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History's Headlines: The USS Allentown

The late John F. "Jack" McHugh regarded his Allentown High School teacher from the 1940s, Miss Joyce E. Beary, with respect.

“Miss Beary was an excellent teacher and a truly unique person,” said McHugh, who grew up to be principal of the same high school now called William Allen, “and you did not get away with anything in her classroom."

Beary shared an Allentown home with her widowed father, General Frank Beary, who  throughout his life had held a number of important posts in local government in war and peace. She had been taught love of country and devotion to her native city.  So it was natural at the height of World War II when the Navy launched a new frigate - the USS Allentown - the only U.S. warship ever named for the city, that Beary was the one to christen her.

The Allentown was first “laid down” on March 23, 1943, at the Froemming Brothers Inc. shipyards in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on Lake Michigan. It was one of 13 temporary shipyards on the Great Lakes scattered from Chicago to Duluth, Minnesota.

According to the July 11, 1943, edition of the Chicago Tribune, ”Under the Great Lakes ship building program, which started in August 1941, a total of 249 craft of various types will be completed and delivered by the end of this year.” Six of those shipyards, the Froemming among them, “are building combat craft called frigates, the equivalent of the British corvettes, used for submarine patrol work.”

The Allentown was what was called a Tacoma class frigate, after the U.S.S. Tacoma, which was the first of this type. Throughout its career as part of the U.S. military, it was a Coast Guard vessel. The Allentown was launched on July 3, 1943. Unfortunately for the Allentown, its launching took place on the same day as that of the USS Spangenberg from the Philadelphia Shipyard.

The destroyer escort was named after Kenneth Jerome Spangenberg, a 20-year-old sailor who stayed at his battle station on the USS San Francisco long after he had been mortally wounded. Because it was closer to home and easier to cover, the newspaper gave it the most ink and space.

Here is what the Morning Call had to say in total about the USS Allentown’s launch in its July 4, 1943, edition:

“With a might splash, an easy roll, and a quick righting, the USS Allentown, the largest fighting ship ever built in Wisconsin, was launched at 10:00 a.m. Saturday at the Froemming shipyard. The 300 foot craft slid sideways from the ways into the water in six seconds. Miss Joyce E. Beary who christened the ship was called to the microphone just before the launching and introduced to the huge crowd saying, 'All I can say is Thank you for Allentown.' The wine spray put a few spots on her coat. The whole ceremony was over in less than three minutes, proceeding without a hitch. W.E. Spofford, (Maritime regional construction director) introduced Miss Beary as a sponsor.  The Froemming shipyard presented her with a beautiful brooch as a memento of the launching.”

The evening before in a concert at West Park, Marine Band conductor Albert P. Marchetto, “in order not to do an injustice to our City of Allentown,” played Stars and Stripes Forever in honor of the U.S.S. Allentown.

From Milwaukee, the Allentown found its way down to New Orleans and was commissioned on March 24, 1944, with Commander Garland W. Collins of the United States Coast Guard in command. Her shakedown cruise took the Allentown to Bermuda.

After a month, she sailed on to New York, escorting the Norwegian merchant ship SS Nordan. After post-shakedown repairs in June 1944, she was part of a screen of ships being used as a convoy. By August 1944, the Allentown sailed out with a unit of Escort Division 33, acting as the screen of a convoy bound for the Pacific. After going through the Panama Canal, she sailed to Bora-Bora and the Society Islands. By the end of September 1944, the Allentown arrived in the area of New Guinea.

The primary duty of the Allentown in the Pacific was as an escort ship. Starting in mid-November 1944 she began escorting convoys between New Guiana and Leyte in the Philippines, supporting the U.S. invasion of the former American possession. This task she performed until early March 1945 when she escorted a convoy back to Puget Sound Navy Yard in Bremerton, Washington.

On April 7, 1945 the Allentown became a part of a top secret plan known as Operation Hula. The next major step in the war was an invasion of the home islands of Japan. Aware of the fierce fighting that they had suffered on Okinawa, the U.S. military feared that any invasion would be long and protracted, possibly taking up to a million America lives.

Assuming they would need all the help they could get, America wanted Russia to join in the invasion. When the war in Europe ended in early May of 1945, a decision was reached to transfer American ships to the Soviet Union.

On June 7, 1945, the Allentown joined her sister ships bound for Cold Bay, Alaska. There the ships were turned over to the Soviet Navy under the Lend Lease program. On July 12, 1945, the Allentown was de-commissioned and became Soviet vessel EK-9.

Fortunately with the dropping of the atomic bomb and the surrender of Japan there was no need for an invasion of Japan. With the war over the U.S. wanted its ships back. But as the Cold War turned former allies to adversaries, this took time. Finally in October 1949, the Soviets, having no use for the ships, returned them.

The Allentown’s name was restored and was once more an American ship. But it had one more twist which would have amazed Americans in 1943.

In 1953, she was loaned to Japan to be part of her Self-Defense Forces. By the 1960s, it was a permanent part of the Japanese Navy, a role it played until 1970 when it returned to the U.S.

Some sources claim the Allentown was scrapped shortly thereafter, but others say its final disposition is unknown. There is a monument to the USS Allentown in West Park.


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