The Long Blue Line: USS Serpens—the Coast Guard’s greatest loss

 

 USSSerpens
USS Serpens at anchor somewhere in the Pacific islands with derricks extended to take on cargo. U.S. Navy photo.

1-25-2018 - COAST GUARD COMPASS

This blog is part of a series honoring the long blue line of Coast Guard men and women who served before us. Stay tuned as we highlight the customs, traditions, history and heritage of the Coast Guard.

Written by William H. Thiesen, Ph.D.
Coast Guard Atlantic Area Historian

“I felt and saw two flashes after which only the bow of the ship was visible. The rest had disintegrated and the bow sank soon afterwards.” – Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Perry Stinson, USS Serpens commanding officer

The quote above refers to the Coast Guard-manned USS Serpens. Nearly 73 years ago on Jan. 29, 1945, a catastrophic explosion destroyed the transport. In terms of lives lost, the destruction of the Serpens ranks as the single largest disaster ever recorded in Coast Guard history.

In March 1943, an EC-2 class “Liberty Ship” was laid down under a Maritime Commission contract as “Hull #739” by the California Shipbuilding Corporation of Wilmington, California. It was launched less than a month later as the SS Benjamin N. Cardozo. Two weeks later it was transferred to the U.S. Navy and designated AK-97. The transport was 442 feet in length, displaced 14,250 tons and had a top speed of 11 knots. For defense it carried one 5-inch gun, one 3-inch gun, two 40mm and six 20mm anti-aircraft cannons. Its crew consisted of 19 officers and 188 enlisted men. In late May, the Navy renamed the transport Serpens, after a constellation in the Northern Hemisphere, and commissioned the vessel in San Diego under the command of Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Magnus Johnson.  CLICK HERE TO READ FULL ARTICLE