USS Benton County (LST-263) (1943-1958)

USS Benton County (LST-263) was one of several Landing ships built during WWII, named after locations in the Pacific Northwest. Like the rest of the LST, it wasn’t directly named for just one county though. There are Benton Counties in Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Oregon, Tennessee, and Washington, so for our purposes it could be on this list twice!

USS LST-263 under way, October 19 1943, location unknown - Photo by David Kerr, US National Archives photo # 80-G-411655

USS LST-263 under way, October 19 1943, location unknown – Photo by David Kerr, US National Archives photo # 80-G-411655

According to official records LST-263 was only in one action, but did a bit of work transporting troops to the battle fronts in Italy and France. Over 1000 LSTs were built for use in WWII. They were designed to drop off tanks, trucks, artillery and troops onto beaches in amphibious operations. This they did around the world through several wars.

LST-263 was one of 120 LSTs built by the American Bridge Company in Ambridge, PA. She was laid down September 7th, 1942 and launched four months later on February 27th 1943. She was “sponsored” by Mrs. Charles G. Baumgartner, whom seems to have disappeared from history. LST-263 was then commissioned on June 20th 1943, and assigned to the European Theater.

As part of Convoy UGS-37 she crossed the Atlantic Ocean in Spring 1944. It is unclear what she might have carried during that time, but I imagine whatever it was, she was full! As a LST, she is not listed on any Convoy listing that I can found. UGS-37 sailed from the Hamptons on March 24, 1944 to Port Said, Egypt, arriving on April 19, 1944. I assume that was the assembly point for the invasion of France in August and September 1944.

It appears that LST-263 started transporting troops and supplies to the Italian Battlefront. Her first major stop looks to have been Naples. She was the first LST to land at the port of Civitavecchia, Italy, 40 miles Northwest of Rome in June 1944. Despite the Royal Navy clearing a path through ship wrecks in the harbor, they still had to guide the LSTs in. Her next stop was Palermo, Sicily in August 1944.

USS LST-263 beached at Civitavecchia, Italy

USS LST-263 beached at Civitavecchia, Italy – Courtesy of Imperial War Museum Admiralty Official Collection, by Roper, F.G. (Lt), Photo No. © IWM (A 24320)

From the Unit History of the 214th AAA Bn, Sept. 1944.
2 September 1944, Batteries alerted for loading on to LSTs at Ajaccio, Corsica, A & B Batteries on LST-263. Left docks about 1530 and sailed from the harbor at 1800. CO and. S-3, 406th AAA Gun Bn saw us off. Fresh meat for supper.
3 September 1944, Sea journey to St. Tropez, France. windy and rough. Anchored in harbor about 2030.
4 September 1944, Debarking took place at Delta beach, approximately 3 miles west of St. Tropez, from 0800 to 1245

After a rather boring (at least on paper) trip to France, it looks like she transported wounded soldiers and continued to drop off supplies to both the French and Italian fronts. With the end of the war, she was laid up as part of the Reserve Fleet on May 29th 1946. In 1955, for reasons I’ve yet to find, all the LSTs were given proper names. From July 1st 1955, until she was struck from the Naval register and disposed on November 1st, 1958, she was known as the USS Benton County.

Her post war fate is unknown – but is apparently covered in World War II U.S. Navy Vessels in Private Hands: The Boats and Ships Sold and Registered for Commercial and Recreational Purposes Under the American Flag on pg 77. I have not been able to secure a copy of this book though, so have not been able to find out what her ultimate fate was. If you know, (or have a copy of this book,) please comment below!

USS LST-263 ship and staff officers, Palermo Sicily, August 1944. From Douglas K. Fidler, Captain, USAF-Retired

USS LST-263 ship and staff officers, Palermo Sicily, August 1944. From Douglas K. Fidler, Captain, USAF-Retired

Picture above:
Front Sitting (l – r) Ensign Bradford, LT(jg) Reynolds, LT Barnett, LT CDR Russel, LT J. Alfred Austin (CO), Ensign Griffin, LT T.C. McMillen, LT(jg) Benjamin J. Petrusek (CAPT, USN-Ret)
Back Row Standing (l-r) LT(jg) Sparks, LT(jg) New, LT E. Hower, LT(jg) Rothblith, LT(jg) Almand, Ensign Harold J. Fidler (LCDR, USN-Ret)

Other known crew members:
Bennett, Zack

Click here to see more Navy ships named for Pacific Northwest Locations.

