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Ross E. O'Laughlin Jr.


Introduction


I had the distinct pleasure of working with the O’Laughlin family on Ross’ biography, and specifically with Ross’ son-in-law, Captain S. Wallace (aka Wally) Slough, a Master Mariner himself.

It has been a wonderful collaboration and we have been able to help each other fill in some of the blanks on each other’s research. It was Wally that was such a huge help in telling about Ohioan’s 2nd Mate Joe Spelker’s post-war career at Red Stack.

Ross was a well known and respected Master Mariner, not only in his home base of San Francisco, but beyond. In the process of my research, when I’ve connected with American-Hawaiian veterans, his is one of the names that comes up.

Ross saw plenty of action during the war, and had some close calls. He survived independent sailings around Africa to the Indian Ocean, convoys to North Africa, the U.K and Murmansk and the final push in the Pacific.

His story was one the main inspirations for my adding the new Masters, Mates and Pilots section to the website. It is only fitting that he be the first, of what I hope will be many biographies I add.


Early Life


Ross Elliot O’Laughlin Jr. was born September 4th, 1918 in Waukegan, Illinois. He was the first born son of U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Ross E. O’Laughlin Sr. (1892-1947) and Tressie M. Walker (1899-1983). His younger siblings were Helen (1920-1968) and Burton (1922-2005), both born after the family moved to California.

In 1925 the entire family arrived back in San Francisco aboard the SS Ventura from Honolulu Hawaii. The SS Ventura was one of three ships Matson had at this time running to Hawaii and on to Australia; the others being Sierra and Sonoma. According to Wally: “Ross’ father was stationed in Hawaii when Ross was a young boy. He became a very proficient swimmer in Hawaii, and this plus his father’s profession in the Navy must have influenced him as a boy growing up. His Dad was then stationed in San Pedro which is a busy port. Ross also insisted on teaching all of his children to swim, and was a strong swimmer all his life.

Ross grew up in California, and after graduating High School, entered the California Nautical School on September 29th, 1936. The school was fairly new; its first class had only started in March of 1931. Up until this time the only schools specializing in the training of Merchant Mariners were on the East Coast in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia. The school struggled with State funding the first several years, but the Merchant Marine Act of 1936 finally provided Federal funding and stability.

Unlike the East Coast schools, where training was done on a sailing vessel, Ross and his classmates lived and trained on a more modern vessel, the TS California State.

The California State was originally an Emergency Fleet Corporation Design 1099, which was a standard small Great Lakes built steel freighter. It was one of the more popular EFC designs, and 91 vessels of this type were made between July of 1919 and October of 1920 at eight different yards.

                              SS HENRY COUNTY - PRINCIPAL DIMENSIONS & SPECIFICATIONS
DEAD WEIGHT TONS: 4,050 ENGINE TYPE: TRIPLE EXPANSION
GROSS TONS: 2,592
90 R.P.M.
NET TONS: 1,613 CYLINDER & STROKE: 21", 35", 59" X 42"
LENGTH OVER ALL: 261' - 0" BOILER TYPE: 2 SCOTCH
LENGTH BETWEEN PERP.: 251' - 0" HORSE POWER (IND.): 1,500
BEAM: 43' - 6" FUEL OIL: 709
DEPTH : 28' - 2" FUEL CONSUMPTION: 18.5 PER DAY
LOADED DRAFT: 24' - 4" FUEL TYPE: OIL
TOTAL BALE CARGO (CU. FT.): 166,806 SPEED: 9.5 KNOTS
TOTAL GRAIN CARGO (CU. FT.): 180,033 STEAMING RADIUS: 8,732 MILES
NO. OF HOLDS: 2 WINCHES: 8
NO. OF HATCHES: 4 BOOMS: 8
LARGEST HATCH: 22' X 18' HEAVIEST LIFT: 4 TONS


Hull number 1823 was originally laid down at American Shipbuilding Company’s Lorain, OH Yard No. 771 on June 14th, 1919 as Lake Fellowship, but prior to launching on October 18th, 1919 her name was changed to Henry County. She was completed and placed in service in November of 1919, and from information I was able to find on Ancestry.com, sailed from Cleveland, OH and arrived in New York on May 18, 1920. She was too late for the war effort, but her records indicate she made at least two trans-Atlantic voyages to France and the Azores in 1920 before she was placed out of service in the mid-1920s, and laid up in the James River Reserve Fleet under the custody of the US Shipping Board.

Arrival From To Master
5/18/1920 Cleveland, OH New York, NY L. Jensen
9/5/1920 Dunkirk via
Brest, France
New York, NY Peter Borgman
12/9/1920 Fayal, Azores New York, NY Peter Borgman

There she sat until commissioned as the USS Henry County on May 27th, 1930, at Portsmouth, VA., Commander B.V. McCandlish in command. She was decommissioned at Mare Island Navy Yard in California on August 22nd, 1930 and loaned to the State of California the same day. She began her conversion to a school ship which transformed her holds into berths for the cadets and was finally renamed TS California State on January 23rd, 1931.

According to Wally "When Ross was in the schoolship, the cruises were of longer duration (5 months).

On the first cruise, they went to Tahiti, Auckland, Melbourne, Sydney, Fiji, Samoa, Honolulu, and back to San Francisco.

On the second cruise, they went to Honolulu, Lahaina, Honolulu, Acapulco, San Diego, and back to San Francisco.

On the third cruise, they went to San Diego, La Union, Balboa, Callao, Valparaiso, Manzanillo, Long Beach, Santa Barbara, and back to San Francisco.
"


















I was able to find a crew list for 1937 that showed they arrived at Honolulu, HI from Pago Pago, Samoa on February 23rd, 1937.

