Originally built as a civilian cargo ship, USS Rigel (AD-13/ARb-1/AR-11) was commissioned into the US Navy on February 24, 1922 as an Altair-class destroyer tender named for the brightest star in the Orion constellation. After refitting and shakedown, Rigel was assigned to San Diego, which would remain her home port until 1941.
In April of 1941, USS Rigel was redesignated as a repair ship and sailed to Bremerton, WA for an overhaul. With more alterations and repairs to be done, she headed to the Pearl Harbor shipyard in July. Rigel was still in Hawaii four months later, when the tense calm between the United States and Japan was shattered by the attack on Pearl Harbor.
USS Rigel and the Attack on Pearl Harbor
The December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor was a hellish day in American history, and though USS Rigel was at Pearl Harbor when the bombs started to drop, she fared better than many of the ships moored in the harbor’s waters. Without her armament in place, Rigel wasn’t able to fire on the incoming bombers and fighters. Since her crewmen couldn’t fight back, they jumped to assist in the salvage and rescue operations of the day.
Although the damage from the attack was minor, USS Rigel was still in the process of being overhauled. Four months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, she was ready to join the war in the Pacific. In April, 1942, after the repairs and overhaul were complete, Rigel set sail for the South Pacific, newly equipped with four 3” mounted guns.
USS Rigel and the War in the Pacific
When she reached her first destination at Fanning Island, Rigel disembarked American Army troops and took on men of the New Zealand Pacific Island Force. After spending roughly six months in New Zealand, Rigel was assigned to serve as a transport for the units heading to New Caledonia. Within a week, she was sent off to the Guadalcanal Campaign to serve as support.
In early 1943, USS Rigel was ordered to Efate before returning to the South Pacific and joining the 7th Amphibious Force. On June 21, 1943, Rigel arrived at Milne Bay, New Guinea before shifting focus to Woodlark and Kiriwina, where the 7th Amphibious Force landed units.
Until the end of 1943, USS Rigel remained at Milne Bay, providing repairs for battleships, cruisers, and tankers. In December, successful landings were made at Arawe, New Britain and Cape Gloucester.
Rigel continued moving up New Guinea as the United States took more and more territory until August 1944, when she shifted course and headed towards Australia.
On January 15, 1945, Rigel arrived at Leyte Gulf, anchoring at San Pedro Bay—which would be her home for the remainder of the war—the following day. After the fighting ended, Rigel returned to the United States to be deactivated. USS Rigel was decommissioned on July 11, 1946.
USS Rigel earned four battle stars for her service in the Pacific Theater of World War II.