VIA AIRMAIL FROM RUDOLPH ELIE JR WAR CORR NO 116 (5 August, 1945)
ON BOARD APA-216, AT SEA (Delayed) - Like every other type of ship in the fleet the APA has a personality, a character and an atmosphere of its own. You are aware of it the moment you set foot on its deck. This one, the U.S.S. Neshoba, is new. Its paint is hardly dry, its decks unblemished, its superstructure smart and tidy. Yet, as if it had been launched six or so months ago, it has a sort of audacity, derring-do, alertness. For it is an attack transport, an assault vessel; heavily armed, speedy, light on its feet. It keeps the fast company of fighting ships yet it is not itself a fighting ship despite its quantities of machine guns, anti-aircraft batteries and five-inch guns. Its job is to carry assault troops to the beaches, and to put them on the shore. Its personnel, that is the coxswains of its landing barges, are especially trained in assault technic, and its gunners especially charged with their responsibility of protecting the troops the ship carries from air attack. The APA, in short, is the strong right arm of the amphibious forces. It packs a terrific punch if it must uncork the punch, but its primary job is to put fighting men on the beach.
The APA is the prima donna among four generally similar types of ship. The AP, for example, is the straight transport; the Queen ships of the British fleet could be called APs. They are armed, too, but they would not be used to assault an enemy-held beach. They travel from port to port, unloading troops more leisurely and. more conventionally. Some of them are so fast they do not have to go in convoy, but most travel under escort.
The others of the type are the AKAs and the AKs, the first an -assault cargo vessel, the second-a freighter. Both are armed, and. both- are fast, but the uses to which they are put differ in the same way the APAs and the APs.
None of them are expendable in the sense the LST, the LCI or the LSM are. That is to say, they are big, costly, and complicated, and they carry large complements of men and officers-anywhere from four to six hundred each. There are perhaps 200 or more APAs (they are not necessarily numbered in sequence), so designed that they may be refitted after the war as fast freight ships.
The Neshoba, named for a county in Mississippi (all APAs and AKAs are named after counties), is about 500 feet long and 60 or 70 feet wide, displacing about 10,000 tons. As its main job is carrying troops its below-decks section is very crowded. There are perhaps a half dozen large compartments fitted out with tiers of hard steel and canvas bunks, five high, suspended from iron posts. The troops are packed into these bunks like cordwood, and there is almost no place for their gear. These compartments are equipped with blowers, which force air into them, but in these latitudes the temperature in the compartments after the ship is blacked-out at night is fierce, and it is almost unbearable. In fact it is unbearable, and the men sleep on the weather decks wedged between the davits, the stanchions, even between the iron rails. It is the most saddening thing to think that young American men should be so miserable, so tormented, so degraded on their way to give their lives for their country. But there is no other way out.
Their quarters are crowded, too, but the sailors, being permanent if reluctant guests, have the opportunity to make their quarters more cheerful. They have lockers for their gear, and as most of them work in various nooks throughout the ship. They express their- personalities there by putting up pictures, decorations, books and so forth. Thus in the tailor shop or the barber shop, or in the infirmary or the bakery or the engine room, or anywhere you go, will be gay with homely or at least manly touches. They only use the bunks to sleep in, and most of them don't even do that there. They sling hammocks under gun mounts, rig cots in their small boats, and sleep comfortably on deck out of the rain,
The officers are supposed to have staterooms, but there are more officers than staterooms, so many of them sleep in the troop officer's compartment, which, through some unforeseen circumstance, is the coolest place on the ship. There the bunks are only three high and have mattresses, and everyone who sleeps in that compartment-myself for instance-is very happy about the whole thing. The others, perhaps wishing they had not been so insistent on a cabin in the first place, view all this with good-humored envy.
The Neshoba is what is known in the Navy as a "happy" ship which means that everybody likes the ship, that the men get along fine together, and with the officers, that the officers get along with themselves, and that the entire ship's company likes and admire" the executive officer (who is superintendent of everything) and the skipper" (who is of course top man). The skipper,
in fact, is then man who brought the famous Marblehead home to achieve one of the great feats of seamanship of this war, and everybody thinks he is a great hero as well as a good man. So, in the final analysis, the lively esprit decorps of
the Neshoba, that is its character and its atmosphere of calm confidence springs from the personality of its skipper.