The TS California State’s officers, crew and cadets on the 1937 cruise consisted of:

Officers
Dwyer, R.C. Commanding Officer Dodson, B.M. Watch Officer
Barkley, G. Executive Officer Norman, S.P. Medical Officer
Clark, J.H. Engineering Officer Warwick, D. Engineer Officer
Cadwell, J.M. Commissary Officer Ellis, J.G. Engineer Officer
Engs, M.N. Watch Officer Hansen, C.G. Engineer Officer
Miller, E.C. Watch Officer Fox, A.C. Radio Officer




Crew
Baker, C.F. 2nd Cook Harnwell, E. Carpenter
Brown, E.J. 2nd Laundryman Harper, P.T. Radio Operator
Brownell, G. Radio Operator Heieck, A.E. Chief Cook
Croxall, W.A. Messman Higgins, R.F. Baker
Feinstein, J.K. Messman McGrath, L.J. Messman
Gilchrist, F.C. Messman Roberts, W.E. Messman
Goetz, C.C. Laundryman Torchia, F.W. Radio Operator
Goewey, F. Butcher Watson, W.C. Messman




Cadets
Anderson, B.H. Dupuis, H.C. Kusse, P.F. Schwarz, E.C.
Audet, C.W. Erickson, A.J. Lambert, J. Secrest, W.
Averill, W.F. Espey Jr., J.E. Lee, G.E. Service, L.A.
Aye, W.M. Fell, W.W. Leichel, H.L. Simpson, R.B.
Bailey, J.S. Finlay, L.H. Littlefair, H.S. Simpson, R.E.
Bellamy, W.B. French, G.W. Lowe, W.E. Sims, A.R.
Bergeron, H.N. Frey, H.A. Maehle, R.M. Smith, W.A.
Bird, N.V. Glick, M. Martin, F.L. Soderlund, K.G.
Black, R.B. Gough, W.M. May, R.D. Sonneman, R.H.
Blodgett, A.H. Grabowski, S.W. McElroy, D.D. Summerill, J.F.
Boyce Jr., J.L. Greer, R.H. McMurtry, D.R. Sype, W.D.
Boyer, J.M. Gregory, A. McNabb, D. Taylor, K.
Brannon, R.H. Hake, C.R. Mollenkopf, H.L. Trevannion, T.B.
Butts, J.A. Hargis, R.N. Nagle, G.A. Tubbs, C.H.
Buwalda, L.L. Hendriksen, M.H. Nichols, F.H. Twitchell, G.S.
Charboneau, A.B. Hendy, J.M. O'Laughlin Jr., R.E. Uhl, M.J.
Clark Jr., K.W. Heron, R.D. Peck, T.A. Walton, R.W.
Clawson, J.M. Holzer, C.K. Pettus, H.L. Warnekros, W.S.
Coker, D.W. Horton, G.V. Putnam Jr., W.M. White Jr., L.T.
Conover Jr., G.D. Howell, E.C. Rice, T.W. Whittington, C.A.
Cooper, E.N. Huber, R.P. Ridgely, R.D. Wiley, F.L.
Dancy, D.A. Irving, B.R. Romaggi, J.E. Williams, W.J.
Dietrich, W.E. Jensen, P. Rossi, L. Wilson, H.M.
Diffin, D.B. Johnson, F.L. Royston, C.W. Witmer, A.
Dreyer, J. Julianel, V.E. Schepler, W.F. Yatos, E.A.
Drummond, S.J. Kilburn, G.R. Schroeder, M.H. Young, N.B.
Duncan, R.S. Krauchi, C.A. Schulman, D.



Ross graduated at an ominous time though, right on the eve of World War II, on June 16th, 1939. The German’s would invade Poland in less than three months. According to Wally “Ross’ was the last class to graduate from the California Nautical School, and the school’s name was officially changed to the California Maritime Academy on October 10th, 1939”.

SS Alabaman


Upon graduation he was hired by the American-Hawaiian Steamship Company as a Junior Third Mate and his first assignment was the SS Alabaman (Master unknown). Regular visitors to the site will recognize Alabaman as the sister ship of the Arkansan, so much of her history is covered on the Arkansan Info page.


The following is a detailed list of Ross' Alabaman sailings put together by Wally:


Date Shipped/
Discharged
Place Shipped Rating Voyage
10/13/1939 San Francisco Jr. 3rd Mate Intercoastal
12/15/1939 Los Angeles

12/16/1939 Los Angeles 3rd Mate Coastwise
12/31/1939 Seattle

1/1/1940 Seattle 3rd Mate Intercoastal
1/10/1940 San Pedro

1/11/1940 San Pedro Jr. 3rd Mate Intercoastal
3/12/1940 San Francisco

3/13/1940 San Francisco Jr. 3rd Mate Coastwise
3/28/1940 San Francisco

3/29/1940 San Francisco Jr. 3rd Mate Intercoastal
5/7/1940 New York

5/8/1940 New York Cadet Officer Intercoastal
5/31/1940 San Francisco

6/1/1940 San Francisco Jr. 3rd Mate Coastwise
6/11/1940 San Francisco

6/12/1940 San Francisco Jr. 3rd Mate Intercoastal
7/5/1940 New York

7/6/1940 New York Third Mate Intercoastal
7/9/1940 New York


Note that all his sailings were either normal intercoastal or coastwise pre-war American-Hawaiian routes. He made Third Mate by the time of his last voyage on Alabaman.

SS Kansan


In July of 1940 he transferred to the SS Kansan under Master Orrick Rogers, although he went back to the Jr. 3rd Mates position for their first seven voyages together.


