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AKS History

As amphibious operations, especially in the Pacific, became more important in World War II, planners saw the need for a special kind of cargo ship – one that could carry both cargo and the boats with which to deliver it to the beach, and that carried guns to assist in air defense and shore bombardment. Specifications were drawn up, and beginning in early 1943, the first 16 Attack Cargo Ships were converted from other types.

Soon, new ships began to be commissioned as AKAs. They were standard merchant ship designs, modified for Navy use from hulls laid down as part of the U.S. Maritime Commission's massive WWII shipbuilding program. The first such ship was USS Centaurus (AKA-17), commissioned in October 1943. The last WWII AKA was USS Washburn (AKA-108), commissioned in May 1945. Construction of AKA-109 through AKA-111 was canceled in August 1945, due to the end of the war.

By the end of the war in August, 1945, a total of 108 AKAs had been commissioned...an average of one ship every eight days!

The typical AKA was launched 60 days after her keel was laid, and was commissioned 60 days later.

Wartime AKAs had several connections to the literary world: the novel Mister Roberts and the subsequent play, films and TV series were based in large part on its author's experiences as a junior officer aboard USS Virgo (AKA-20); author and controversial Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard was an officer on the precommissioning crew of USS Algol (AKA-54). And although it was about an APA, not an AKA, the novel and subsequent film Away All Boats provides an exceptionally good account of life aboard one of these ships.

No AKAs were sunk during WWII, and when hostilities ended, most were decommissioned and transferred to the reserve fleet. A number of them, including USS Rankin, were recommissioned during the Korean War, 1950-1953.

USS Tulare (AKA-112), the first postwar AKA, was commissioned in June 1954. Tulare was much bigger and faster than any of the WWII AKAs: 564' long vs. the previous 459', 20 knots top speed vs. the previous 16.5, and with significantly greater cargo capacity. (Former Tulare crewmembers state that she could be pushed to 24 knots.)

Four even larger AKAs were built from a new design in 1968-1969. These were able to carry the newer, much larger, LCM-8 Landing Craft. They were the first Navy ships with fully automated engine rooms, allowing the propulsion plant to be operated directly from the bridge.

In January 1969, all 16 AKAs in commission were redesignated by the Navy as LKAs, and the type's name was changed from Attack Cargo Ship to Amphibious Cargo Ship. A final ship of the type was commissioned in 1970.

The 51-year history of the AKA/LKA ended when the last LKA, USS El Paso (LKA-117) was decommissioned in April 1994. The type was no longer needed because of two changes in amphibious doctrine: the move away from boats and toward helicopters and air-cushion vehicles for ship-to-shore transfer, and the realization that if, in the old-style gator way, the landing force's AKA were sunk, the entire landing force would be vulnerable and virtually useless. (The same would happen with the APA, of course.)

USS Rankin Association
USS Rankin Association
USS Rankin Association

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