USAT Sea Marlin

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USAT Sea Marlin as painted by Captain George Ekstrom
Career (US Army) 100x35px
Name: USAT Sea Marlin
Owner: War Shipping Administration
Operator: Grace Line
Builder: Ingalls Shipbuilding, Pascagoula Mississippi
Laid down: 21 April 1943
Launched: 27 September 1943
In service: 31 January 1944
Out of service: 2 May 1946
Honors and
Battle Star – Invasion of Okinawa (US Naval Armed Guards)
Career (Isthmian Steamship Company) Isthmian Lines House Flag
Acquired: 1947
Renamed: SS Steel Director
Homeport: New York
Fate: 6 March 1956 Isthmian was sold to States Marine Lines.
Career (States Marine Lines) States marine flag
Name: SS Steel Director
Acquired: 6 March 1956
Homeport: New York
Fate: Scrapped June 1971
General characteristics
Class and type: Victory Ship C3-S-A2
Displacement: 7,800 gross tons, deadweight 12,000 tons
Length: 492 ft (150 m)
Beam: 69 ft 6 in (21.2 m)
Draft: 28 ft 6 in (8.1 m)
Propulsion: Westinghouse DR geared turbine, 2 x single screwed shaft horsepower 8,500
Speed: 16.5 knots
Capacity: 2,111 berths
Complement: Merchant Marine, US Army and US Navy
Armament: 1 single 5 inch mount aft. 12 AA mounts fore, amidship and aft

WPS Hull No. 401

MC Hull No. 857

SS Sea Marlin was launched at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula Mississippi on Victory Fleet Day; September 27, 1943.[1] Its sponsor was Mrs. D.G. Peattie, wife of Ingalls' Machinery Superintendent.[2] Conversion from a Victory Ship to a 2,111 berth transport was completed in New Orleans on January 31 1944. Upon delivery to the War Shipping Administration USAT Sea Marlin was leased to Grace Line. On February 9, 1944 Sea Marlin sailed from its home port of New Orleans on its maiden voyage, bound for Australia and New Guinea via the Panama Canal, under the command of Merchant Marine Captain George Ekstrom.[3]

World War II

Sea Marlin served most of the war in the Pacific which included ports-of-call in Australia, Panama, New Guinea, New Zealand, Guam, Saipan, Eniwetok, Leyte Gulf, Tinian plus the Admiralty, Babelthaup, Caroline, Palau, Philippine, New Hebrides, and Mariana Islands. U.S. Pacific ports included Camp Stoneman, Honolulu, San Francisco, San Pedro, Seattle, Portland, and Port Hueneme.[4][3][4][5] [6][7][4][5][8][9][7][10][3][6][11]

While outbound from the states her passengers were destined for the Pacific war zones on return voyages Sea Marlin served as a hospital ship returning the wounded stateside.

At the Battle of Okinawa the Sea Marlin's Naval Armed Guard crew received a Battle Star for the service during the invasion.[12] This action included the Japanese Kamikaze attack on the invasion fleet.

Ship’s Complement

Typical of Army Transports Sea Marlin was crewed by merchant marines, administered by personnel of the US Army Transportation Corps (Water Division) and protected by a contingent of the US Naval Armed Guards.

In September 1944 the ship's roster included:

  • Army: Lt Col Garrel D. Snyder (Executive Officer); Capt Richard C. Borella (Adjutant); Capt K. H. Gruberg (Transport Surgeon); 1st Lt Howard C. Day (Transport Chaplain); 1st Lt D. E. Wood (Commissary Sales Off.); T/Sgt Alex Kaplan (Sgt Major); Pfc Jackson Hospers (Asst. Sgt Major); S/Sgt H. H. Stoyke (Mess Sgt); T/Sgt Arthur J. Crandall (Actg. 1st Sgt.)
  • Merchant Marine: George Ekstrom (Ship's Captain); Winifred L. Price (Chief Mate); James W. Price Jr. (Purser); Robert F. Spears (Chief Engineer); Jack O. Hayes (Chief Electrician)
  • Navy: Lt. Comdr Dale V. Walfron, USNR; Lt (jg) H. B. Kakterbeuser, USNR; Lt (jg) Herbert J. Edwards, USNR; GM1c Walter G. Jones USNR. Other Armed Guards known to have served aboard Sea Marlin: Richard “Francs” Maxon; Warren G. Riddings; Amorris D. Abel; Jack Martin.[13][14][15][16][17]

Captain George Ekstrom went to sea at age 13 in 1898 as a cook. He later became an ordinary seaman, an able seaman, and he worked in various capacities going up the ladder in the hard school until he became master of his own ship. Until World War I Captain Ekstrom put to sea only in sailing ships. Captain Ekstrom was an amateur painter with an interest in nautical themes.