The Kansan was a pre-United States Shipping Board design built for W.R. Grace by William Cramp and Sons Shipbuilding Company in Philadelphia, PA and launched in 1918. She was immediately acquired by the Navy on completion and commissioned as the USS Santa Olivia (ID 3125) on July 1st, 1918 at Philadelphia. An interesting bit of trivia is that according to NavSource Online: “Future movie star Humphrey Bogart served in Santa Olivia as a Coxswain, February 1919 - 18 June 1919.

She was decommissioned from Navy service on July 21st, 1919 at Brooklyn, NY and returned to W.R. Grace as the SS Santa Olivia. When Grace lost the bid for the Pacific Mail “President Ships” in the early ‘20’s, Santa Olivia was sold to American-Hawaiian and renamed Kansan to replace her namesake that was lost in World War I.

In 1946, Kansan was sold to the Star Line of Panama and renamed Jackstar. She was eventually scrapped in 1955.

Kansan was a cousin if not sister of two other former Grace Line vessels that ended up in American-Hawaiian’s fleet, the American lost on June 11th, 1942 in the Caribbean and Montanan lost on June 3rd, 1943 in the Arabian Sea.

The following is a detailed list of Ross’ sailings on Kansan that Wally put together:

Date Shipped/
Discharged
Place Shipped Rating Voyage
7/10/1940 New York Jr. 3rd Mate Intercoastal
8/1/1940 San Francisco

8/2/1940 San Francisco Jr. 3rd Mate Coastwise
8/14/1940 San Francisco

8/15/1940 San Francisco Jr. 3rd Mate Intercoastal
10/21/1940 San Francisco

11/5/1940 San Francisco Jr. 3rd Mate Intercoastal
1/4/1941 San Francisco

1/18/1941 San Francisco Jr. 3rd Mate Intercoastal
3/24/1941 San Francisco

3/25/1941 San Francisco Jr. 3rd Mate Coastwise
4/4/1941 San Francisco

4/5/1941 San Francisco Jr. 3rd Mate Intercoastal
6/13/1941 San Francisco

6/28/1941 San Francisco Third Mate Intercoastal
8/4/1941 New York

8/5/1941 New York Third Mate Foreign
1/2/1942 New York


Here again you’ll note the bulk of his voyages were still the typical intercoastal and coastwise voyages of American-Hawaiian’s pre-war era.

His last voyage, however, while he was serving as Third Mate must have been chartered by the British similar to what happened to the Arkansan and others. This was a foreign voyage. They sailed from New York on August 5th, 1941, arrived in Port Said, Egypt around October 11th, 1941 (note: a month after Arkansan was bombed in Egypt), and then headed to Calcutta, India. On December 4th, 1941, just three days before the attack on Pearl Harbor that would officially drag America into the war, they left Capetown, South Africa. German U-boats were extremely active in the Atlantic at this time, and although unarmed and unescorted, Kansan made it safely back to New York on New Year’s Day, 1942.

Of the crew of the SS Kansan on this voyage, Second Mate Harry McGahan was the son of Charles McGahan later lost as Master of the Montanan in 1943 and Chief Mate Powers had a pretty close call as Master of the Liberty Ship Stephen Johnson Field off New Guinea in 1944.

SS Georgian


In February of 1942 Ross transferred to the SS Georgian under Master Fred Gaidsick.

The SS Georgian was originally launched as Cajacet for the US Shipping Board. She was an Emergency Fleet Corporation (EFC) Design 1018 known as a "SUN" type. She was one of five ships built to this design by Sun Shipbuidling and Drydock Company in Chester, PA. She was built in Yard 16 and completed in February of 1920

Cajacet and her sister Conshohocken were bought by Williams Steamship Co. in 1921and renamed Willsolo and Willhilo respectively. When American-Hawaiian absorbed Williams in the late twenties for their Southeastern US and Puerto Rican service the vessels were renamed Georgian and Arizonan respectively in 1929.

Georgian and Arizonan both survived the war and were sold off in 1946. Georgian was sold to Nortuna and sailed under a Panamanian flag as Norlanda. Ownership appears to have been transferred to the Italian firm Import Carboni in 1950 and then to the Greek company Ismene in 1957. Sold for scrap in 1958, she was eventually broken up in the Netherlands in 1959 by Hendrik-Ido-Ambacht.




The following is another detailed list of sailings put together by Wally:


Dates Voyages
2/4/1942 Sailed San Francisco on Coastwise voyage (Third Mate)
2/18/1942 Sailed from San Francisco Independently
3/18/1942 Arrived Wellington, New Zealand
3/18/1942 Sailed Wellington, New Zealand Independently
3/23/1942 Arrived Brisbane, Australia
3/28/1942 Sailed Brisbane, Australia Independently
4/24/1942 Arrived Antofagasta, Chile
4/25/1942 Sailed Antofagasta, Chile Independently
4/26/1942 Arrived Tocopilla, Chile (Probably loaded Copper and/or Saltpeter)
4/29/1942 Sailed Tocopilla, Chile Independently
5/8/1942 Arrived Balboa, Panama
5/10/1942 Sailed Cristobal, Panama Independently
5/18/1942 Arrived Pensacola, Florida
5/20/1942 Promoted to Second Mate.
5/22/1942 Departed Pensacola, Florida
5/23/1942 Arrived Mobile, AL 
7/12/1942 Sailed New Orleans, LA Independently
7/19/1942 Sailed Key West, Florida, Convoy WAT7  24 Merchants; 0 Escorts
7/29/1942 Arrived Trinidad
8/1/1942 Sailed Trinidad, Independently
8/29/1942 Arrived Capetown, South Africa
9/1/1942 Sailed Capetown, South Africa Independently
9/29/1942 Arrived Abadan, Iran
10/17/1942 Sailed Abadan Independently
10/19/1942 Arrived Bahrein
10/20/1942 Sailed Bahrein Independently
10/21/1942 Arrived Bandar Abbas, Iran
10/22/1942 Sailed Bandar Abbas, Iran Convoy PB8   6 Merchants 0 Escorts
10/26/1942 Arrived Karachi, Pakistan
11/1/1942 Sailed Karachi, Pakistan 
11/7/1942 Arrived Colombo, Ceylon
11/7/1942 Sailed Colombo, Ceylon Independently
11/19/1942 Arrived Calcutta, India
11/24/1942 Sailed Calcutta, India Independently
12/1/1942 Arrived Colombo, Ceylon
12/2/1942 Sailed Colombo, Ceylon Independently
12/22/1942 Arrived Capetown, South Africa
12/25/1942 Sailed Capetown, South Africa Independently
12/31/1942 Arrived Cristobal, Panama
1/21/1943 Arrived Punta Arenas, Chile
1/23/1943 Sailed Punta Arenas, Chile Independently
1/30/1943 Arrived Valparaiso, Chile
1/31/1943 Sailed Valparaiso, Chile Independently
2/11/1943 Arrived Balboa, Panama
2/13/1943 Sailed Cristobal, Panama Convoy ZG22    22 Merchants; 5 Escorts
2/26/1943 Arrived New York, NY

As you can see they immediately made a substantial foreign voyage across the Pacific to New Zealand and Australia, and then made a couple of stops in Chile on their way back. They transited the Panama Canal into the Caribbean in early May, just at the time when U-Boats were starting to really heat things up there. Most of American-Hawaiian’s early losses happened in this region around this time. In May Texan was lost off Cuba, Ohioan off Florida and Colabee was damaged off Haiti. In June American would be lost off Honduras and Bernard’s Arkansan off Grenada.

They arrived safely in Pensacola Florida on May 18th, 1942. Fate would step in and the Georgian was sent to Mobile Alabama for an overhaul and likely to have her armament added.

There, Ross would meet a lovely clerk that worked in the shipping office named Miss Soule' Perry. According to the family: “Sue [as she goes by] was working as a clerk at the shipping office which was located on Pinto Island in Mobile Bay. Ross’ ship came in and docked at the shipyard on Pinto Island, and Sue says they met on the ferry that ran from Pinto Island to Mobile. They dated while Ross’ ship was in the yard and attended many dances at the local USO. This was a dangerous time for shipping according to Sue, and ships would limp into the yard with heavy damage from the U-boats lurking off shore. Sue also recalled that there was an alert issued for supposed German Spies that had been put ashore by a U-boat, but nothing materialized.

Sue’s sister Veva had just graduated from High School, and she moved down to Mobile and the girls had an apartment in town. Veva thought Ross was the perfect mate for Sue, and wanted him in the family. When Ross’ ship was preparing to sail to New Orleans, he asked for Sue’s hand in marriage, but she refused as she felt they hadn’t known each other long enough. Ross got Veva aside and asked her to lobby Sue to accept his proposal, which Veva did."

"Ross sailed the Georgian around to New Orleans, and at that point asked Chief Mate George Melanson for permission to return to Mobile and ask again for Sue’s hand. George felt that if Ross to married Sue, it would ruin his career with AH and denied permission. As we all know, Ross went anyway and this time Sue accepted when he arrived in Mobile. George then wanted to have Ross fired, but Captain Gaidsick wouldn’t allow it. Despite that, George and Ross were lifelong friends."
George eventually married as well and named one of his sons Ross. As another American-Hawaiian officer that survived the war unscathed I hope to profile George at some point.


Sue and Ross were married in Mobile on July 1, 1942, and both came to New Orleans for their honeymoon. Captain Gaidsick had a party on board the ship for the newlyweds. The Georgian sailed on July 12, and wouldn’t return to the U.S. for 7 ½ months.

A humorous story the family related to me about Ross’ time aboard the Georgian during this period involved a really nice Plath Sextant that Master Fred Gaidsick had. As the story goes, “Ships were being sunk by the U-boats in the Caribbean with impunity, and Captain Gaidsick didn’t think they would make the passage safely. He proceeded to sell his sextant to Ross for $100, and made sure that young Ross was assigned to his lifeboat as he knew the young man would surely bring his new sextant into the lifeboat. That way he wouldn’t have to run to retrieve his beautiful sextant in the event they were torpedoed.

Fortunately, they weren’t torpedoed, so Captain Gaidsick tried to buy his sextant back from the young 2nd Mate. Ross refused to sell it, and Sue still has the sextant to this day. Fred Gaidsick and Ross and their families became lifelong friends.


Furthermore, as Wally was reviewing the rest of my website, he came across Larz Neilson’s photo of Fred Gaidsick earlier in his career aboard the Coloradan using his Plath sextant to take a noontime sighting with a group of junior American-Hawaiian officers. See here for a photo of the sextant in use by Gaidsick (third image down).

Another wonderful story Wally related was that after the marriage in New Orleans “Sue returned to her job in Mobile, but soon realized that she was pregnant. Sometime before their son Steve was born, but prior to Ross’ arrival back home, she rented a small two bedroom house in Selma Alabama as the first home for the newlyweds. Sue’s mother found a black woman named Miss Lucille to come and live with Sue and help her with the baby. The two women would listen to the radio in the evening, and the announcer Gabriel Heatter would come on the air and say “there’s sad news tonight.” The Wiki article speaks to his sign on being “there’s good news tonight”, but Sue definitely recalls “there’s sad news tonight.” As this was very early in the war when there wasn’t much good news, I wouldn’t doubt that Sue is correct. Sue knew that Ross was in the thick of it, and would become emotional and start to cry. Miss Lucille would say, “Sugar, don’t you worry, that boy he’s coming back home Miss Sue”.

"Another story Sue told me about Miss Lucille was that Sue’s Aunt Bernice who also lived in Selma told her that she couldn’t have a black woman living in her home as the neighbors would talk. Sue’s response was that she didn’t really care what her neighbors said, and she didn’t much like them anyway. She had two bedrooms, and Miss Lucille could have one and she’d have the other. Sue’s strong personality hasn’t changed much over the years!

Ross left the SS Georgian on March 1st, 1943, and arrived back home in Selma in time for the birth of his first son Steve.

Wally pointed out it’s interesting how the careers of the shipmates on the SS Georgian progressed:
  • Captain Fred Gaidsick became a San Francisco Bar Pilot after the war.
  • Chief Mate George Melanson became a Red Stack Captain and San Francisco Bar Pilot after the war
  • Second Mate Ross O’Laughlin became a Red Stack Captain and San Francisco Bar Pilot after the war
  • Purser Frank Davis became a dispatcher for the San Francisco Bar Pilots after the war

SS Floridian


In April of 1943 Ross was transferred to the SS Floridian as Chief Mate under Master George Grundy. Floridian was another sister of Arkansan and Alabaman.
Much of her history is covered on the Arkansan Info page.


Dates Voyages
4/23/1943 Joined as Chief Mate in New York
5/14/1943 Departed New York, NY Convoy UGS8A
6/5/1943 Arrived Bone, Algeria
6/18/1943 Departed Bone, Algeria Convoy GUS8A
7/11/1943 Arrived New York, NY
7/12/1943 Left Ship in New York

Ross was on Floridian for only one voyage, and it was part of the post-invasion resupply for the Operation Torch allied landings in North Africa which had occurred in November of 1942.

On May 14th, 1943 they departed New York and joined Convoy UGS-8A in Hampton Roads bound for Tripoli, Libya. The eastbound UGS-8A designation stood for United States to Gibralter, Slow [8 knots or less], 8 made it the eighth such convoy. The Convoy was huge and consisted of 82 merchants and 28 escorts. As they approached Africa they joined Convoy KMS-15 (U.K. to Mediterranean, Slow, 15th convoy), a 47 vessel convoy on June 2nd.

Floridian arrived safely at Bone, Algeria on June 5th and departed about two weeks later on June 18th, 1943 as part of Convoy GUS-8A. They arrived safely back in New York on July 11th, 1943.

According to Wally: “After Ross left the SS Floridian in New York on July 12, 1943 and came home to Selma, he wouldn’t go back to sea until October 26, 1943. While this was his longest leave from shipping during the war, it wasn’t much of a vacation as he was attending school in New Orleans to prepare for his Master’s License. He’d take the bus home to Selma on the weekends to be with his young family. He sat for and attained his original Master’s License on September 2, 1943 in New Orleans at the young age of 24. He turned 25 two days later on September 4th; quite a birthday present and an amazing accomplishment for a young man! I got mine shortly before I turned 26 (but still 25!!) and thought I’d done quite well. Ross was obviously a hard act to follow.

SS Philip Livingston


In October of 1943 Ross joined the SS Philip Livingston as Chief Mate under Masters David L. Bennett (who survived the Oregonian in September of ‘42) and later William B. Slater.

Philip Livingston
was a standard Liberty ship type EC2-S-C1 built by Oregon Ship Building Corporation in Portland, OR. She was named after the New York merchant and statesman, and signer of the Declaration of Independence.

Philip Livingston was the first Liberty ship delivered to American-Hawaiian, which occurred on March 7th, 1942. She took 232 days to build (156 days on way and 76 days on dock) at a cost of $1,431,573.00. She survived the war but was immediately retired from operations and laid up as part of the James River Reserve Fleet in Virginia on October 16th, 1945.

Ownership was transferred briefly to Dichmann Wright & Pugh Co. in August of 1947, then sold under the Merchant Ship Sales Act of 1946 to the foreign Rederi A/S Nidaros and renamed Nidardal under a Norwegian flag and registry. She grounded in the Inland Sea of Japan as the SS Donghae under Korean Flag on May 4th, 1967. Declared a Constructive Total Loss (CTL), she was towed to Pusan, Korea and scrapped in January of 1969.

Once again, Wally has put together a detailed list of voyages for Ross:

