The Rankin was an Attack Cargo Ship, designed to land weapons and supplies on enemy shores. She was the 103rd of 114 ships eventually constructed for this purpose. Launched near the end of World War II, she was put in mothballs after the war, then recommissioned during the Korean War in 1952, finally being decommissioned in 1971. Late in her life, in 1969, the Navy changed the AKA designation to LKA, and renamed Attack Cargo Ships as Amphibious Cargo Ships. Other amphibious ships were also redesignated, so all amphibious designators began with the letter L.
She was 459 feet long, with a beam of 63 feet. Fully loaded, she displaced 11,000 tons, with a mean draft of about 20 feet. She had a maximum speed of 16.5 knots and a cruising range of 17,000 miles (imagine a 40-story building that could transport 1,500 Humvees from New York to Los Angeles in just over five days).
She was a very special ship during her 21 years in commission, always characterized by high morale and high performance. At one time, she held every award available to a ship of her type. Later, she was the first Atlantic Fleet ship to wear the Gold E, signifying five straight victories in the annual Battle Efficiency competition. Her captains included a Medal of Honor winner, a winner of the Navy Cross, and a member of the Navy's Blue Angels flight team. Many of her officers later earned flag rank as Navy admirals.
In 1943, the War in the Pacific involved many amphibious landings, where U.S. forces would attack and occupy enemy-held islands. Similar landings were held in the Atlantic theater. These landings were the most complex activities ever performed by man, and they involved many specialized naval vessels, including newly-designed Attack Cargo Ships, the AKAs.
An AKA carried thousands of tons of tanks, vehicles, and combat supplies, plus the drivers and other Marines responsible for the cargo.
The cargo was combat loaded onto the AKAsóloaded in accordance with a prearranged plan, so when it was offloaded in an amphibious assault, it would be placed ashore ready for combat and in the order required by the troops.
Rankin and the other AKAs carried specialized boats, called landing craft, to take the cargo from the ship to the landing area. AKAs were also equipped with guns, primarily for defense from enemy air attack, and secondarily to assist in the shore bombardment that preceded the landing.
The Rankin's mission was to offload the cargo quickly and accurately into the boats, then to get them ashore precisely when they were needed, often in the face of darkness, heavy seas, and kamikaze attack. The mission required bravery, skill, and teamwork, applied through unremitting hours of dangerous, backbreaking work.
Her Origin and Specifications
From 1943-1945, thousands of merchant ship hulls were built as part of the war effort. Some were then converted to AKAs by adding guns, special boat and cargo handling equipment, etc. The Rankin was one of these ships. Here are her official specifications:
Tolland Class Amphibious Cargo Ship, named for a county in Mississippi. United States Maritime Commission type C2-S-AJ3 hull. Displacement 8,635 tons (light), 13,910 tons (full load); Length 459' 2"; Beam 63'; Draft 26' 4"; Speed 16.5 knots; Complement, Officers 62, Enlisted 333, Total 425; Armament, one single 5"/38 dual purpose gun mount, four twin 40 mm gun mounts, sixteen single 20 mm gun mounts; Boats, 14 LCVP, 8 LCM; Cargo Capacity, 380,000 cubic feet, (5,275 tons); Propulsion, GE geared turbine drive, 1 propeller, 6,000 shaft horsepower.
Jane's Fighting Ships provides slightly different specifications: Displacement 6,456 tons light, 14,160 full load. Combat Load 4,500 tons. Complement 247. Jane's also states that Rankin is a Rankin class ship, and that the 20 mm guns were never mounted.
The complement in the above specifications is that in wartime, or perhaps with embarked Marines. In peacetime, the ship had far fewer officers and men. During the early 1960s, for example, there were usually only 24-28 officers aboard, and 200-225 enlisted men.
Similarly, her complement of boats was different in peacetime. In the early 1960s, Rankin had 8 LCM boats, but only 6 LCVPs. She also had two LCPLs.
Specifications are from NavSource Online; Jane's Fighting Ships, 1967-1968; and personal recollections.