CSS Oregon – 1846-1861

CSS Oregon 1846-1861
The CSS Oregon was a wooden side paddle wheel steamer built in New York City in 1846 for the Mobile Mail Line. She had a twin named California, and is similar in design to the Selma. She ran mail from New Orleans, Louisiana to Mobile Alabama when the Civil War started. It is reported that under Captain Abraham Perkins Boardman she made 92 entrances and clearances of ports in the Gulf of Mexico. The ship was (even at the time, illegally) seized by Governor Moore of Louisiana in 1861, but it is unknown how long she was a blockade runner before and after being seized by the Confederate State.

Lake Ponchartrain Naval Flotilla by Pithead Miniatures

The Oregon was involved in the surrender of Pensacola Navy Yard on January 12th, 1861. She moved 350 troops to Mississippi to Florida, and the next day moved another 300 troops from Alabama. While described as “well armed state forces,” the troops were a combination of infantry, cavalry and an unit of artillery – with no cannon. Florida had succeeded two days before, and the US Navy was not able to protect the yards.

Command of the Oregon was given to Captain A. L. Myers, and the Oregon was converted into a gunboat. She was given an 8 inch gun, a 32 inch gun, and two howitzers. Along with the CSS Arrow, she sailed to Ship Island Light and attempted to lure the USS Massachusetts to her destruction via shore batteries. Her next recorded action was in the evacuation of the same island on Confederate forces in September 1861.

Along with the CSS Carondelet and the CSS Pamlico, she attempted to prevent the landing of Union troops at Pass Christian, Mississippi on April 4th, 1862. The flotilla was unsuccessful and managed to escape up the river due to their lower draft.

During the evacuation of New Orleans in April 1862, she was one of three ships (along with the CSS Bienville) sunk in the Tchefuncte River to block US Navy boats from capturing Camp Moore from the north and to keep the ship from falling into enemy hands. As a navigation hazard, this was a success. As a tactic, the US Army simple landed up river and marched upon the Camp and then the city. They were known navigational hazards until 1872 when they were raised from the river.

Back to Navy ships named for PNW Locations

USS Chinook (SP-644) – 1917-1918

USS Chinook I (SP-644) 1917-1918

I have not been able to find any pictures of this boat. If you happen to have one, please let me know below.

The USS Chinook was only in service to the US Navy for four months. The Chinook was a motorboat acquired from a private owner in 1917 and commissioned into Naval Coast Defense Reserve on October 19th, 1917 where it patrolled the Detroit River on the border of Canada between Lake St. Clair and Lake Erie. It was decommissioned and returned to her owners in February 1918. No pictures exist of her – if you got any, please comment below.

*note* – there is an advertisement in the January 10th, 1921 “Motor Boat, Volume 18” for a wooden boat named “Chinook.” These advertisements continued until at least August 1921. In those days this name was strange enough in the mid-west region that it could be the same boat.

40′ 5″ x 6″ 9′ Mahogany Runabout “Chinook,” speed 25 M.P.H. Equipped with a six-cylinder, 5 1/2 x 6 Van Blerk engine, electric starter, generator, electric lights, windshield, upholstered seats, top and curtains. Boat is in excellent condition and immediate shipment can be made to any point desired. Value $7,500.00: will sell for $5,000.00. Address Winston Engine Works, Cleveland, Ohio.”

Back to Navy ships named for PNW Locations

USS Klamath – 1865-1874

USS Klamath 1865-1874
The USS Klamath was One of twenty Casco Class Monitors (iron-clad). It was a single turreted monitor launched on April 20th, 1865 in Cincinnati, OH. The ship was meant to be a used in the shallow bays and rivers that the states of the Confederacy were known for by sacrificing armor to reduce weight and draft. The Casco class was designed by influential designer and engineer,

John Ericsson who designed the first US Navy Ironclad, the USS Monitor. But the design was modified by Chief Alban C. Stimers after the failure of the Second Battle of Fort Sumpter.

USS Casco

USS Casco – lead of the Casco Class Monitors. This was built as a torpedo boat instead of a monitor so it looks like the single turret is replaced with a lookout tower.

