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Nuk_

Historic WWII Veteran heads to the Scrapyard (Very Image-heavy)

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Hey everyone, Nuk here.

I know I don't post around here as often as I used to, but today I'm here to tell you about the life and death of a very storied and historic ship; the American Victory, also known as the USS Neshanic, Gulfoil, Pioneer Challenger, Middletown, and finally, Victo.

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Now, I know what you're thinking. "But Nuk, you said it was a historic WW2 vessel, what does some old lake freighter have to do with WW2?"                                                                         Well, that's what I'm here to tell you about.

Originally named Marquette, this ship was launched on Halloween Day in 1942 (perhaps unluckily) and commissioned into the US Navy as the USS Neshanic (AO-71), a Chiwawa-class oiler. She was originally 501 ft (153 m) long, 68 ft (21 m) wide, and displaced 21,000 tons.

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Not wasting any time, she was already in the Pacific in early 1943, supporting and providing logistics for a multitude of invasions across the ocean, including the Gilbert Islands, the Marshall Islands, and Saipan. And for a while, she did this with little harm to herself or her crew. However, her luck ran out mere days before the Battle of the Philippines Sea, when she was struck by a hundred-pound bomb on her aft cargo deck, which ignited some fuel drums and caused injuries to dozens of her crew members. However, quick damage control brought the ship back into action within hours, and later that day she was back to refueling major warships within the fleet. Following this, she sailed to Eniwetok for repairs before returning to the fights at Guam, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa before the war finally came to a close. In all, she had been hit by 2 bombs, shot down 8 planes, and had supported numerous fleets and invasions. For her service during the war, she earned 9 battle stars, the Combat Action Ribbon, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic Campaign Medal, WWII Victory Medal, and the Navy Occupation Service Medal, in addition to 33 Purple Hearts for the men wounded when she was attacked.

Neshanic's medals.

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Following the war, the Neshanic was transferred to the custody of the Maritime Commission, and was bought by the Gulf Oil Corporation in 1946, who renamed her to the SS Gulfoil.

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For 12 years, she faithfully hauled oil under this name, before her career as an oiler was brought to a sudden end by a devastating accident.

On August 7th, 1958, while sailing off of Newport, Rhode Island, the Gulfoil collided with the gasoline tanker S.E. Graham. The Gulfoil rammed her bow right into Graham's side at nearly full speed, and the sparks from the collision immediately ignited the gasoline that had begun to leak from the Graham. Both ships were quickly engulfed with flames.

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Gulfoil after most of the fire had been extinguished.

 

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S.E. Graham while still burning.

The Graham's crew, thinking quickly, immediately knew the small ship was doomed and quickly jumped overboard, resulting in all of them surviving. The crew of the Gulfoil, however, was not so lucky. In the resulting fire, 18 of her 31 crew members perished, and the ship was heavily damaged. The Graham could not be saved, and later sank following the fires. Gulfoil was taken to Baltimore for repairs, where she sat for several years.

 Following her accident, she was bought by the Pioneer Steamship Company and converted to a straight-deck bulk carrier, renamed the Pioneer Challenger. She was lengthened, widened, and her middle superstructure was removed and rebuilt at the bow of the ship. 

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A diagram showing how the lengthening would be done.

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She was now 730 feet long and 75 feet wide, which made her longer and weighing almost as much as a North Carolina-class battleship, as well as making her the largest vessel on the Great Lakes at that time. She could carry up to 26,700 tons of cargo, which ranged from taconite pellets to coal, and was one of the fastest vessels on the lakes. One such story of her speed comes from a time where the ship blew past another lake freighter, the Roger Blough, on the open water, before succumbing to a steering issue that forced the ship to temporarily turn around. Upon seeing her turning around and coming back, the Blough signaled "We don't mind getting passed, but we're not going to tolerate victory laps!"

However, she was to be short-lived under the name of Pioneer Challenger, as the transportation division of Pioneer Steamship Co. was disbanded by the end of the year. She was then sold to the Oglebay Norton Company, the same company that owned and operated the famous and ill-fated Edmund Fitzgerald, where she was renamed Middletown. This is how she would spend most of her life.

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Various pictures from Middletown's early career.

