USS Manatee (AO-58)

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USS Manatee (AO-58)
Manatee at Subic Bay in the Philippine Islands in 1969
Name: USS Manatee
Builder: Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation, Bethlehem Sparrows Point Shipyard, Sparrows Point, Maryland
Laid down: 28 August 1943
Launched: 18 February 1944
Sponsored by: Mrs. Paul V. McNutt
Commissioned: 6 April 1944
Decommissioned: July 1973
Struck: 14 August 1973
Fate: Sold for scrapping, 10 December 1973
General characteristics
Class and type: Cimarron-class fleet oiler
Type: T3-S2-A3 tanker hull
  • 7,236 long tons (7,352 t) light
  • 25,440 long tons (25,848 t) full load
Length: 553 ft (169 m)
Beam: 75 ft (23 m)
Draft: 32 ft 4 in (9.86 m)
Propulsion: Geared turbines, twin screws, 30,400 shp (22,669 kW)
Speed: 18 knots (21 mph; 33 km/h)
Capacity: 146,000 barrels
Complement: 314 officers and enlisted
Service record
Operations: World War II, Korean War, Vietnam War

The USS Manatee (AO-58)—the second vessel of the United States Navy to bear the name[citation needed]—was the Cimarron-class fleet replenishment oiler named for a river in Florida. Cimarron class oilers were named after American Indian rivers in the southern United States.

Manatee was laid down 28 August 1943 by the Bethlehem Sparrows Point Shipyard, Inc. of Sparrows Point, Maryland, as a Maritime Commission type (T3-S2-A3) tanker hull with a cargo capacity of 146,000 barrels, under Maritime Commission contract (MC hull 724); launched 18 February 1944; sponsored by Mrs. Paul V. McNutt; and commissioned 6 April 1944 with Lieutenant Commander Joseph B. Smyth in command. Smyth had previous experience on an oiler. Just prior to taking charge of the Manatee, he had served as executive officer on the USS Big Horn.[1]

Service history

Lieutenant Commander Joseph B. Smyth, the USS Manatee's first skipper (April 1944-December 1945); image taken at sea aboard AO-58, June 1944.

World War II

Shortly after a ten-day shakedown period, Manatee departed the Chesapeake Bay area for the Dutch West Indies. Loading at that oil center, she got underway for the Panama Canal and the Pacific. Arriving at Eniwetok 16 June 1944, she replenished the amphibious forces then invading Saipan. She shuttled from Eniwetok to the fueling areas throughout the campaigns for Saipan, Tinian, and Guam, until moving to Manus, largest of the Admiralty Islands, 20 August. From Manus, she continued carrying fuel and other supplies to fast carrier groups through the Battle of Peleliu and the first phase of the Philippine Campaign. By 20 October, when Manatee departed Manus for the last time, the atoll Ulithi at the western edge of the Caroline Islands had been secured and established as a regional center for fleet oilers.

From the Admiralties, Manatee proceeded north to support the forces then covering the Leyte landings. Her fueling activities kept her in the Philippines until late February 1945, when she returned to Ulithi, where three months earlier one of the Manatee's sister ships, the oiler USS Mississinewa (AO-59), had been sunk by a Kaiten, a manned Japanese suicide torpedo. From Ulithi, Manatee steamed back to Leyte Gulf to fuel the amphibious forces gathering for the Okinawa campaign. On 28 March she began shuttling oil from Ulithi to the carrier groups operating in the Battle of Okinawa. She continued to work this supply line until the securing of the island on 21 June, 82 days after the initial landings. On 2 July, Manatee was ordered to join other fast oilers in lending close support to carrier groups during strikes on the Japanese home islands. The oilers moving at night to rendezvous with the carriers, refueled them within 200 miles (322 km) of the enemy’s coastline, and then retired. Efficient organization and rapid routing of empty oilers to Ulithi for refueling resulted in an ample supply of fuel oil for the fleet carrier forces.

Statistics regarding the distance that the Manatee traveled in its first year of service and the amounts of oil and gasoline the ship transported and discharged are impressive. The AO-58 steamed 65,205 nautical miles during 198 days at sea between April 6, 1944, and April 6, 1945.[1] In its support of Pacific land, sea, and air operations, the Manatee discharged in just that twelve-month period 1,319,468 barrels of black oil; 39,476 barrels of diesel oil; and 3,250,993 gallons of gasoline.[1] Each of those replenishment totals would, of course, increase appreciably by war's end.

