History of the San Saba
The first week of the newly commissioned USS San Saba (APA 232) was spent in the cold and rain of Astoria, Oregon. That was the first week for the crew and for the ship. The days and nights were spent loading stores and spare parts and working to complete what was left unfinished as she pulled out of the Kaiser Yard in Vancouver, Washington, and sailed downstream to Astoria. Shortly, the San Saba will pass thru another "first week"—the first week of inactivation in preparation for a short (or long) life in the 19th Fleet. More than nineteen months have elapsed between the two "first weeks" during which time the San Saba and her crew have traveled thousands of miles thru the Pacific, thru motionless seas and typhoon struck seas. Although she saw no combat duty, she took an active part in supplying the forward areas with troop replacements and supplies. Since V-J day, while assigned to Magic Carpet duty, she returned thousands of Navy, Marine and Army veterans to "Uncle Sugar." For twenty months she has served well—and now, a rehabilitation leave for the USS San Saba (APA 232).
Fifty-five days after the keel was laid by the Kaiser Shipbuilding Yards, Vancouver, Washington, Mrs. Richard Bissell, sponsor, christened the USS San Saba on 12 November 1944. Commander E. E. Berthold, USN, now Captain, took command of the ship during commissioning ceremonies held on board on 3 December 1944. Manned by a green, but eager crew, she pulled out of Astoria on the 14th of December on her maiden voyage . . . a shake- down cruise along the West Coast from Seattle to San Diego. The Shakedown ended 24 January upon completion of amphibious landing exercises off Oceanside and Coronado. Landing in the winter surfs on California beaches in rain and icy waters. Landings in which boats were swamped and one LCVP capsized in a 12-foot surf.
Loaded to the scuppers with ammunition, the San Saba sailed from San Francisco on St. Valentine's Day, 1945, for Pearl Harbor. The seas were unkind to the new ship and her saltless crew . . .two days steady she pitched and rolled taking at one time a 40 degree roll. All hands survived to make liberty in Honolulu and Waikiki.
No one who took part in the ensuing two months of amphibious training off Maui and Kahoolawe, T.H., will ever be able to forget the days of beach operations, anti-aircraft drills and tactical maneuvers. Days of sleepless, tiring hours of small boat operations, circling for hours with the sun beating down, landing, broaching on the Malaea Bay (Maui) beaches. The ship's 26 small landing boats were lowered into the water, beached and hoisted aboard almost daily during the training phase. When one operation was completed another began. The invasion the San Saba was trained for and was skilled for never materialized. But, as a division flag (she carried first CornTransDiv 60 and finally, ComTransDiv71) she trained other APA's and AKA's that left to take part in the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa, while she remained to continue the training.
On 16 May 1945 the San Saba left the Hawaiian area for Kwajalein, in the Marshall Islands, carrying the 141st Naval Construction Battalion. From Kwajalein she sailed to Guadalcanal. During the trip she crossed the equator into the realm of Neptunis Rex, Ruler of the Deep and Purger of Pollywogs. The San Saba and her almost majority pollywog crew were initiated expertly under the watchful eyes of King Neptune himself. Two days of hell for the lowly pollywogs . . . two days of glory for the salty shell-backs.
Passengers for Pearl Harbor and San Francisco bearded at Lunga Point, Guadalcanal, and the number was increased when more came aboard at Espiritu Santo. Sailing from Espiritu Santos, the San Saba arrived in San Francisco 21 June, having first made Pearl Harbor a port of call.
The stay was short. Continuing on her scheduled trip, she headed towards the Philippine Islands, reaching her destination Guiuan, Samar on August 2nd. She pulled out of Guiuan for Manus Island, under a submarine alert. While enroute to Manus the radio was wild with rumors of peace feelers from the Japanese. The rumors grew in strength and fact. By the time the San Saba left Manus for Milne Bay, New Guinea on 14 August, verified reports were circulated to the effect that negotiations for peace were underway and on the following day the eagerly awaited reports came. Offensive action against the Japanese ceased. The peace was ours!
The war was over, but the San Saba's job was far from completed. Loading troop replacements at Milne, she returned to Manus and then to the Philippines, stopping at Mindoro and Subic Bay. On 28 August she arrived in Manila Bay, later loaded the XIV Army Corps Headquarters Company and attached units with their equipment and sailed for Tokyo Bay on 7 September as a unit of Transron 24. The occupation of Japan had begun.
Arriving in Tokyo Bay on 13 September, the San Saba was detached from the squadron and Captain Berthold was placed in command of Task Unit 32.6.5, which was composed of the San Saba, two AKA's and a destroyer escort. Leaving the shadows of Fujiyama, TU 32.6.5 sailed North to Ishinomaki Bay and the Northern Honshu town of Shiogama. The XIV Corps men and gear were landed without resistance and they moved inland to Sendai where they set up their headquarters. The San Saba was the first American ship in Ishinomaki Bay since 1938 and the first ship to land occupation forces in that sector of Northern Honshu.
Shortly after noon on 17 September, urgent orders were received from Tokyo for TU 32.6.5 to get underway and head North to avoid a typhoon traveling at 25 knots and sweeping northeast with Sendai and Shiogama in its path. The ship had hardly gotten underway when she suffered an engine casualty—reducing the speed to eight knots. At times she barely maintained steerageway. Edging the worst of the storm for two days, the San Saba and the other ships returned to Ishinomaki Bay to complete the unloading.
Operation Shiogama completed, the task unit set sail for Leyte, P. I., anchoring off Manicani Island, P. I., on October 4th. Upon arrival in the Philippines, the San Saba was assigned duty in Task Group 16.12 or the Magic Carpet . . . vessels responsible for returning veteran servicemen to the United States for discharge or leaves.
From October 1945 to the end of July 1946, the San Saba's story is one of long trips between the United States and Navy and Army bases of the Pacific.
Her itinerary included the following taut schedule:
Samar to Seattle
Seattle to Naha, Okinawa
Naha to Los Angeles
Los Angeles to Guam and Saipan, M. I.
Saipan to Los Angeles via Pearl Harbor
Los Angeles to Buckner Bay, Okinawa ;.
Buckner Bay to San Francisco
San Francisco to Shanghai, China
Shanghai to Buckner Bay
Buckner Bay to Yokosuka, Japan
Yokosuka to San Diego
San Diego to Long Beach
Long Beach to Pearl Harbor
Pearl Harbor to San Francisco
While enroute from Los Angeles to Buckner Bay, burial services were held on 8 April 1946 while crossing the 180th Meridian. The deceased was CQM Barksdale, USN, who had requested that his ashes be scattered at sea. On the return trip to San Francisco while sailing North of Pearl, the San Saba rendezvoused with a·PCE on weather station duty and removed an acute appendicitis patient. The transfer was made by use of one of the ships P-boats and the booms on number four Hatch. Shortly after dawn on 25 June 1946 a horned mine was sighted off the starboard bow, requiring the. ship to suddenly alter course. After maneuvering for a satisfactory position, the mine was detonated by the expert marksmanship of the Gunnery Department. Two days later a second mine was sighted. The Chief Engineer got credit for this hit with a rifle shot.
It is hard to predict what the future holds for the San Saba. At the time of this writing, she is scheduled to go to Mare Island ship yard at Vallejo, California, where she will be inactivated and placed in the 19th Fleet. However, the San Saba will live long in the memory of the thousand or more officers and men who have served, at one time and another, in her crew. Fourteen thousand soldiers, sailors and marines, veterans of World War II, will as the ship that brought them home.