The "Special Project Fleet"
1961-69, 1985-89

By Al Grobmeier

The special project fleet consisted of 12 ships all of which were built during World War II. The eight Liberty, Victory and coastal cargo/transport ships were built for the U.S. Maritime Commission, and were operated by U.S. steamship companies for the War Shipping Administration (WSA) during and/or after the war except for one which was operated by the U.S. Army. The four others were built for the Army (3) and Navy (l). All were converted after the war by the Navy which operated them as special project ships for the National Security Agency/Naval Security Group, nine as USS "in commission" with Navy crews and three as USNS "in service" with civil service crews.

National Security Agency (NSA) Declassification Guidance 001-98 includes the following items:

(ex-AKL 25, ex-US Army CAPT. WM. M. GALT FS 345)

Navy call sign NSSZ. Built as a U.S. Army freight-supply ship by Kewaunee Shipbuilding and Engineering Corp., Kewaunee, Wisconsin, 1944. Transferred to the Navy 1 July 1950, commissioned 24 November 1952 as AKL 25. Converted in 1966 and reclassified as AGER 1 on 1 June 1967. Operated in Far East waters. Stricken 14 November 1969 and transferred to the Maritime Administration for disposal.

(ex-AKL 44, ex-FS 344, ex-FP 344)

Navy call sign NGVE. Built for the U.S. Army by Kewaunee Shipbuilding and Engineering Corp., Kewaunee, Wisconsin, 1944. Transferred to the Navy 12 April 1966 as AKL 44, converted at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard to AGER 2 and recommissioned 13 May 1967. On its first mission on 23 January 1968, while in international waters off Wonsan, Korea, PUEBLO was boarded and captured by North Korean naval forces. It remained at Wonsan for many years, was then moved to Pyongyang on the West coast but was returned to Wonsan in 2002. USS PUEBLO remains in an "active, in commission" status in the U.S. Navy.

(ex-AKL 45, ex-U.S. Army COL. ARMOND PETERSON FS 217)

Navy call sign NDGH. Built for the U.S. Army by Higgins Industries, New Orleans, Louisiana, 1944. Acquired by the Navy 18 April 1966 and converted by Puget Sound Naval Shipyard to AGER 3. Recommissioned 13 May 1967. Deployed to Holy Loch, Scotland 20 May 1968 and the Mediterranean in April 1969. Stricken 1 December 1969. In 1975 became the fishing vessel PALM BEACH but dropped from documentation in 1992.

(ex-AG 159, ex- SAMUEL R. AITKEN)

Navy call sign NSSS. Liberty ship type ZEC2-S-C5. Built by New England Shipbuilding Corp., South Portland, Maine, 1945. Operated for WSA by Moore-McCormack Lines and later by Arnold Bernstein Line. Laid up 10 April 1948. September 1960 acquired by USN and converted by New York Naval Shipyard to OXFORD (AG 159). Commissioned 8 July 1961. Reclassified AGTR 1 April 1964. Served in Atlantic and Pacific areas. Stricken from USN at Yokosuka, Japan December 1969, and in May 1970 towed to Kaohsiung, Taiwan for scrapping by Chin Ho Steel & Iron Co., Ltd, Taipei, Taiwan.

(ex-AG 165, ex-ROBERT W. HART)

Navy call sign NJCN. Liberty ship type ZEC2-S-C5. Built by New England Shipbuilding Corp., South Portland, Maine, 1945. No WW II service but operated post-war by Agwilines, Inc., and Waterman Steamship Co. Was laid up 29 October 1947. August 1962 acquired by USN and converted by Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co. to GEORGETOWN (AG 165). Commissioned 9 November 1963. Reclassified AGTR 1 April 1964. Served in the Atlantic with a short cruise in the Pacific. December 1969 stricken and in July 1970 sold to Intershitra, The Netherlands for scrapping but in Feb. 1971 resold to Spanish shipbreakers.

(ex-AG 166, ex-J. HOWLAND GARDNER)

Navy call sign NLST. Liberty ship type ZEC2-S-C5. Built by New England Shipbuilding Corp., South Portland, Maine 1945. Went into the reserve fleet on 17 June 1946. Operated by Waterman Steamship Corp. 1945-46 and then by U.S. Navigation Co. in 1947-48. Laid up 15 November 1948. 10 August 1962 acquired by USN and converted by Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co. to JAMESTOWN (AG 166). Commissioned 13 December 1963. Reclassified AGTR 1 April 1964. Served in the Atlantic and in October 1965 transferred to the Far East, operating in the South China Sea during the Vietnam war. Stricken from the Navy list in 1969 and in May 1970 sold for scrapping and sold for scrapping to Mitsubishi International Co. for scrapping in Japan.

(ex-AG 167, ex-IRAN VICTORY)

Navy call sign NQBA. Victory ship type VC2-S-AP3. Built by Oregon Shipbuilding Corp., Portland, Oregon, 1944. Operated by Pacific Atlantic Steamship Co. for the WSA during WW II and in 1949, and by Pacific Far East Line 1950-1952. Laid up l8 January 1954 until 1957 when operated by States Marine Corporation until again laid up. In February 1963 commenced conversion by Willamette Iron & Steel Co., Portland, Oregon to AG-167, later reclassified as AGTR-167 and then AGTR 4. Commissioned 2 November 1964 and served in Atlantic and Pacific waters. Decommissioned and stricken 16 January 1970, and in June 1970 sold to Boston Metals Co. for scrapping in the U.S.


