Ship Index
Army Ships

Update 13 November 2009

About Army Watercraft Designations

Questions I have been asked about these designations indicate many confuse Army's system in this period with the much more rigid Navy ship designations. First, this was one document I ran across in NARA and is probably a snapshot of the status at the time it was made. It was not attached to a dated document and had no date itself. It was in a package from the 1942-1943 period. The fact that the earlier FP-FH was noted without the later FS designation is something of a marker. All FP vessels were redesignated FS fairly early in the war.

The second thing that must be understood is that the Army was apparently not nearly so rigid in its classification by designated categories as Navy is with its combatants. Army is much more likely to lump wildly different hull types into functional and general size categories. For this reason there is often no such thing as a photograph of a "typical" type below. The Army's classification/designation system below is quite often something like Navy's "Miscellaneous Auxiliary (AG)" group that includes vessels of many designs, sizes and function. It is another reminder that the Army's ships were all auxiliaries.

Early in the war the Army took what it could get. Fishing vessels, yachts, pleasure boats, ferry boats and whatever it could obtain to meet its needs. Those were given designations for administrative purposes that generally fit the function anticipated, often determined by general size. As an example San Francisco ferry boats became FP/FS designated vessels without any similarity in looks or even operational functioning to the classic designs later in the war.

In addition, some of the designations appear to be duplicates. One example appears to be the "H" and "HA" below. Both seem to apply to only eleven identical ships. In U.S. Army Ships and Watercraft of World War II David Grover notes:  

Aircraft Retrieval Vessels

In connection with the salvaging of aircraft downed at sea, the Army Air Forces found it necessary in World War II to develop and utilize oceangoing vessels large enough to transport planes back to aircraft repair ships. Resembling FS boats in appearance, eleven of these ships were built on the Great Lakes and were designated H boats. No comparable vessels of this type were operated by the Navy.

He includes a photo of HA2, identical in casual appearance to the FS Design 330-D (officially Vessel, Supply, Diesel, Steel, 180').

In summary, do not try to equate these with Navy ship "classes" or even some of the more orderly functional designations. When one sees "DD" in Navy terms there is a pretty good idea of the vessel's function and appearance. That might apply to some of the smaller, limited groups below. It is wildly off the mark for something like the "J" that includes about every thing under fifty feet that floats usable as a utility vessel. Only later in the war as production geared up and settled down did fairly orderly "types" emerge. They mixed with the more colorful early war mélange until the end.

Finally, do not assume the army has an exact equivalent of the Navy's "United States Ship" (USS) for commissioned vessels or "United States Naval Ship" (USNS) for Navy owned, non commissioned auxiliaries "in service." The Army used some similar terms but had no real equivalent of Navy's "in commission" distinction vice ships "in service." The term United States Army Transport (U.S.A.T) was applied--or sometimes not--to the large troop and cargo vessels owned by the Army (Many maintained similar status when they became USNS.) and it was never applied to other vessels. The mine planters were "U.S. Army MP" (See photo at NavSource of USAMP Maj. Samuel Ringgold (MP 11) ) abbreviated USAMP before the name. Most Army vessels, as with smaller non-commissioned Navy yard and utility craft, had no prefix at all.

[From undated typewritten list (possibly 1942-43) in NARA Record Group 336]

B Barge or Lorcha L Distribution Box Boat
BB Balloon Barge LT Large Tug, over 100'
BBP Balloon Barrage Leader M Motor Mine Yawl
BC Cargo Barge (Med. 110'-130') MP Mine Planter
BCS Cargo Barge (Sm. 45' - 60') AMP Mine Planter (Army)
BCL Cargo Barge (Large - 210' or more) MT Motor Towboat (Sm. 26')
BD Derrick and Crane Barges MTL Motor Towboat (Large, over 26')
BDP Pontoon Derrick Barge OB Outboard Launch - Detachable Motor
BK Knocked-down barge QBM Outboard Motor - Stationary Motor
BG Gasoline Barge P Rescue Boat 42', 83', 104', Picket Boat
BSP Self-propelled Barge Q Launch, more than 60'
BW Water Barge R Rowboat
BTL Truck Lighter SG Swamp Glider
C Navy Type Launch (Obsolete designation) ST Tug (Small - under 100')
CL Landing Boat    
D Dory and Dinghie T Freight & Passenger Vessel 65'
F Cargo Vesse1 99' Steel TKL Tank Lighter
FA Cargo Vessel (Air Corps) TP-TH Freight & Passenger Vessel (Sm. - under 100')
FT Freight & Passenger Boat 115' V Speed Boat
FP-FH Freight and Passenger Boat over 100' Y Tanker - 176'
G Marine Tractor    
H 150' Retrieving Vessel - Air Corps Boat    
HA Hoisting or Retrieving Vessel    
JR Radio Controlled Boat    
J Launch up to 50' which includes:

