Looking for history of merchant marine ships SS Plaudit and SS Harry Luckenbach during WWII

I am looking for history on the use of merchant marine ships by the US Navy in the Atlantic during WWII. Two ships in particular. The SS Plaudit and SS Harry Luckenbach.

  • Tom,

    It looks like neither ship served in the U.S. Navy during World War II.  The Plaudit sailed under the Panamanian flag for the War Shipping Administration.  German submarine U-181 sank the Plaudit on 8 November 1942. The only Navy connection to the freighter was the provision of a U.S. Navy Armed Guard to protect the ship.  The Harry Luckenbach sailed under the U.S. flag during the war, again under the auspices of the WSA. U-91 torpedoed the Harry Luckenbach on 17 March 1943.  The ship also carried an Armed Guard detachment.  Both ships acted as freighters and took their cargoes where needed as part of merchant convoys.

    Now the Luckenbach did have a Navy role; however, this took place in the aftermath of World War I.  After her completion in 1919, the ship was commissioned as USS Sol Navis and assigned to the Navy’s Cruiser and Transport Force.  Built as a freighter, Sol Navis was equipped with temporary berthing to transport troops back from Europe after the Armistice.  The Sol Navis was decommissioned later in 1919 and sold to the Luckenbach Shipping Company in 1920.

    I hope you find this information useful.

    A. J.

  • Thanks again, Alex, for your help. I'm researching a US Navy Armed Guard officer who died when the Luckenbach was sunk in April 1943. However, he was awarded a Navy and Marine Corps Medal posthumously for his actions while serving as the gun crew officer-in-charge on the Plaudit after it was torpedoed on 11 August 1942. Plaudit was sunk in November 1942.

    So it looks like LTjg Burr was on the Plaudit in August 1942 but the Plaudit did not sink.

    He must have been transferred to a different ship thereafter.

    The Plaudit, without Burr, was then sunk in November 1942.

    Burr was assigned to the Luckenbach and was killed when it sank in March 1943.

    He was awarded the NMC Medal for actions on Plaudit on 11 August 1942. He must have been one of the first to be awarded that medal since it was first authorizd by Congress on 7 August 1942.

    Are there Muster Rolls for Navy Armed Guards? ancestry.com does not seem to have them on their website.

  • Tom,

    I did not work with muster rolls during my NARA years, so I’ll defer to my former colleagues as to the extent of their Armed Guard holdings.

    There is a website for Armed Guards that provides a variety of information.  Here is an entry for the Plaudit:


    The website has not been updated in a while, so there’s no telling how much longer it will be up.

    Again, good luck on the research!

    A. J.

  • This was interesting. It said ENS Burr survived the November sinking of the Plaudit in November yet his NMC Medal citation was for "heroic action on 11 August 1942 while serving...on board S.S. Plaudit when that merchantman was torpedoed."

    Let me know if you have any thoughts about the discrepancies in dates.

  • Tom,

    I looked at a Norwegian website dealing with World War II merchant ship casualties here:


    Its ship history mentions torpedo attacks and whether the attacked ship sank (“ Senket” is the term in Norwegian).  I figured if the website listed torpedo attacks in that fashion, then the Plaudit may not have been attacked in August—there’s no mention of an attack in August.  To me the timing is off.  The ship is on the South Atlantic run.  If she was torpedoed in August, I’m not sure the repair capacity was available in that part of the world in the summer of 1942, at least in time to be ready for another cargo run in November.  So the Plaudit may not have been torpedoed in August.  The Navy-Marine Corps Medal is not usually a combat award.  It usually is awarded for bravery displayed in saving the lives of others.  So Burr could have won the medal in saving lives in Plaudit’s crew or his own Armed Guard detachment.  There could have been a man overboard incident, a gangway falling in the water, an accident in handling cargo, or any of a hundred other ways seamen get hurt or killed aboard ship.

    A second point is that Burr may not have been aboard the Plaudit for the medal action—he could have been aboard another ship that was torpedoed, thus winning the medal.  The Armed Guard muster rolls—if available—will clear that up.

    That’s the best I can come up with….

    A. J.

  • Dear Tom Boyer,


    Thank you for posting your request on History Hub!


    In addition to the helpful information provided by Mr. Daverede, we searched the National Archives Catalog and located the series Armed Guard Files, 1934–1946 in the Records of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (Record Group 38) that includes records related to the SS Plaudit and the SS Harry Luckenbach during World War II. We also searched the series  Armed Guard Logs, 1943-1945 in the Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel (Record Group 24), but we were unable to locate any records related to the Plaudit or Harry Luckenbach in this series. These records have not been digitized. Please contact the National Archives at College Park - Textual Reference (RDT2) at archives2reference@nara.gov for access to these records.


    We also located the World War II War Diaries, Other Operational Records and Histories, ca. 1/1/1942 - ca. 6/1/1946 in the Records of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (Record Group 38) that contains 4 references to the "SS Plaudit" and 9 references to "Harry Luckenbach" during World War II. These records have been digitized and may be viewed online using the Catalog.  Please keep in mind that the Catalog does not always list files in chronological order.


