Chapter IV

If the business of installing guns and other defense equipment was a long and complicated process, the job of taking this equipment off ships was also a slow and difficult task. The principal difficulties were in persuading owners to take ships out of profitable commercial trade for the period necessary to disarm them and in labor troubles at the ship yards. Tankers which were returned to the operation of private owners presented special problems because they had to be made gas free before guns could be removed. Meanwhile, it was necessary to keep two maintenance men on each ship until the guns were removed. The Navy could not afford to leave millions of dollars worth of expensive guns unprotected.

On 3 October 1944, the Secretary of the Navy forwarded to the Administrator of the War Shipping Administration a plan for disarming ships operating in the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean waters, and the Gulf of Mexico. This plan was to become effective after the end of the war with Germany. It set the basic pattern for the disarmament of merchant ships. Degaussing equipment should be left aboard to protect the ship as long as danger from mines existed. Splinter protection around the pilot house and radio rooms could be removed at owner's option. If removed, all steel should be turned in for salvage. Deck strengthening should be retained as a permanent installation, but gun foundations and


platforms above the weather decks, including splinter protection, should be removed for scrap salvage or for installation on new construction. Ammunition magazines should be retained aboard ship for other uses unless the owner requested their removal. In this event, facilities should be removed for scrap salvage and ready service boxes should be installed on new construction. Sky lookout stations were to be removed for scrap salvage. Sea chest protection should be retained. Radio receivers furnished by the Navy should be returned to BuShips unless the owner of the ship desired to purchase this equipment. Berthing and messing facilities could be dismantled if the owner so desired and the materials turned in for salvage. Life rafts should be retained until there was no longer any danger of damage from mines, after which this equipment should be turned in for salvage. Darkening ship equipment should be removed. Guns, spare parts and ammunition were to be removed and returned to BuOrd. Tonnage openings and extensions of watertight bulkheads were to remain intact as long as mine damage was possible. The cost of repainting the ship should be borne by the owner. Snowflake rocket projectors and magazine facilities should be removed for scrap salvage. Smoke floats were to be returned to naval magazines and the racks were to be removed for scrap salvage. Smoke indicators were to be left aboard ships. The Armed Guard storerooms and armory could be left aboard if the owner desired or removed for scrap salvage. All BuShips Type Allowance gear


should be returned to BuShips.1

On 16 October the War Shipping Administration proposed that costs of disarmament be borne by the agency having custody of the vessel at the time defense equipment was removed.2 This procedure was agreeable to the Navy Department.3

The Director of Naval Communications insisted that no communication equipment be removed from merchant ships as long as these vessels were required to comply with wartime communication instructions and asked that any directive implementing the plan to begin disarming ships be cleared with Op-20 before promulgation.4

It was the plan of Op-23 to disarm about 600 merchant ships in the three month period after the defeat of Germany with an estimated reduction of 1,000 Armed Guard officers and 18,000 gunners. It was planned to disarm one third of the merchant ships within six months after the surrender of Germany with a probable reduction of 3,430 officers and 60,000 gunners. But no ship was to be disarmed until it was definitely determined that the vessel would be permanently assigned to a non-combat area. Vessels operating in non-combat areas would carry a maintenance crew until such time as they were frozen to a non-combat area or fully manned and sent to a combat area.5

Detailed instructions to Armed Guards for handling ordnance and certain other Navy property in preparation for its removal from ships


were drawn up by BuOrd and promulgated by CNO on 25 May 1945, with certain additions.6 On 5 June the disarmament of ships originally armed with a stern gun and two machine guns which were frozen in Area 3 (non-combat area) was authorized.7 Nine days later CNO directed that all small arms ammunition, regardless of packaging or condition, should be turned into the nearest naval ammunition depot rather than dumped.8 On 21 June BuOrd gave detailed instructions to the Naval Districts on the handling of guns and ammunition removed from merchant ships.9