Partial crew roster (WW II)
This listing of some of the USS Manatee's inaugural crew (with ratings) is compiled from a variety of sources, including a publication printed aboard the ship and distributed to the crew on April 6, 1945, to mark the oiler's first year of service, as well as information from another incomplete roster on a website devoted to the history of the AO-58.[2][1] Even as a partial record, the following list reflects to some extent the array of positions and ratings that comprised the ship's complement during World War II:

The USS Manatee's doctor with his entire medical staff of pharmacist's mates on the AO-58 in 1944: (front, left-to-right) PhM3 Leland T. Larsen from Wisconsin and PhM2 Graham S. Fulghum, Sr., from North Carolina; (standing, left-to-right) PhM1 Parham from Tennessee and Lt. C. W. "Doc" Straub from Pennsylvania.

Commanding Officer (LCDR)—Joseph B. Smyth
Executive Officer (LT)—W. K. Yourdon
Medical Officer (LT USNR)—C. W. "Doc" Straub, M.D.
Chief Quartermaster (CQM)—M. J. Morrison
Chief Petty Officer (CPO)—J. M. Carter
Pharmacist's Mate (PhM1)—Parham
Pharmacist's Mate (PhM2)—Graham S. Fulghum, Sr.[3]
Pharmacist's Mate (PhM3)—Leland T. Larsen
Boatswain's Mate (BM3)—George Smith
Boilermaker (B2)—Delrocco
Electrician's Mate (EM1)—L. Lafferty
Radioman (RM2)—Schatoff
Radioman (RM3)—R. F. Haller
Painter (PTR3)—P. C. Mires
Baker (BKR1)—Joe Mullin
Signalman (SM2))—Willis Dunham
Signalman (SM2)—A. D. Marshall
Gunner's Mate (GM3)—Jesse Hopkins
Storekeeper (SK3)—Eddy Thurston
Yeoman (Y1)—R. T. Jenkins
Yeoman (Y1)—A. V. Rostron
Seaman (S1)—Donald Mason
Seaman (S1)—J. W. Daft
Seaman (S2)—Bud Bernard
Seaman (S2)—Royce Godwin


With the formal cessation of hostilities in the Asiatic-Pacific Theater on 15 August 1945, Manatee sailed for Ulithi en route to San Pedro, California, arriving there on 7 October. The oiler soon departed the west coast for the Far East, returning to the western Pacific at the end of November to support the occupation operations. The Manatee at this time had to carry out these and other deployments with a crew steadily being reduced in size by post-war discharges and reassignments. By November 1945, the ship's roster, according to onboard medical crew, had again "been cut down from 268 to 170 men—seven chiefs—seven officers", amounting to a 46% reduction in personnel from the ship's full wartime complement of over 300 men.[4] Those post-war cuts also included daily maintenance personnel and basic crew services. For instance, the ship by the final weeks of 1945 had "no Barber—no Painter aboard", although Manatee crew members did welcome being issued "a new movie machine" for their entertainment while at sea, as well as a "wonderful Soda Fountain".[4] It was at this time too, when the AO-58 had a change in command. On 23 December 1945, while anchored off Japan, the ship's first skipper, Lieutenant Commander Smyth, was detached and replaced by "a four striper USN ", Captain R. G. Visser.[4][5]

Manatee later made three round-trip voyages between the oil ports on the Persian Gulf and Tokyo before sailing for Hawaii. Overhaul completed at Pearl Harbor she departed Hawaii 11 September 1947 for the Persian Gulf. On this voyage the oiler was loaded at Ras Tanura, Arabia, and off-loaded at Norfolk, Virginia, having arrived 17 November via the Suez Canal and Gibraltar. Early the next year she departed for the Persian Gulf and made two voyages to Japan from Bahrein before returning to Norfolk 22 April 1948. She then commenced shuttle trips between Aruba, Bayonne, New Jersey, and NS Argentia, Newfoundland. Departing the latter port 2 June, she steamed via the Persian Gulf and Japan for California, arriving 20 August. On 6 January 1949 the oiler departed Long Beach, California, for the western Pacific. Having completed three round trip cruises between Sasebo and the Persian Gulf, she returned to the west coast 17 July.

At San Francisco, her rig for fueling at sea was removed and Manatee began 20 months' service as an MSTS vessel. At first operating along the West Coast, her assignments soon extended to the Caribbean, gulf and east coasts. Before October 1950 she made four trips to Norfolk via the Panama Canal Zone and the Dutch West Indies, as well as several shuttle trips between the latter and east coast ports. On 27 October, she departed Boston for Ras Tanura on the Persian Gulf. By 17 February, having called at Manila, Yokosuka, and Pearl Harbor, she was back at Long Beach. There AO-58 was re-equipped for fueling at sea and again became a fleet oiler to support the fleet during the Korean War.

Korean War

Manatee refuels HMAS Warramunga off Korea on 27 June 1951.

