USS J. Franklin Bell (APA-16)

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Name: USS J. Franklin Bell (APA-16)
Namesake: J. Franklin Bell, US Army Chief of Staff, 1906–1910
Builder: New York Shipbuilding
Laid down: 1918 (Ship completed March 1, 1921)
Christened: Keystone State
Acquired: (by the Navy) December 26, 1941
Commissioned: (As AP-34) April 2, 1942
Decommissioned: March 20, 1946
Renamed: President McKinley (June 9, 1922), J. Franklin Bell (October 26, 1940)
Reclassified: AP-34 to APA-16, February 1, 1943
Struck: April 1946
Honours and
Six battle stars for World War II service
Fate: Sold for scrap, 2 January 1948
General characteristics
Class and type: Harris-class attack transport
Displacement: 13,529 tons (lt), 21,900 t.(fl)
Length: 535 ft 2 in
Beam: 72 ft
Draft: 31 ft 6 in

2 x Bethlehem Steel Curtis type turbines, 8 x Babcock & Wilcox header-type boilers,

2 propellers, designed shaft horsepower 12,000.
Speed: 17 knots
Capacity: Troops: 103 Officers, 1,740 Enlisted
Cargo: 200,000 cu ft, 2,300 tons
Complement: Officers 46, Enlisted 637
Armament: 4 x 3"/50 caliber dual-purpose gun mounts, 2 x twin 40mm gun mounts, 16 x single 20mm gun mounts.

USS J. Franklin Bell (APA-16) was a Harris-class attack transport that served with the US Navy during World War II.

J. Franklin Bell (AP-34) was laid down in 1918 as an Army transport by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation of Camden, New Jersey; completed March 1, 1921 as a passenger and cargo ship named Keystone State; turned over to the Pacific Steamship Company May 28 and renamed President McKinley June 9, 1922; and transferred to Admiral Oriental Lines December 21 to operate in the Pacific until laid up in Seattle in 1938.

The Army purchased her October 26, 1940, renamed her J. Franklin Bell, and converted her into a military transport. She was transferred to the Navy on December 26, 1941; and commissioned in ordinary before commissioning in full at San Francisco April 2, 1942, Captain Herbert John Grassie USNA 1916 in command.

World War II

After shakedown, a round-trip voyage to Pearl Harbor, and over 2 months of amphibious training along the California coast, J. Franklin Bell, carrying some 1,500 troops and a full load of cargo, sailed from San Francisco August 13 and headed via Kodiak, Alaska, for Adak to strengthen American defenses in the Aleutians, then threatened with invasion.

Aleutian landings

Upon returning San Diego September 29, J. Franklin Bell resumed coastal operations and amphibious training in preparation for taking the offensive in the Aleutians by recapturing Attu Island. Reclassified APA-16 February 1, 1943, she continued rehearsals until sailing to San Francisco April 16 to embark troops and their war gear. She got under way April 24 for Cold Bay, Alaska. Though hampered by heavy seas, her task force arrived off Attu May 11 in a dense fog. J. Franklin Bell, now under Comdr. John B. McGovern, began landing operations. Submerged rocks, pea soup weather, and narrow, rocky beaches permitted only two or three boats to be unloaded at a time. Two days later she started unloading around the clock, enabling her to finish the task, embark casualties, and head for home by May 16.

After training throughout June, she embarked some 1,750 soldiers and, following 2 weeks of landing rehearsals, departed San Diego July 29 for Adak. At the end of a week of weather and terrain conditioning there, she steamed for Kiska August 13. She sent her landing boats ashore through rough surf only to find the enemy had fled. Unloading operations completed in 2 days, she embarked 600 troops and sailed for San Francisco the 20th.

At San Francisco she discharged the troops and embarked naval passengers for Wellington, New Zealand, where she arrived September 30. During the ensuing month of amphibious assault training, Captain Oliver Henderson Ritchie USNA 1915 assumed command October 22. After embarking 1,800 marines, she sailed November 1 for final landing rehearsals before departing November 13 to invade Tarawa.

Invasion of Tarawa

The first step in a mighty amphibious offensive through Micronesia, the conquest of the Gilbert Islands was a major milestone on the watery road to Japan. During midwatch November 20, J. Franklin Bell took her assigned place off Betio, the most formidable Japanese garrison on Tarawa Atoll. Heavy naval bombardment began at 0515; and the enemy responded with scattered fire at the transports.

