In june 1941 the America was ordered to her builders yard at Newport News to be converted into the troop transport U.S.S. West Point for the U.S. Navy. This task was completed in just 11 days and completely transformed the luxury passenger liner into a well organized troop transport. The following pages with images kindly provided by Bill Lee are meant to give an impression of the different locations aboard and every day life during the ship's wartime service.
Movie Theater, former First Class Lounge, Promenade Deck
Crew Mess, former Third Class Dining Room, B Deck
Troop Messes, former First and Second Class Dining Rooms, A Deck
Galley, A Deck
The former first class lounge was used as a movie theater mainly for officers and the ship's navy crew (movies for the troops aboard were mainly shown in the troop messes on A Deck). Next to this funtion it also served as an assembly room for many different occasions like worship services. The movie projection room of the theater was located behind the room's central wall mural above it's main entrance, easily recognizable by the holes for the projector in the wall.
The ship's Executive Officer's office was located on the mezzanines of the room.
The crew's mess was located in the former third class dining room. Note the sign with the very reasonable request "Take all you want, but eat all you take".
During the ship's wartime service the Galleys had to produce a multiple of their peacetime capacity. On a full load food for more than 7000 persons needed to be provided. A listing of provisions can be seen above.
Mess kit cleaning area, former First Class Dining Room Foyer, A Deck
The former First Class Dining Room Foyer was used during the war as a place for GI's to scrape their mess kits into large garbage cans, and then rinse it in additional cans filled with hot soapy water. Once finsihed, the mess kits were hang up for air drying.
Crew members and passengers could go to the Canteen (former 3rd Class Smoking Room) to buy things when they were not on duty.
Canteen, former 3rd Class Smoking Room, A Deck
For space, safety and cleanness reasons, the Troop Messes and the Crew's Mess didn't have any seating places but bar tables.
For a better orientation aboard and a general overview of some of the most important locations and modifications to the ship, the following inboard profile of the West Point was created. Most of the locations seen on the following short tour can be spotted on this plan (to see the forward part of the ship, use the scroll bar below):
A look into the West Point's Passenger Regulations Manual
At the beginning of the tour a short look into the Passenger Regulations Manual handed out to troops aboard West Point provides a good guidance for the organisation of life aboard and some vital statistics. Especially the schedule of sea routine to the right reflects some of the locations and activities mentioned on the follwing pages.
The West Point's main purpose and motto is highlighted in this introduction: The safe transportation of troops and equipment to their destination.
Above: Daily routine for troops aboard West Point. Some of the locations and activities mentioned will be reflected on the follwing pages.
Left: The ship's calculated capacity. Total capacity according to this listing (crew + troops): 8488 persons.
Cinema operator Charley Rago in the movie theater projection room located behind the movie theather's wall mural.
Movie schedule for Friday, October 19th 1945.
The Military Passenger Transportation Office occupied the former First Class Purser's area. During the latter part of the war it was run by army personnel which at that time was part of the otherwise all-navy crew of the West Point.
Part of the Transportation Office was the Special Service Supply Room which provided things like board games, playing cards, guitars, books and even a few gramophones for the troops free time entertainment.
Military Passenger Transportation Office
The Ship's Store was open at various hours for the general benefit of passengers and crew. It's profits went to the ship's recreation fund. Crew members could go there to buy things when they were not on duty.
Due to the huge number of soldiers often onboard, orders had to be assembled in each berthing compartment, and a representative of the men assigned to that compartment was allowed to go to the ship's store and make bulk purchases.
Thanks to her former role as a luxury liner,the West Point was also provided with a lot of excellently equipped service rooms like a barber shop or a dentist chair (part of the ship's well equipped hospital) you can see here as two examples.
Haircutter and dentist
Of course the ship's two boiler rooms didn't saw any major changes of use during the West Point years, but the West Point's machinery, machinery crew and engineers were confronted with a much more challenging workload than in peace time. Added to the ship's full speed crossings because of the danger of u-boat attacks was a tense maintenance schedule of the boilers. As the West Point could run at full speed with only 5 of her 6 boilers in use, it was possible to do maintenance work on the boilers in a rotation principle without the need of a save harbour.
Some of the West Poin't s boiler room crew can be seen above, photographed in the aft boiler room.
The West Point also had it's own band. Band concerts took place in the ship's movie hall or occasionally on aft open decks.