Events moved rapidly after the cessation of hostilities with Japan. On 11 August detailed instructions were promulgated to Armed Guards concerning their preparations when the decision to disarm merchant ships was reached. These instructions covered preservation of material, packing equipment, turning in reports, and dumping of many kinds of ammunition.10 On 15 August the arming of all new construction ceased, but degaussing equipment and life rafts were still to be installed and decks were still to be stiffened for heavy


guns.11 On 20 August the initial allowance for merchant ships was greatly reduced and instructions were given that the supply of ammunition on merchant ships was not to be replenished beyond this reduced allowance.12 A detailed directive of 15 August indicated all material which should be removed from merchant ships when the decision to disarm was reached. This directive differed from the earlier plan of 3 October 1944 in only two important respects. Emphasis was no longer on salvage of material. It also applied to all merchant ships and included defense items not mentioned in the earlier plan. Radio receivers supplied by the Navy were to be retained for service, subject to later removal from the ship. Armed Guard berthing, messing, and toilet facilities were to be retained for the use of passengers being brought back from the war theaters until no longer needed. Life preservers were also to be left on board for the use of passengers. Barrage balloon equipment, acoustic warning devices, Mark 29 gear, kites, course changing clocks, and depth charge stowage facilities were to be removed. Fueling at sea gear was to be left aboard until no longer needed. Gyro compasses installed on certain Alaskan vessels would be the subject of further consideration. All convoy equipment except signal searchlights should be removed. Signal searchlights were to be kept ready for use pending future disposition or removal. The War Shipping Administration and the Army were responsible for informing the master at sea so that the Armed Guard could prepare the ship for disarming when it


touched a United States port. Port Directors were responsible for informing the Navy Department of every ship disarmed.13 The Armed Guard Inspection Service officers acted as the Port Director's liaison for disarmament and the complement of the Port Directors was increased accordingly.14 On 24 August instructions went out that when ammunition was dumped it should be in 150 fathoms of water rather than 100 fathoms and at least 10 miles offshore as provided in the former directive.15

Directions went out on 6 September to begin disarming all merchant ships. If ships could not be disarmed before leaving a United States the armament was to be placed in a maintenance status. Ships departing Balboa, Port Said, and Hawaiian Islands, other than those returning to the United States, were to have their Armed Guard crews reduced to a maintenance status. The maintenance crew on transports carrying four 3"/50 guns was increased to three men. Armed Guards were not to be detached from ships returning to the United States.16

On 2 October the decision was reached to dump all ammunition except that for .30 cal. rifles. The Armed Guard was required to make a report on the dumping of ammunition including latitude and longitude where dumped.17 Ammunition on ships of foreign flag which did not carry an Armed Guard could not be dumped, but had to be turned in when the ship was disarmed.


Various minor changes in disarmament procedure were made. TBY equipment was retained on ships in the Pacific for an indefinite period.18 After the Coast Guard cancelled all its wartime regulations for merchant ships, especially its regulations requiring life rafts, on 6 September, the War Shipping Administration began removing life rafts. CNO opposed this move for ships operating in areas not cleared of mines and on ships carrying personnel in excess of lifeboat capacity but had no objection to cessation of installation of life rafts.19 On 18 February 1946 title to all degaussing equipment installed on merchant ships was transferred to the War Shipping Administration. Future repairs and maintenance should be the responsibility of the War Shipping Administration or of the ultimate owner. Material should be purchased by the owner from commercial concerns where practicable, but might be purchased for a time from the Navy at cost.20

In spite of the excellent planning to disarm ships the process was slowed by events which were out of the hands of the Navy Department. On 23 January 1946 Port Directors were requested to confer with local WSA representatives when merchant ships or transports arrived so that arrangements could be made for disarmament.21 On 16 April they were directed to confer whenever a merchant ship entered a United States port so that the ship could be disarmed at the port or at least prior to departure from the United States on a voyage.22 But a strike of West


Coast machinists for 134 or more days greatly handicapped the disarming program. On 3 May directions were given to disarm all United States flag ships in the Western Pacific ports if these ships would not depart from the United States within 30 days. The pressure to release Armed Guard maintenance personnel was strong.23 Guns were taken off 125 ships in Philippines and Japanese ports prior to transfer of these vessels to China or to Japanese control for repatriating Japanese war prisoners. Private owners were in no hurry to make their ships available for disarming as long as high profits in hauling oil and other cargo could be made and as long as the ships did not require dry docking.

