Stuff You Should Know
The USS Serpens was a Crater-class cargo ship that served the United States Navy during World War II. The ship was constructed under a MARCOM contract as the Liberty Ship SS Benjamin N. Cardozo by the California Shipbuilding Corporation at Terminal Island. Operated by the United States Coast Guard, the ship carried out supply missions in the Asiatic-Pacific Theater, specifically the Solomon Islands, New Caledonia, New Zealand, New Hebrides, and Guadalcanal. In January 1945, while the ship was getting loaded with depth charges, an accident occurred and the ship exploded, completely disintegrating in the process and killing all but two of the 256 crew personnel that currently on board. The commanding officer and 7 other crewmen were ashore, one of them still being fatally struck by shrapnel. The incident was thought to be caused by enemy action, but the idea was later discarded and the tragic event attributed to an “accident intrinsic to the loading process”. It was the largest single disaster suffered by the US Coast Guard. The victims were initially buried at Guadalcanal, but they were later exhumed and moved to Arlington National Cemetery.