Army Hospital Ships

UK, Liverpool, Wounded GI's watch from decks of US Army hospital ship St Olaf as other GI's prepare to board ship at dock
UK, Liverpool, Wounded GI's watch from decks of US Army hospital ship St Olaf as other GI's prepare to board ship at dock. SuperStock / Getty Images

During the American Civil War, the United States Sanitary Commission (USSC) set up a system of hospital ships for wounded and sick soldiers – though the USSC was a private agency, it cooperated closely with the U.S. Army.  At the request of the Army, the USSC created the Hospital Transport Service, acquiring 16 medium and large boats and converting them into hospital ships.  At least one of the ships outfitted by the USSC was later transferred to the Navy.

The Army converted a passenger line into a kind of floating Ambulance, named Relief, and used it for a short period during the Spanish-American War (20 April-12 August 1898).  In 1902, the Navy acquired the ship and operated it as USS Relief.

During World War II, the Army decided it was their responsibility to transport their wounded, and so wanted to arrange evacuation with her own ships. The very first Army Hospital Ship to sail on its maiden trip was USAHS Acadia, followed by USAHS Shamrock and USAHS Seminole.

Most of the Army hospital ships of WWII were former passenger liners or troopships which were disarmed, repainted, and renovated for hospital use – six of them were Liberty ships that were converted for hospital use.  Some had… complicated… operational lives prior to becoming a Hospital Ship for the Army.  Listed by date of commission as Army Hospital Ship:

3 May 43 - USAHS Acadia - former East coast passenger ship Acadia, converted into a hospital ship with a capacity for 787 patients.

8 May 43 - USAHS Seminole - former East coast passenger ship converted into a hospital ship with a capacity for 454 patients.

3 Aug 43 - USAHS Shamrock - formerly USAT Agwileon (originally passenger steamship Havana) converted into a hospital ship with a capacity for 543 patients. [this was the second career as Hospital Ship with previous service during WWI as AH-3 USS Comfort]

11 Sep 43 - USAHS Algonquin - former East coast passenger ship Algonquin converted into a hospital ship with a capacity for 454 patients.

29 Nov 43 - USAHS Thistle, former East coast passenger ship Munargo (commissioned by the Navy as AP-20 USS Munargo, decommissioned by the Navy and acquired by the Army in 1943), converted into a hospital ship with a capacity for 455 patients.

29 Nov 43 - USAHS Château Thierry - formerly USAT Château Thierry (1921) transferred to the Navy (1941) and commissioned as AP-31 USS Château Thierry, returned to the Army and converted into a hospital ship with a capacity for 484 patients.

3 Jan 44 - USAHS Ernest Hinds - former East coast passenger ship Kent, commissioned as USAT Ernest Hinds (1941), transferred to the Navy and commissioned as AP-28 USS Kent (1941), decommissioned (1942) and returned to ATS, renamed USAT Ernest Hinds, converted into a hospital ship with a capacity for 288 patients.

3 Feb 44 - USAHS Dogwood – former Liberty Ship George W. Carver, converted into a hospital ship with a capacity for 592 patients.

18 Feb 44 - USAHS Larkspur – originally German commercial steamer Breslau – seized in WWI, transferred to the Navy and renamed Bridgeport (1917) and designated as a Repair Ship, commissioned as ID #3009 USS Bridgeport (ID #3009), designated AD-10  in 1920, decommissioned 1924, turned over to the US Army in 1942 and converted into a hospital ship with a capacity for 594 patients.

22 Feb 44 - USAHS St. Mihiel - former troopship USAT St. Mihiel converted into a hospital ship with a capacity for 504 patients.

23 Feb 44 - USAHS Wisteria – former Liberty Ship William Osler, converted into a hospital ship with a capacity for 588 patients.

24 Feb 44 - USAHS John L. Clem, former East coast passenger ship Irwin, converted into a hospital ship with a capacity for 286 patients.

24 Feb 44 - USAHS Marigold - former transoceanic passenger ship President Fillmore, converted into a hospital ship with a capacity for 758 patients.

24 Feb 44 - USAHS St. Olaf - former Liberty ship converted into a hospital ship with a capacity for 586 patients.

2 Mar 44 - USAHS Emily H. M. Weder – former transoceanic passenger ship-President Buchanan, converted into a hospital ship with a capacity for 738 patients.

20 Apr 44 - USAHS Jarrett M. Huddleston - former Liberty ship Samuel F. B. Morse, converted into a hospital ship with a capacity for 582 patients.

20 Apr 44 - USAHS John J. Meany - former Liberty ship Zebulon B. Vance, converted into a hospital ship with a capacity for 582 patients.

20 Apr 44 - USAHS Blanche F. Sigman - former Liberty ship Stanford White, converted into a hospital ship with a capacity for 590 patients.

16 May 44 - USAHS Charles A. Stafford – originally East coast passenger ship Siboney, acquired by the U.S. Navy and commissioned in 1918 as ID 2999 USS Siboney, decommissioned 1919, acquired by the U.S. Army (1941) and commissioned as USAT Siboney, renamed and converted into a hospital ship with a capacity for 706 patients.

19 Sep 44 - USAHS Louis A. Milne – former cargo ship Lewis Luckenbach, converted into a hospital ship with a capacity for 952 patients.

11 Dec 44 - USAHS Ernestine Koranda – former cargo ship Dorothy Luckenbach, converted into a hospital ship with a capacity for 722 patients.

13 Feb 45 - USAHS Aleda E. Lutz - former transoceanic passenger ship Colombie, converted into a hospital ship with a capacity for 778 patients.

13 Feb 45 - USAHS Frances Y. Slanger - former transoceanic passenger ship Saturnia, converted into a hospital ship with a capacity for 1,628 patients.

13 Feb 45 - USAHS Republic –originally transoceanic passenger liner Republic, commissioned by the U.S. Navy as USS President Grant (ID# 3014) in 1917, commissioned by the  Army Transportation Service (ATS) as USAT Republic in 1920, decommissioned 1921, reacquired by ATS in 1931 and recommissioned USAT Republic, acquired by the Navy and commissioned USS Republic (AP-33) in 1941, decommissioned in 1945 and transferred to ATS and converted into Hospital Ship with patient capacity for 1,242 patients. 

USAHS John Clem, the smallest of the hospital ships, carried only one surgical team, while Acadia, with a capacity for 788 patients, carried 3. Shamrock, Thistle, Algonquin, Château Thierry, and Emily Weder carried 2 surgical teams each.

In addition to its own ships, in WWII there were occasions in which the Army chartered civilian ships as hospital ships - for example SS Mactan was used for the evacuation of Manila.  Another example is the pair of Dutch vessels, Maetsuycker and Tasman, that though they were operationally controlled by the U.S. Army, they were certified as hospital ships by the Netherlands, maintained Dutch registry and flag.

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