One of the earliest attack transports in the United States Navy's gigantic auxiliary fleet to enter active service in World War II was the THOMAS JEFFERSON. Constructed at and by the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry-dock Company for the President Lines, she was christened the S. S. President Garfield and entered the maritime service as a passenger-cargo vessel in March 1941, sailing Pacific routes until war broke out with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. She was acquired by the Navy in early 1942 and converted by her builders, at Newport News, into a troop transport, designed for the primary duty of carrying troops and battle equipment to, and landing them upon, the enemy's beaches. A veteran of over two years of service in the Atlantic and Mediterranean and eleven months in the Pacific, she landed Assault troops on German and Jap-held beaches in six major operations. She has traveled over 120,000 miles during the war through two oceans and six seas, carrying troops and supplies of the United Nations to all parts of the world. From Italy to Japan, her anchors have rested in the harbors of nine foreign countries and twelve Pacific islands; and, though "sunk" three times in Axis propaganda broadcasts, she had come through World War II undamaged by enemy action with a record of performance of duty that marks her as an outstanding ship of her class.
TheTHOMAS JEFFERSON has a full-load displacement of 16,700 tons and is equipped to carry a naval complement of 591 officers and men, and 1265 passengers, including 68 officers, providing for them such services as a laundry, tailor shop, barber shop, ships canteen, clothing and small stores and a ship's fountain. Alterations in construction made at Pearl Harbor Navy Yard in August 1945 have fitted the ship for extra services as a hospital receiving ship. With a medical staff of eleven officers and 76 corpsmen and wards which will accommodate 150 stretcher cases and 250 ambulatory cases, the THOMAS JEFFERSON is equipped to render immediate treatment and care to casualties, liberated war prisoners and accident cases until they can be evacuated to hospital ships, base hospitals or air and sea transport home.
Her facilities include three operating rooms and dressing rooms which can treat and care for cases of minor injuries to major operations. Five spacious holds carry 5,157 tons of cargo, davits and skids on her decks hold thirty landing boats, including four tank lighters; and she is equipped with electric-powered winches which control the five, ten and thirty ton booms that lower and hoist her boats and cargo.
The THOMAS JEFFERSON was commissioned on August 31, 1942 at Newport News, Virginia, and designated AP-60 under the command of Commander (now Captain) Chauncey R. Crutcher, USN. After a brief shakedown, landing maneuvers were staged in the Chesapeake Bay area until late October, when the Jefferson put to sea for her first war operation-the invasion of North Africa. On November 8, 1942, she took part in the Allied landing on the beaches at Fedala, French Morocco. Barely two months in commission and with the majority of her officers and crew inexperienced, she completed her mission successfully despite treacherous weather conditions which played havoc with landing craft and made unloading extremely hazardous and difficult. Her crew named her the "Lucky TJ" - which has stuck with her throughout the war - when a torpedo from a German submarine barely missed her stern and she came through unharmed while four other ships went down from torpedo hits within a few hundred yards radius.
After returning to Norfolk from her first amphibious venture, the THOMAS JEFFERSON was loaded with troops for the Pacific war theater and on December 27th, 1942, was underway in convoy for the Panama Canal, en route to New Caledonia and Australia. Forty- three days later, with her troops safely landed in the South Pacific, she headed back for the states and returned alone and unescorted over the long road back to Panama and thence in convoy to Norfolk and the New York Navy Yard on March 12, 1943, for an overhaul and well earned rest.
While in the New York Navy yard, the THOMAS JEFFERSON experienced her first change in command. On March 24, Captain Philip P Welch, USN, relieved Captain Crutcher and assumed command. In mid-April, with several new officers and crew members, she departed for Norfolk, Virginia and several weeks of maneuvers and drills in the Chesapeake Bay area in preparation for another forthcoming operation-the invasion of Sicily. After a long tense voyage, with a full combat load, she arrived at Oran, Algeria on June 22, 1943.
After two full weeks of amphibious exercises off the North African beaches, the Jefferson headed east with the task force assigned to land Allied forces in Sicily. On the night of July 9-10, her boats landed assault forces on the beaches at Scogliotti; beach opposition was moderate but high, choppy seas and rocky shores added to the hazards of the landing made in the black of night. Landing boats suffered considerable destruction, though, personnel causalities were fortunately light. Unloading continued incessantly for three days during which opposition increased and air attack caused frequent interruption. Two enemy planes - a German Messerschmitt (110) and an Italian (SM-79) were brought down by the JEFFERSON's 40mm batteries over the transport area during the operation. With another mission successfully accomplished, she returned to the advance base at Mersel-Kebir, Algeria, and after a brief respite, commenced training for the next landing in the fast moving ETO offensive.