The two men’s relationship has been alternatively mentioned as poor or strained. The third person to look at the design, Chief of the Bureau of Construction and Repair, John Lenthall, had little contact with the US Navy ship construction board so the design was passed with little critical scrutiny and construction started. Design flaws discovered during construction of the first ship resulted in a redesign that extended the draft by 22 inches to make the ship seaworthy and able to carry the armor originally designed for the ship.

The US Navy received possession of the USS Klamath, along with the USS Yuma on May 6th, 1866, three days before the end of the Civil War. The design flaw, and the end of the war, meant that ships of this class couldn’t be used in their intended role though, and the USS Klamath was laid up in Mound City Illinois. It was renamed to the USS Harpy on June 15th, 1869 for unknown reasons, but changed back to USS Klamath less than a month later on August 10th, 1869.

The ship was moved to New Orleans in 1870 and along with a number of other surplus monitors such as the USS Kickapoo, sold at public auction on September 12, 1874 to Schickels, Harrison & Co. Where it is presumed they were scrapped.

Oregon (Thomas H. Perkins) – 1841-1845

Oregon 1841-1845

The Oregon has one of the most frustratingly tantalizing and obscure history of all the ships here. It’s pre and post life in the US Navy is almost completely undocumented, while it’s life in service to the United States Navy is well documented. I suspect that this is partially because as the brig Thomas H. Perkins it worked the Opium trade between China and San Francisco, which even in that day was slightly frowned upon.

The first mention of the “Thomas H. Perkins” is in Hubert Howe Bancroft’s Works Volume XXX – “History of Oregon, Vol. II”. Other sources talk about this same incident, but don’t have much more useful information.

“In April 1841 the second trader appeared, the Thomas H. Perkins, Captain Varney. She remained through the summer, the Hudson’s Bay Company finally purchasing her cargo and chartering the vessel to get rid of her. Then came the U.S. exploring expedition the same year, whose vessels did not enter the Columbia owing to the loss of the Peacock on the bar. After this disaster Wilkes bought the charter and the name of the Perkins was changed to the Oregon, and she left the river with the shipwrecked mariners for California.”

This little passage makes much sense if you read between the lines and know the history of the time. As the second trading ship in the region, I suspect that the crew of the ship probably landed in Astoria to trade goods for beaver furs with the natives intending to take those to China to trade for opium and possibly slaves. The crew no doubt caused issues among the natives and of course encroached upon the Hudson Bay Company’s self created fur trade monopoly. Dr. McLoughlin purchased the cargo of trade goods to free up the ship (likely at an inflated price to make it worthwhile to the captain,) and then chartered it for use of the HBC who was constantly looking for shipping resources to help Fort Vancouver become a major trading post. Wilkes in turn then chartered the ship for $9000 to replace the Peacock.

And to make things confusing, there was a clipper ship, nearly twice as large called the Thomas Perkins which may have also been working the opium trade from 1841-1847. This ship weighed in at 595 tons. It appears that it was also engaged in the Opium Trade. But, it returned to Salem Massachusetts on June 16th, 1842. A year later it was sailing the Eastern Orient engaging in the Opium trade again.

There is also a third ship also called the Thomas H. Perkins which was built in 1845 and weighed in at 690 tons. This ship looks like it might have been heavily involved with the Irish Immigrant movement and later helped move Colonel Jonathan D. Stevenson, and the New York Volunteers to San Francisco to participate in the Mexican-American War in 1846.

To tripply confuse things, various primary sources have the weight of the Oregon all over the place. Wikipedia says 250 tonnes, another ship of 208 tonnes (identified as having been built in 1825 in Amesbury, MA,) and 197 tonnes.

And then, still another ship identified as the Brig Oregon makes an appearance in a letter from December 1829!