Straddled by gunfire, J. Franklin Bell retired out of range and, while the deadly battle raged on ashore, awaited orders to land her troops. The next day she sailed to Bairiki Island and landed her marines. Finding dead enemies only, they boarded landing boats and moved from island to island along the atoll. Meanwhile, after the Bairiki landings, J. Franklin Bell began sending cargo ashore. The marines secured Betio on the 23d and the entire atoll on November 27, and J. Franklin Bell departed with marines embarked for Pearl Harbor.

Invasion of Kwajalein

After a month of training in Hawaii, the transport embarked more than 1,500 soldiers and sailed for Kwajalein Atoll. Upon arriving January 31, she found fire support ships pounding enemy shore installations in preparation for landings the following day. J. Franklin Bell entered the lagoon February 2 to unload supplies and to receive casualties. On the 5th, her landing boats assaulted Gugegwe Island. Two days later the atoll was secured; and the transport departed February 8 for Pearl Harbor carrying over 2,000 soldiers.

Invasion of Saipan

Putting into Pearl February 15. she made two round trips to the United States mainland before embarking soldiers and setting course for the Marianas. J. Franklin Bell arrived off Saipan June 16, the day after the initial landings; and debarked her troops on the 17th. After unloading needed supplies,she retired some 100 miles northeast of Saipan to await the outcome of the Battle of the Philippine Sea June 19–21. Upon learning of the great American naval victory, she returned to Saipan June 25; completed unloading; embarked casualties; sailed for Eniwetok to load more cargo; and then headed, via Saipan to embark marines, for the assault on nearby Tinian.

Invasion of Tinian

Departing July 24, J. Franklin Bell joined in a diversionary demonstration at the southern end of Tinian. Under cover of a fierce bombardment, the transport feigned two landings to divert enemy attention while the real landings were made at the northern end of the island. Following this successful subterfuge, she sailed to the actual beachheads; landed her troops; embarked casualties the next afternoon; and returned to Saipan the 27th. The next day, carrying 438 Japanese prisoners, she sailed for Pearl Harbor and arrived August 10.

Invasion of Leyte

J. Franklin Bell returned to the Western Pacific, putting into Manus, Admiralties, October 3 to embark 1,600 assault troops for the invasion of the Philippines. She headed for Leyte Gulf October 14 and arrived off Dulag, Leyte, October 20. After quickly debarking her troops, she began unloading supplies and receiving casualties. Defying repeated air attacks, she unloaded supplies into LCTs throughout the day and night completing the task shortly after noon the next day. Then she got under way for Manus, Admiral of the Fleet, Lord Roger Keyes, RN, on board, and arrived the 27th.

Invasion of Okinawa

Following a voyage to New Guinea, J. Franklin Bell departed Manus for San Francisco and arrived November 27. Heading back to the war zone February 28, 1945, the veteran transport arrived Nouméa, New Caledonia, April 18. After landing exercises and embarking Seabees and their equipment, she headed for Okinawa via Eniwetok and Ulithi. She dropped anchor at Hagushi, June 17 to debark her Seabees. Subjected to frequent air alerts, she completed her unloading under cover of a smoke screen late the following afternoon.

The transport then departed on the 22nd, carrying 862 casualties to Saipan before proceeding to Espiritu Santo and Nouméa to embark homehound casualties. Departing Nouméa July 11 with over 1,700 passengers, she steamed for San Francisco and arrived the 27th.

After hostilities

The war ended, J. Franklin Bell sailed September 21 for the Western Pacific, carrying troops to Eniwetok, Okinawa, and Leyte. After boarding homebound passengers at Leyte, she sailed October 27 and reached Seattle November 12. She began coastal operations on the 22nd shuttling between Washington and California ports.


J. Franklin Bell arrived at Suisun Bay, California, March 20, 1946; and decommissioned the same day.

Transferred to the War Shipping Administration for disposal, on 12 February 1947. She was sold for scrap 2 January 1948 to National Steel Corp., Terminal Island, California. Removed 3 April 1948.


J. Franklin Bell received six battle stars for World War II service.


This article includes text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.