Tuesday, June 25, 2013

USS Chara (AKA-58, AE-31)

Figure 1:  USS Chara (AKA-58) underway, date and location unknown. US Navy photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 2:  USS Chara (AKA-58) underway, date and location unknown. US Navy photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 3:  USS Chara (AKA-58) at anchor, date and location unknown. Photograph courtesy of Tommy Trampp. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 4:  USS Chara (AKA-58) during underway replenishment with USS Philippine Sea (CV-47) and USS Hollister (DD-788), circa early 1950s during the Korean War. US Navy photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 5:  USS Chara (AKA-58) at anchor during the Korean War, location unknown. Photograph courtesy of Wilbur Karsten. Click on photograph for larger image. 

Figure 6:  USS Chara (AKA-58) at anchor, US Naval Station Sasebo, Japan, circa 1951-1952.   Photograph courtesy of Wilbur Karsten. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 7:   Hungnam Evacuation, December 1950. USS Chara (AKA-58) off Hungnam, Korea, on 10 December 1950 at the start of the evacuation of United Nations troops and supplies. Visible at the extreme left is the bow of a Japanese freighter that has struck a mine. Photographed from USS Mount McKinley (AGC-7). Official US Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

Figure 8:  USS Chara (AE-31) underway in January 1967. She was reconfigured as an ammunition ship during the early part of the Korean War but was not reclassified as such until reactivated in 1965 for service in the Vietnam War. Her sister ship, USS Virgo (AE-30), ex-AKA-20, had a similar post-World War II career. US Navy photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.  

Named after a star, the 6,737-ton USS Chara (AKA-58) was an Andromeda Class amphibious cargo ship that was built by the Federal Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company at Kearny, New Jersey, and was commissioned on 14 June 1944. The ship was approximately 459 feet long and 63 feet wide, had a top speed of 17 knots, and had a crew of 380 officers and men. Chara was armed with one 5-inch gun, four twin 40-mm guns, and 18 20-mm guns, and could carry roughly 4,450 tons of cargo.
Chara left Norfolk, Virginia, on 22 July 1944 and headed south to the Panama Canal. After transiting the canal, Chara steamed to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, for training exercises. The ship entered the combat zone on 20 October when she entered Leyte Gulf in the Philippines and landed troops and cargo on Leyte during the battle for that island. After unloading her cargo, Chara went to New Guinea to obtain more critical supplies which she brought back to Leyte on 18 November. On 8 January 1945, Chara participated in the amphibious assault on Lingayen, a major port on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. A large Japanese kamikaze assault was made on the task force Chara was in and the attack damaged an escort carrier. During the battle, three of Chara’s crewmembers were wounded (one fatally) as a result of the heavy anti-aircraft fire thrown up by the task force to shoot down the Japanese planes. Basically, all of the lead that was thrown up at the attacking planes eventually cascaded down on the ships in the task force and injured many crewmembers on several ships. This is one of the major examples of American crewmen being killed or wounded by their own anti-aircraft fire. The actual assault on Lingayen was made on 9 and 10 January, with Chara managing to land her troops and cargo successfully despite heavy surf conditions. In fact, the rocky beach was so inhospitable that the Japanese never anticipated an amphibious assault on that location. Chara remained in the Leyte area until 26 March, when she left the Philippines for the invasion of Okinawa, Japan.
Chara landed her troops and supplies on Okinawa on 1 April 1945. She remained off Okinawa until 6 April. She fought off numerous kamikaze attacks, but was not damaged. Chara then steamed to the United States for a badly needed overhaul, but was sent back to Okinawa with more cargo on 5 July. The ship returned to the United States and docked at San Francisco, California, where she was loaded with more cargo and supplies, this time for the troops in the Philippines. After arriving back in the Philippines, Chara stayed there until the war ended. After the formal Japanese surrender on 2 September 1945, Chara was used to supply American occupation forces in Japan for several months. Chara came back to the United States in December 1945, but continued to support American troops in the Far East until 1950.
After the Korean War started in June 1950, Chara began its new role as an ammunition ship. She was assigned the dangerous task of transporting and transferring all types of ammunition to warships at sea. Chara left San Francisco on 16 September 1950 to replenish and re-supply Task Force 77 in the Far East and supported the evacuations of Hungnam and Wonsan, Korea, before returning to San Francisco for an overhaul on 26 March 1951. During her second tour of duty off the coast of Korea, which lasted from 19 July 1951 to 18 May 1952, Chara joined the Mobile Logistics Support Force in operations off Wonsan and Songjin, Korea. Chara continued providing at-sea replenishment of ammunition to other warships until the war ended in July 1953.
Chara later alternated duty in the western Pacific with training and upkeep on America’s west coast. In December 1954 and January 1955, she participated in the evacuation of non-communist troops and civilians off the Tachen Islands, located near the coast of China. Chara remained active until the end of 1958, but was decommissioned and placed in reserve at Astoria, Oregon, on 21 April 1959.
Chara remained in reserve until she was re-commissioned as AE-31 on 25 June 1966 for use as an ammunition ship during the Vietnam War. Chara performed her duties brilliantly, supplying ships with vital ammunition from November 1966 to November 1971. Chara completed her missions so well that she received a Meritorious Unit Commendation from the Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Elmo R. Zumwalt, Jr., for her outstanding service off the coast of Vietnam, specifically from 24 April 1971 to 27 November 1971. The commendation stated that:
“USS CHARA distinguished herself by providing outstanding mobile logistic support to naval units engaged in combat operations against enemy forces in the Republic of Vietnam, and contributed materially to the success of these operations by transferring over 9,300 tons of ammunition to destroyer, cruiser, attack carrier, and other type units during 106 underway replenishments. Through their continuous display of professionalism, determination, resourcefulness, and sheer aggressiveness, the officers and men of USS CHARA contributed immeasurably to the United States mission in Southeast Asia, thereby upholding the highest traditions of the United States Navy Service.“
Chara was decommissioned for the last time in March 1972. She was transferred to the Maritime Administration for final disposal and on 12 November 1972 was sold for scrapping. A veteran of three wars, USS Chara earned four battle stars for her service in World War II, seven battle stars for her service during the Korean War, and eight campaign stars for her service during the Vietnam War.