Mount Whitney is not only the name of the highest mountain in the United States, it is the name of the largest and fastest of the ships used by UNRRA for transporting livestock in 1946. A C4-S-A4 type ship, she rolled off the line of the Kaiser shipyard in Vancouver, Washington, February 21, 1946, and was converted in Boston for carrying cattle. She made her first voyage as a livestock ship for UNRRA July 28, 1946.
According to seagoing cowboy Luke Bomberger, the ship measured 522 feet long and 72 feet across. “This is a pretty wide ship,” he said, “and we therefore had a double row of stalls on each of the port and starboard sides,” instead of the normal row of single stalls on Victory and Liberty ships. The Mount Whitney stalls could accommodate 1500 horses, about double the capacity of the Victory ships and four to five times that of Liberty ships.
The Times-Herald newspaper of Newport News, Virginia, gave considerable attention to this maiden livestock voyage of the Mount Whitney. On July 25, the paper reported the loading of the ship would be delayed for degaussing work, a demagnetizing procedure to help ships be less susceptible to Nazi magnetic mines still floating in the waters. The next day’s paper reported on the loading of a “tremendous amount” of feed:
Fifteen hundred head of horses can’t live as cheaply as one, not by a long sight. . . . Now being taken on at Pier 5 are the following items: 1,200,000 pounds of hay, 89 tons of oats and a large quantity of bran.
On July 29, the paper reported on the Mount Whitney‘s departure from the Terminal Stockyards at noon the day before:
A quick trip to Poland is in prospect as the Mount Whitney has a top speed of 20 knots. . . .
The ship already has shattered two records – in the amount of livestock taken on board and the number of livestock handlers carried on the trip to care for the animals. Eighty such workers are on the ship, while the average UNRRA craft requires only from 32 to 35.
Aside from seasickness and complaints about the food, the 80 seagoing cowboys enjoyed a fairly uneventful trip across the Atlantic. Being a larger vessel, the ship did not take the usual route to Poland through the Kiel Canal. She traveled up around Scotland and Denmark to the Baltic Sea, arriving in Nowy Port, Poland, August 8.
“How changed everything is!” noted cowboy foreman Leonard Vaughn, who had made earlier trips to Poland. “The ruins are being cleared away. There is rebuilding. There aren’t the crowds of dirty children.” Luke Bomberger, having been to Poland in November 1945 and April 1946, made a similar observation. Nevertheless, cowboy crew members had some hair-raising experiences while there.
~to be continued