It is an interesting irony of World War I that U.S. troops who showed up in mass numbers to defeat the Germans were transported in German ships. (See “A Sailor’s Letters Home, p. 44). The Vaterland was one such repurposed vessel—a Hamburg-built 950-foot Imperator-class ocean liner designed for the transatlantic passenger trade. Unluckily for Germany and luckily for Uncle Sam, the Vaterland was laid up at Hoboken, New Jersey, when the United States entered the war on 6 April 1917. The U.S. shipping board seized her, and turned her over to the U.S. Navy, and the one-time luxury liner metamorphosed into the mega-troop transport USS Leviathan (ID-1326). (This picture captures her with her war face on, sporting the British “dazzle”-type camouflage.) The Leviathan could move 12,000 troops—the equivalent of a German division—in one crossing, and the Army-Navy team got the drill down to where they could board 11,000 troops in just two hours. By war’s end the “Levi Nathan,” as they called her, had carried 119,000 troops to Europe. When victory was won, she brought them back stateside in droves as well.
Pieces of the Past