Seatrain Texas

In the late 1920s, New York naval architect Graham Brush came up with the idea of developing a ship specifically built to carry railroad freight cars.  

As a result, Brush founded Seatrain Lines Inc. in 1928 to carry railroad cars from New York to New Orleans and Cuba. He designed the first ship, the Seatrain New Orleans, which was built that same year at the Sun Ship yard in Philadelphia, Pa., and it proved so successful that two more, Seatrain Havana and Seatrain New York, were built in 1932. 

Success drove the company’s growth and the Seatrain New Jersey and, perhaps, the most famous of the class, Seatrain Texas, slid down the ways at Sun Ship in 1940. 

With war looming on the horizon, the U.S. Navy acquired New Jersey and renamed it the Lakehurst, while the New York and Havana were taken by the Navy the following year and commissioned as the Kitty Hawk and  Hammondsport, respectively.                  

Each of the 483-foot, 8,100-ton slab-sided ships had a capacity of 100 freight cars or 250 vehicles. All of the ships gave a good account of themselves during World War II, but it was the Seatrain Texas that garnered particular kudos for its service in the European Theatre of Operations. 

The ship received the U.S. Maritime Commission’s Gallant Ship Award for its performance during a transatlantic mission that had it carrying vitally needed U.S.- built Grant and Sherman tanks and self-propelled artillery to North Africa with a cargo of for delivery to the British 8th Army. 

The situation was dire as German Gen. Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps had forced Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery’s 8th Army into a withdrawal across Libya and Egypt that had cost the British more than 200 of its 300 available tanks. Rommel’s goal was to take the Suez Canal and cut that critical link in the Allie’s vital supply lines. 

The new armored vehicles and other equipment had to reach Egypt from the U.S. in the shortest possible time. The call went out and Seatrain Texas was loaded with 300 medium tanks, 100 half-track tank destroyers, and about 13,000 tons of ammunition in record time at the Port of Norfolk’s Pier X and, on July 2, 1942, the ship sailed on its dangerous eastward voyage.  

Alone, without naval escort, the ship sailed across the South Atlantic, rounded the Cape of Good Hope, sailed north along the coast of east Africa to the Red Sea and the Suez Canal. Seatrain Texas sailed on. She overtook a convoy destined for Alexandria, Egypt, but did not seek its protection. In fact, the Seatrain Texas arrived a day ahead of it and was half unloaded when the other ships appeared. 

Within days, the equipment was in British hands. Rommel struck what he thought was a fatally depleted British Army and was defeated at the Battle of El Alamein – in no small part due to the armor carried through dangerous waters by Seatrain Texas and its crew. 

Twenty-five years later, the Seatrain Texas was still in service and was chartered to the Military Sea Transportation Service during the Vietnam War.  

While transiting the Nha Be River for Saigon in December 1967, the ship was damaged by a floating mine. 

Six years later, Seatrain Texas was sold for scrapping in Spain.