Pacific Wrecks
Pacific Wrecks    
  Missing In Action (MIA) Prisoners Of War (POW) Unexploded Ordnance (UXO)  
Chronology Locations Aircraft Ships Submit Info How You Can Help Donate
  USS John Penn APA-23 (AP-51)
John Penn Class
Attack Transport

9,360 Tons
475' / 62'
1 x 5' Gun
4 x 3' Guns
8 x 20mm Cannon

Click For Enlargement
USN Sept. 13, 1942

Ship History
Built by New York Shipbuilding Co. in Camden, New Jersey. Launched in 1931. Originally "AP-51 Escambion" for American Export Lines.

Wartime History
On January 8, 1942 acquired by the U. S. Navy (USN) and commissioned on April 6, 1942 with Captain Harry W. Need in command.

After out fitting out and training, John Penn began preparations for the American landings in the North African "Operation Torch". During October 4-16, 1942 John Penn loaded Army equipment, cargo, and troops, then topped off with fuel. She sortied from Hampton Roads 23 October with Admiral Hewitt's Western Naval Task Force. As a unit of Rear Admiral Monroe Kelly's Northern Attack Group she arrived in the transport area off Mehdia, Western Morocco, on November 8, 1942 and began landing troops and putting cargo ashore. Although hampered by heavy surf and fire from enemy shore batteries, she unloaded with efficiency and dispatch. At 10:53 an enemy aircraft attacked John Penn, but her after batteries quickly splashed the intruder. On November 15, 1942 she departed for Casablanca and arrived the same day and unloaded the remainder of her cargo. On November 17, 1942 departed across the Atlantic Ocean bound for Norfolk, arriving on November 30.

On December 17, 1942 John Penn departed Norfolk, Virginia via the Panama Canal then across the Pacific Ocean to New Caledonia arriving January 18, 1943. Departed January 24; and arrived at Espiritu Santo 3 days later, got underway to pick up survivors from USS Chicago, sunk off Guadalcanal January 29th. In all, she received 1,003 men and 63 officers, including Captain R. C. Davis, the lost cruiser's commanding officer. After debarking her grateful passengers at Noumea, she spent the next 6 months delivering supplies, equipment, and troops to Guadalcanal from the New Hebrides, Fiji and New Zealand. Reclassified APA-23 on February 1, 1943 and continued transporting supplies and troops to Guadalcanal.

Sinking History
On August 13, 1943 John Penn had just finished unloading a cargo of 155mm artillery shells in the Lunga Point Anchorage off Lunga Point on Guadalcanal. At 9:20pm she came under attack from Japanese B5N Kate torpedo planes that attacked from several directions. Three minutes later, the transport took one of the planes under fire, causing it to burst into flames and crash into her mainmast. About that same instant, an aerial torpedo hit from another B5N Kate hit near the number 5 cargo hold, causing a secondary explosion. Although vigorous efforts were made to save her, John Penn went down stern first at 9:50pm.

Louis Plant adds:
"I was on LCI 24 anchored off Guadalcanal the night the John Penn was sunk. A lone Jap plane was in the searchlights high over Henderson Field dropping bombs. Everybody's attention was directed to that plane when the torpedo planes attacked the Penn. An officer aboard the Penn by the name of Russel survived by climbing down the anchor chain. He eventually became an officer on our ship after it was converted to a gunboat."

The severe damage caused the stern to separate and it is 400 yards away from the main part of the ship. USS John Penn lies on its starboard side off Lunga Point at 200'. Experienced wreck divers may head aft to penetrate the exposed lower decks where the stern separated from the rest of the ship.

The ship is in two parts with most dives being conducted on the bow section. Because of the depth of this wreck, all dives are decompression dives which require the appropriate training and experience. For safety reasons, twin tanks with a separate regulator and gages on each tank, and a dive computer are recommended for diving on this wreck.

A dive to the bridge and forward guns involves a descent to the port side of the hull at about 120 feet (36 m). You can expect to see large schools of pelagic fish near the wreck. Drop down over the port side to the remnants of the bridge where there were 20mm anti-aircraft guns. You can also look in the radio room and the officer’s mess.

Heading towards the bow, there are the forward holds, derricks, masts and winches, then the forward 3-inch guns where live ammunition spills out of the ready-use lockers. This dive would involve a maximum depth of about 150' / 45m. A slow ascent can be made by returning along the hull looking in all the portholes.

Scrap metal and brass from ship was salvaged by Honiara salvage diver Reg Thomas. One interesting discovery was the ship's safe. Inside was rotted paper money and a sack with two metal bars in it. Later, he spoke with the ship's paymaster who said he was tasked with putting the money into a sack and throwing it overboard weighed down with brass bars. The ship sank before he could accomplish this, and left everything in the safe.

Contribute Information
Are you a relative or associated with any person mentioned?
Do you have photos or additional information to add?

Last Updated
August 4, 2020


  Discussion Forum Daily Updates Reviews Museums Interviews & Oral Histories  
Pacific Wrecks Inc. All rights reserved.
Donate Now Facebook Twitter YouTube Instagram