Navy call sign NIRY. Victory ship type VC-2-S-AP3. Built by Oregon Shipbuilding Corp., Portland, Oregon, 1945. In 1945 operated by Coastwise Line, in 1946 by Waterman Steamship Co., in 1948 by A.L. Burbank & Co. and by A. H. Bull & Co., Inc. in 1950-51. States Marine Corp. operated the ship in 1957-58. Laid up November 1958. In 1963 acquired by the Navy, converted to a special project ship by Willamette Iron & Steel Corp., Portland, Oregon, and renamed LIBERTY (AG 168) on 8 June 1963. Commissioned 30 December 1964. Later reclassified as AGTR 168 and again as AGTR 5. In 1965 and 1966 operated off the west coast of Africa from the Canary Islands to the Cape of Good Hope. Sailing from Rota, Spain on 2 June 1967, LIBERTY was severely damaged by Israeli aircraft and torpedo boats in the eastern Mediterranean 15 miles off the Sinai coast on 8 June 1967. Decommissioned 28 June 1968 and stricken in January 1970. In November 1970 the ship was sold to Boston Metals Co. for scrapping in the U.S.

(ex-LST 963)

Navy call sign NDMQ. Originally built as a landing ship tank (LST), converted into a landing craft repair ship (ARL) of 328 feet in length with two diesel engines for a total of l,800 horsepower, 1l.6 knots. Built by Bethlehem-Hingham Shipyard, Inc., Hingham, Massachusetts in 1944. Converted for special project operations at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and recommissioned 26 July 1985. Employed off west coast of Central America/Nicaragua, and in the Caribbean off Panama and Cuba. SPHINX retained its ARL designation and was never reclassified. Decommissioned 16 June 1989 at Norfolk, Virginia and laid up in the James River, Virginia reserve fleet where it remains (August 2004). It is being held for possible donation as a military museum to the Dunkirk, New York, Lighthouse and Veterans Park Museum.


Navy call sign NCSC. Medium cargo/transport ship type Cl-M-AV1. Built by Walter Butler Shipbuilders, Duluth, Minnesota, 1944, and completed by the American Shipbuilding Co., Chicago, on 15 December 1944 Launched as JOE J. MARTINEZ, completed as ROUND SPLICE and operated by the US Army as a spare parts ship through 1949. 1947 renamed U.S. Army PVT. JOSE F. VALDEZ. Transferred to USN in 1950 as T-APC 119, reclassified as special project ship T-AG 169 in August 1961. Employed in the South Atlantic and Indian oceans, primarily in African waters. Laid up 1970 and sold 15 August 1976. Scrapped by Consolidated -Andy Inc., Brownsville, Texas in 1977.


Navy call sign NXID. Victory ship type VC2-S-AP3. Built by Oregon Shipbuilding Corp., Portland , Oregon, 1944. Operated by the American-Hawaiian Steamship Co. for the WSA in WW II, and by the Black Diamond Steamship Corp. in 1946-1947. In 1947 acquired by US Army and renamed LT JAMES E. ROBINSON, transferred to USN as AKV 3 in May 1950 and in May 1959 reclassified as AK 274. In December 1962 modified for special project operations and reclassified as T-AG 170. Monitored French atomic bomb tests in the South Pacific, and ranged the African coast from Liberia to Kenya through April 1964. Reverted to T-AK 174 on 1 July 1964. Out of service 16 January 1981. Scrapped by Andy Exports, Inc., Brownsville, Texas in 1983.

(ex-T-APC 118, ex-CHECK KNOT)

Navy call sign NTSQ. Medium cargo/transport type Cl-M-AV1. Built by Southeastern Shipbuilding Corp., Savannah, Georgia, 1945. Operated by Waterman Steamship Co. in 1945-46. Acquired and operated by U.S. Army 1948. In 1950 acquired by USN and designated T-APC 118. Reclassified as special project ship T-AG 171 in 1962 and was converted by Maryland Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co., Baltimore. April 1963 commenced operations out of Port Everglades, Florida to the Caribbean. September 1969 removed from service and in December 1969 laid up. September 1972 sold to Union Minerals & Alloys Corp. of New York for scrapping in the U.S.

Ships' characteristics:

The three Liberty ships were a redesign of the basic Liberty ship as boxed aircraft transports with larger hatches and king-posts instead of masts. Only 36 of the total of 2,751 Liberty ships were of this type. They were 441.5 feet in length and had a reciprocating steam engine of 2,500 horsepower with a speed of 11 knots.

The three Victory ships were built as cargo ships with a length of 455 feet and with a steam turbine of 8,500 horsepower and speed of 16.5 knots. A total of 414 Victory cargo ships were built with 141 of the VC2-S-AP3 type.

The two medium-size coastal cargo/transport ships of the Cl-M-AV1 type were of 338.5 feet with a diesel engine of 1,700 horsepower and speed of 11.5 knots. A total of 208 ships of this type were built.

The three ex-AKL/FS small cargo ships, originally built for the U.S. Army Transportation Corps as freight-supply ships during World War II, were 177/180 feet in length with two diesel engines with a total of 1,000 horsepower and speed of 10 knots. Thirty four of the 177/180 -foot type FS vessels served in the Navy as AKLs after World War II.

U.S. Navy and Army ship classifications:

The classifications of some of these ships have the prefix "T" which indicates a U.S. Naval Ship.


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Updated on July 6, 2007 at 19:05 by Albert LaFrance