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Over the next 20 years, Middletown served many ports all over the Great Lakes. From the far northwestern stretches of Lake Superior to the southeastern-most ports of Lake Erie, Middletown was there. However, in the early 1980s, her future was put in jeopardy. In 1982, the steel industry and shipping as a whole on the Great Lakes entered a severe downturn, and many ships were sold for scrap. Middletown, however, was given a second life with the addition of a self-unloading boom. This allowed her to decrease the time it took to unload her cargo greatly, and made her a much more valuable ship during the economic depression.

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With a new self-unloading boom and a bright future, Middletown returned to her usual service. However, her stigma as an unlucky-ship was not yet done with her. In September of 1986, while hauling a cargo of coal, some methane gas (a by-product of coal) had unknowingly built up in her boiler room, and exploded. The ship, while relatively okay, raced to port to treat the multiple crew members that were injured in the explosion. As a result, all ships hauling coal were thereafter required to take regular readings of gases to prevent a similar accident.

Middletown in the prime of her life.

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As a self-unloader, she served the Oglebay-Norton company for nearly 45 years, traveling all over to ports throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio. Unfortunately though, all good things must come to an end, and such was the case with Middletown. In the early 2000s, the Oglybay-Norton company was doing very poorly, and as such were forced to sell many of their lake freighters, Middletown included. As such, she was sold to the American Steamship Company in 2006, where she was renamed American Victory.

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Some pictures of American Victory's short-lived career with the American Steamship Company.

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Sadly, her career with ASC was cut short due to another economic downturn in 2008, and she was put into long-term layup in Superior, Wisconsin. She was never to run again. For nearly a decade, she sat, waiting and waiting for the day that she would run again to come. Yet, this day was not to come.

American Victory during her near-decade of inactivity.

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In December of 2017, it was announced that the American Victory was to be sold to Algoma Central Corporation, who intended not to run her and to sell her for scrap. After many years of little movement, the American Victory was towed to nearby Fraser Shipyards in mid-May 2018, where her self-unloading boom was to be removed, and the ship prepared for a tow across the Atlantic to a scrapyard in Turkey.

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Passing the J.A.W Iglehart and Alpena during her tow to the shipyard, two ships of similar age to American Victory.

 

While at Fraser Shipyards, American Victory's name was changed one final time to the short Victo.

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If you look closely you can still see Pioneer Challenger on the hull.

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Victo's boom being removed. She had not been without one for over 35 years.

Finally, after a few weeks of work, her day had come. The Victo was towed out of Duluth harbor in the early hours of June 17th, 2018, lead by the tug Tim McKeil.

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More pictures of Victo's tow out of Duluth.

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After 2 days of travel across Lake Superior, she had reached the Soo Locks.

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More of Victo at the Soo.

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After another two days, she had reached the St. Clair River and Detroit.

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Even more pics to fry your brainz with.

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And finally, after another day of sailing she reached the Welland Canal.

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You know the drill by now.

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In addition, there are several videos providing fantastic views of her tow. Feel free to watch them if you wish.

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And thus, we reach the end of the story so far. If you're reading this within a few hours of its posting, then she's still currently traversing thru the Welland Canal up to Lake Ontario. If you're reading this within a few days, then she's traveling up the St. Lawrence River and out into the Atlantic, never to return to the Western Hemisphere. However, not all is lost; a large amount of artifacts and memorabilia from the ship is being preserved in a museum in Duluth, Minnesota; including her service plaque containing her ribbons from WWII.

If you've made it to the end, I congratulate you for making it through all those pictures. With Victo's scrapping, an important part of history for many people, companies, and industries as a whole is lost forever, and thus I felt the need to share this story with you (that, and a little encouragement from a friend:Smile_hiding:)  Thank you for reading, and I hope you enjoyed.

Edited by Nuk_
  • Cool 16

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Thanks Nuk_  Great bit of history and a well-told story.  Loved the pix.

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There goes another Great Lakes monster ship.

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Very sad. :Smile_sad:

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Everyone remembers the warships, but nobody remembers the transports and logistics ships that made it possible for said warships to operate.

May her legacy and contributions live on in history.

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Such a sad story. She was definitely a fighter that never gave up, that's for sure.

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Thanks for sharing ! I like those ship Stories,  ships do take on a life of there own and the 

Edited by HMCS_Devilfish

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