SS Kentuckian - World War I

World War I

At some point after the United States declared war on Germany in April 1917, the United States Army chartered Kentuckian for transporting animals to Europe in support of the American Expeditionary Force. Although there is no information about the specific conversion of Kentuckian, for other ships this typically meant that any passenger accommodations had to be ripped out and replaced with ramps and stalls for the horses and mules carried.

Details about Kentuckian's first animal transport journey are not known, but her second trip began 14 March 1918 when she sailed from Newport News, Virginia, with 848 animals for Saint-Nazaire, where she unloaded all but the four animals that had died or were destroyed during the voyage. On 24 April, during a convoy crossing in Army service, Naval Armed Guardsmen on Kentuckian sighted a torpedo heading towards the second ship behind her in the column. Opening fire on the torpedo, the gun crew claimed the hit that caused the torpedo to explode short of its intended target. Further details of Kentuckian's Army service are not available.

With the signing of the Armistice on 11 November, the fighting came to an end and the task of bringing home American soldiers began almost immediately. To that end, Kentuckian was acquired by the United States Navy on 16 December, and commissioned on 28 January 1919 with Lieutenant Commander Carrol E. Higgins, NAR, in command. Before she could begin returning troops, though, Kentuckian had to undergo conversion from a cargo and animal ship. Though sources do not indicate the specific modifications Kentuckian underwent, typical conversions for other ships included the installation of berths for troops, and adding greatly expanded cooking and toilet facilities to handle the large numbers of men aboard. Similar modifications on a fellow American-Hawaiian cargo ship, the two-years-younger Minnesotan, took three months, but it is not known how long Kentuckian's refit took.

Kentuckian departed New York for her first trooping voyage on 2 March, picking up nearly 2,000 soldiers at Saint-Nazaire—among them some 1,500 men of the 363rd Infantry Regiment of the U.S. 91st Infantry Division, and a number from the U.S. 33rd Infantry Division—before returning to New York on 1 April. Her arrival on another trooping run in June returned 1,860 men, including over 1,500 members of the 345th Field Artillery Regiment of the U.S. 90th Infantry Division. An officer of that unit brought back a black police dog named Pat, who, purportedly, had been the personal dog of Germany's Crown Prince Wilhelm. Another trip in July returned another 1,852 men from Saint-Nazaire. In all, Kentuckian made a total of five trooping runs from France, bringing back 8,895 men by the time she completed her last trip on 31 August at Norfolk, Virginia. She was decommissioned on 15 September and returned to American-Hawaiian the same day.

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