USS Bellatrix AK-20 (1942-1963)

The USS Bellatrix was built in 1940 by the Tampa Shipbuilding Co. and commissioned as a cargo ship in February, 1942.

Service in World War II

In March 1942, she was nearly hit by a torpedo from a German submarine while still in the Charleston, NC navy yard.  In April 1942, the Bellatrix set out for Transport Division 10 in the Pacific to prepare for Operation Watchtower, the invasion of the Soloman Islands. The Bellatrix arrived at Guadalcanal on August 7 and began unloading her troops and equipment. The following day, she was attacked by Japanese planes; they fired back and the Bellatrix was undamaged. The Bellatrix continued with her unloading of cargo, only breaking during the Battle of Savo Island where three American cruisers were lost. During the next five months, the Bellatrix took men and supplies from New Caledonia to the Solomons. The first trip was interrupted by a Japanese bombing raid where two crewmen were injured and she shot down one enemy plane. On the next trip, the Bellatrix arrived at Guadalcanal in the middle of the Battle of Bloody Ridge and was immediately put to work bringing marines from Tulagi to Guadalcanal. After four days the Japanese were driven back and she was able to unload supplies. In October, the Bellatrix joined with Task Unit 62 to bring supplies and tow four PT- boats to Espiritu Santo. They hit rough seas and by the time they reached their destination, the Henderson Feild had been badly damaged by Japanese air, naval, and artillery raids. The convoy was attacked and the Bellatrix received damage from near hits. The Bellatrix was not able to deliver the supplies and boats until November 2. The Bellatrix headed back to the US in January 1943 where she underwent repairs and was reclassified as an attack cargo ship. She was assigned to Transport Division 1 for Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily. During the unloading, the convoy was attacked by German planes and many ships were damaged. The Bellatrix was sent back to the Pacific in August where she joined Task Group 53 and prepared for the invasion of the Gilbert Islands in November. Following more repairs in California in early 1944, the Bellatrix prepared for the invasion of the Mariana Islands in June 1945. For her service in the war, the Bellatrix received 5 battle stars.

After the War

After the war, the Bellatrix became a training ship and then a general cargo ship along the west coast. She was decommissioned in April 1946. When the Korean War began in 1950, the Bellatrix was re-commissioned in 1952 and sent to Japan. In 1955, she was decommissioned again but in 1963 was leased to the Peruvian navy; she was sold to them in 1964.

Asbestos in Navy Ships

Although an essential component of the naval fleet, some auxiliary vessels also posed a lasting health risk to soldiers serving on them. Unfortunately, products containing asbestos were common, especially on older ships, because of the material’s high resistance to heat and fire. Despite its value as an insulator, asbestos fiber intake can lead to several serious health consequences, including mesothelioma, a devastating cancer without cure. Current and former military personnel who came into contact with these ships should seek immediate medical attention in order to detect possible health consequences associated with asbestos exposure. References: