Veteran War Survivor Sagittarius
By James Donahue
Even though it was never designed as a warship, the men who served the U.S. Navy’s converted
Liberty Ship Sagittarius during World War II’s Pacific Theater came home with two battle stars and memories of the horrors
of war on the high seas.
When launched as a liberty ship at Baltimore in 1943, this vessel was given the name J. Fred Essary.
But it was then selected by the Navy to be converted to a net cargo ship and commissioned as Sagittarius (AKN-2) in March,
1944. Her job throughout the war was that of laying down nets designed to deter submarines in key battle areas.
One would think that a ship doing this kind of work would manage to escape the ravages of war, but
it was not the case for the Sagittarius. She worked in some of the most dangerous areas of the Pacific Theater, including
Saipan, Tinian, Ulithi and Okinawa. She was subjected to kamikaze attacks, and the crew successfully used her guns to bring
down at least three of these suicide aircraft before they did any damage.
At one point in the war, while anchored at Hagushi, Sagittarius survived almost daily air raids from
Japanese forces. This ship also successfully exploded a Japanese mine sighted drifting off Saipan.
When the war ended in 1945, Sagittarius remained in the area, reclaiming nets before returning to
Pearl Harbor and then San Francisco. The ship was decommissioned at Norfolk, Virginia, in January, 1946, and returned to the
Maritime Commission. The ship was scrapped in 1972.