The towns namesake vessel is launched on Feb. 10, 1944, from the Keiser shipyards in Portland

Several months ago, as I began finalizing the list of stories I wanted to write for this column for the year, I quickly realized 2014 has a bunch of anniversaries worth celebrating, including the birth of George Fox football way back in 1894, the building of a new high school campus in 1964, and the founding of A-dec Inc. in Colorado the same year, just to name a few.

We’ll get to those in due time. For this column, let’s go back and take a look at a very special event that took place during World War II. Backbone of fleet - The SS Newberg and other ships of its type operated as the work horses of the tanker fleet during the war, supplying fuel and other vital liquids to ships serving America and its allies around the world.

On Feb. 10, 1944, the Kaiser shipyards at Swan Island in north Portland launched a ship I think you should know about. Say happy anniversary to the SS Newberg, a type T-2 oil tanker of which Kaiser built more than 480 from 1943 to 1945.

These ships operated as the work horses of the tanker fleet during the war, supplying fuel and other vital liquids to ships serving America and its allies around the world.

Watching the “delivery” that day was a large delegation from Newberg, including Mayor R. N. Hutchins, current and past presidents of the Chamber of Commerce, the Newberg Union High School band and a color guard from the local Boy Scout troop.

Once the proceedings were underway, with the giant ship looming overhead, the Rev. John Paxton of the Moreland Presbyterian Church in Milwaukie delivered the blessing. Finishing, he turned things over to A. R. Nieman, shipyard general manager, who then deferred to Mayor Hutchins to deliver the main address.

Doing the honors of breaking the bottle across the bow of the ship was SS Newberg sponsor, Mrs. Donald H. Sim, wife of the Swan Island assistant master shipwright. She was accompanied by two matrons of honor and her granddaughter, 3-and-a-half-year-old flower girl Bonnie Allyn Sim.

Caroline Stone sang the lyrics as the high school band played, “When the Lights Go On Again All Over the World.”

One of the highlights of the morning was the presentation of a plaque on which was written a brief history of the city of Newberg. This would be the plaque’s final stop before making its way to hang inside the captain’s cabin aboard ship.

Finally, the ship’s crew was toasted by the assembled crowd before MC Nieman nodded to Mrs. Sim to put her champagne bottle to good use.

It is uncertain what happened to SS Newberg once she entered service. What is known is that she survived the war and lived on into the 1980s under various other names, including SS Esso Asheville (1947), SS Point Arena (1960), and SS Rice Queen (1964). In 1974, she became a bulk food carrier out of San Francisco. In 1980, the vessel was converted to a barge and renamed Delta Conveyor.

The SS Newberg was but one of a number of T-2 tankers given Oregon place names. Thus the records show launchings of SS The Dalles, SS Crater Lake, SS Pendleton, SS Celilo, SS Tillamook, SS Corvallis, SS Champoeg and many others.

T-2 tankers were 523 feet long, with a 68-foot beam and a 30-foot draft. Weighing 10,448 tons empty, they were 21,880 tons when fully loaded. The carrying capacity of a T-2 was 141,200 barrels of fuel, which translates to six million gallons.

The 6,000 shaft horsepower turbo-electric propulsion plant could push the ship forward to a maximum speed of 16 knots. Crews numbered approximately 50.

During World War II, American tankers made 6,500 voyages to carry 65 million tons of oil and gasoline from the United States and the Caribbean to the war zones. They supplied 80 percent of the fuel used by bombers, tanks, jeeps and ships during the war. It was a job well-done.

If you served aboard SS Newberg, know someone who did, or just happened to remember something about the ship’s history, I would enjoy hearing from you.

Newberg resident George Edmonston Jr. is the retired editor of OSU’s alumni magazine, the Oregon Stater, and is a frequent contributor of history features to this newspaper. Contact him at edmonstg

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