USS Pecos (AO-6)

USS Pecos (AO–6) was a Kanawha-class replenishment oiler of the United States Navy. She was commissioned in 1921 and sunk by Japanese aircraft south of Java on 1 March 1942.

USS Pecos (AO-6)
United States
Name: USS Pecos
Laid down: 2 June 1920
Launched: 23 April 1921
Commissioned: 25 August 1921
Identification: AO-6
Fate: Sunk by Japanese air attack from Sōryū, 1 March 1942
General characteristics
Class and type: Kanawha-class fleet replenishment oiler
  • 5,723 tons light
  • 14,800 tons full load
Length: 475 ft 7 in (144.96 m)
Beam: 56 ft 3 in (17.15 m)
Draft: 26 ft 8 in (8.13 m)
Speed: 14 knots
Complement: 317 officers and enlisted

Operational history

USS Pecos was laid down as Fuel Ship No. 18 on 2 June 1920 at the Boston Navy Yard, Massachusetts (USA). During construction the ship was reclassified AO–6 on 17 July 1920. She was launched on 23 April 1921, sponsored by Miss Anna S. Hubbard and commissioned 25 August 1921.

During the two decades before the United States entered World War II, Pecos operated in both Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Pecos was in the Philippines supporting the ships of the Asiatic Fleet. She departed Cavite Navy Yard 8 December 1941 for Borneo and reached Balikpapan on the 14th. After filling up with oil and gasoline, the tanker pushed on to Makassar in Celebes, Netherlands East Indies where she refueled American warships fighting to slow the explosive advance of Japanese forces in the southwest Pacific. She departed Makassar for Darwin, Australia, on 22 December 1941.

She headed for Soerabaja, Java early in 1942 where she fueled Allied ships until departing on 3 February after a Japanese air raid there had made that base untenable. Tjilatjap then became the oiler’s base until her cargo fuel tanks were empty. She then got underway late in February toward India to refill. On 27 February, off Christmas Island, when the oiler was about to take survivors of the aircraft carrier Langley from destroyers Whipple and Edsall, land based planes attacked the three ships. After fighting off the raiders, the U.S. ships steamed south out of range and completed the transfer 1 March.

At noon that day, planes from Japanese aircraft carrier Sōryū attacked Pecos and struck again an hour later. Finally at midafternoon, a third strike sank the Pecos. According to pilot Shinsaku Yamakawa of the Imperial Japanese Navy, the final attack was conducted by dive bombers from the aircraft carrier Kaga.

Executive Officer Lt. Commander Lawrence J. McPeake was posthumously awarded the Silver Star for valor for his actions aboard Pecos. After the order to abandon ship was given by the ship's Captain, Commander Abernethy, Lt. Commander McPeake was seen engaging Japanese Aichi D3A1 "Val" dive bomber, which were machine-gunning and strafing survivors in the sea. By some crewmembers' accounts, he was reported to have made it off the ship after it went down. Others reported him last being seen manning the machine gun. In fact, he did swim away from the vessel as it was going down with one other officer from the crew. However, his body was never recovered and he was eventually listed as Killed In Action after the War. After Pecos was sunk, Whipple raced to the scene and rescued 232 survivors. Many of the survivors, although visible by crew members of Whipple, were unable to be picked up and were abandoned at sea, due to the detection of what was thought to be two enemy submarines in the area at extremely close range.


This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.

Further reading

  • Messimer, Dwight R. (1983). Pawns of War: the Loss of the USS Langley and the USS Pecos. Annapolis, Maryland: Naval Institute Press.

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