Ship’s Passengers

Units transported include:

Ship's Newsletter

The following is a text of a newsletter provided to the passengers of the Sea Marlin:



Doubtless many of you would like to drop in to see the skipper of the ship, as the master of any vessel is usually of interest to the passengers aboard. However, as we all know, such procedure aboard a troop transport is quite impossible. So we decided that we’d tell those of you are interested, a bit about our skipper, Capt. George Ekstrom of the Merchant Marine. He started sailing in the year of 1898 at the age of 13, starting as a cook. He then became ordinary seaman, later an able seaman, and thereafter he worked in various capacities going up the ladder in the hard school until he became master of his own ship. In his span of years at sea, he has hit just about every port in the world. By the way, up until the last World War he put to sea only in sailing ships/. Then he decided that sailing ships were a past. After the war, he sailed on various types of steam vessels and on January 30, 1944 he was put in command of this ship, the USAT SEA MARLIN, taking the vessel out of the Engalls [sic] Ship Building Corporation in Pascagoula, Mississippi. The Captain and his ship sailed from New Orleans, Louisiana, on February 9, 1944 with troops for Australia and New Guinea, and have been roaming the Pacific ever since. When asked where his home was, the Captain replied, “The sea is my home otherwise it’s any place I hang my hat.” We asked the Captain what his post war plans were. He said, “My one desire when all this is all over with, is to drop my anchor and settle down in a little shack by the sea to paint pictures all day and to keep out of mischief.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Captain, we found out, is a fine artiste. He has on display in his quarters a splendid assortment of oils, depicting the many types of sailing and steam vessels on which he ahs sailed. We think they are super. Keep up the good work, Cap’n.

Like the Captain, another man we thought you should know something about is your Transport Commander, Major F. B. Willert. A brief study of the Major reveals the following: The Major is now 44, first saw the light of day in Indian Territory, Oklahoma. He lived most of this life however in Willamette, Oregon. Major Willert attended Oregon State University and after graduation devoted his time to engineering and various occupations in the timber country of the Northwest. Among other occupations, the Major also taught school for ten years. Major Willert entered the army with a Second Lieutenant Reserve Commission in the 736th M. P. Battalion. After service with the MP’s he then became Transport Commander of the SS Perida and in February of 1944 was assigned Transport Commander aboard the Sea Marlin. As to post-war ambitions, the Major said that he does not have any definite idea as to what he’ll do, however, he is certain that he will not re-enlist. The Major said that, as a whole, the troops aboard are one of the best groups he has had and that he likes their cooperative spirit. In conclusion of our interview, the Major remarked that any credit being given for efficiency should go to the men who serve under him.

EDITOR’S NOTE: We think that the Major has done a fine job as Transport Commander and we believe that he too has shown the cooperative spirit of which he spoke.

Here are some of the men about whom the Major talked in regards to giving credit where credit is due:


ADJUTANT Capt Richard C. Borella, CA

SHIP’S COMPLEMENT Capt K. H. Gruberg, Transport Surgeon 1st Lt Howard C. Day, Transport Chaplain 1st Lt D. E. Wood Commissary Sales Off. T/Sgt Alex Kaplan, Sgt Major Pfc Jackson Hospers, Asst. Sgt Major S/Sgt H. H. Stoyke, Mess Sgt T/Sgt Arthur J. Crandall, Actg. 1st Sgt.

