Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships
U.S.S. LIBRA AK-53
Libra (AK-53) was laid down as Jean Lykes by Federal Shipbuilding & Dry Dock
Co., Kearny, N.J., under contract for Lykes Steamship Co., Galveston, Tex.;
launched 12 November 1941; sponsored by Mrs. Hale Boggs, wife of Congressm an
Boggs of Louisiana; acquired by the Navy 30 December 1941; named Libra 9
January 1942; and commissioned 13 May 1942, Comdr. W. B. Fletcher in command.
Completing conversion at New York City 26 May 1942, Libra loaded combat
equipment at Hampton Roads and sailed 10 June for Wellington, New Zealand,
arriving 11 July. Laden with cargo for the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force,
she sailed 22 July for reh earsals in the Fijis for the first Allied
offensive in the Pacific, the Solomons campaign. Libra arrived off Tulagi 7
August and began an unloading interrupted six times in the next 3 days as
enemy air attack caused her to go to general quarters an d stand off to
maneuver in open waters. In the early morning 9 August she heard heavy
gunfire to the northwest, where Allied men-o'-war engaged the Japanese in the
Battle of Savo Island, fighting to protect the transports and their vital
cargo. Later the same day, empty, she sailed for Wellington, arriving 20
For the next 2 months, Libra sailed from Noumea to the Ellice Islands and
Espiritu Santo, base for the Guadalcanal operation, building up supplies.
She returned to Guadalcanal 11 November, and her group almost immediately
came under enemy air attack. The determined enemy sent another seven planes
against the transports next day, all were splashed by Libra and her sisters.
She sailed for Espiri tu Santo 13 November as the Battle of Guadalcanal, just
south of Savo Island, raged to a victory which gave the Allies sea control
off the southern Solomons. Returning to Espiritu Santo 15 November, Libra
prepared for two additional voyages to Guad alcanal during the next month,
bringing cargo essential to the epic struggles of the marines to wrest the
island from the Japanese.
From mid-December 1942 through March 1943, Libra redesignated AKA-12 on 1
February, carried war equipment from New Zealand to bases in the New
Hebrides. Joining the 3d Fleet 20 March, she returned to Guadalcanal 3 April,
and 4 days later joined in fighting off land-based enemy aircraft. She
returned to Espiritu Santo 10 April, and during the next 80 days made four
voyages carrying cargo for the occupation of Guadalcanal. For her superlative
performance of duty through the Guadalcanal campaign, L ibra received the
Navy Unit Commendation. She earned it in part 30 June when, unloading cargo
at Rendova, her task group came under heavy enemy air attack. Deadly
antiaircraft fire downed 17 of the 25 attacking torpedo planes before they
could launch torpedoes, but got through to strike McCawley after passing
under Libra, unladen and high in the water. Libra took the stricken transport
in tow. Later the same day, the two were attacked by eight dive-bombers,
three of whom they spla shed. Relieved of the tow later that afternoon, Libra
returned to Guadalcanal.
Aside from a repair period in New Zealand in August, Libra gave the next 4
months to building up the base on Guadalcanal with cargo from New Caledonia,
then was part of the assault force for Bougainville arriving Empress Augusta
Bay 1 November. Pro mptly unloading, she sailed the same day for Guadalcanal
for additional cargo, with which she arrived Bougainville 8 November,
immediately to splash one of 25 dive bombers attacking her transport group.
Libra carried cargo among the New Hebrides, Solomons and Marshalls until June
1944. when she prepared for the assault on Guam. Arriving off Guam from
Eniwetok 21 July, she quickly discharged heavy equipment for the 3d Marines
on the Asan beaches, then sailed for San Francisco, arriving from Pearl
Harbor 19 August.
Overhauled, Libra sailed from San Francisco 20 October for Milne Bay, New
Guinea, and Manus, where she readied for the Lingayen Gulf landings. She
entered the gulf 11 January 1945, off-loaded her vital cargo, and sailed for
Leyte, Ulithi, and Guam. Her fi nal amphibious operation was Iwo Jima, off
which she arrived 19 February. For 2 weeks she maneuvered off the volcanic
beaches, avoiding enemy shore batteries as she landed marine combat gear.
For the remainder of the war, Libra carried cargo from Noumea to Leyte and
intermediate ports. In the first of her post-war cargo runs supporting the
occupation of Japan, she entered Tokyo Bay 2 September. Such duty complete 21
November, Libra steamed for Seattle, arriving 31 November.
Serving with the Pacific Fleet out Of San Francisco for the next 2 years,
Libra made four voyages to the western Pacific for essential cargo
operations. She departed Guam 6 October 1947 for Hawaii, the Panama Canal,
and Boston, where she arrived 26 November. Here she decommissioned 19 April
1948 and entered the Atlantic Reserve Fleet.
With the increased demand on cargo facilities brought on by the Korean
conflict, Libra recommissioned 28 August 1950 to Join the Amphibious Force,
Atlantic Fleet, supporting its training operations along the east coast and
in the Caribbean. She ser ved in the Mediterranean with the 6th Fleet 18
January 1954 to 12 May, then trained reservists, sailing often with them to
Libra decommissioned 6 October 1955 to join the Reserve Fleet at Charleston,
S.C., where she remained until transferred to the Maritime Administration in
July 1964. She entered the National Defense Reserve Fleet in the James River,
Va., where she r emained into 1969.
Libra received nine battle stars for World War II service.