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Polynesia - Espiritu Santo

Courtesy of OceanIslandTravel.com

SS President Coolidge

Luganville, Vanuatu ‎

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-15.515055, 167.159704

Overview of SS President Coolidge

Launched in February of 1931, The SS President Coolidge was built by Newport News Shipbuilding & Drydock Co in Newport News, Virginia USA. Prior to World War II, she was operated by the American President Lines as a luxury liner providing trans-pacific passage and commercial service. Passengers had a luxurious experience on the ship with spacious staterooms and lounges, private telephones, two saltwater swimming pools, a barbers shop, beauty salon, gymnasium and soda fountain.

In 1941, as war time activities increased, the US War Department began to use the President Coolidge for occasional voyages to Honolulu and Manila but it wasn’t until after the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 5, 1941 that she was fully commissioned as a transport ship for reinforcing garrisons in the Pacific. She was stripped of her finery, painted gun-metal grey and by early 1942, the SS President Coolidge had begun her days servicing the South West Pacific. As a troop carrier, she was never intended to see any action. In her first few months of service, her ports of call included Melbourne, Wellington, Auckland, Bora Bora, and Suva. On October 6, she set sail from her home port of San Francisco, California for New Caledonia and Espiritu Santo.

A large military base and harbor had been established on Espiritu Santo and the harbor was heavily protected by mines. Information about safe entry into the harbor had been accidentally omitted from the Coolidge’s sailing orders and upon her approach to Santo on October 26, 1942, the SS Coolidge, fearing Japanese submarines and unaware of the mine fields, attempted to enter the harbor through the largest and most obvious channel. A friendly mine struck the ship at the engine room and moments later, a second mine hit her near the stern.

The captain, knowing that he was going to lose the ship, ran her aground and ordered troops to abandon ship. Not believing the ship would sink, troops were told to leave all of their belongings behind under the impression that they would conduct salvage operations over the next few days. Over the course of the next 90 minutes, 4,998 men got safely off of the wreck and to shore before she listed too heavily on her side, sank, and slid down the slope into the channel. She now rests on her port side with her bow at a depth of 20 meters and her stern at 70 meters.

There were 2 casualties in the sinking of the Coolidge. The first was a man working in the engine room who was killed by the first mine blast. The second, Artillery Captain Euart, had safely gotten off the Coolidge when he learned that there were still men in the infirmary who could not get out. He went back in to one of the sea doors, successfully rescued the men but was then unable to escape himself and he went down with the ship. A memorial to Captain Euart is located near the access points for the Coolidge.

Today, the Coolidge is protected by Vanuatu law and provides endless enjoyment for divers. Her dual identity means that divers see a luxury cruise line and a military ship on a single dive. Coral grows all around the wreck and many sea creatures such as sea turtles and moray eels call the wreck home. Resting in warm, tropical waters, the SS President Coolidge is a marvelous underwater playground for any diver.

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