Dates Voyages
10/26/1943 Joined Ship as Chief Mate in New York
11/13/1943 Departed New York, NY Convoy HX266 New York to Liverpool; 74 Merchants and 21 Escorts. Cargo: General and Explosives
11/27/1943 Arrived Loch Ewe, Scotland
12/12/1943 Convoy JW55A departed Loch Ewe to Archangel; 18 Merchants and 25 Escorts
12/22/1943 Convoy JW55A arrived Archangel, Russia (This was the infamous Murmansk Run)
12/25/1943 The German Battlecruiser Scharnhorst sortied from Altenfjord, Norway with her escorts to attack allied convoys on 12/25.  This led to the Battle of the North Cape on 12/26 wherein the German ship was engaged and sunk by HMS Duke of York and supporting cruisers and destroyers.  Of her complement of 1,968 men, only 36 were pulled from the frigid waters.  These were dangerous times for both Allied and Axis vessels on the Murmansk Run.  
1/12/1944 Convoy JW56A departed Loch Ewe on 1/12/44 and arrived at Kola Inlet on 1/28/44; 20 Merchants and 23 Escorts.  
1/25/1944 HMS Obdurate (British Destroyer) was damaged by a torpedo from U360 while escorting the convoy.  The torpedo apparently detonated some distance from the hull and disabled the starboard screw and flooded its shaft.  She managed to rejoin the convoy on one shaft and made it to Murmansk.  On 1/25/44, SS Penelope Barker, a U.S. Flagged Liberty, was sunk by U278 with 16 men killed and 56 survivors.  
1/26/1944 SS Fort Bellingham, a British Flagged Fort Class, was sunk by U957 with 36 men killed and 37 survivors.  Also on n 1/26/44, the SS Andrew G. Curtin, a U.S. Flagged Liberty, was sunk by U716 with 3 men killed and 68 survivors.
2/3/1944 SS Philip Livingston departed Kola Inlet as part of Convoy RA56 Kola Inlet to Loch Ewe; 39 Merchants and 39 Escorts.  See additional comments below.
2/11/1944 SS Philip Livingston returned to Kola Inlet with the local Russian escort.
3/2/1944 SS Philip Livingston departed Kola Inlet Convoy RA57 Kola Inlet to Loch Ewe; 30 Merchants and 32 Escorts.  This convoy was an 8 ½ knot convoy to allow the SS Empire Bard, a very slow crane ship desperately needed by the Admiralty, to join the convoy.  The SS Empire Bard straggled from the convoy despite the slower speed, and returned to Kola Inlet.  Escort vessels for the convoy included the HMS Black Prince (Cruiser) and HMS Chaser (Escort Carrier).  HMS Chaser had been laid down as SS Mormacgulf at Pascagoula, MS as a C-3 cargo vessel, but was taken over by the U.S. Navy and built as an escort carrier for the British. After the war, she was rebuilt as a merchant vessel and became SS Aagtekerk under Dutch Flag, finally being scrapped as SS E. Yung in 1973.
3/4/1944 The convoy came under attack by a U-Boat Wolfpack group, and SS Empire Tourist (BR) was sunk by U703.  All hands on board (68) were picked up by HMS Gleaner and landed at Loch Ewe.  
3/4/1944 Swordfish aircraft from HMS Chaser attacked with depth charges and damaged U472 that same day.  HM Destroyer HMS Onslaught then engaged U472 with surface gunfire.  The sub was scuttled and sunk with 30 of her crew rescued and 23 lost.
3/5/1944 Swordfish aircraft from HMS Chaser sank U366 using rocket projectiles during defense of the Convoy.  All 50 men on board the sub were lost.
3/6/1944 Swordfish aircraft from HMS Chaser sank U973 using rocket projectiles during defense of the Convoy.  15 survivors from the sub were rescued from the sea by HMS Boadicea.
3/10/1944 Arrived Loch Ewe, Scotland
3/15/1944 Departed Clyde, Scotland Convoy ON228 Liverpool to New York; 69 Merchants and 24 Escorts
4/1/1944 Arrived New York, NY
4/4/1944 Left Ship in Baltimore, MD
4/19/1944 Rejoined Ship in Baltimore, MD as Chief Mate
4/27/1944 Departed New York, NY Convoy HX289 New York to Liverpool; 126 Merchants and 22 Escorts. The Livingston's cargo was general and explosives
5/13/1944 Arrived Liverpool
6/3/1944 Departed Clyde, Scotland Convoy ON239 Liverpool to New York; 96 Merchants and 15 Escorts
6/19/1944 Arrived Halifax, Nova Scotia
6/26/1944 Arrived New York, NY; Left Ship


You’ll note from the list of voyages that the Philip Livingston had departed Kola Inlet as part of Convoy RA-56 on February 3rd, 1944, but arrived back at Kola Inlet on the 11th. Neither Wally or I initially knew what to make of this, but then we found the wonderful Halcyon Class Minesweepers and Survey Ships of World War Two website which includes transcripts of actual reports, one of which stated: "RA 56 sailed as one convoy of 39 ships on the 3rd February, ships which could not maintain 9 ½ knots being excluded. At the conference the Senior Officer of the Escort (Captain D3) warned Masters that if in the first 24 hours there were any stragglers they would be sent back when the local escort parted company. This was the largest convoy sailed from the Kola Inlet, nevertheless it took far too long getting out of harbour - 3 ¾ hours. Enquiries showed that this delay was in part at any rate due to a Russian pilot not allowing ships with pilots junior to himself to pass his ship which he was taking out very slowly. This is something quite novel in rank consciousness, also very stupid, and it is to be hoped that as a result of the representations made it will not be repeated. Some confusion may have also occurred over the time being kept, it having been the practice to put clocks back to BST on the Commodore passing Toros Island. This will be done in future after the convoy has sailed.

True to his word Captain D sent back two stragglers on the 4th February, the SS Empire Pickwick and the USS Philip Livingstone [sic], both protesting by signal and later, in the case of Empire Pickwick, on paper, the Master demanding an enquiry. He appeared to consider that he was made an example of and had been unfairly treated. The escort evidently held other views. This convoy arrived intact and from the absence of any signals, presumably got through without any incident. A last minute diversion to the eastward ordered by the Admiralty, evidently achieved its object of dodging some U-boats patrolling about a hundred miles north of Kola Inlet near the original route.
"

This would seem to indicate that both vessels were ordered to turn around and go back with the Russian escorts because they were not able to maintain the 9 1/2 knots. Whether that was because of mechanical issues, load, weather, or some combination thereof is unknown.

Whatever the issue was, they seem to have taken care of it by the time the next convoy, RA-57, and sailed from Kola Inlet on March 2nd, 1944.

Ross related to Sue that one of the most difficult things from that period was sailing past men screaming in the water whose ships had been torpedoed in the Convoy column ahead of them. They were required to keep steaming and not stop for survivors.

As noted above, the vessel Ross was referring to that they lost on convoy RA-57 was the British SS Empire Tourist. She was two rows forward and one column to port from the Livingston's position. According to uboat.net: “On 4 Mar, 1944, U-703 attacked the convoy RA-57 near Kola Inlet with a spread of FAT torpedoes and sank the Empire Tourist (Master Hugh McCracken). At 15.45 hours, U-703 fired a GNAT and heard a detonation after 3 minutes 10 seconds, which was observed by HMS Milne (G 14). The U-boat was then attacked by this destroyer with depth charges for several hours.” The U-703 was a Type VIIC commanded by 25-year-old Oberleutnant zur See (Lieutenant) Joachim Brünner.