On 17 March 1951 Manatee arrived in Japanese waters to begin her first annual WesPac deployment. After brief periods at Tokuyama and Sasebo, she received orders to replenish the Taiwan Straits Patrol. She returned to Sasebo 20 May and commenced servicing United Nations ships in combat areas off the Korean coast. She continued to operate out of Sasebo for the next five months, returning to Long Beach 11 August. Her next two WestPac deployments, 21 March to 19 October 1952 and 6 February to 29 July 1953, followed the same pattern, one month with the Taiwan Straits Patrol and the remainder of the tour operating out of Sasebo in support of Korean operations.

For the next five years Manatee’s operating schedule continued to be six months in the western Pacific, six months on the west coast. During this period, she participated in fleet operations and in underway training exercises, as well as undergoing regular overhauls. Included in her Pacific deployment for 1954 was the replenishment of the ships present in the Marshall Islands for the March hydrogen bomb tests. Manatee received eight battle stars for World War II service and six for Korean War service.

Vietnam War

Scheduled for only four months deployment in the western Pacific in 1958, mid-May through mid-September, Manatee remained an extra month to service the ships called to the area during the Formosa crisis over Quemoy and Matsu islands. The following year, after her four months WestPac duty, Manatee was chosen, because of consistently efficient service, to take part in a joint Canadian-American replenishment demonstration held 8 October 1959 for the 14th Annual Conference of the National Defense Transportation Association.

Manatee refuels USS Ticonderoga, 15 July 1965.

In the year that followed Manatee continued to alternate duty on the west coast with Far Eastern service. She was one of seven ships chosen to visit Australia, 29 April–13 May, for the 1963 Coral Sea celebration. With the stepped-up operations in Vietnam, Manatee’s 1964 WestPac tour was extended to 8½ months, May 1964 through January 1965. During this period she operated principally in the South China Sea. South China Sea operations also occupied most of her 1966, 1967, and 1968 tours, replenishing the ships of the 7th Fleet on patrol in that area in support of the Vietnam War.

After refueling the aircraft carrier Ticonderoga off the southern California coast on 20 August 1971; a valve on the Manatee was left open and about 230,000 gallons of heavy fuel oil were spilled.[6] The large spill created an oil slick that washed ashore, affecting a 65-mile stretch (105 kilometers) of beaches from the Mexican border northward to San Clemente, California, where President Richard Nixon was vacationing at his home there, a residence that reporters at the time often referred to as the "Western White House".[7] The Navy took charge of the clean-up efforts. "Hundreds of sailors and marines" were dispatched and worked 10 days to clean the beaches.[6] Following federal and state investigations of the incident, the commanding officer of the Manatee, Captain Jack L. Snyder, was relieved of his command.[6]

Decommissioned in July 1973, Manatee was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on 14 August 1973. Transferred to the Maritime Administration for disposal, she was sold for scrapping, 10 December 1973, to Zidell Exploration of Portland, Oregon.

Manatee crewman on NBC Radio, 1951

Cecil Hawkins, a native of Shreveport, Louisiana, was a sailor actively serving aboard the USS Manatee in 1951, when he competed in Hollywood, California, on You Bet Your Life, a popular NBC comedy quiz show hosted by Groucho Marx.[8] The radio episode of You Bet Your Life in which Seaman Hawkins participated was originally broadcast the day after Christmas, on December 26, 1951.[9] In his opening conversation with Marx in the episode's third segment, the 26-year-old sailor describes the service ribbons he had been awarded during his eight years thus far with the U.S. Navy. He also mentions that the AO-58 had just returned from Korea and that every member of the Manatee's crew had recently donated blood at the local blood bank in Los Angeles.[8]

The game format of You Bet Your Life consisted of two-person teams vying to win prize money by answering categories of questions posed by Marx. Unknown to Seaman Hawkins, his fellow team member on the cited episode was retired Rear Admiral Robert W. Berry, who on the program is "disguised" in civilian clothes and introduced simply as "Mr. Berry", the director of civil defense for the city of Los Angeles.[8][10] While interviewing Hawkins, who continues to be completely unaware of his partner's true identity, Groucho asks him what he does first in the morning aboard ship. The Manatee crewman replies, "heave out and trice up", the daily required procedure of securing one's "rack" (bed) immediately after being awakened.[8][11] Grouch then prompts him to explain those navy terms to a civilian and "landlubber" like Mr. Berry, which the unwitting sailor proceeds to do.[12]