    In addition, the Official Merchant Logbooks from 1910 to 1980 in the Records of the U.S. Coast Guard (Record Group 26) may include the logbooks of the SS Plaudit and SS Harry Luckenbach during World War II. For more information about these records, please contact the reference unit listed in the series description.


    You may experience a delay in receiving an initial acknowledgment as well as a substantive response to your reference request from RDT2 or other NARA reference unit. We apologize for this inconvenience and appreciate your understanding and patience as we balance mission-critical work and the safety of our staff during the pandemic. Please check NARA’s web page about COVID-19 updates for the latest information.


    We hope this is helpful. Best of luck with your research!


  • I found this information on another website. Does it coorespond with your information? I get lost in series and record groups, etc.

    Records of the Naval Armed Guard

    During WWII, members of the U.S. Navy served as Naval Armed Guards aboard merchant vessels. The Naval Armed Guard Commanding Officer prepared a written report after every voyage. These reports are found at the National Archives and Record Administration, General Records of the Bureau of Naval Personnel (Record Group 24.2.2 Logs: Operational and signal logs of U.S. Navy armed guard units aboard merchant vessels, 1943-45).

    The National Archives also holds records of the United States Navy’s Tenth Fleet. Included in these records are movement report cards for the merchant ships that Naval Armed Guard served on. The movement report cards list:

    • Ports of call;
    • Dates of the visit;
    • Convoy designation, if the ship sailed in a convoy;
    • Port where each voyage ended.

    For these vessel movement cards, see the Records of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (Record Group 38.2.4 Records relating to U.S. Navy operations received from the Operational Archives Branch, Naval Historical Center: Records of the Tenth Fleet, Headquarters of the Commander-in-Chief, United States Fleet, 1939-45)These movement cards can assist researchers in locating the logs of the merchant ships, and convoys, which are held at the nearest records center to the U.S. port where each voyage ended. Folders for each convoy usually contain:

    • A list of merchant ships in the convoy;
    • A list of escort ships in the convoy;
    • Report of the convoy commodore;
    • Map of the route;
    • Convoy message traffic.
  • Tom,

    Unfortunately those citations come from the 1996 Guide to Records of the National Archives, the bane of NARA staff since its publication.  The records are not organized in the record stacks as listed in the Guide, so they are really not helpful to researcher or archivist.  Rachael has cited the correct record series to search; the only other thing to do would be to head to College Park and check the finding aids for the series in the Textual Research Room and pull the appropriate records.  NARA’s digitization project will take a long time, even if funding can be sustained, so there will be limits to remote archival research for some time to come.

    I hope you can find the time to visit College Park.  An in-person visit can resolve a lot of the confusion associated with records organization.  The expertise is there and is much clearer than can be done by pounding on a keyboard.  That’s the best I can come up with.

    A. J.

  • The “Record Group 24.2.2 Logs:  Operational and signal logs of U.S. Navy armed guard units aboard merchant vessels, 1943-45” are the Armed Guard Logs, 1943–1945 mentioned by Rachael.  We both checked our finding aid for this series, but could not find listed Armed Guard Logs for these ships. 


    The vessel movement cards are in Records Relating to Merchant Shipping and Convoys, 1941–1948.

    The following are all the records we could find relating to these ships, sinkings of Merchant Marine ships, and convoys sailing from New York.


    These records are NOT available online. Please email the reference units for more information.


    National Archives at College Park - Textual Reference (Archives2reference@nara.gov)

    National Archives at New York (newyork.archives@nara.gov)

    National Archives at Washington, DC - Textual Reference (Archives1reference@nara.gov)

  • Hi Tom,

    My great-grandfather, Ralph McKinnon, captained the SS Harry Luckenbach on its final voyage so I have a wealth of articles and info on it.

    I highly recommend reading Turning the Tide by Ed Offley, which describes the crew's final tragic moments, adding incredible color beyond the names and dates.

    Here is a good data source on the Harry: https://uboat.net/allies/merchants/ship/2791.html

    The Luckenbach line was a merchant line that was used during WWII for war efforts. As I understand it, not everyone on the ship was military. I don't believe Ralph was at that time (he was for WWI, though). I tried writing to retrieve Ralph's naval records once and was told there was no record of him being in the Navy which was a bit of a head-scratcher. That's a dead end I need to revisit.

    They (the SS Harry Luckenbach) were delivering ammunition to the UK in part of a large fleet. The position they were in was described as "coffin corner" due to its exposure.

    Reportedly, the Luckenbach zig-zagged out of position to avoid torpedoes from the U-91, only to be ordered back in line and struck while in the dreaded coffin corner. It is unclear how many got in lifeboats, but Turning the Tide describes a tragic series of unfortunate events where no one could manage to rescue the lifeboats, leaving them to drift into the unknown.

    In his final letters home before the incident, Ralph wrote that his colleague had recently done the same route without issue so he was hoping for the same outcome. They were planning to arrive in the UK around the 27th, returning in early May.

    Here is what I have in our family collection from Grandpa Ralph: https://www.flickr.com/photos/33231347@N05/albums/72157651122866010

    His final letter, regarding the Harry: 

    p1 https://www.flickr.com/photos/33231347@N05/19497459740/in/album-72157651122866010/

    p2 https://www.flickr.com/photos/33231347@N05/19064533233/in/album-72157651122866010/