"Fuel stands first in importance of the resources of the fleet. Without ammunition, a ship may run away, hoping to fight another day but without fuel she can neither run, nor reach her station, nor remain on it, if remote, nor fight." -Alfred Thayer Mahan.
USS Mattaponi, a fleet tanker, was one of the fast oilers which served the U. S. fighting forces at sea from World War 11 to 1972. As an individual ship, Mattaponi served this nation ably in three major wars as well as times of peace between. A member of the vitally important auxiliary forces supplying fighting ships of the line, she has never received her due for extensive and useful services she performed. With the coming presentation of her plaque on the wall of the Admiral Nimitz Museum here, she takes her place as one of the nation's better known vessels.
Mattaponi entered U. S. naval service early in World War II, launched on 17 January 1942. Immediately thereafter, she began nearly continuous military service for the next 30 years. The ship's unusual name is pronounced MATT-uh-poh-NIE. The accent is on the first and fourth syllables.
Most U. S. Navy tankers of this period were named after rivers with Indian names. Mattaponi's name came from a river in eastern Virginia which is fed by four tributaries: the Mat, the Ta, the Po, and the Ni. The combined larger stream then joins with the Pamunkey River at West Point, Virginia, to form the York River. The York then flows into the Atlantic Ocean past Williamsburg and Yorktown. The Mattaponi Indian Reservation fronts the York River a few miles below the confluence of the Mattaponi and Pamunkey Rivers.
The "Mattie, " as she was often called by her affectionate crewmen, spent almost all of World War 11 in the Atlantic Ocean and Mediterranean Sea theaters of operation. From her commissioning in mid-1942 until December of that year, she plied U. S. waters off the East and Gulf Coasts carrying fuel from Texas oil ports to the Navy's fuel storage depots at Craney Island, Yorktown, Newport, Boston, and Casco Bay.
On 12 December 1942, she departed from New York harbor on the first of 21 wartime transatlantic convoys she would make. As a vital link in the war effort, in addition to her various cargo fuels, she also carried landing craft, aircraft, provisions, mail, medical supplies, and passengers. The doctor and hospital corpsmen aboard were often called on, both at sea and in port, to treat illnesses and/or injuries on board other ships. Her engineers and mechanics also provided similar services when mechanical difficulties were involved.
Mattaponi's convoy voyages in 1943 and 1944 took her to a number of foreign ports. Included were the cities of Casablanca, Oran, Bizerte, Roseneath (Scotland), Londonderry, Fayal (Azores), and Port Royal (Bermuda). In addition, she also made frequent runs to Texas and Caribbean oil producing refineries.
After 10 December 1944, Mattaponi's transatlantic crossings became less frequent because Navy tankers no longer accompanied convoys. Instead, they were assigned to stand by at terminal points on either side of the Atlantic, rendezvousing and servicing convoy escorts as they passed the stations. From 10 December 1944 to 28 May 1945, Mattaponi was assigned to a group of fleet oilers which rotated between Bermuda and the Azores serving as "terminus tankers." Germany surrendered on 7 May 1945.
On 11 July 1945, following a month's layover in Portsmouth, VA, Mattaponi departed from Norfolk for duty with the U. S. Third Fleet in the Pacific Ocean. Because Japan was still resisting, she continued on to the Carolines in the western Pacific, anchoring in Ulithi atoll on 28 August 1945. Had not Japan surrendered on 2 September 1945 after the two atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in early August, Mattaponi would have assisted in the planned invasion of Japan in November 1945. She was in Tokyo Bay at the time the official surrender ceremonies took place aboard the battleship USS Missouri.
With World War II over, it was certainly "Join the Navy and see the world" for Mattaponi crewmen. Mattaponi made two voyages to Pearl Harbor, visited various ports in Korea (Jinsen and Fusan), Japan (Taku), and China (Tsingtao and Shanghai), and made three long-distance voyages from Japan to Saudi Arabia and back to Japan. These 42-day round trips of 15,000 miles each took her into the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Oman, and the Persian Gulf. During these voyages she stopped at Singapore four times, picked up full cargoes of oil in Saudi Arabia's port of Ras Tanura three times,, and stopped in Colombo, Ceylon, three times. She visited Okinawa twice, Sasebo in Japan once, Yokosuka in Japan three times, and Manila in the Philippines once.