Marx next asks Hawkins to share his opinions about his life in the U.S. Navy, including what he does not like about it. The sailor responds that he dislikes the new "sloppy-looking" uniform being proposed to replace the enlisted men's current standard issue.[8] He then adds that he would like to change the practice of reveille being trumpeted or piped "365 days a year" at "0600" (6:00 in the morning). Those comments prompt Groucho to ask Hawkins how long he thinks a man like Mr. Berry would "last in the navy". "Well"' the sailor replies, "he wouldn't last very long".[8] The statement provokes riotous laughter from the studio audience, which had been informed in advance of Berry's lofty naval rank. Marx finally reveals to Seaman Hawkins his partner's identity by inviting him "to shake hands with Rear Admiral Robert W. Berry of the United States Navy."[8] Somewhat stunned by the sudden revelation, the Manatee crewman initially stutters with surprise and then laughs as Groucho says to him, "Cecil, I just said shake hands; you don't have to shake all over, you know".[8] Following a brief description by Berry of his actual work in civil-defense planning for Los Angeles, the retired admiral and Hawkins win $210 playing You Bet Your Life by correctly answering a series of game questions. The navy men, however, later miss winning the "big money" of $3,500 by incorrectly answering the grand-prize question: What "legendary city of gold" (El Dorado) did English explorer Sir Walter Raleigh search for in South America in 1595?[8]


  1. ^ a b c d Mana-T-Times (April 6, 1945) "Published at Sea Aboard U.S.S. Manatee AO-58" and distributed to crew members to celebrate the ship's first year of service; typewritten and mimeographed on 8"x13" (20 cm x 33 cm) pulp paper, 10 pages.
  2. ^ "Ship's Roster", Unofficial USS Manatee (AO-58) Homepage. Retrieved June 5, 2017.
  3. ^ "Graham S. Fulghum, Sr., crew member of USS Manatee, April 1944 - October 1945, Find a Grave memorial 65249347 with photograph of G. S. Fulghum aboard AO-58 in Pacific Theater (1944) and image of his grave marker documenting his rank and United States Navy service. Retrieved May 30, 2017.
  4. ^ a b c Manuscript, information and quotations from original letter, 4 pages, 29 November 1945, handwritten by PhM2 Leland T. Larsen on the USS Manatee, c/o Fleet Post Office, San Francisco, California, to honorably discharged shipmate Graham S. Fulghum, Sr., in Raleigh, North Carolina. Personal collection of Manatee-related photographs, manuscripts, imprints, and artifacts (1944-1945) owned by Robert N. Fulghum, Chapel Hill, NC. Collection being prepared for donation to the University Archives, World War II Collection, The Louis Round Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Reviewed June 5, 2017.
  5. ^ Osenton, James (1995). "MANATEE Deck Log", USS Manatee (AO-58) website. Timeline or log of the ship's history reconstructed and revised in 1995 from information received by compiler Osenton when he attended an "open house" for the Manatee at Long Beach, California, January 27-28, 1962. Retrieved June 5, 2017.
  6. ^ a b c "Oil Spill Skipper Ousted", The New York Times, November 24, 1971. Retrieved June 5, 2017.
  7. ^ "Navy Investigating Oil Spillage And Reason for Delay in Report", The New York Times, September 5, 1971. Retrieved June 5, 2017.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i "You Bet Your Life (12-26-51)", NBC Radio episode originally broadcast on December 26, 1951. A full recording of the cited episode is available for viewing on the video-sharing website YouTube, a subsidiary of Alphabet Inc., Mountain View, California. Retrieved September 5, 2017.
  9. ^ Throughout the 1950s, episodes of You Bet Your Life were broadcast on both radio and television.
  10. ^ "Civil Defense Meeting, 1951"; photograph of retired U.S. Navy Rear Admiral Robert W. Berry looking at a report with a civil-defense block warden and the city treasurer of Los Angeles, California, May 14, 1951. Los Angeles Examiner Photographs Collection, University of Southern California, Doheny Memorial Library, Los Angeles, California. Retrieved September 5, 2017.
  11. ^ "Heave out and trice up" is U.S. Navy jargon for getting out of one's "rack" (bed) aboard ship and then folding the rack's entire frame up and hooking it against the wall so there is more room for fellow crewmen to move about the surrounding quarters. On the noted episode of You Bet Your Life, Seaman Hawkins also refers to his rack as his "sack", a term that recalls when most navy crewmen slept in hammocks aboard ships.
  12. ^ "Landlubber", Wiktionary definition: "Noun (nautical, pejorative) Someone unfamiliar with the sea or seamanship, especially a novice seaman".

Further reading

  • This Wikipedia page incorporates some text from a reference in the public domain, Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Related text about the USS Manatee can be found in that naval reference.
  • "AO-58 Manatee" Service Ship Photo Archive. Retrieved 12 March 2007.
  • "Navy Sends Party To Mop Up Slick". The Press-Courier. Oxnard, California. Associated Press. 24 August 1971. p. 3.
  • Wildenberg, Thomas (1996). Gray Steel and Black Oil: Fast Tankers and Replenishment at Sea in the U.S. Navy, 1912–1995. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press, 1996. Retrieved 7 July 2017.
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