The “FaT” and “GNAT” designations identified the torpedoes as advanced weapons. “FaT” stood for Federapparat (Spring mechanism) Torpedo, and was a torpedo specifically designed for convoys that was capable of running in pre-programmed patterns and loops. Rather than continuing on the straight course it was fired on like a regular torpedo that might pass through a convoy and keep going, it would make 180 turns on a preset pattern, so if it missed on the first pass it would turn around and try again for as long as it had power. Quite a terrifying prospect in a convoy box formation. GNAT was actually an allied acronym which stood for "German Naval Acoustic Torpedo”. The German designation was the T5 Zaunköning (aka Wren). Originally designed as an escort killer, the weapon was designed to lock onto the loudest noise after a run of 400m from its launch. The Germans quickly learned it was just as effective homing in on the screws of Merchant ships in convoy. It could have just easily been the Philip Livingston or any of the other vessels in the convoy. According to uboat.net “Brünner died along with his entire crew of 54 men when the boat went missing in the Arctic Ocean east of Iceland after 16 Sept 1944”. The exact cause for the loss of U-703 remains a mystery to this day.

One of the convoy escorts, HMS Gleaner was able to pick up all 68 crew of the Empire Tourist and land them safely at Loch Ewe. Ross likely never knew the name of the ship and had assumed most, if not all the men perished. This haunted him for many years.

From the end of April to the end of June, Ross made one more roundtrip convoy series, but this time just as far as the UK. Note that on both outbound convoys from New York the Philip Livingston was carrying explosives.

SS John Drake Sloat


On August 8th, 1944 Ross joined the Liberty SS John Drake Sloat in Boston, MA as Chief Mate under Master Walter R. Millington.


John Drake Sloat was a standard Liberty ship type EC2-S-C1 built by California Ship Building Corporation in Los Angeles, CA. She was named after a commodore in the United States Navy who, in 1846, claimed California for the United States.

John Drake Sloat was the 28th Liberty delivered to American-Hawaiian, which occurred on January 28th, 1943. She took only 42 days to build (26 days on way and 16 days on dock) at a cost of $988,909.00. She survived the war but was also immediately retired from operations and laid up as part of the Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet in California on October 6th, 1945.

She was never used again and was finally towed to Terminal Island, Los Angeles, California and scrapped by the National Metal & Steel Corp. in 1960.

As noted in Wally’s detailed list below, they successfully made one roundtrip voyage to the UK and back.

Dates Voyages
8/8/1944 Joined Ship as Chief Mate in Boston, MA
8/7/1944 Depart Boston, MA  in Convoy BX119 Boston to Halifax; 12 Merchants and  0 Escorts
8/9/1944 Arrived Halifax, Nova Scotia
8/13/1944 Depart Halifax, Nova Scotia Convoy HX303 New York to Liverpool; 99 Merchants and 28 Escorts. Cargo: General
8/25/1944 Arrive Oban, Scotland
9/20/1944 Arrive Belfast Lough, Ireland   Independently
9/20/1944 Depart Belfast Lough, Ireland   Independently
9/28/1944 Depart Belfast Lough, Ireland Join Convoy EBC119; 9 Merchants and 0 Escorts
10/2/1944 Arrive Solent, England
10/21/1944 Depart Solent England Convoy EBF8B;  8 Merchants and 0 Escorts
10/23/1944 Arrive Cardiff, Wales
10/25/1944 Depart Cardiff, Wales Independently
10/26/1944 Depart Milford haven, Wales Convoy ON262; 47 Merchants and 17 Escorts
11/10/1944 Arrive New York, NY
11/14/1944 Left Ship  

SS Frank Springer


Finally, on November 25th, 1944, at the age of only 26, Ross became the Master of his first vessel, the Liberty SS Frank Springer.

Frank Springer was a standard Liberty ship type EC2-S-C1 built by California Ship Building Corporation in Los Angeles, CA. It’s unclear who she was named after.

Frank Springer was the 40th Liberty delivered to American-Hawaiian, which occurred on June 30th, 1943. She took only 33 days to build (22 days on way and 11 days on dock) at a cost of $780,243.00. Details are scarce, but she survived the war and was laid up as part of the Reserve Fleet. She was eventually scrapped in Wilmington, NC, in 1967.

The Battle of the Atlantic was starting to wind down, and the Pacific theater was heating up as the allies closed in on the Japanese home islands. So at the end of 1944 Master Ross O’Laughlin found himself heading west, arriving at Pearl Harbor on New Year’s Day, 1945.

The following is another detailed list of sailings put together by Wally:

Dates Voyages
11/25/1944 Joined vessel Norfolk, Virginia
12/5/1944 Departed Hampton Roads, Virginia Independently
12/13/1944 Arrived Cristobal, Panama
12/14/1944 Departed Balboa, Panama Independently
1/1/1945 Arrived Pearl Harbor, HI
1/25/1945 Departed Pearl Harbor, HI Independently
2/3/1945 Arrived Eniwetok, Marshall Islands
2/9/1945 Departed Eniwetok, Marshall Islands Independently
2/14/1945 Arrived Saipan, Northern Mariana Islands
3/20/1945 Arrived Guam, Mariana Islands
4/8/1945 Departed Guam, Mariana Islands Independently
5/2/1945 Arrived San Francisco, CA
5/20/1945 Departed San Francisco, CA Independently
5/21/1945 Arrived Port Hueneme, CA
5/26/1945 Departed Port Hueneme, CA Independently
6/21/1945 Arrived Tacloban, Philippines
6/22/1945 Departed Tacloban, Philippines Independently
6/23/1945 Arrived Cebu, Philippines
7/12/1945 Departed Cebu, Philippines Independently
7/14/1945 Arrived Manila, Philippines
8/8/1945 Departed Manila, Philippines Independently
8/15/1945 Arrived Ulithi, Caroline Islands
8/15/1945 Departed Ulithi, Caroline Islands Independently
9/10/1945 Arrived Portland, OR

