sound seamanship, and teamwork of her master, officers, and crew in successfully completing one of the greatest marine rescues in the history of the world have caused the name of the ship the Meredith Victory to be perpetuated as that of a gallant ship.
We would appreciate any information about those awarded for Gallantry after World War II:
- SS Cape Ann, awarded Oct. 23 1957
- SS Ile de France, awarded Oct. 23 1957
- USNS Pvt. Wm. H. Thomas, awarded Oct. 23 1957
- MV Western Pioneer, awarded June 29, 1961
“Western Pioneer Wins Gallant Ship Award. The MV [Western] Pioneer was designated a ‘Gallant Ship’ of the American Merchant Marine and the master and 13 crewmembers of her crew were awarded meritorious service medals and cited for bravery here June 29 for saving the lives of the crew of the wrecked Canadian fishing craft Queen Kathleen in August 1959.
“Announcement of the awards was made by Thos. E. Stakem, chairman of the Federal Maritime Board. Presentation of the awards was made by Lloyd C. Fleming, Pacific Coast director of the Maritime Administration.
“The Western Pioneer is operated between Seattle and Alaska and Aleutian Island ports by the Kimbrell-Lawrence Transportation Co. of Seattle.
"The eight survivors of the Queen Kathleen were rescued from a rocky, storm-lashed beach on Cape Yutke [Unimak Island], Alaska by crewmen in the Western Pioneer’s lifeboat at the risk of their own lives. The citation reads: ‘The courage, resourcefulness, expert seamanship and teamwork of her master, officers and crew in successfully completing the rescue operation caused the name of Western Pioneer to be perpetuated as a Gallant Ship.’
“This is only the third time the Gallant Ship award has been made since the end of World War II. The award way symbolized by a large bronze medallion presented to the ship.
Awards were presented to:
Ed Kimbrell, Master
C.W. Barnhart, Chief Mate
William J. Doyle, Second Mate
Charles W. Jenkins, Chief Engineer
Crewmen: Paul Willanger, Lelonde Hitchings, Francis Ferron,
Gale A. Hanke, Clyde Thorpe Jr., Joseph Kennedy,
Clarence Meyers, Jack Kiens, Grady O. Tuener and
Delbert R. Welch.
Source: Marine Digest (July 15, 1961): 24.
- SS Dolly Turman, awarded Aug. 14, 1963
- SS Philippine Mail, awarded Feb. 28, 1964
- SS President Wilson, awarded Apr. 1, 1965
Captain Joseph Cox rescue of Liberian Agia Erini L.
- SS President Jackson
The Gallant Ship Award was presented to the SS President Jackson in recognition of the heroic efforts displayed by the vessel's crew during their rescue of the crew of the Schooner Tina Maria Doncine when it became disabled in heavy seas off the coast of Bermuda on January 14, 1970.
- Japan Bear 1966 rescue of Chinese Grand, Capt. Kenneth A. Shannon
- Cotton State 1967 rescue Greek Grammatiki in Feb. 1965
- Tug Adeline Foss 1967 rescue Oduna off Alaska Nov. 1965
- Tug Julia C. Moran rescue collision of tankers Alva Cape and Texaco Massachusetts June 16, 1966, presented 1968
- President McKinley rescue Kwon Shun on Jan 5, 1967, presented 1968
- West German Mathilde Bolten rescue of Smith Voyager Dec 20, 1964, presented 1969
- West German Weisenburg rescue after collision of Cedarville and Norwegian Topdalsfjord May 7, 1965, presented 1969
- SS President Jackson in recognition of heroic efforts displayed by the vessel's crew during their rescue of the crew of the schooner Tina Maria Doncine when it became disabled in heavy seas off the coast of Bermuda on January 14, 1970, presented 1971
- The MS Khian Star was awarded the Gallant Ship Award and each of its crew members was presented with Gallant Ship Unit Citations in recognition of their actions in saving human lives when the SS Badger State, carrying a cargo of fire bombs, suffered an explosion ana fire at sea on December 26, 1969. (MARAD Annual Report 1971)
U.S. Merchant Marine Decorations and Awards, Edited by Irwin R. Abraham, 1966
War Shipping Administration, Press Releases 1942-1947
Gilbert, Bill. Ship of Miracles: 14,000 Lives and One Miraculous Voyage. Chicago: Triumph Books, 2000
Maritime Administration Annual Reports
Western Pioneer citation courtesy Jim Mackovjak
Merchant Marine Medals
Laws Establishing Merchant Marine Medals
Men and Ships in WW2
WSA Press Releases
6/5/00 Revised 04/07/08
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