Ambulance Boat
Launch (Navy type)
Motor Sailer
?? (obscured in copy) Boat
Shallow Draft Boat
Speed Boat


I suppose one could have some trivia fun with some of these. "What kind of army vessel would one designated as BB-63 be? Some sort of an Army battleship?" No, far from it. Such a vessel would be a small, unpowered barge for carrying a barrage balloon such as those seen in photos floating over the Normandy beaches -- a far cry from the naval vessel BB-63, the USS Missouri.

* * *

Army FP/FS Vessels is an exception to my intent of not getting into Army types beyond Mine Planters and cable ships.

The FP type became the Army FS types. Some of these were acquired by Navy from Army to become the Navy AKL type. One of these vessels was the USS Reluctant in the 1955 film Mr. Roberts with Henry Fonda in the title role. I expect the Army crew of some of these little freighters in backwater areas might have known very well what the line in the movie about sailing "From tedium to apathy and back again, with an occasional side trip to monotony" really meant.

"Slowbell" has a page on his really enjoyable site about the fictional USS Reluctant of the Movie Mr. Roberts. We had long known it was an ex Army FS type that had become a Navy AKL that was used. There was one great mystery -- the little extra deck that was the stage for all activities related to The Palm Tree! There are a number of things "wrong" with the ladders, most glaringly the ladder to the deck hatch cover that just cannot be on a working ship. We had a few e-mail discussions on the subject then it faded. Meanwhile "Slowbell" got busy. It turns out that the set builders had to do fewer modifications than we'd ever thought. See how at A Movie Seastory that Bugged Me.

Some ex-FP/FS vessels were given other Navy classifications. Perhaps the most famous of all these ships was the U.S. Army cargo ship FP-344, (1944-1966), Later renamed FS-344, acquired by the Navy in April 1966 and renamed the USS Pueblo (AGER 2).

Comments and Questions

Since adding this page about a month ago several people have contacted me with comments that appear to be related to these Harbor Boat Service craft that I do not cover on the main Army Ships pages. Some have been simple questions while others have provided brief comments about the service. One dealt with a 104-foot air rescue vessel that had been converted to a "Q" category used as local transport in the Philippines:

I believe this was probably one of the 104' Army Aircraft Rescue Boats built by Casey Boat Building Company, Inc. of Fairhaven, MA. Even though I replied to the writer within hours I was unable to get through. I would like to hear more and I also hope the book gets written if for no other end than to be placed in a public educational setting as I urge in Capture History.

A question of another e-mail raises an interesting larger question. The sender, a collector, found an old uniform with Army Air Corps collar insignia and a "Navy style PT boat shoulder patch in place of a typical Air Corp division patch." He'd thought it a modified uniform until reading one of the other pages mentioning "crash boats." Now my question:

I'm also interested in the large transports with respect to emblems and such. I've been increasingly struck by how much today's MSC heritage lies with the Army transports. A friend and I were laughing just the other night about a menu from a U.S.A.T. of 1944 looked like those MSTS/MSC menus we knew. "Roast Stuffed Young Tom Turkey" and the menu's layout could be off a ship we knew decades later. MSTS/MSC ships have emblems. I believe all are "unofficial" emblems that appear on patches, plaques, mugs, and other items for use both as semiofficial gifts to VIP visitors and sale in the ship's store. What about the Army transports? MSTS/MSC emblems are not covered well in collections or publications, but they do turn up. I've found nothing on U.S.A.T. Equivalents.

One other e-mail illustrates both manning of an "F" type and an innovative way of getting home at war's end when transport was so short:

I appreciate such communications and hope to one day assemble them into a more orderly form. Life on the troop transports from the viewpoint of the "passenger" is fairly well covered in all its misery. Coverage is fairly sparse for the other vessels. I'd like to see more.

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