Mattaponi left Manila on 29 December 1946 bound for Eniwetok Atoll in the Marshall Islands of the western Pacific. From there she towed an unmanned, unpowered gasoline barge more than 3,200 miles to Pearl Harbor. Free of the tow three weeks later, she then continued on to San Francisco Bay to spend the next two-and-one-half months being overhauled in the Hunters Point Naval Shipyard. When she was ready for sea once more, Mattaponi steamed westward to Pearl Harbor to join a U. S. Goodwill Tour to Australia. The flotilla of ships participating included two aircraft carriers, two cruisers, a dozen destroyers, and a second tanker.
Between May 1947 and December 1948, Mattaponi completed two round-the-world voyages in addition to making numerous runs to the Persian Gulf. New ports of call during these years included Piraeus in Greece and Taranto in Italy.
On 21 December 1949 Mattaponi entered the San Francisco Naval Shipyard for inactivation. She was ordered to San Diego, placed in the reserve fleet, and decomissioned on 17 April 1950.
Her inactivity was not to last, however. Eight months later on 28 December 28, she was recommissioned. She then spent almost four years as a Mlitary Sea Transport Service vessel with the new designation of T-AO-41. Until June of 1950 she operated principally in U. S. West Coast waters, although she did make one voyage to Japan in March of 1950.
From June through September of 1950, she carried fuel from Aruba in the Netherlands Antilles to East Coast ports. During this time, she made a run to Iceland before being ordered back to the West Coast. With one interruption there-a cruise to the Marshall Islands in the western Pacific in August and September 1953-she continued to operate off the West Coast with periodic voyages to the Aleutian Islands and Hawaii.
On 12 October 1954, she was again decommissioned, entering the reserve fleet in San Diego. This time she was inactive for more than two years before being returned to service.
Recommissioned on 12 December 1956, Mattaponi remained on active duty for the next I I months. During this time she made one round-the-world voyage, several runs from Norfolk to Bahrein (Saudi Arabia), and a cruise to Cherbourg (France) and Invergordan (Scotland). She then returned to New Orleans where she was decommissioned once again on 11 November 1957. On 1 February 1959 her name was stmck from the naval list.
Again, her inactivity was short. Mattaponi was reinstated on the Navy's list on 1 September 1961. Home ported in San Francisco, she then spent all of 1962 on the West Coast. On 2 July 1963, she departed for the western Pacific where she serviced ships of the Seventh Fleet in Japanese and Philippine waters as well as the East and South China Seas.
Returning to the U. S. West Coast on 14 January 1964, she spent the remainder of that year in operations in the eastern Pacific, including joint exercises involving U. S. and Canadian units. From January to July in 1965, Mattaponi again deployed for duty with the Seventh Fleet.
In 1966 she operated off the West Coast until 28 March, when she began an overhaul period in Richmoncl California. With the overhaul completed on 27 July, she then resumed underway operations along the West Coast until September when the veteran oiler left San Francisco for the western Pacific, where she again provided services to the Seventh Fleet until the end of March 1967. Then she returned to San Francisco.
Mattaponi operated locally out of her home port through most of that summer before departing again on 8 September 1967 for duty off Vietnam. She returned to U. S. waters on 17 April 1968. After a leave and upkeep period, followed by local operations, she left for the Far East on early October. There she provided services to the fleet into 1969. Mattaponi departed again for final and 7th deployment to the Vietnam waters in January 1970.
Mattaponi was transferred to Marad on 22 January 1971 for disposal. On 15 December 1973 she was sold to Union Minerals and Alloys Corporation, New York City, for $50,184.50. She was then scrapped.
Thus ended a memorable career for this veteran ship. The taxpayers of the United States have certainly received far more value from her cost and upkeep than is the norm.
(Data submitted by Frank N. Pierce to the Fredericksburg, TX Standard Radio Post)
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