APL-26 was an APL-17-class barracks barge in service with the U.S. Navy. She served in WWII and Viet Nam.
Barracks barges were built for the Navy before and during WWII as an easily deployable place for sailors and other land-based personnel at forward bases. These ships could not move by themselves, so they operated with at least one ocean-going tug. APL-26 was built sometime before 1944.
She served in the Pacific Theater of WWII. Miles of ocean separated the battlegrounds of this area, and APL-26 and her sisters were sorely needed as housing for the thousands of allied personnel ashore on these tiny islands. After Japan surrendered in 1945, APL-26 was towed back to the west coast. She deactivated at Seattle, WA.
The barge languished in reserve until the fall of 1966. Since the Tonkin Gulf Incident of 1964, U.S. Military involvement in Viet Nam had increased exponentially. Viet Nam presented a unique challenge for the U.S. Navy. In previous conflicts, the focus of naval operations had been on large ships in open, or “blue” water. The miles of coast and snaking rivers in Indochina changed that. The Navy now operated on two equal fronts: the carrier task force and gun line offshore, and the riverine force, or “brown water navy”.
Made up largely of patrol boats and landing craft, the “brown water” navy didn’t have the luxury of outfitting a few large bases and command centers to operate from. The demands of frequent operations in support of the joint service “Mobile Riverine Force” meant that many small outposts had to be set up along the coast and up the rivers of Viet Nam. With frequently changing territory and blurred battlefronts, mobility was a major plus for any pieces of these ports. Consequently, barracks barges were used in number as mobile housing for the sailors, soldiers, marines, and airmen of the Mobile Riverine Force. APL-26 would take a unique and dangerous twist on this role.
Reactivated in 1966, APL-26 was towed across the Pacific, arriving at Vung Tau on 22 February 1967. She initially joined Task Force 117 and served in her intended role, housing soldiers of the Army’s 9th Infantry Division. Later that year, however, a change took place aboard. The barge took on the staff of River Assault Flotilla 1 and a Navy EOD (explosive ordnance disposal) team. Two powerful Navy yard tugs began operating with her, the sisters Winnemucca and Kalispell, and all three vessels were painted olive drab. With these changes, APL-26 became the Navy’s first combat barracks barge.
APL-26 served in Viet Nam until the end of U.S. involvement. For her long and outstanding career “in country," she was awarded two Presidential Unit Citations, three Naval Unit Commendations, and fourteen campaign stars.
With the dissolution of the Mobile Riverine Force, APL-26 was towed back to her home. She was deactivated and struck from the Navy List. What happened to her after this is unknown.
Risk of Asbestos Exposure
APL-26 had no onboard propulsion, but she was far from immune to the asbestos plague that haunted the U.S. Navy from the 1930s to the ‘70s. She was built with two steam boilers aboard to provide heat, power, hot water, and water purification. As per Navy regulations at the time, her steam plant would have been insulated with asbestos.
When worn or damaged, asbestos products break up into tiny fibers. These fibers easily spread through the air, especially in ventilation shafts. Asbestos inhalation is a proven cause of mesothelioma, a malignant lung cancer. There is no cure for mesothelioma, but treatments such as chemotherapy can be used to fight the disease.
If you or someone you know served aboard APL-26 or worked on her in a shipyard and has contracted mesothelioma, please fill out the form at the bottom of this page to receive free information regarding your rights to compensation.