Early in September, following several weeks of amphibious drills in North African waters, the "Lucky TJ" found herself again in an allied task force bound for Salerno Bay, Italy. In spite of the joyous news of Italy's surrender on the eve of the landing, the beaches of Salerno proved to be the most hotly-contested encountered. For two days and nights, fraught with enemy bombing, E-boat attacks and beach shellfire, the JEFFERSON's boats doggedly landed troops and cargo over the beaches in one of the most strenuous operations of her career.
Happily and with a job well done, she was underway on September 10, for base at MEK, and arrived without incident four days later. The next ten weeks found the JEFFERSON back and forth through the Mediterranean, carrying reinforcements of troops and supplies from North Africa to Italy for the Fifth Army which was driving the Germans north above Naples. After her shuttle schedule was completed late in November, she set her course west through the straits of Gibraltar and into the gray, stormy Atlantic for a long trip to the British Isles. A brief stop at Belfast, Ireland, where units of the 82nd Airborne Division were debarked after being brought from Italy in one of the war's most closely guarded troop movements; a few interesting days at Glasglow - anchored in the Clyde - and the JEFFERSON was homeward bound, arriving in Norfolk on New Year's Day after crossing through one of the most violent of North Atlantic storms.
After a month of Navy Yard overhaul in Norfolk, during which time Commander ( now Captain Joseph R. Barbaro, USN, relieved Captain Welch in a change of command ceremony on January 24, on January 24, the JEFFERSON was again underway, but this time for a most welcome destination-New York.
3 February found her moored to a dock in the New York Port of Embarkation at Staten Island, with all information concerning cargo and further destination a closely guarded secret. On February 11, 1944, she streamed through the narrows in a heavy, blinding, snowstorm bound for Ireland in a convoy which was later disclosed as being the biggest single troop movement of the war. Following safe arrival at Belfast and discharge of troops and cargo, she journeyed up the Clyde to an anchorage that was to be her home for many weeks to come at Loch Long, Scotland. Weeks of drills and training with several trips through the Irish Sea for invasion "dress rehearsals" in Southern England, readied the JEFFERSON and her crew, for the battle the whole world talked of and awaited-the invasion of Europe. Arrival at Weymouth, England, on May 27, 1944, for the landing which was but a few days away was greeted by the closest escape the "Lucky TJ" experienced during the war. A force of German bombers, intruders they were called, had followed the American bombers back across the channel and, undetected, swooped over the packed harbor and delivered a surprise attack. Despite the advantage of surprise and bombing from a little more than masthead height, no direct hits were made but there were near misses and several minutes of excitement and tension. The next nine days were busy ones, occupied with loading and preparations for the invasions; after a twenty-four hour postponement on June 4, departure was made the next night and in company with a mighty armada of warships and transports, the JEFFERSON was in her assigned position off the Normandy beaches early in the morning of June 6, after a tense channel crossing which was filled with anticipation. Boats filled with combat troops and equipment were lowered into the rough, choppy waters of the Bay of Seine while the coast rocked with explosions of our air and sea bombardment. At 0630, the sturdy little landing boats hit the beaches and troops were poured ashore in the face of stiff resistance and heavy fire from the beaches. The JEFFERSON found unloading facilities much more pleasant due to the absence of the German Air Force. Achieving successful completion of her assigned duties with a gratefully small loss of equipment and no loss of personnel, she left the transport area at sunset of D-Day and returned safely across the channel without incident after a memorable day in her, and the world's, history.
