Thursday, September 12, 2013

A special ship’s history

This is the history of a ship very special to me, since it was the one that carried me to the shores of the U.S. more than a half a century ago. Named “General Harry Taylor”, it was at the time a military transport of the Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS) of the United States of America.

Very recently I fortuitously came upon information that I never dreamed of about this vessel, which allows me to now have a pretty complete picture of the life of this ship, which played a significant role in my life history.

After so many years, I felt strangely emotional reading about, and seeing pictures of it during different stages of his service because they brought back many memories of my first Atlantic ocean crossing on it.  As a young refugee, traveling with my widowed mother, I wrote a diary about, and have vivid recollections of that memorable trip, which started in Bremerhaven the day after Christmas 1951. It lasted 13 days due to hurricanes in the Atlantic before it reached New York on January 7, 1952.  More about those experiences in future postings. 

Thanks to the management of that granted me permission to use data and pictures from their site, here is a brief history of this ship's long service to the U.S.military that now, under very different conditions, continues on behalf of the country’s tourism in the state of Florida. 

Built as a Maritime Commission type hull at a shipyard, now closed, in Richmond, CA, and launched on 10 October 1943, it was acquired and commissioned by the Navy in 1944 as USAT General Harry Taylor. Named in honor of U.S. Army Chief of Engineers, Harry Taylor (1862-1930), it was used as a transport ship in World War II, both in the Pacific and Atlantic war zones.Decommissioned in 1946 in Baltimore, MD, it was later acquired by the Navy in 1950, and assigned to the MSTS, as USNS Gen. Harry Taylor, and transported passengers in both the Asiatic-Pacific and Europe-Africa-Middle East Theaters of Operation. 

Placed in reserve in 1958, it was transferred to the  U.S. Air Force in 1961 and renamed USAFS General Hoyt S. Vandenberg in 1963 in honor of the former Air Force Chief of Staff. 
On  July 1, 1964, the General Hoyt S. Vandenberg was re-acquired by the Navy and became a missile range instrumentation ship, equipped with special radar and telemetry equipment and it carried out missile spacecraft tracking duties in both the Atlantic and Pacific waters until its retirement in 1983. It was ultimately stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on April 29, 1993.
In 1998, this ship was used as a substitute for the Russian vessel known as Akademik Vladislav Volkov in the horror/science-fiction film Virus, and some of the Cyrillic lettering applied for the film is still visible on its hull.

The ship was eventually transferred to the Maritime Administration on May 1, 1999 and the projected relocation to the state of Florida, for use as an artificial reef, was approved only in 2007. In April 2009 it was towed to Key West Harbor where it was sold at auction. A group of banks and financiers from Key West paid the shipyard and cleanup fees in preparation for its sinking, and the title of the ship was transferred to the city of Key West.

A 13-year project to create a new artificial reef off the Florida Keys for sport divers and anglers culminated on May 27, 2009, when the Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg was sunk 6 miles (10 km) off the Florida Keys. It took just a minute and 44 seconds to sink it after demolition experts triggered a series of explosives that lined both sides of the ship´s bilge area below the waterline. It settled on the bottom of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary in an upright position, in 140 feet of clear water.
It is the world’s second-largest intentionally sunk artificial reef, which will attract fish, divers and relieve recreational pressure on nearby natural reefs.  The ex General Harry Taylor that played quite a role in my life is forever serving our country. Florida officials expect it to generate millions in tourism-related revenue for Key West and the state.

Enthralling videos and great underwater pictures about this operation can be viewed by clicking on this blog.

No comments: