The USS Chemung, a Cimarrion-class fleet replenishment oiler, was named for the Chemung River in New York State. Launched on September 9, 1939 by the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation as the Esso Annapolis, she was acquired by the Navy on June 5, 1941 and commissioned on July 3, 1941 with Commander E. T. Spellman in command. The Chemung operated between east coast ports and the oil ports of Texas and Louisiana, transporting fuel oil, from July 13, 1943 until the United States entry into World War II.
Action in World War II
The Chemung issued fuel at Argentia, Newfoundland from December 20, 1941 until January 3, 1943. After reloading at Norfolk, she carried fuel to Hvalfjordur, Iceland, and then operated between Norfolk and the Gulf ports from April 1 to May 16. After a second tour as a Hvalfjordur fuel station, she left New York with a United Kingdom-bound convoy. However, the Ingraham (DD-444) collided with her at night two days later. The collision sank the destroyer almost immediately, as depth charges in her stern exploded. Despite taking heavy explosion and fire damage, the Chemung was able to arrive at Boston for repairs on August 26.
She steamed to Beaumont, Texas on October 1, 1942 to load fuel, then accompanying the North African assault force to sea. She remained off the coast during landings and returned to Norfolk on November 30 to return to her coastal fuel runs. From February 15, 1943 until June 11, 1945, she alternated five convoy voyages to United Kingdom ports and five to North Africa, along with east coast and Caribbean cargo and station duty at Bermuda and in the Azores. Occupation duty assignment in the Far East next sent the Chemung around the globe as she cleared Norfolk July 18, 1945, sailed through the Panama Canal for service at Okinawa from September 17 to October 13, and returned by way of the Cape of Good Hope to Norfolk on December 6.
After the War
Her operations continued after World War II, as she operated with the Atlantic Fleet, serving the 6th Fleet in the Mediterranean until March 17, 1950, when she sailed to San Diego. There she was decommissioned and placed in reserve on July 3, 1950. After being recommissioned on December 1, 1950, she sailed to the Far East again on January 28, 1951 for a brief tour refueling forces engaged in the Korean War.
Her second tour of duty, lasting from July 7, 1951 to April 20, 1952, saw her support United Nations troops in Korea, serve on the Formosa Patrol and transport oil from Ras Tanura, Arabia to Guam. She again supported the 7th Fleet off Korea after sailing from San Pedro on June 24, 1952. She returned for a Mare Island overhaul in February 1953.
Between 1953 and 1960, Chemung made nine tours of duty in the western Pacific. There she supported many of the 7th Fleet’s most notable contributions to peace keeping operations in the Far East, including her service providing fuel for ships carrying out the evacuation of the Tachen Islands during her 1954-1955 tour. Chemung’s service continued through the 1960s, including support of the Vietnam War. She was decommissioned on September 18, 1970 and transferred to the Maritime Administration, where she was scrapped. Chemung was awarded two battle stars for her World War II service, and four more for her Korean War service.
Asbestos in Navy Ships
Although an essential component of the naval fleet, some tankers 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.