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History of the USS Henrico

(Courtesy USS Henrico Reunion Association)

HENRICO (APA-45), originally Sea Darter, was launched 31 March 1943 under Maritime Commission contract by Ingalls Shipbuilding Co., Pascagoula, Mississippi, sponsored by Mrs. W. D. Pelan. She was acquired by the US Navy 23 June 1943, and commissioned the next day for transfer to her conversion yard, Bethlehem Steel Co., Hoboken, New Jersey. The ship was decommissioned 8 July 1943, converted into AP-90 and recommissioned 26 November 1943, Commander J. H. Willis in command.

Ship’s statistics —

  • Class: Bayfield
  • Displacement: 8,100 tons
  • Length: 492′
  • Beam: 74′ 6″
  • Draft: 26′ 6″
  • Speed: 18 knots
  • Officers and Crew: 479
  • Armament: two 5-inch, eight 40mm and twelve 20mm gun

After a career of exemplary service, the “Happy Hank” was decommissioned 14 February 1968 and placed in reserve. She was ultimately disposed of in October 1979 by the Maritime Administration (MARAD), US Department of Transportation.

HENRICO earned a total of sixteen battle stars — three for World War II service, nine for Korean War service and four for Vietnam. She won a Navy Unit Commendation in Korea.2

 

Click the links below to read about her part in writing naval history.

World War II Korean War Cold War Vietnam War Retirement Tribute Learn More

World War II

HENRICO (APA-45), originally Sea Darter, was launched 31 March 1943 under Maritime Commission contract by Ingalls Shipbuilding Co., Pascagoula, Mississippi, sponsored by Mrs. W. D. Pelan. She was acquired by the US Navy 23 June 1943, and commissioned the next day for transfer to her conversion yard, Bethlehem Steel Co., Hoboken, New Jersey. The ship was decommissioned 8 July 1943, converted into AP-90 and recommissioned 26 November 1943, Commander J. H. Willis in command.

Following shakedown training in Chesapeake Bay, the attack transport remained to train Army combat teams before departing Norfolk for New York 2 February 1944. Arriving next day, HENRICO embarked troops and sailed for Scotland 11 February. Arriving the Firth of Clyde 22 February, the ship began strenuous amphibious training in preparation for the invasion of Normandy.

D-Day

HENRICO embarked her invasion troops 26 May at Portland, England, and sailed 5 June as a part of Rear Admiral Hall’s Omaha Beach Assault Force. On the following day, the world’s greatest amphibious invasion took place. HENRICO, named for one of Virginia’s oldest counties, carried troops of the 16th Regiment, 1st Infantry Division (“The Big Red One”). These troops assaulted the Easy Red Sector of Omaha Beach.

Landing to their right from another ship would be soldiers of the Virginia National Guard’s 116th Regiment, 29th Infantry Division (“The Blue and Gray”). These courageous troops were depicted in the opening battle scene of Steven Spielberg’s acclaimed 1998 motion picture Saving Private Ryan. Both units would suffer heavy casualities that day on “Bloody Omaha.”

HENRICO landed her troops in the first assault wave in the face of heavy seas and strong enemy fortifications. HENRICO took enemy positions under fire, expending more than 380 rounds of ammunition from her two 5-inch guns and nearly 9,000 rounds from her 40mm guns.1

As the tempo of fighting increased, the ship received casualties from the beaches, returning to Portland later on D-Day. As the all-important assault area was secured and the advance began, HENRICO stood by for shuttle duty, finally sailing for the Firth of Clyde 19 June.

With the liberation of France underway, the transport sailed 4 July 1944 to the Mediterranean for the invasion of the southern coast of France. Arriving 16 July at Naples, HENRICO took part in amphibious rehearsals before departing 13 August from Castellamare for the invasion area. She landed her troops at Baie de Pompelonne against light opposition and departed the next day for Oran, Algeria. For the next two months she brought troops and cargo into the beach area and on her last shuttle, brought English and Polish repatriates to Naples.

HENRICO sailed from Naples 17 October 1944, arriving Boston in November to prepare for duty in the western Pacific. She departed Norfolk with troops and replacement boats 13 December, steaming via the Panama Canal and San Diego to Pearl Harbor, where she arrived 23 January 1945. Five days later she sailed for the Philippines, arriving Leyte 21 February after stops at various Pacific bases. In the Philippines, the ship engaged in amphibious exercises leading to the invasion of Okinawa, last operation on the long island road to Japan itself.