According to the family: “After Ross had joined the Frank Springer and was headed out to the West Coast, Sue called her sister Veva and asked her if she’d like to come with her and move out to California. Veva’s immediate answer was ‘Of course I’m going to come!’ They took the train from New Orleans to Los Angeles where Ross’ parents lived, and later up to San Francisco. Besides the two girls, they had Steve who was just a toddler at the time, and Kenny who was just a baby. The train was full of troops, and they all wanted to get close to Veva as she was quite a looker. They’d all come over and want to hold the baby so they could strike up a conversation with Veva. Sue thought this was all just grand as she didn’t have to hold the baby. After the girls got to San Francisco, Ross’ ship came in on May 2, 1945. Ross and Sue went looking all over the Bay Area for a home to rent and finally settled on a small home in Millbrae on the Peninsula. They lived there until 1950 when they bought the home in Belmont where Sue resides today.

Sue later wrote: "Shortly after the last entry Ross was given the Frank Springer and finished out the war in the Pacific arena. He arrived back in the states several months after the war ended. A funny little side line to tickle your funny bone. When he arrived back he came into the Seattle area and called from there asking me how much I needed to run our household should he come ashore. He was in a state of shock when I said $300. Not so funny as his first job ashore with Red Stack only paid $175/month and ate all our poor savings before he got a raise!!" So much for the myth that merchant seamen were paid much better than their military counterparts.

Red Stack and Post War


Immediately after the war, Ross left American-Hawaiian to join Red Stack Tugs in San Francisco where he worked with Joe Spelker of the Ohioan and several other ex-American-Hawaiian officers. Ross was Master on their seagoing tugs before being promoted to Pilot/Docking Master in San Francisco.

The following are just a sampling of the tugs that Ross served on:


Ross later became a San Francisco Bar Pilot where he worked until his untimely death in 1972 at the age of 53. Being appointed to the San Francisco Bar Pilot's Association by the San Francisco Port Authority was and is considered a high honor by seamen, and is a lifetime job. Members of the Association are named when other members retire. The membership during Ross' time was kept at 25 Bar Pilots and required members to have served as master of an ocean going vessel. Today's organization consists of 60 pilots who are overseen and regulated by the State Board of Pilot Commissioners.


The Pilot Schooner California which was in service when Ross was a San Francisco Bar Pilot is still afloat, and is registered with the National Register of Historic Places as the Schooner Zodiac.

Wally recalls that when Pier 7 burned down in 1973 he was mate on the tug Sea King and Jack Cloward was the Captain. They towed the California out of the pier to get her away from the fire. Wally remembers that flaming embers were falling all over their wooden tug, and the two deckhands were running around stomping the flames out.

According to Wally: “Other American-Hawaiian employees who came to Red Stack about that time were George Melanson and John I. Carter. Joe Devine was another longtime friend at Red Stack, but he hadn’t been with AH. Another name that’s cropped up recently that was a family friend was Leo Schwab who was with PFEL [Pacific Far East Lines] after the war. I don’t know if he was AH, but I worked with him when I was at PFEL, and remember him well. Ross was highly respected both as a pilot and seaman, and had lots of friends in the pilots and the industry.

Ross and Sue had six children; Stephen, Kenneth, Timothy, Dennis, Kathleen & Eileen.

All four boys followed in their father’s footsteps and graduated from the now California Maritime Academy. Steve, the oldest, was tragically lost in Vietnam. Ken paralleled Wally’s career by going to sea and then following in his father’s footsteps to become a Red Stack Pilot and subsequently a San Francisco Bar Pilot. He retired in 2010. Tim is a retired ship's Master who spent his career with Sea Land and subsequently Maersk. Dennis, the youngest, is still sailing as Captain with Central Gulf.

Daughter Kathleen married mariner Wally Slough. Daughter Eileen, apparently the rebel in the family, married a cabinet maker.

Sadly, Ross’ wife Sue passed away on September 27th, 2014 at the age of 94 after a very full life. Wally and Kathy's newest granddaughter, Miss Caitlin Soule' Snodgrass, was named after her and luckily they had several opportunities to spend time together before Sue's passing.

I personally will always be grateful for the privilege afforded to me by the O'Laughlin family to publish Ross and Sue's remarkable story.

Sources


Ancestry.com for biographical information on O'Laughlin family, sailings for SS Henry County, 1937 CNS cruise crew list,

Boone, Dave - (tugboatpainter.net) artist who provided the photos of Alabaman, Kansan, Georgian and Floridian from his private collection from the 1930's originally taken by Francis Palmer.

California Maritime Academy, The Campus History Collection, for the photo of the California State in Sydney, 
Australia.

Naval Hist
ory and Heritage Command website for information and images of the SS Santa Olivia/Kansan.

Roberts, Captain Stephen S. USNR (Retired) on his site shipscribe.com for information on Henry County/California State and Georgian origins from the article by Norman L. McKellar  - Steel Shipbuilding under the U. S. Shipping Board, 1917-1921, in ‘The Belgian Shiplover, No. 87 May/June 1962.

Slough, Captain S. Wallace – for information on Ross' life and career.

Uboat.net for information on  U-703, their victims, and for information on torpedoes.



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