Difficulties encountered from owners and labor did not prevent important progress in the disarming program. The figures for 30 August 1946 are impressive, although not up to earlier hopes and plans to have all Armed Guard personnel released from Armed Guard duties before this time. On 30 August United States flag and United States owned foreign flag ships still armed numbered 103 of which 62 were towing and other miscellaneous small type vessels armed for the Army. As of September 1, 1946, BuPers records indicated only 112 enlisted men attached to the Armed Guard Service. Out of 6,236 ships armed, 404 remained to be disarmed. The total number of ships disarmed was 4,975 out of 5,379 subject to disarmament. Of the total number of ships armed, 135 had been transferred to the United States Navy, and 12 to the British Navy had been lost. The record for United States flag and United States owned ships indicated them 98 per cent disarmed. For foreign owned foreign flag ships


the record was not as good. But better than 92 per cent of all armed merchant ships had been disarmed. The job was more than nine-tenths completed.24 The Arming Merchant Ship Section was exerting unrelenting pressure to get the job completed except with regard to foreign owned foreign flag ships which came under Lend-Lease. Their guns were accepted when they made them available for disarming, but there was every indication that many of these guns would never be recovered by the United States Navy.


Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter (3) ** Appendix


1. SecNavy conf. ltr., ser. 0547323, 3 Oct. 1944.

2. WSA conf. ltr., 16 Oct. 1944.

3. SecNav conf. ltr., ser. 0672423, 27 Nov. 1944.

4. Conf. memo., Op-20 to Op-23, ser. 01762420, 18 Nov. 1944.

5. Op-23L conf. memo., 31 March 1945.

6. BuOrd ltr., NC116 (Mn1a), 9 May 1945; CNO conf. ltr., ser. 0232823, 25 May 1945. Much of the ammunition on merchant ships was to be dumped in deep water 10 miles or more from shore.

7. CNO conf. ltr., ser. 0245623, 5 June 1945; CNO conf. ltr., ser. 0252823, 6 JUne 1945.

8. BuOrd conf. ltr., QS1(Mn2g), 9 June 1945; CNO conf. ltr., ser. 0267223, 14 June 1945.

9. BuOrd conf. ltr., QS1/L9(Mn1a), 21 June 1945.

10. CNO rest. ltr., ser. 340623 (Armed Guard Bulletin 38-45), 11 Aug. 1945.

11. CNO rest. disp., 151320, 15 Aug. 1945.

12. CNO conf. disp., 211440, 20 Aug. 1945.

13. CNO conf. ltr., ser. 0353323, 15 Aug. 1945.

14. CNO rest. ltr., ser. 374123, 31 Aug. 1945.

15. CNO rest. ltr., ser. 364923 (Armed Guard Bulletin 39-45), 24 Aug. 1945.

16. CNO conf. disp., 061340, 6 Sept., 1945.

17. CNO BAMS message No. 103, 021435, 2 Oct. 1945; CNO rest. ltr., ser. 452723 (Armed Guard Bulletin 43-45), 2 Oct. 1945.

18. BuShips conf. ltr., ser. C-981-667, 25 Sept. 1945; BuShips conf. ltr., ser. C-981-955, 26 Oct. 1945; BuShips conf. ltr., ser. C-981-1153, 26 Nov. 1945.

19. Op-23L memo. for File, 14 Sept. 1945.

20. BuShips-BuSandA ltr., QS1/L11-3(660m) QS1/S81-6, 18 Feb. 1946.

21. CNO speed ltr., ser. 494P414, 23 Jan. 1946.

22. CNO speed ltr., ser. 2329P414, 16 Apr. 1946.

23. CNO rest. disp., 031945, 3 May 1946.

24. Op-421-F1(EX Op-414-D3) rest. memo. for File, 30 August 1946.

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