#3 The Armed Guard

Charlie’s order to report to the SS Alexander H. Stephens, July 1942.

Finally, we were assigned to a new Liberty Ship being completed at Mobile Alabama Shipyard. Her name was “Alexander H. Stephens” named after the vice president of the Confederacy. They became known as “Ugly Ducklings”. Top speed was about 11 knots.

 SS Alexander H. Stephens being launched in 1942. Image: www.maritime.dot.gov.

2,710 Liberty ships were built during WWII. They had a length of 441 ft., beam of 56 ft., draft of 27 ft, and displaced about 14,000 tons. The SS Alexander H. Stephens was laid down on January 31, 1942 at the Alabama Drydock & Shipbuilding Company, Mobile, Alabama as United States Maritime Commission Hull No. 5 and launched on May 22 the same year. She was commissioned for the Army Transportation Service. I do not know what happened to her after Charlie left the ship in 1943, but there is record of her being scrapped in 1973.

Ferry ticket from New Orleans, LA.
Check-off List for Armed Guard Commanders
Pistol safety precautions instructions (this and the next two images).
Short history of the Armed Guard published by the Armed Guard WWII Veterans Association.
Drill instructions for the 3″/50 caliber gun (this and the next four images)
Charlie’s Crew Station Card from the SS Alexander H. Stephens.


Target practice using a 4”/50 caliber gun on the USS Little (D-79) in 1918. Image: navweaps.com.

The main defensive armament on the SS Alexander H. Stephens was a 4”/50 caliber gun. By the time America entered the war these guns had been mostly phased out on combat vessels in favor of dual-purpose 5” guns, though they could still be found on old flush-deck destroyers and submarines.

The American Legion must have had a lot of these song sheets left over from World War One.

American Legion song sheet.
Special Orders While at Dock from the SS Alexander H. Stephens.

Started keeping these notes after I arrived at Mobile, Ala. Sept. 22nd entry mentions a torpedo. We were never quite sure. Something went behind our stern. It could have been a whale or large shark.

Tourist pamphlet from Cape Town, South Africa.

My notes do not mention where we loaded our cargo and I cannot recall. However, we headed for Capetown [sic], South Africa and stayed in the middle of the south Atlantic to avoid German subs that were operating along the South American coast. After the war I learned that there were German raiders also in this area. They were ships that appeared to be a freighter but were heavily armed. We enjoyed our few days in Capetown (I just noticed I have written this as one word actually it is Cape Town). The pictures are of Zulu tribesmen who lived in the bush. The only ones that dressed in their native style were the rickshaw runners. The pictures of one of my crew in the blue uniform is Paul Nelson of Chicago. Notice he also has the white shoulder stripe. It might have indicated that we were gun crews.

Charlie’s shipmate Paul Nelson.

When I look at this picture I realize how silly I looked with my hat at this so-called jaunty angle. Paul is the only one wearing it according to regulations. You can tell there were no officers around.

Charlie with a Zulu-costumed rickshaw driver in Cape Town, South Africa, 1942.
Liberty identification pass from the SS Alexander H. Stephens, 1942.
Liberty identification pass from the Alexander H. Stephens, 1942.
Tourist pamphlet from Durban, South Africa, 1943.

Later in the war when I crossed the equator again I did not have this note with me. I could not prove I was a Shell Back and had to be initiated again.

Note certifying Charlie as a Shellback signed by his superior officer from the SS Alexander H. Stephens.

Shellbacks were those who had crossed the Equator and gone through the line-crossing ceremony (basically an institutionalized hazing ritual). Those who had yet to cross the Equator were called Pollywogs.

Catholic Prayer Book for the Army and Navy, c. 1942

Six of us on liberty in Cape Town, 1942. I cannot match the faces with the names I had on my original orders.

Charlie and his shipmates on liberty in Cape Town, South Africa. Charlie is in the top row center.

Both Cape Town and Durban are modern cities. These pictures of the Africans in their tribal dress I purchased at a store.

2 thoughts on “#3 The Armed Guard

  1. Cheryl Rogan
    Cheryl Rogan says:

    So well done Matt, your Grandfather would be so proud of you!

  2. Dave Oaks

    Your Grandfather has an interesting story to tell and I think it is fantastic he saved so many things from his experiences and compiled it all in a binder for you along with explanations and recollections. This is very fascinating to read through, thank you for sharing and transcribing it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *