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SS Geoanna TP-249 Army Communications Ship

The Geoanna was a two-masted schooner operated by the Army Signal Corps during World War II. This ship acted as a relay vessel for communications in the Southwest Pacific Area. She also for a time was a Navy ship (USS Geoanna IX-61) and a Coast Guard vessel.

According to Gerald Virocola, Sr. (who served on the ship), the Geoanna was originally owned by the 7-Up Bottling Company before she became a war vessel. All the time he served on her, he never saw the name of the ship written, since all documents referred to her as only TP249; so he was surprised to see the ship's name was Geoanna, not "Joanna."

This picture is a Signal Corps photo from the scrapbooks of Lt. Col. O. Howard Davidsmeyer.

 

Length: 111'6"
Beam: 22'6"
Built: 1934, Craig Shipbuilding
Transferred to Navy: Feb-01-1942
Transferred to Army: Sep-03-1943

The following was written by Gerard Viracola Sr., who served on the Geoanna during World War II. He wrote this description on February 8, 2003 after discovering the picture of his old ship on this web site. Reprinted here with permission:

I landed on Milne Bay, New Guinea on August 13, 1944.  I was then sent to MacArthur's headquarters as a high speed operator. 

Due to the diseases prevalent in New Guinea such as scrub typhus, dengue fever, malaria, etc. I had a chance to volunteer for sea duty.  From high up on a mountain in Hollandia I could see the ship to which I would be assigned - the TP 249. 

Our first voyage out to sea we met with challenges from our own PBY flying boats who thought we were Japanese.  They would transmit from their low flying plane "O - E," meaning, respond with the code of the day or I'm releasing a depth charge.  What a relief when the pilot would wave good-bye.  Our ship was about 15 ft wide and 120 ft long.  We had a crew of 18 men, twin .50 calibre guns on the bough, on the port and starboard sides and a 20 mm gun on the fantail. 

The photo you have of the TP 249 must have been taken before the 20 mm gun was completely installed. The heavy equipment installed midships was an AT20 transmitter.  Below deck were the quarters for the 18 men and the captain, plus a dozen receivers.  This weighed down the ship so that the portholes were partially below the waterline. 

Our first destination was the Molluccas (Dutch) or Spice Islands.  We docked near the airport and were in constant contact with Hollandia.  The name of our island was Morotai.  There were other ships in the harbor.  Nearly every night the Japanese would bomb the airport on Morotai.  Our Black Widow planes would engage their Betty Bombers.

We would use our 20 mm anti-aircraft gun during the day against low flying Zeros.  Our ship would be sent to remote islands being attacked by our troops.  Ground forces would be in constant contact with our ship by use of key and the morse code. I would then encode the message, then send it to Hollandia (2,000 miles away) by high speed "bug."  The Geoanna was perfect for such an arrangement since one mast was used as a transmitter and the other as a receiver.  The Geoanna performed brilliantly.

The worst part of the operation was my turn to get into the crow's nest.  When the ship rocked from side to side it seemed as though that small hull below would never get me straight up again.  

Getting back to some of your questions, I cannot identify the port in the picture.  I was told before boarding the Geoanna that this was the only schooner used for communication purposes.

We were later sent to Leyte Gulf during the landing at Tacloban by MacArthur.  

Many thanks
Gerard Viracola Sr.

Additional information about the Geoanna and Army Communications Ships can be found on these sites, which were referenced for this article:

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Army Ships - The Ghost Fleet

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Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships - USS Geoanna

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Thank you to Gerard Viracola Sr. for providing additional information. More importantly, thanks to him and all the men who served in World War II, who defended and protected the freedom we enjoy today.

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