She was built in 1931 by the New York Shipbuilding Company in Camden, New Jersey, the ship was originally a commercial supply ship for American Export Lines as the Exochorda. She worked the New York-Mediterranean run until 1940, when she was acquired by the U.S. Navy. That is when she got to work.
Her wartime record:
-Harry Lee spent the first few months of her commissioned service transporting U.S. Marine combat units to the Caribbean for training exercises, helping to build the amphibious teams which were to find such great success in the later stages of World War II. After a stay at Norfolk, Virginia, the transport was assigned in July to the Iceland route, carrying troops and supplies to that country from Norfolk and New York.
-After making two such passages, she returned to Boston, Massachusetts, 22 December 1941 to take part in additional training exercises. With America then in the war, Harry Lee spent the next 18 months in amphibious maneuvers in the Caribbean area. During this time the ship carried out many valuable experiments with landing craft and boat control procedures, all of which bore fruit in the dangerous months to come.
-Returning to Boston 6 April 1943, Harry Lee was designated for use in the upcoming offensive in the Mediterranean, and sailed 8 June for Algeria. She anchored at Oran 22 June to prepare for the landing and found herself off the southwest coast of Sicily 10 July with Vice Admiral Hewitt's Western Naval Task Force. During this giant invasion Harry Lee debarked her troops through the heavy surf at Scoglitti and withstood several Axis air attacks before retiring 2 days later.
-After the success of the Sicilian operation, the transport returned German prisoners of war to the United States, arriving Norfolk 3 August. It was then decided that her amphibious prowess was needed in the Pacific, and she sailed 24 August for Wellington, New Zealand, via the Panama Canal and San Francisco, California, arriving 12 October 1943. At Wellington Harry Lee loaded Marines in preparation for the big push of the invasion of the Gilbert Islands.
-She proceeded to Efate, New Hebrides, 1-7 November and for the next few weeks held amphibious practice landings in preparation for the landings on Tarawa. The transport departed for Tarawa 13 November, and arrived offshore 20 November. There she launched her Marines onto the bloody beaches, under threat of submarine attack and air attack and sailed the next day for Pearl Harbor.
-Harry Lee participated in rehearsal landings in Hawaiian waters after her arrival at Pearl Harbor 7 December 1943, and sailed 23 January 1944 for the invasion of the Marshall Islands, next step on the island road to Japan. She arrived off Kwajalein 31 January. She effectively carried out her role in this complicated operation by landing troops on two small islands in the atoll; they met little opposition. Harry Lee remained off Kwajalein until departing for Funafuti 5 February. From there she sailed to Noumea 24 February and by 14 March was anchored off Guadalcanal to load troops and continue her amphibious preparations.
-fter carrying troops to Bougainville and New Guinea in April, Harry Lee sailed to Aitape, New Guinea, under Rear Admiral Barbey for the Hollandia operation. She arrived 23 April after the initial assault, unloaded her troops, and proceeded to bring reinforcements from other points in New Guinea to the landing area. This accomplished, the transport arrived Espiritu Santo 11 May.
-Harry Lee was next to take part in the invasion of the Marianas. After landing operations conducted around Guadalcanal the ship sailed to Kwajalein and got underway in convoy for Guam 12 June. During this gigantic operation, in which troops were projected over 1,000 miles of ocean from the nearest advance base, Harry Lee was held in reserve for the Guam landings. She arrived off Agat, Guam, 21 July 1945 and debarked her troops. The transport then remained offshore loading and relanding troops for tactical purposes until 25 July, when she steamed with her fellow transports to Eniwetok. They arrived 29 July, and 2 days later sailed for Pearl Harbor.
-Arriving Pearl Harbor 7 August 1944, Harry Lee set course for California and a much-needed overhaul. She arrived San Pedro, California, 18 August and remained in California until departing 21 October with troops for Seeadler Harbor, Manus. Until 31 December the ship conducted practice landings in New Guinea and the Solomons for the upcoming invasion of Luzon, and departed the last day of 1944 for Lingayen Gulf.
-Enroute, Japanese planes attacked the task force savagely with suicide planes and bombers, but Harry Lee by effective gunfire and luck escaped damage. She entered Lingayen Gulf 9 January 1945 and began landing troops under constant air alert. That night the transports retired off the beaches under smoke screens, returning next day to resume the dangerous job of landing supplies. Harry Lee sailed 10 January for Leyte Gulf, anchoring 14 January.
-With troops ashore at Lingayen, Harry Lee departed 19 January for Ulithi and arrived 2 days later. She soon was back in action, however, sailing 17 February for Iwo Jima and her last amphibious operation of the war. The transport arrived via Guam 22 February, 3 days after the initial landings, and after sending a reconnaissance unit ashore 24 February disembarked her troops. The ship remained off Iwo Jima until 6 March acting as a hospital evacuation vessel. She then sailed with casualties to Saipan 6-9 March.
Harry Lee spent the rest of her time in the Pacific transporting troops and supplies, as the American thrust at Japan neared its final phase. She touched at Tulagi, Noumea, New Guinea, Manus, and the Philippines, bringing reinforcements and vitally needed supplies. The ship was at Leyte Gulf 20 July when ordered back to the United States, and she arrived for a brief stay 8 August. It was during this time that news of Japan's surrender reached the veteran transport.
Task Force Life/Work-Work/Life, whatever, may have had a few issues with that.
I found her following a story by reader Mike about how he picked up a book that was once owned by a then LCDR and later RADM Alvin Fisher (you can read his wartime papers at the Navy Historical Center in D.C. if you want). Interesting guy who graduated from Annapolis in 22 as a "Passed Midshipman" - not even given a Commission due to the post-Washington Treaty reductions in the Navy. Went on to MIT and then the USNR (because he felt it right to serve) until the tide of history pulled him back on active duty.
You can also read some of his wartime diaries via a link provided by his son here. It is a short read, with some great jewels of how , again, the sublime mixes with the mundane - especially if you are CHENG. Some things never change. These two jumped out.
07 DEC : It has started. Just before 1430, I was passing the lounge and just happened to stop to look at a magazine. At 1430, a program on the radio was interrupted to announce that the Japs had attacked Hawaii. Almost immediately a radio messenger with "Air raid on Pearl Harbor xx This is not a drill." They are said to have sunk 2 battleships - said to be West Virginia and Oklahoma. It is unbelievable. Practically my first thought was to send home my Christmas presents that I had bought a month ago. I had the package all wrapped and mailed when censorship was ordered. I hope that I won't have to unpack them. Rumors are thick and fast. I guess that I'll have to give up all thought of getting out for at least 5 years. I hate the thought.A jewel. Give the crew a visit here while you are at it. One last note on the family. If you like ASW, you will like this. I looks like RADM Fisher's son wrote this great bit on shallow water ASW in 1994.
11 DEC : Germany and Italy declared war today and so we did we. The brazers made the crack bigger. A conference this morning decided that it will take at least 36 hours more to do it right. We haven't the time for escort and Canadian convoy are mixed up in it all and sailing cannot be postponed. So they're going to hold the casting together with strongbacks and I'll have to take the leak and like it.
Anyway; seven Battle Stars during WWII? That ain't Auxiliary - that is Fullbore.