The Army Transport Service (ATS) was organized in late 1898 as an integral part of the Army Quartermaster Department. The concept for an Army operated fleet had its origins with the experiences of the military sealift during the Spanish-American War when U.S. flag commercial shipping was found in part unresponsive to the Army's needs.
During the early twentieth century, the Army operated a large transpacific sealift consisting of its own ships as well as a number of commercial bottoms partly of foreign registry which it time-chartered for support of American troops during the Philippine Insurrection and for the Relief of Peking. Following 1904, a somewhat skeletonized fleet remained in service until the entry of the United States into World War I.
Rapidly expanded, by early 1918 the Army was manning with its own crews in excess of fifty ships in support of the American Expeditionary Force in France. In July of 1918, beset by disciplinary problems with its employees, the War Department requested that the Navy's Overseas Transportation Service take over the Army operated fleet, but this had not been completely accomplished by the time of the Armistice.
Starting in early 1919, the Army began taking back its historic sealift function. With the severe reduction in military requirements which took place beginning in 1921, the fleet reverted to a small nucleus of mainly transports engaged in serving American holdings in the Pacific.
With the beginning of World War II, the fleet was again expanded. In 1942, the Army Transport Service was absorbed into the Army's Transportation Corps, becoming part of the Water Division, its civilian seamen employees being classified as members of the Water Division's "Civilian Branch."
At peak force during WWII, the Army's owned and bareboat chartered fleet have been enumerated as follows:
Self Propelled Vessels Over 1,000 gross tons and over 200 feet LOA:
35 large troop transports
2 cable laying
1 news and communication
36 floating, self-propelled warehouse, repair, spare parts, and miscellaneous
With but few exceptions, the large tonnage ships were manned by civilian seamen of the Water Division. Of the large tonnage fleet, 31 vessels were lost to either enemy action or marine casualty.
Self propelled vessels less than 1000 gross tons and less than 200 feet LOA but which were over 65 feet in length:
510 freight supply
104 Y class tankers
746 tugs of various classes
[All of the above statistics are inclusive of both the Army Transport Service and the later Transportation Corps (Water Division)]
The small craft were in part manned by the Civilian Branch of the Water Division and in part by military crews. The military crews were Army and/or Coast Guard, the latter operating under Army control. Of the small tonnage fleet, 28 vessels were lost to either enemy action or marine casualty.
During WWII, the Army's civilian seamen labor force numbered at its peak strength approximately 15,000 men. Taken throughout the war, it has been estimated that around 20,000 civilians in the aggregate were employed by the Army aboard those vessels which saw service outside of the US continental limits. The Transportation Corps, Water Division (Civilian Branch) suffered a total of 529 men lost to enemy action or marine casualty.
During the early 1950s, the Navy's Military Sea Transport Service took over the Army's prior role in oceangoing shipping. The Army Transportation Corps still operates a substantial fleet of small craft, the crews of which are now all military.
Copyright © 1999 Charles Dana Gibson
www.USMM.org is grateful to Charles Dana Gibson for providing this article. Charles Dana Gibson is author of the following books, available from Ensign Press, PO Box 638, Camden, Maine 04843:
Assault and Logistics - Union Army Coastal and River Operations 1861-1866
Dictionary of Transports and Combatant Vessels, Steam and Sail, Employed by the Union Army, 1861-1868
Marine Transportation in War. The U.S. Army Experience 1775-1860
Merchantman? or Ship of War - A Synopsis of Laws
Ordeal of Convoy NY-119
Comparison of U.S. Army and U.S. Navy Vessels in World War II
Army Transportation Corps Training School
History of Military Sea Transportation Service and Military Sealift Command
by Salvatore R. Mercogliano
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