SHIP’S CREW Captain, George Ekstrom Chief Mate, Winifred L. Price Purser, James W. Price, Jr. Chief Engr, Robert F. Spears Chief Electrician, Jack O. Hayes

ARMED GUARD PERSONAL Lt. comdr Dale V. Walfron, USNR Lt (jg) H. B. Kakterbeuser, USNR Lt (jg) Herbert J. Edwards, USNR GM1c Walter G. Jones USNR


We can remember, with reluctance, our first day aboard the USAT Sea Marlin. Like most voyages at the expense of the Army, the beginning was a rocky one.

There we stood and patently awaiting like pack mules and patiently awaiting our turn to board the transport. It seemed like an endless wait. As the hours flicked by, and as our pack and duffel bags took on seemingly gigantic proportions, we felt sure that our backs would remain permanently hunched. Night came and finally gave way to dawn, at which time we found ourselves at last staggering up the treacherous gangway. Fighting off fatigue, we made it to the hold were new problems confronted us, that of finding a bunk. After losing ten races, we thought we’d be smart by waiting until the track-meet was over. Thanks to this strategy, we found bunk two days later…… the boiler room. Of course, this is slightly exaggerated. Seriously though, once we got settled we found that the Sea Marlin was “all reet.”[sic]

Memoirs of this sea voyage, we’re glad to say, were mainly pleasant ones. Of course, there were the usual sea sickness at first. We didn’t get sea sick, thought I sat in a green deck chair and no one noticed me. But thanks to having quite a few sea trips to our credits, sea sickness didn’t last very long with us.

After getting underway, we made a few stops. It’s nice to remember on those layovers the cool evenings on deck under the starlit skies, the nightly movie on the deck was an added pleasure, and one that was looked forward to every night. We even had some stage show on deck every now and then.

Of course, when we were moving there couldn’t be any deck activity. However, movies were shown in the holds. We know that it gets quite stuffy when a bunch of men gather in a hold, but this was offset by the fact that many of us preferred the nightly Bingo games instead of the movie. The Bingo games, by the way, became very popular, as a matter of fact there were never enough cards to go around. An added feature to playing Bingo was that the winners didn’t have to worry about the cigarette shortage because the prizes kept them amply supplied.

Many a pleasant afternoon was spent by book lovers, who would procure from the well equipped library a good novel with which they would curl up on the deck, forgetting their cares. Religion was something that was never lacking, as Transport Chaplain Howard C. Day saw to it that no matter what your religion was, you got plenty of it. Chaplain Day was ably assisted in religious services by passenger Chaplain Vernon A. Kuester.

We can’t forget the chow that was served. The cooks and ship’s complement did a yeomanlike job in the preparation of three meals per day. Three meals a day was in itself an innovation when compared to other not too pleasant voyages. We can recall, reluctantly, on those trips, the vain attempts made at two alleged meals a day. Hence we were quite satisfied with the gastronomical side of the voyage.

We surely don’t want to forget our good fortune in having females aboard. The nurses and Red Cross workers added color and glamor to what would have been an otherwise colorless trip.

Of courses, all was not sugar and cream; that is to be expected aboard any Army transport. Some of us didn’t like G.Q. because we were exponents of the late to bed, late to raise theory. However, we fully realize now, that it was for our own good. Then, there were others of us who didn’t appreciate the early morning salt water shower afforded us by the clean-up detail. But after the job was done and the griping was o’er, a clean ship made up for everything. Yes, difficulties arose, but thanks to expert guidance, problems were dealt with efficiently enough so as to afford us a safe and sane journey.

Have we got memories: I should say!! And plenty! Whenever we pour over our memories again, we’ll always think of the Sea Marlin as a ship to remember.

- By P. H. Fitzpatrick, RM 2/c -

A tough nine weeks on a tough old ship;

Our memories of this will never slip.

The baking sun, the wind, the rain,

The hours we spent in a gin rummy game.

After seasickness vanished, we settled down

To the life of a troopship foreign bound.

Our duties were few, some had none at all

We starred at the stars till tattoo’s call.

No ship at sea could have more recreation

Seeing shows and such were great relaxation.

The trip was tough every bit of the way

But we complained a little less, each new day.

When the war is over and home we go,

The folks from the home front will want to know

What ship did you go on, and what did you see?

We went on the Sea Marlin and saw the sea.

