History of the CVE 106

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Original text by Jack Greer

Updated Fall 2009

Summary

CVE 106 USS Block Island  was a Commencement Bay class escort carrier of the United States Navy. She was the second ship to carry her name, done in honor of the first one, CVE 21 which served in the Atlantic and was sunk by a German submarine on 29 May 29 1944. On 10 June 1944 a new carrier was launched as Sunset Bay by Todd-Pacific Shipyards of Tacoma, WA, it was sponsored by Mrs. E. J. Hallenbeck (mother of Major Pappy Boyington).
This carrier was renamed and commissioned as CVE 106 USS Block Island on 30 Dec 1944 with Captain Francis M. Hughes in command. Most of the original CVE 21 crew was assigned to CVE 106 which was unique in US Navy history.

The USS Block Island arrived off the shore of Okinawa on 3 May 1945 to support invasion operations. on 16 June 1945 she steamed to Leyte where she participated in operations. She also took part in the Balikpapan operations. Following the cessation of fighting with Japan she was directed to Taiwan to provide evacuation of Allied prisoners. She was placed in service in reserve on 28 May 1946.

On 29 May 1946, Block Island was moved to Annapolis to serve as a Naval Academy training ship for midshipmen.The vessel was recommissioned on 28 April 1951. She remained active during the Korean War and was placed in reserve 27 August 1954. CVE 106 was eventually sold for scrap and stricken from Navy records.

Construction

Following the sinking of CVE 21 Captain Hughes had asked the U.S. Navy to keep the crew together and assign them a new ship, his persistence paid off when the Navy ordered that the carrier Sunset Bay, which was under construction in the same shipyard as CVE 21, be renamed USS Block Island on 5 Jul 1944.

After completing about 30 days survivors’ leave, the crewmen traveled cross-country by rail to the Tacoma, WA area. A selected number of of personnel were housed at the Navy Receiving Barracks
in Tacoma just off the docks of the shipyard where CVE 106 was being built.  With over 800 crew members the logistics were a problem. Where were they to be housed and and what were they going to be doing while the ship is being completed? All of these crew members had served on an active
carrier and were well trained on carrier maintenance and ships repairs and also knew the ins and outs of a ship’s structure. The Navy decided to have some of the crew members work right along with the ship yard workers while the ship was being built. Instead of getting up in the morning with nothing to do many of the men reported directly to the ship just after breakfast. The picture at left is of the "Keel" which was the employee and information newspaper of the shipyard where both ships were built. The December issue carried the story of the sinking of CVE-21 and the flag shown was placed at half mast in recognition of those who lost their lives when CVE-21 was sunk.The photo above right shows a brand new CVE 106 riding high in the water.

Jack Greer, the USS Block Island Association’s first webmaster was one of those 800 crew members in Tacoma and remembers his days at the shipyard:





CVE 106 was commissioned as Block Island on 30 December 1944 with Captain Francis Massie Hughes in command. Of the 63 officers and 857 men who made up the initial crew of the Block Island, 52 officers and 660 men were veterans of service on CVE 21. This new carrier was larger than her predecessor by about 9,000 tons. Her flight deck was 60 feet longer but 5 feet narrower than CVE 21. She could carry 34 planes and a crew of 1,066.



The Tacoma Times, Thursday, December 28, 1944

To Commission Block Island

Probably the most dramatic moment in the history of shipbuilding in the Northwest will be when Old Glory is run up on the flag-staff of the USS Block Island here Saturday afternoon, at 3 o'clock.

For it will be the second time that a fighting vessel of the same name has been commissioned during the present war-at the same shipyard-built by most of the same men and women who saw their labor go into completion of the original escort carrier bearing the now-famous name. Workers at the local yard of Todd Pacific Shipbuilders, Inc., have a special place in their hearts for the words,. Block Island.

But more unique in the annals of naval tradition: The crew of the first Block Island, which was sunk in the Atlantic last may, will formally take over its name-sake at the simple but impressive commissioning ceremony. It is the first time in this war, probably in the U.S. Navy history, that a crew will have been, transferred intact from one vessel to another under such circumstances. A large percentage of the crew is made up of men from Tacoma and the Northwest.

Approximately 1,000 high ranking naval officers, city officials, guests and the ship's crew, will assemble on the ship's hangar deck to witness the simple ceremonies, shorn of trimmings to fit the tempo of war, and presided over by Capt. J. L. McGuigan, USN, superintendent of shipbuilding in the Tacoma area.

He will call upon Capt. F. M. Hughes, USN, who was in command of the old Block Island, to accept  command of the new ship. Capt. McGuigan will also  introduce O. A. Tucker, Todd vice president and general manager, who will speak briefly.

A feature of the ceremonies, to follow piping aloft of the colors and posting of the ship’s first watch, will be a presentation by Todd workers, to the crew, of a bronze plaque bearing a replica of the old Block Island, and a fund for the ship’s welfare section.

The workers will be represented by Mrs. Jewell Greening, a fellow employee, who will make the presentation in honor of her son, Lt. Col. Charles Ross Greening, now a prisoner of war in Germany. Lt. Col. Greening, a Tacoman, was One of Doolittle’s raiders who participated in the first bombing of Tokyo when they took off from the USS Hornet on April 18, 1942.

Another feature of the ceremony will be awarding of medals and citations to 23 members of the Block Island crew by Rear Adm. J. J. Ballentyne, Commander Fleet Air, Seattle. Crew members hold the presidential unit citation for their previous record with the old Block Island.

The escort carrier Block Island, which will be commissioned Saturday, is larger and more powerful in all respects than its predecessor.

The commissioning Saturday will be the second addition of a ship of this new type to Uncle Sam’s navy in just a bit over a month. Its sister ship, the USS Commencement Bay, also built in Tacoma’s Todd yards, was commissioned Nov. 27.

The Block Island and the Commencement Bay are the two largest ships of their class ever built in the northwest, and the two largest allweld ships in the world.

 

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