USS Houston (AK-1) was a cargo ship acquired by the U.S. Navy for service in World War I. During World War II, she served as a commercial cargo ship under charter to the United States Lines by the War Shipping Administration.
Acquiring a scuttled German freighter
The first Navy ship to be named Houston, AK-1 was the former German freighter SS Liebenfels, built by Bremer Vulcan, Vegesack, Germany, in 1903. Operated by the Hansa Line, she arrived Charleston, South Carolina, in August 1914, and remained there until 1 February 1917, when her German crew scuttled her. Finding her sunk and abandoned, U.S. authorities set about to raise the ship and took her to Charleston Navy Yard for refitting 20 March 1917. She commissioned as Houston (AK-1) 3 July 1917, Lt. Comdr. W. H. Lee, USNRF commanding.
World War I North Atlantic operations
Assigned to the transport service, Houston departed Charleston 11 July, loaded coal and oil at Hampton Roads, and joined a convoy sailing from New York 7 August 1917. She arrived Brest 25 August and subsequently made four voyages to and from New York transporting such valuable cargoes as radio equipment, trucks, airplanes, and general supplies. Returning to New York 18 November, the ship was assigned to the Naval Overseas Transportation Service, and made four more voyages between the East and West coasts of the United States, departing on the first of these 15 December 1918 from New York. Until her return to New York 14 April 1921 Houston carried coal, ordnance, lumber, and general supplies between the coasts in support of the Navy's two-ocean operations.
Post-war assignment to the Pacific
Houston was next assigned to trans-$3 duty. She sailed from New York 4 May, took on cargo at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Norfolk, and steamed by way of San Francisco, California, Pearl Harbor and Guam to Manila, arriving 22 October 1921. The ship departed Cavite 16 November, and arrived San Francisco 11 January 1922.
Houston decommissioned 23 March 1922 and was sold 27 September 1922 to Frank M. Warren of Portland, Oregon, and was renamed SS North King in 1923. She was sold to Campania Diana de Vapores S.A., Panama, date unknown. When the U.S. went to war during World War II, she was chartered by the War Shipping Administration (WSA) from Campania Diana de Vapores S.A., 30 December 1941, at New York, New York. She was then transferred to United States Lines Co. for operation, 30 December 1941. At war’s end, she was returned to Campania Diana de Vapores S.A., 26 February 1946, at New York, New York. Final disposition: scrapped, circa 1957.
Military awards and honors
Houston’s crew members were authorized the following medals:
- World War I Victory Medal (with Transport clasp)
- Yangtze Service Medal
- This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. The entry can be found here.
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