Post War Service

On May 2, 1946 Sea Marlin was transferred to the U.S. Maritime Commission and laid up as part of the Reserve Fleet at Lee Hall, VA in the James River. In 1947 Isthmian Steamship Company purchased Sea Marlin and changed its name to SS Steel Director.[21] The contract to convert Sea Marlin from a troopship to freighter was awarded to the J.K Welding Company, Yonkers, NY for a cost of $300,000.[22] Isthmian Steamship Company was sold to States Marine Lines on March 6,1956.[23] Steel Director remained in service until it was sold for scrap to Taiwan Shipbreakers, Kaohsiung, Republic of China in 1971.

The following is a history of damage, salvage, repair, and refitting to Steel Director • During the period of October to December 1950 heavy weather damaged the rudder, boats and fitting. These repairs were made in Houston TX. • 7/11/50: On voyage Galveston, TX to Haifa, Israel hit pier at Gulfport, MS with damage to propeller blades and shaft. • 10-12/50: Heavy weather damage to rudder, boats and fittings; repaired at Houston, TX. • 4/20 - 4/21/51: Heavy weather destroyed accommodation ladder on voyage Calcutta, India to Boston, MA. • 8/2 - 8/3/51: Heavy weather damaged lifeboats. Repair #2 lifeboat davit arm, 7 hatch tarps and 4 lifeboat covers; repairs at Baltimore MD. • 8/20/52: On voyage Houston, TX to Calcutta, India hit Congress Street Wharf, New Orleans, LA, damaging 6 pilings. • 2/1/55: Hit submerged object damaging propeller. 7/12/55: Dry-docked in New York, NY for initial repairs with further work completed in Galveston, TX in October 1955. • 8/9/57: While on voyage from Baltimore and Saigon, South Vietnam to Bangkok, Thailand struck a submerged obstruction. Again on 12/1/57 during voyage from Baltimore MD and Philippines to Surabaya, Indonesia and Singapore, propeller struck submerged object. All repairs done in Galveston, TX in March 1958. • 5/18/58: Struck submerged object on passage from Mobile, AL to New Orleans, LA. Repairs completed in Baltimore, MD in April 1959. • 12/24/59: At Chittagong, India collided with steamer Pyidawnyunt, with little or no damage and arrived in Calcutta, India on 12/27/59. • 10/27/60: Grounded in the Houston Ship Channel while en route to Galveston, TX. Repairs deferred until August 1961. • 1/25/61: Suffered rudder damage from grounding in Suez Canal on voyage from Calcutta, India to Houston, TX. Towed to Port Said, Egypt by tug where temporary repairs were done. Towed by salvage ship Svitzer to Palermo, Italy where permanent repairs were made. • 7/14/61: Struck the lock wall of Cote Ste. Catherine Lock while transiting the St. Lawrence Seaway en route from Montreal, QB to Kenosha, WS in ballast. Struck lock wall of Lower and Upper Beauharnois Locks while transiting the St. Lawrence Seaway. • Arrived Baltimore, MD 9/6/61 from New York, NY for deferred repairs to bottom plates damage sustained 10/27/60 plus damage sustained in St Lawrence Seaway. • 9/10/63: generator turbine damaged in consequence of alleged engineer's negligence while the vessel was on passage from Madras, India to Calcutta, India. Partial repairs made in New York in December 1963. • 6/7/68: Struck submerged object in Mississippi River while en route from Baton Rouge, LA to Houston, TX and Calcutta, India. Repairs completed in New York, NY July 2, 1968. • 3/5 - 8/69: Damaged in heavy weather while en route from Porto Grande, Cape Verde Islands. to New York, NY and New Orleans, LA. Partial repair completed August 5, 1069 in New York, NY. • 1/7/70: Grounded with no reported damage. • 6/23/70: Collided with barge in Yokohama, Japan on voyage from Saigon, South Vietnam for Seattle, WA. Damage to propeller repaired at Todd Shipyards in Seattle, WA in August.. • 9/9/70: Arrived Sattahip, Thailand from Tacoma, WA with refrigeration failure following repairs proceeded to Qui Nhon, South Vietnam. • 5/17/71 Final voyage of SS Sea Marlin/Steel Director from Saigon, South Vietnam arrived at Kaohsiung, Republic of China prior to 6/10/71 where she was scrapped.[24]