The Champion class T-5 petroleum tanker, USNS Lawrence H. Gianella, completed its final underway mission for the U.S. Navy last week and is preparing for her final voyage to a graveyard in Texas.
“USNS Lawrence H. Gianella is the last and longest serving Champion class T-5 Tanker,” said Matthew Sweeney, Military Sealift Command tanker project officer. “As the longest-serving T-5 Tanker she moved more petroleum for the U.S. military than any other vessel in U.S. military history.”
“USNS Lawrence H. Gianella was the last of five T-5 tankers built,” said Capt. Robert J. Mills III, USNS Lawrence H. Gianella’s ship master since 1998. “Fuel is the lifeblood of the U.S. Navy’s combatant fleet. We would pull into port and bring fuel to our fleet oilers so that they could remain at sea.”
As an ice-class oil tanker USNS Lawrence H. Gianella has performed numerous Arctic and Antarctic resupply missions since the mid-1980s.
“USNS Lawrence H. Gianella, is fitted with reinforced framing on the hull which allowed us to sail through icy waters to support the annual resupply missions Operation Deep Freeze in Antarctica and Operation Pacer Goose at Thule Air Base, Greenland, in the Arctic,” said Mills, “We have supported a total of 11 of these missions.”
The ship’s namesake, Lawrence Henry Gianella, recipient of the Merchant Marine Distinguished Service Medal, was born on February 15, 1921 in California. On December 19, 1941, Gianella was serving as the radio operator on board unarmed U.S. freighter S.S. Prusa when Japanese submarine I-172 torpedoed and sank the ship in the mid-Pacific Ocean, according to the Naval History and Heritage Command website
The explosion blew through Prusa’s after decks, wrecking the engines and dynamos, and it became immediately apparent that the ship would remain afloat for only a few minutes.
The ship’s master ordered the crew to prepare to abandon ship, and an officer directed Gianella to send an S.O.S., but found the radio operator already engaged in rigging an emergency set.
The crewmen meanwhile lowered lifeboats, and the master sent orders to Gianella to join them. He had not been able to get his message through, however, and realizing that upon him rested all hope for the rescue of his shipmates, Gianella refused to leave his post and chose to face certain death in his stark devotion to duty.
UPDATE: We have learned that the T5 tanker M/T Houston is still operating commercially.