New Orleans 25 Decem 1829
Per Oregon
My Dear Barry.
The Brig Oregon intends leaving here tomorrow morning at day light often this opportunity which I eagerly embrace to tell you I am most dammably surprised I did not receive a single from you either by the Chester or- Ohio both directs from Philada. Mys Ann a glass of handy + water. Barry what will you drink? Hefs what will you take? John Evans will you drink Dave how are you. will you drink? Good evening Mr Heebler will take something? thank you I have a little wine + water Hefs Mr Heebler says you must not drink any thing stronger than Pat wine + water. Oh. Mr Heebler I seen him drink myself seventeen glasses. Thomas how are you. take a little Brandy + water. well I am off. Barry let us go to the Walnut Street good night Hefs. good night mys ann. We arrive at the Theatre go to the Pit. Ann how are you? Lizabeth how are you. Mary Ann How do you do? how is the Graniard ? John Collins have you found your shoe? Barry tell the Atlantic Souvenir I will pay her for her annual when I reach Philadelphia Barry will you go and take some Oysters. Eat a dozen. Bill how are you. Ah Jenkins how are you. Your Uncle does well drink boys drink now since we have met.
let […] money merry be
Says the Cobler, to the Tinker
Now since w’ave met let may + maybe .
Says the Cobler to the Tinker.
You sing Cob. Sing ler. Heft . Sing Tin. Ann Sing Rev says

the Cobler to the Tinker. now we have had a song. drink something fellows. good night I am off.
Yours forever
___ CH Evens

” – Letter to “My Dear Barry” from Charles H. Evans, December 25th, 1829. Transcribed Feburary 24th 2010 by Andrea Jean Zinn.

We can safely discount this last entry as the Oregon of our subject based on dates, but as you can see the history behind this ship has been incredibly frustrating to track down and sort out!

Ship Thomas Perkins

The clipper Thomas Perkins, about 1837, frequently misidentified as the Thomas H. Perkins.

Brig USS Niagara

The USS Niagara, a brig like the Thomas H. Perkins. Note that this is smaller ship then a clipper with only two masts instead of three. Picture by Lance Woodworth

Wilkes renamed The Thomas H. Perkins to Oregon and had it outfitted for a long expedition at Fort Vancouver. On October 1, 1841 the six ship squadron of the U.S. Exploring Expedition, (also known as the Wilkes Expedition) left Fort Vancouver and sailed south to San Francisco before heading west to Honolulu. Some sources say that only three ships, the Vincennes, the Porpoise, and the Oregon, along with the Tender Flying Fish (a light schooner), went to Hawaii.

On November 27th 1841, The Oregon and USS Porpoise were detailed to explore the reefs and shoals northwest of Hawaii and to meet up with the rest of the expedition in Singapore. Both ships arrived in Singapore on January 19, 1842 where they underwent general repairs before sailing again.

The full squadron of the expedition left Singapore on January 26th, 1842 towards Cape Town, South Africa and then to the island of St. Helena. From there the two ships split from the squadron again to head to Rio de Janeiro. They both arrived at Sandy Hook, New Jersey, on June 30th, 1842.

The Oregon, having just effectively circumvented the globe, underwent repairs in New York. It was outfitted for survey service in the Gulf of Mexico, and set sail on December 6th, 1842. This survey expedition lasted until mid-summer and the Oregon returned to Norfolk, Virginia, on July 24th 1843 where she became a training school ship until October that same year. Her next duty was to carry condemned ordnance from Pensacola, Florida, to New York. This job was finished in August 1844.

In service to the US Navy, her last job was a dispatch run between Norfolk and the Republic of New Granada (now Columbia, Panama, and parts of Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Venezuela, Peru, and Brazil) and to pick up the Minister to Bogotá, an Mr. Blackford. In December 1844 this was written in local newspapers “The U.S. brig Oregon, Lieut A. Sinclair, commander, put into Kingston, Jam on the 17th ult. for provisions. All well. She was to have sailed on the 19th ult. For Carthagena, to await the arrival of Mr. Blackford, our minister at Bogotá, who is to return in the Oregon to the United States.”

This last voyage lasted from September 21st, 1844 until January 11th, 1845. She was laid up in the Norfolk Navy Yard on April 10th, 1845 and sold soon after. Among

From there her whereabouts are unknown. It is possible that she was renamed back to the Thomas H. Perkins and under that name transported the New York Regiment to California. It’s equally possible that she was broken up. The other question I have is that she was originally chartered, but reported as sold five years later. Did the Navy purchase/confiscate her? What happened to the original crew in Astoria, did some of them stay at Fort Vancouver, or were they all transported back to San Francisco?

Back to Navy ships named for PNW Locations