The final chapter in the THOMAS JEFFERSON's tour of duty in the ETO began early in July 1944, when, after a period of standing by in Weymouth and Scotland, she took a familiar route out to sea which led to the Mediterranean and North Africa. Scuttlebutt concerning an impending attack on Europe's so-called "soft underside" gave way to fact as the ship went through weeks of training and maneuvers in Salerno Bay, Italy, scene of a bitterly fought battle almost a year before. Departing from Castellamarre, Italy, on the 13th of August, the JEFFERSON arrived with her task force off the beaches of Southern France on the morning of August 15th. Troops and equipment were quickly put ashore with surprisingly light opposition to hinder the operation. Absent all day, the Luftwaffe brought a token of air attack at dusk, when two (JU-88s) slipped over the invasion ships lying close to the beaches; through one made a run directly over the "TJ" there was no mishap and the night slipped quietly by. After completion of her task the following day, she returned to Naples for a busy two months schedule of shuttle runs between Italy and North Africa to Marseilles, France with supplies and reinforcements for the Southern France beachhead. With Amphibious warfare over in Europe and Allied armies well inland on the Continent, invasion transports were released in the fall of 1944 and the THOMAS JESSERSON left the Mediterranean, with sister transports, for home on October 24th, 1944, arriving safely after a happy voyage at Norfolk on 8th November.
The THOMAS JEFFERSON left Norfolk on December 15th, 1944 en route for Panama and a new theater of operations. After a brief stop at Balboa, came a long cruise up the coast of Central America and California to San Francisco where she spent twenty enjoyable days before proceeding on to the Hawaiian Islands, arriving there on January 28, 1945. The vastness of the Pacific was appreciated by the officers and men upon leaving Pearl Harbor and journeying southward across the equator to Guadalcanal, Tulagi, Florida Island, and the Russells. Highlighting the tripwas the observance of the traditional ceremony of initiation into the Ancient Order of Shellbacks, which was carried out in complete accordance with this ancient custom of the deep. The heat of the Pacific and the entire setting was something new for most of the JEFFERSON's officers and crew, but the job was the same and all hands settled down to a period of amphibious maneuvers with the Marines for an impending attack on the enemy's doorstep-the invasion of Okinawa.
17 March found the JEFFERSON, combat loaded, at the huge fleet anchorage at Ulithi in the Western Carolines and on the morning of April 1st, she was in the transport area off the Hagushi beaches off Okinawa. Maintaining her past record of performance, she accomplished her unloading and part in the landing with a high degree of success, being the first ship to complete unloading in her area. There were many anxious hours, particularly from sunset to dawn, under the threat of constant air raids and kamikaze attacks. After five nerve racking and strenuous days, she was underway to the haven of the base at Saipan and then to Pearl Harbor once again for a two-week standby period. With reinforcements for Eniwetok, Ulithi, and finally Okinawa. Departure from as yet-unsecured Okinawa marked the beginning of several weeks of almost constant cruising with very brief stops until her arrival back in San Francisco on July 15th.
The voyage home brought the THOMAS JEFFERSON a new commanding officer - her fourth - when, on July 14, 1945, Captain John F. Madden, who reported aboard at Pearl Harbor, relieved Captain Barbaro.
A brief but welcome stay in San Francisco and San Diego came to an end on July 22nd, and the JEFFERSON returned to Pearl Harbor with a full load of troops to an eventful period of work at the Navy Yard where she was fitted out for extra duty as a casualty receiving ship. It was here that the news of the end of the war was received, here where it had started nearly four years before. Although the fight was over, there lay ahead a tremendous job and the THOMAS JEFFERSON found herself scheduled for one phase of it-the occupation of Japan. With occupation troops and equipment, she set her course west on September 1st for Saipan and then Japan, where on September 22, 1945, she participated in the occupation of the naval base Sasebo on Kyushu Island. The operation was a strange one for the JEFFERSON - for the biggest invasion of all, it was gangways, instead of debarkation nets, clicking cameras instead of guns and unimpeded landing instead of resistance - but it was a memorable one and a fitting climax to her war career.
There remained yet at least a job or two ahead - a trip to the Philippines and return to Japan, perhaps a few tasks as yet unscheduled. But soon the "TJ" will be stripped of her guns, her boats skids and divits, her troop bunks, and other wartime equipment. Her ports will again be plain transparent glass, her passageways will be covered with carpets, and her hull will again be painted a clean bright white, and she will again sail the Pacific carrying passengers on peacetime cruises and cargo to re-build a war-torn world.
The THOMAS JEFFERSON is now (January 1947) in the Naval Ship Yard, New York.
Above Information from:
Office of Public Information
20 January 1947
On October 1, 1949 The JEFFERSON was assigned to the Military Sea Transport Service, Pacific Division.
The end of the APA-30 - came in 1974, when the TJ was scrapped at the Seattle Navy Yard.