|Ordered Before September 1919|
Completed June 1921
Construction started 30 July 1920
Length 131 m
Displacement 10.3 million kg
|Laid down 30 July 1920|
Acquired by US Army 1922
Launched 24 February 1921
Weight 11,540 tons
|Name West Lewark (1921–22)
USAT Meigs (1922–42)|
Owner US Shipping Board (1921–22) United States Army (1922–42)
Builder Todd Pacific Shipyards, Los Angeles Division
The USAT Meigs (sometimes incorrectly called USS Meigs) was a United States Army transport ship that was built in 1921 and sunk in Darwin Harbour in the first Japanese air raid against the Australia mainland on 19 February 1942.
The ship's keel was laid 30 July 1920 by the Los Angeles Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company (later Todd Pacific Shipyards) at San Pedro, California and completed in 1921 for the United States Shipping Board as West Lewark. She had a steel hull, measured 7,358 GRT (also cited as 11,358 DWT), 430.7 ft (131.3 m), 54.3 ft (16.6 m) beam and 26.2 ft (8.0 m) depth. The ship's construction was canceled in 1919 but she was then completed to a larger and different design than the originally planned Design 1013 and launched 24 February 1921. She was evaluated for naval use with a temporary designation of IX-4490.
After delivery the ship was operated by the Williams, Diamond & Company, Pacific Coast shippers for the Pacific Coast-European trade. Cargo handling equipment had been designed in light of the fact that many ports lacked sufficient handling equipment ashore to enable efficient cargo operations and initial service demonstrated increased efficiency. West Lewark and sister ship, West Faralon were placed in the company's Pacific Coast-European trade with West Lewark making an initial port call at Glasgow, Scotland. In 1922 the Army acquired the ship and renamed her Meigs.
USAT Meigs was one of the small fleet the Army maintained during the inter-war years and operated in the Pacific as a freight and animal transport. In 1939, with USAT Ludington, Meigs was one of only two Army owned freight transports. Included in the requirement to transport army goods and personal possessions of personnel changing duty stations to the Pacific was transport of cavalry and personal horses of officers with occasional mention of the ship transporting notable horses or owners transferring between Pacific and continental postings. In July 1938 Meigs found an oil slick along the course of the lost Pan American flying boat Hawaii Clipper about 500 miles from Manila, took samples and stood by for further investigation.
Shortly before the US entry into the World War II the ship was given the tentative Navy hull number AK-34 under an agreement that Navy would take over, commission and crew Army transports operating in area of potential naval opposition. The reality of war resulted in a December 1941 Presidential order suspending that agreement and the hull number is listed by Navy as "not used."
USAT Meigs was part of the Pensacola Convoy attempting to reinforce the Philippines in the early stages of the Pacific War and held at Fiji when it was evident the Japanese were already invading the Philippines. Despite a military decision to bring the convoy back to Hawaii or the West Coast a presidential decision routed the ships to Australia to attempt Philippine support from there. She returned to Darwin after being part of an abortive convoy that departed 15 February escorted by USS Houston and smaller escorts bound to reinforce Portuguese Timor.
On 19 February 1942 Japanese planes attacked Darwin's land and shipping targets in two waves. The Meigs, one of six ships sunk, with one of its crew of 66 killed after being struck by a number of bombs and aerial torpedoes.
Although the superstructure of the wreck was salvaged after the war by Fujita Salvage of Osaka, Japan, the cargo of munitions, railway rails, Bren gun carriers and trucks intended for Allied forces in Portuguese Timor remains. The Meigs is now a dive site, where the remnants of the cargo are as visible as the remains of the vessel itself. It lies in 18 metres (59 ft) of water at coordinates 12°29.26′S 130°49.10′E., and due to the large tidal movements creating strong currents and poor visibility, is only divable around neap tides.
The name USS Meigs is incorrectly applied to the USAT Meigs and also, properly, to the USS General M. C. Meigs (AP-116), which served in the Korean War.