Hull Designations

25 Feb
When the USS Tryon was commissioned by the Navy on September 30, 1942, she received the hull designation APH-1.  All U.S. Navy ships receive a unique designation that is painted on the hull for easy recognition and identification.  The system has been used by the Navy since July 17, 1920.   The combination of symbol and hull number identify a modern Navy ship uniquely.

The first letter in the designator indicates that the Tryon was considered an “auxiliary” ship. In the navy an auxiliary ship is one which is designed to operate in any number of roles supporting combat ships and other naval operations. Auxiliaries are not primary combatants, although they may have some limited combat capacity, usually of a self defensive nature.  Such was the case with the Tryon and her sister ships.  Examples of auxiliary ships would be cargo ships, transports, oilers, tenders, tugs and salvage ships, to name a few.  Auxiliary ships fill many specialized needs.

The “P” in the designation classified the Tryon as a transport.  She was initially configured to transport up to 1200 troops and 70 officers; after her overhaul in 1945 she could carry 919 troops and 90 officers.  By comparison, the designation for single-purpose troop transports was “AP”.  Transports that were designed to support amphibious landings had a designation of “APA” – attack troop transports.
In an amazing coincidence, as I was writing this I took a broke away to see a patient. In the course of conversation he told me he was in the Navy during World War II.  When I asked him what ship he was on he paused a moment, and said it was a transport.  When I continued to probe, he said it was an “APA”, struggling to come up with the name.  Finally he remembered – “The Randall,” he said.  I don’t talk to many WW II vets any more – they are few and far between.  To visit with one that was on this very type of ship, at the very moment in time I was writing about it, is nothing short of incredible.

The attack transport USS Randall (APA 224)

The “H” in “APH” indicated that the Tryon was a hospital ship, used for evacuation of the wounded from forward areas.  She had multiple hospital bays, and a medical staff of about eight doctors.  The “emergency capacity load” of patients was considered to be 525; however, after the battle of Peleliu the Tryon received 913 patients from the bloody battle before receiving orders to depart for Manus and the medical facilities there.  But the Tryon and her sister ships weren’t like

The USS Samaritan (AH-10) in 1945

dedicated hospital ships.  Hospital ships bore the designation “AH”, and based on rules in the Geneva Convention were painted white, with a large red Geneva cross insignia clearly visible, and were brightly lit at night. They were manned by civilian crews but carried a military medical staff, and were unarmed.  Were these highly visible indicators of peaceful intent enough to protect hospital ships on the open seas? Not hardly. The Tryon, on the other hand, had a crew of Navy sailors, Navy medical personnel and was DEFINITELY armed!

Interestingly, after Pearl Harbor was attacked, the Navy took over construction of the ship. Initially, it was renamed the USS Comfort, with the obvious indication that it would carry the hospital ship designation.  Naval officers that were beginning to gather to oversee the completion of the construction process were somewhat surprised when the name was changed to Tryon, and the designation to APH.
So, APH-1 indicated the Tryon was an evacuation transport. The numeral 1 indicated that the Tryon was the first ship completed in this class.  By convention, the Navy named ship classes after the first ship completed in that class, thus the group of ships called evacuation transports were known as the Tryon class. There were only three ships in the Tryon class – the  USS Tryon (APH-1), the USS Pinkney (APH-2) and the USS Rixey (APH-3).

In late 1945, after the war was over, some hospital ships were temporarily given the APH designation so that they could transport troops.  Their designation would immediately go back to AH once the duty was completed.  Ships that bore this temporary designation were the USS Rescue (AH-18 as APH-118), the USS Haven (AH-12 as APH-112), the USS Benevolence (AH-13 as APH-113) , the USS Tranquility (AH-14 as APH-114), the USS Consolation (AH-15 as APH-115), and the USS Sanctuary (AH-17 as APH-117).  They operated under the temporary designator from November, 1945 to January, 1946, as part of Operation Magic Carpet.

The Tryon class ships with thier hull designators clearly visible.

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