Okinawa

The veteran ship was assigned to the Kerama Retto attack group under Rear Admiral Riland, and began the landing 26 March. The important islands, needed as a base for the invasion of nearby Okinawa, were secured 30 March. HENRICO retired at night during the operation, and Japanese air attacks were nearly constant.

Kamikaze

While retiring 2 April, the ship was attacked by a fast Yokosuka P1Y Ginga “FRANCIS” suicide bomber diving out of a cloud formation. Although HENRICO quickly brought guns to bear, the plane crashed into the starboard side of the bridge, with two 250-pound bombs exploding below deck. The ship lost power but her well-trained fire parties soon brought the flames under control.

Forty nine officers and men were killed in this attack, including HENRICO’s captain, her embarked division commander, and the two troop commanders. Her executive officer took command, however, and brought the ship to Kerama Retto. She sailed under her own power for San Francisco 14 April and arrived 13 May, having contributed much to the decisive campaign in the Pacific.

A-Bomb Tests

HENRICO sailed from San Fransisco Bay 1 September with replacement troops for the Philippines. She continued to serve the “Magic Carpet” fleet assigned to return the thousands of American soldiers from the Pacific, until May 1946. She sailed 25 May from Pearl Harbor to take part in the “Operation Crossroads” atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll.

For the next three months HENRICO supported these vital scientific experiments, returning to San Francisco 29 August 1946. After operations on the West Coast, she sailed 6 February 1947 for a cruise in the western Pacific, returning in July. From 6 July 1948 to 25 February 1949 the ship operated in the Tsingtao, China area in support of American troops.

USS Henrico (APA-45)

USS HenricoView of USS Henrico in the World War II era. From the US Naval Institute photo collection.

 

Korean War

Early in 1950 HENRICO took part in amphibious exercises in the Caribbean, returning to San Diego 8 April 1950. Soon afterward peace was shattered by the invasion of South Korea, and HENRICO was immediately called back to the western Pacific. As Korean and American ground troops struggled to stem the Communist advance, HENRICO and other ships embarked the 1st Marine Brigade and sailed 12 July for Korea. She developed mechanical trouble which forced a return two days later, but skillful repair work had her at sea again 18 July and by 2 August she was with the original formation as they steamed into Pusan with the vitally needed troops.

Inchon

In the early stages of the Korean War, HENRICO played an important part. She landed troops at the decisive Inchon beachhead 15 September 1950, one of the most brilliantly executed amphibious operations in history. As United Nations troops swept northward, she sailed to various ports deploying and supplying the soldiers.

In November Chinese troops made their appearance on a massive scale, and by December U.N. ground units in the Wonsan-Hungnam area were cut off. During December HENRICO and other ships evacuated thousands of soldiers from the two ports to stabilize the lines farther south. Command of the sea had again, as so many times in history, meant the critical difference.

The veteran attack transport arrived at Seattle 22 March 1951, and after repairs and amphibious exercises sailed again for Korea 16 October 1951. During this second tour she carried troops to strategic points on the coast, and took part in amphibious operations for training purposes. She arrived at San Diego 2 July 1952, and in September returned to Pearl Harbor for repairs and training.

HENRICO sailed again for Korean waters 7 March 1953, resuming the important job of redeploying troops along the coasts and to Japan. During July and August she operated between Pusan and Japan, and joined in the transfer of prisoners following the armistice agreement. For her outstanding performance during the first months of the conflict, HENRICO was awarded the Navy Unit Commendation.

USS Henrico (APA-45)

USS Henrico

View of USS Henrico in the Korea – Cold War era (1950s). From the US Naval Institute photo collection.

 

Cold War

Arriving at San Francisco 24 August 1953, the attack transport engaged in coastal training operations for the next year. She sailed for another tour in the Far East 24 October 1954, and participated in an amphibious training exercise in December. As war over the Tachen Islands threatened in February, HENRICO and other naval units moved in 8 February 1955 to evacuate Nationalist Chinese troops. After arriving at Keelung, Formosa, 13 February, she carried troops between the Philippines and Hong Kong before returning to San Diego 22 April 1955.

Hereafter the ship deployed annually to the western Pacific with the 7th Fleet to engage in amphibious warfare training exercises in Korea, in Okinawa, and in the Philippines, contributing to the combat readiness of both United States Marines and the troops of SEATO members.

Cuban Missile Crisis

HENRICO was diverted to the Caribbean Sea 27 October 1962 after deployment of communist missiles in Cuba brought a swift and strict American quarantine of the island. HENRICO arrived on the scene 5 November. Her embarked Marines provided part of a ready force to supplement the naval blockade if this proved necessary. When the missiles were removed, the crisis subsided, and HENRICO departed the Caribbean 6 December for San Diego, arriving 15 December 1962.

The ship resumed amphibious training duties on the West Coast until 16 December 1964, when she deployed again with the 7th Fleet in the western Pacific. Loading a Marine Battalion Landing Team at Okinawa, the ship departed 11 January 1965 for Hong Kong, arriving 14 January. On 20 January she commenced special operations in the South China Sea as the 7th Fleet joined in the intensive buildup of strength in Southeast Asia.

 

Vietnam War

In an impressive display of mobile power, HENRICO disembarked her Marines at Da Nang, South Vietnam, in early March 1965, returned to Okinawa for a second landing team which reached Da Nang 15 April. By 21 April, the ship embarked a third landing team bound for Chu Lai, South Vietnam. Offloading these troops 7 May, HENRIC0O made a fourth passage to Okinawa to return with the headquarters unit of the 3d Marine Division, which arrived in Chu Lai 21 May.

Following her performance off South Vietnam, the ship sailed from Yokosuka, Japan, 28 May for San Diego, arriving 16 June. During the next thirteen months HENRICO operated out of San Diego along the coast of Southern California, conducting squadron exercises and supporting amphibious training operations. After embarking Marines at San Diego, she sailed for the Far East 27 July 1966, and debarked her passengers at Da Nang a month later.

During the next seven months she carried troop reinforcements and replacements from Okinawa and the Philippines to American bases in South Vietnam. In addition she ranged the coastal waters of Vietnam from the demilitarized zone to the Mekong Delta, supporting important amphibious assaults against Viet Cong coastal strongholds. She departed Vietnam late in March 1967 and returned to San Diego the following month. Maintaining her readiness in support of amphibious assault operations, HENRICO into mid-1967 remained ready to resume her important duty as part of America’s powerful naval force in the Far East.

USS Henrico (APA-45)

USS Henrico

View of USS Henrico in the Vietnam era (1960’s). From the US Naval Institute photo collection.

 

Retirement Tribute

After a career of exemplary service, the “Happy Hank” was decommissioned 14 February 1968 and placed in reserve. She was ultimately disposed of in October 1979 by the Maritime Administration (MARAD), US Department of Transportation.

HENRICO earned a total of sixteen battle stars — three for World War II service, nine for Korean War service and four for Vietnam. She won a Navy Unit Commendation in Korea.2

A Lasting Tribute

In November 2004, Henrico County’s Public Relations & Media Services Department produced a captivating one-hour video entitled, Attack Transport: Remembering the USS HENRICO. The program features commentary by crew members, photos and combat footage of this historic vessel that bears our county’s name. For more information on this very special tribute to the ship
and the men who served her,please contact our Public Relations & Media Services Department.

The three views of the USS HENRICO on these web pages are dated from the World War II, Korea – Cold War (1950’s) and Vietnam (1960’s) eras. The photos were obtained through the US Naval Institute, Annapolis, Maryland photo collection.

 

Learn More


Visit the USS Henrico Reunion Association
The Association’s Web site includes a full history of the ship, a listing of her crew, an honor page for those that gave their lives aboard her during wartime and also members who have died in the years following their service aboard. The site also includes pictures of the HENRICO and some of the ship’s company, information on reunion events and more.

 


29th ID (L) Patch
Visit the 29th Infantry Division (Light)

Today, many Henricoans and other Virginians belong to the Virginia Army National Guard’s 29th Infantry Division (Light). Visit the Division’s site and experience “The Spirit of Omaha Beach.”

1st ID Patch
Visit the 1st Infantry Division

Troops of the US Army’s 1st Infantry Division were carried by the USS HENRICO to Omaha Beach, D-Day, June 6, 1944. Be sure to look at “The Big Red One’s” Web site too.


Don’t miss the National D-Day Memorial located in Bedford, Virginia. This superb facility memorializes the valor, fidelity and sacrifices of the Allied Forces on D-Day, June 6, 1944. The National D-Day Memorial is located at the interchange of Routes 460 Bypass and 122, in the city of Bedford, between Roanoke and Lynchburg, Virginia. Access to Interstate 81 and US 29 from Route 460 are within 20 miles of the Memorial.

The Nation’s capital, Washington, DC, is only two hours north of Henrico County and the Richmond metro area. While you’re there, be sure to visit the World War II MemorialKorean War Veterans Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

 

 

Sources —

1, 2 Sea Classics Magazine, March 1998.

Most of the above material is sourced from the Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Naval History Division, Washington, DC. Other material has been obtained with the assistance of members of the USS Henrico Reunion Association.

 
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