The keel for the Iroquois was laid on March 26, 1926 along with the keels for two other ships; Iroquois was delivered thirteen months later. She was built by Newport News Shipbuilding for the Clyde Steamship Company as the passenger liner.
Iroquois was designed for luxury liner service along America’s eastern seaboard and was handsomely appointed and featured ornate staircases and darkwood paneling in their public spaces.
She met the highest classification of the American Bureau of Shipping and was touted as the largest and fastest vessel in service between Florida and New York. She could carry 640 passengers in first class and 114 in steerage. Their crews numbered 166. (Newport News Shipbuilding Apprentice School)
On July 13, 1936 Iroquois had an accident while she was running for the Eastern Steamship Company. She ran aground on Bald Porcupine Island. Captain Walter Hammond was preparing to leave for New York early in the morning. Under thick fog, the vessel ran aground and then the tide left the ship beached high.
In mid-1940, she was purchased by the US Navy and was extensively modified her internally, creating a hospital ship with a capacity for 418 patients and accommodations for a complement of 466, including a small cadre of nurses.
Renamed Solace, her aft, fake funnel was removed and she was painted all white, with bold red crosses emblazoned on her sides, funnel and top decks; she was commissioned on August 9, 1941 and assigned to the Pacific fleet and soon was home ported in Hawai‘i. (Newport News Shipbuilding Apprentice School)
She arrived at Pearl Harbor on October 27, 1941. At the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941,) the Solace was the only hospital ship operating in the Pacific. She was anchored at Pearl Harbor when at 8 am the first of the attack started.
The ship discharged 141 patients to duty in order to make room for casualties. On December 7th, 132 patients were admitted aboard the ship (over 70 percent of casualties were burn cases.) (pearlharbor-org)
“As soon as it was realized that air raid was on, steps were immediately taken to close all watertight doors and ports, and cargo ports except the two at the gangways, to call away rescue parties, and to prepare all hospital facilities and supplies for maximum service.”
“The emergency ward of 50 beds was put together, and as many patients then in wards returned to duty or moved as possible. Two motor launches were immediately dispatched with rescue parties to the Arizona, and other boats lowered and sent on similar duty.”
“About 0820 hours, boat loads of casualties began to arrive, and were immediately taken care of by the medical personnel, assisted by available men from the deck divisions.”
“At 0900 the ship got underway, having slipped it’s forward and after moorings, and shifted from berth X4, near Dobbin and destroyers to berth X13 in the clear.”
“All hands worked most energetically to handle the casualty cases. Too much praise cannot be given to the doctors, nurses, and corpsmen of the ship.”
“Special mention is made of the heroic action in the face of grave danger in the case of the first two boat crews and their stretcher parties.”
“They boarded the burning Arizona, while its crew was abandoning ship, and they rescued the burned and injured casualties found on its deck, some very close to the flames, and three casualties on a camel and one man swimming in oily water that was aflame.”
“After unloading at the Solace, #2 motor launch made two trips to the West Virginia and brought back casualties to the Solace; #1 motor launch on its second trip rescued several more men from the stern of the Arizona and more casualties from the West Virginia.”
“On its third trip it received casualties from the West Virginia. On its fourth trip, it picked up some men in the water and transferred them to a gig. Shortly thereafter, when many men had jumped into the water after an explosion on board that ship the boat picked up over three dozen.”
“The surface was covered with flames. The boat engineer, jumped into the water to rescue an Ensign. The Coxswain had to get into the water to quench his own smoldering jumper. With this boat load delivered to the Solace and a quick change of clothes for its crew, the boat took a salvage party to the Oklahoma where it remained until about midnight.”
“Assisting the ship during the most difficult time were about six medical officers from other ships, one civilian doctor (USPHS,) five volunteer nurses part of first day and eleven part of second day”
“In addition to the ship’s chaplain, Protestant, two Catholic chaplains, from Nevada and Tangier, were aboard most of the first two days.” (Action Report by Benjamin Perlman, Commanding Officer, December 12, 1941)
For the rest of the war, until she was joined by the Relief from her North Atlantic duties, by the Comfort and also the Tranquility, the Solace, known as the “Great White Ship,” carried on alone doing an efficient and noteworthy job servicing the fleet at such bloody places as the Coral Sea, Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima. (navy-mil)
Solace served in the Pacific Theatre of Operations throughout the entire war and participated in six major island invasions. Between December, 1941, and January, 1946, she steamed over 170,000 nautical miles and provided treatment and evacuation home for over 25,000 patients.
Solace (ex Iroquois) was sold by the US War Shipping Administration to the government-owned Turkish Maritime Lines in April of 1948. She underwent a year-long conversion effort to restore her for future use as a passenger liner; renamed Ankara, her passenger spaces were completely modernized allowing for 175 in first-class, 152 in second-class and 72 in steerage-class.
Ankara was popular with Mediterranean passengers, and often carried pilgrims to Mecca until laid up in 1977. After remaining idle for almost four years, and at age 54, she was sold for scrap in 1981. (Newport News Shipbuilding Apprentice School)