(APA-39: dp. 8,100; 1. 492'; b. 69'6"; dr. 26'6"; s. 18 k.;
cpl. 575; a. 2 5"; cl. Bayfield)
Clay (AP-39) was launched 23 January 1943 as Sea Carp by Western Pipe and Steel Co., San Francisco, Calif., under a Maritime Commission contract; sponsored by Mrs. Earl Warren, wife of the Governor of California, reclassified APA-39 1 February 1943 acquired by the Navy 29 June 1943, and placed in reduced commission the same day, Commander H. B. Olsen USNR, in command. Clay sailed from San Pedro 9 July 1943 and arrived at New York 2 August 1943, was decommissioned 11 August 1943 for conversion; and was recommissioned 21 December 1943, Captain E. W. Abdill in command.
Clay sailed from Norfolk 27 January 1944 with Marines for Pearl Harbor, arriving 15 February on the first leg of 100,000 miles of war operations. She put to sea 4 March for the invasion of Kavieng, but because of highly effective neutralization of Japanese bases there by sea and air the landings were cancelled and Clay returned to Pearl Harbor 9 April for training with the 2d and 4th Marines for the next assault in the giant sea steps across the Pacific. She now became Transport Division 10 flagship, Captain C. D. Morrison, division commander.
On 30 May Clay stood out of Pearl Harbor, part of the great armada that drove through Japanese occupied islands to launch America's strength from the sea against the heavily fortified Japanese bastion of the Marianas a giant leap on the victorious sea road to Japan. On D-Day, 15 June 1944, she executed realistic feint landings off northwestern Saipan that diverted a substantial force of Japanese troops then in the early afternoon joined the main assault, launching elements of the 2d Marines into the bitter struggle.
A major Japanese fleet effort was shattered by the 5th Fleet in the decisive battle of the Philippine Sea. Undamaged by air attacks Clay transported troops and Japanese prisoners to Pearl Harbor, arriving 9 July; then proceeded with her division to San Diego to embark the 5th Marines for Guam As she returned, however, resistance on this island and on Saipan was of far reaching importance to the air-sea sedge of Japan, succumbed to the swift Marine assault strongly supported from the sea. Clay was diverted to Hilo, Hawaii, to disembark troops and prepare for the next operation.
After intensive rehearsals at Maui under a new skipper, Captain N. B. Van Bergen, in August, with elements of the 96th Division embarked Clay departed Hawaii with the assault group scheduled for Yap.
The flexibility, mobility, and speed of concentration of strength based afloat has seldom been shown more strikingly than in the swift moving series of far-reaching events that followed Clay's sailing. A bold change in strategic plans shifted the target from Yap to Leyte some 700 miles Beyond. Weakening resistance to the devastating attacks of Task Force 58 up and down the Philippine Archipelago was one indication that the Philippines were ripe for invasion. Leyte was the strategic heart of the Philippines. Clay's task force was diverted to Manus to stage for the invasion; on 14 October she sailed for the new objective. As dawn rose over the island-studded sea, on 20 October a mighty parade of ships hurled the United States' concentrated strength into the Philippines.
In the series of mighty battles that followed Clay's luck held. She emerged unscathed and proceeded to even busier days. Departing on 24 October her course led from Leyte to Hollandia, to Morotai, where for 5 nights Japanese aircraft flying from Halmahera kept the gun crews on the alert. Back to Leyte with vital reinforcements in personnel and supplies, Clay unloaded
in one day and departed 14 November for Manus, thence to Cape Gloucester, where she anchored 27 November to prepare for invasion of Luzon at Lingayen Gulf.
On the last day of the eventful year of 1944, the attack transports began the tortuous passage to Luzon, threading their course through waters flanked by Japanese held islands. It was a bold and successful thrust again deep behind Japanese positions. Before nightfall on D-Day, 9 January 1945, American troops were speeding inland on Luzon from Lingayen. Japanese suicide planes opened up a wide-scale attack, but the U.S. Navy had not only come to launch the troops behind strong Japanese forces but had come to stay
By sundown of the first crowded day, Clay had unloaded and set course for Leyte. Her gunners had helped repel suicide attacks during the day and, in Japanese reports, she had suffered the usual annihilation. Embarking troops of the 1st Cavalry Division at Leyte annihilated Clay hurried back to Lingayen and unloaded them in a single day, 27 January 1945.
With wounded soldiers, Clay arrived at Guadalcanal on 12 February, disembarked the casualties, embarked elements of the 6th Marines, and began rehearsals for the next long thrust toward Japan. In March Clay got underway as part of the gigantic force converging from the far corners of the Pacific, and even the Atlantic, for the tremendous assault on Okinawa, an amphibious force without parallel in naval warfare.
Riding a hurricane en route and making the final approach through a wild night of attacking planes and gunfire, Clay arrived off her Okinawa beach before daylight 1 April. Through smoke and flame, rockets and bursting shells, roaring aircraft and the clatter of winches and cranes, Easter 1945 dawned on a gigantic panorama of violence and coordinated strength of America's drive thousands of miles across the Pacific to the threshold of Japan. Despite mass kamikaze air attacks and suicide boats Clay unloaded and sailed on 5 April,again unscathed, for San Fransisco and overhaul to prepare for the final assault on Japan. On the west coast she received additional armament, a new commanding officer, Captain E. M. Eller, and refresher training at San Diego.
On 27 July Clay headed again to the Pacific with some 1,700 passengers. As she plunged westward there unfolded the world-shaking drama of the atomic bomb, the last-minute entry of Russia into the war, and the swift collapse of Japanese resistance. The day Japanese emissaries came to Manila to effect surrender arrangements, Clay was swinging around her anchor in hot Leyte Gulf where she had participated in the first assault for liberation of the Philippines.
From Leyte Clay proceeded to the once beautiful but ruined city of Cebu, embarked elements of 182d Regiment and sailed on 1 September as flagship of Temporary Squadron 13, Captain R. C. Bartman, USN Squadron Commander, part of "Tokyo Force." Early on 8 September, Clay steamed up the swept channel through minefields and swift currents into Tokyo Bay; passed the battered pagoda structure of the sunken battleship Nagato, which she used as a fixed navigational aid, and anchored off the ruined and silent industrial section that extended from Yokohama into Tokyo. The devastation indicated how badly Japan was beaten to her knees and how much the arteries of economic life had been strangled by seapower.
Unloading swiftly Clay sailed the next day, again for Cebu and another occupation move, to Otaru on the northern island of Hokkaido. Making another swift turn around Clay reached Ctuam on 12 October and there embarked Marines for reoccupation duty in north China. From Tientsin, she sailed to Saipan to take on board homeward-bound servicemen, arriving 6 December 1946 at San Pedro, Calif. She made another "Magic Carpet" voyage to the western Pacific then sailed from San Francisco 9 March 1946 for New York, arriving 27 March. Clay was decommissioned 16 May 1946 and sold through the Maritime Commission 12 September 1946.
Clay received four battle stars for World War II service.