SS West Lewark, later renamed USAT Meigs
|Career (United States)|
|Ordered:||Before September 1919|
|Builder:||Los Angeles Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company|
|Laid down:||30 July 1920|
|Launched:||24 February 1921|
|Acquired:||by Army 1922|
|Out of service:||19 February 1942|
|Fate:||Sunk by Japanese air attack|
|Length:||430 ft 7 in (131.2 m)|
|Beam:||54 ft 3 in (16.5 m)|
|Draft:||26 ft 2 in (8.0 m)|
The USAT Meigs, a United States Army transport vessel (sometimes incorrectly referred to as the USS Meigs), was sunk in Darwin Harbour during the first Japanese air raid against the Australia mainland on 19 February 1942.
The ship's keel was laid 30 July 1920 in the Los Angeles Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Company (later Todd Pacific Shipyards) yard at San Pedro, California and completed in 1921 for the US Shipping Board with the name of West Lewark. The West Lewark had a steel hull, measured 7,358 Gross Tons (also cited as 11,000 DWT), 430 ft 7 in (131.2 m), 54 ft 3 in (16.5 m) beam and 26 ft 2 in (8.0 m) draft. The ship's construction was canceled in 1919 but she was then completed to a larger and different design than the originally planned Design 1013 and launched 24 February 1921. She was evaluated for naval use with a temporary designation of IX-4490. After delivery the ship was operated by the Williams, Diamond & Company, Pacific Coast shippers for the Pacific Coast-European trade. In 1922 the Army acquired the ship and renamed her Meigs.
USAT Meigs was one of the small fleet the Army maintained during the inter-war years and operated in the Pacific as a freight and animal transport. In 1939, with USAT Ludington, Meigs was one of only two Army owned freight transports. Included in the requirement to transport army goods and personal possessions of personnel changing duty stations to the Pacific was transport of cavalry and personal horses of officers with occasional mention of the ship transporting notable horses or owners transferring between Pacific and continental postings. In July 1938 Meigs located an oil slick along the course of the lost Pan American Hawaii Clipper about 500 miles from Manila, took samples and stood by for further investigation.
In period immediately preceding U.S. entry into the war the ship was given the tentative Navy hull number AK-34 under an agreement that Navy would take over, commission and crew Army transports operating in area of potential naval opposition. The reality of war resulted in a December 1941 Presidential order suspending that agreement and the hull number is listed by Navy as "not used."
USAT Meigs was part of the Pensacola Convoy attempting to reinforce the Philippines during the early stages of World War II and held at Fiji when it was evident the Japanese were already invading the Philippines. Despite a military decision to bring the convoy back to Hawaii or the West Coast a presidential decision routed the ships to Australia to attempt Philippine support from there. She returned to Darwin after being part of an abortive convoy that departed 15 February escorted by USS Houston and smaller escorts bound to reinforce Portuguese Timor. On 19 February 1942 Japanese planes attacked Darwin's land and shipping targets in two waves. The Meigs, one of six ships sunk, with two of its crew of sixty-six killed after being struck by a number of bombs and aerial torpedoes.
Although the superstructure of the wreck was salvaged after the war by Fujita Salvage of Osaka, Japan, the cargo of munitions, railway lines, Bren gun carriers and trucks intended for Allied forces in Portuguese Timor remains. The Meigs is now a dive site, where the remnants of the cargo are as visible as the remains of the vessel itself. It lies in 18 metres (59 ft) of water at coordinates Coordinates: ., and due to the large tidal movements creating strong currents and poor visibility, is only divable around neap tides.
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- The Bombing of Darwin
- Australian War Memorial, photograph P05303.019
- The war at home: Second World War shipwrecks in Australian waters
- List of ships sunk by the Imperial Japanese Navy