USAT Thomas

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For ships with a similar name, see USS Thomas.
Thomas in drydock to repair a broken propeller
Thomas in drydock to repair a broken propeller
  • Persia (1894–97)
  • Minnewaska (1897–1898)
  • Thomas (1898–1929)
Namesake: General George Henry Thomas
Builder: Harland & Wolff, Belfast
Launched: 1894
Acquired: by purchase, 26 July 1898
Fate: Sold for scrap 14 May 1929[1]
General characteristics [2]
Type: Transport
Tonnage: 5,713 long tons (5,805 t)
Length: 445 ft 6 in (135.79 m)
Beam: 50 ft 2 in (15.29 m)
Propulsion: Triple expansion engine, 499 nhp, twin screws
Speed: 14 knots (26 km/h; 16 mph)

USAT Thomas was a United States Army transport ship, launched as the SS Persia in 1894, having been built for the Hamburg America Line's service to New York. She was bought by the Atlantic Transport Line in 1897 because she was "practically a sister" to other Massachusetts class of ships already in service there. She was renamed SS Minnewaska by her new owners.[2]

Service history[edit]

Minnewaska was one of six Atlantic Transport Line ships requisitioned by the U.S. Government for service as transports during the Spanish–American War, and purchased on 26 July 1898 for $660,000 and renamed Thomas after General George Henry Thomas, a hero of the American Civil War battle of Chickamauga.[1][2]

Thomas could accommodate 100 officers, 1,200 men and 1,000 horses, and also had refrigerated capacity for shipping 1,000 pounds (450 kg) of meat,[2] particularly prized because beef was considered an essential element of the military diet.[3]

A brief article in the Maryville Times of 28 October 1899 describes the ship and her facilities:

During the Spanish–American War, vessels going to and from the Philippines made a point of stopping and raising the American flag on Wake Island before it was formally annexed by the United States in 1899. One of these, in July 1898, was the Thomas.[2]

The Peace Corps tradition was arguably started by the Thomasites, a group of educators who got their name from the Thomas. This ship brought the first batch of 540 American teachers and some of their family members to initiate a new era of public education in the Philippines in August 1901.[2]

In early 1916, the Thomas broke its propeller on a voyage from San Francisco to Manila and put into Honolulu for repairs. The floating dry dock that was available had a capacity of only 4,500 tons, while the Thomas was an 11,000 ton vessel, and 118 feet longer than the dry dock. Engineers allowed the bow to extend beyond the front of the dry dock granting them access to stern which was lifted out of the water, allowing them to replace the damaged propeller.[4]

Though in Pacific service with large troop capacity the ship did not see service in the war zone during World War I due to slow speed and lack of bunker capacity to make a round trip of the Atlantic, where coal in Europe was critically short, without the intermediate bunkering at coaling stations available in the Pacific.[5]

According to U.S. Army service records of Private Leroy F Johnson who sailed on this voyage and served in Company E of the 27th Infantry Regiment, the Thomas sailed from San Francisco on October 16, 1919, and arrived in Vladivostok, Siberia, on November 11, 1919, with U.S. Army troops and supplies to support the American troops already in Siberia.[citation needed] The regiment departed Vladivostok 10 March 1920 aboard Thomas arriving at Manila on 17 March 1920.[6]

Between 10 June and 22 September 1920 Thomas was one of ten Army transports evacuating members of the Czechoslovak Legion from Vladivostok and transporting them to Trieste, Italy.[7]

In October 1922 the Thomas took aboard passengers and crew of the Los Angeles Steamship Company liner SS City of Honolulu, which had caught fire about 670 miles northeast of the Hawaiian Islands, and landed them at San Pedro, California.[1][2]

From 5—30 September 1923 Thomas was one of three Army transports involved in earthquake relief operations, Yokohama, Japan.[8]

Thomas made several trips to the Orient from New York via the Panama Canal, but was used mainly on the Manila run, stopping at Honolulu and Guam on the westward trip, and Nagasaki, Japan, and Chinwangtao, China, on the return voyage. She was the last of the more than 50 transports acquired by the U.S. Government in 1898 to remain in service.[2] In March 1928 Thomas made her final voyage for the Army Transport Service and was turned over to the United States Shipping Board for disposal and sold to the American Iron and Metal Company 14 May 1929 for scrapping at Oakland, California.[1]