San Francisco Maritime National Park Association WWII Vessels Celebrate 75th Anniversary

Many of our CAMM Member Institutions are stewards for WWII era vessels.  If you have a story featuring commemorative events or anniversaries, please submit them for inclusion in the CAMM blog. The below is an article by Carl Nolte submitted by the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park.

There are beautiful places in America and there are historic places as well. The northern San Francisco waterfront is both. At the foot of Russian Hill within sight of the Golden Gate is the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park with an unmatched collection of historic ships from the age of sail—and steamships as well from a later time.

Just east of the Maritime Park, at the salt water edge of the famous Fisherman’s Wharf, are two other vessels, both dating from World War II and both marking their 75th anniversary in 2018.

Pampanito on sea trials of Hunters Point Naval Shipyard taken during the Spring of 1945.

USS Pampanito. (photo, Maritime Park Association)

One is the submarine Pampanito, which had a distinguished record in the Pacific in World War II. The other is the cargo ship Jeremiah O’Brien, which carried troops, guns and ammunition to the allied forces in Europe and the Pacific. The Pampanito sailed on six war patrols and was part of one of the most remarkable incidents in the war. The O’Brien is a veteran of the D-Day invasion.

Both ships are painted gray, both served in wartime; both are memorials to that time. But they are also different: the O’Brien carried Navy sailors to man her defensive guns, but she was a civilian ship, a proud representative of the American Merchant Marine. The Pampanito was a navy warship, built to sink other ships.

“The hunter and the prey — but on the same side,’’ said Matt Lasher, the executive director of the National Liberty Ship Memorial, which owns and operates the O’Brien.

It is an interesting paradox: The O’Brien was one of the cargo ships built to win the battle of  the Atlantic against German submarines. The Pampanito was built to sink Japanese ships and help win the battle in the Pacific. The Americans
built ships faster than
the Germans could sink them. At the same time, we sank ships faster than the Japanese could build them. That’s industrial power.

Both vessels were built in 1943; the Pampanito at the Portsmouth Navy Yard  in New Hampshire, the O’Brien at a civilian shipyard in Portland, Maine, only a few miles away.

Both are examples of an amazing American industrial miracle. The O’Brien, one of more than 2,700 nearly identical Liberty Ships, was built in 52 days. Since a submarine is a much more complicated vessel, the Pampanito took longer.

She was ready for sea eight months after the first steel was laid for her keel. On March 15, 1944 — exactly a year after construction began — the submarine sailed from Pearl Harbor on her first war patrol.

San Francisco became the last port — and eventually the home port — for both vessels. The submarine was overhauled, after a long patrol, at the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard in the summer of 1945. Once the war ended, she was decommissioned that December. Not long afterward, the O’Brien steamed in the Golden Gate from Australia, carrying general cargo — and six Australian war brides. Both ships were laid up — the Pampanito as a reserve vessel at Mare Island and the O’Brien at the reserve fleet — the so-called “Mothball Fleet” — on nearby Suisun Bay.

The submarine was finally stricken from the Navy roles in 1971 and turned over to the non-profit Maritime Park Association, and after some delays was opened as a floating war memorial in 1982 at Pier 45 in San Francisco.

The O’Brien languished in the backwaters of Suisun Bay for 33 years until she was rescued by the newly formed National Liberty Ship Memorial led by retired Rear Admiral Thomas Patterson in 1979.

The O’Brien, which has been kept operational, went on display in San Francisco in 1980.

Both vessels made history. On one of its war patrols, the Pampanito sank a Japanese transport in the South China sea. Unknown to the submarine’s crew, the ship was part of a convoy carrying war cargo—and Australian and British prisoners of war bound for slave labor camps in Japan. The submarine resued 73 of these prisoners. Admiral Chester Nimitz called it “one of the most sensational stories of the war.’’

Four books have been written about this submarine, and she has appeared in at least one movie.

The O’Brien also had her day in sun. The ship made a remarkable post war voyage in 1994, when Admiral Patterson and a crew of volunteers took her back to the Normandy beaches to commemorate the 50th anniversary of D-Day, a voyage that took the old ship half way around the world.

And now both vessels are tied up next to each other, 75 years after they began their service under the American flag.

To learn more about these WWII vessels and thier 75th celebration visit

Leave a Reply