Vanuatu: SS President Coolidge

The SS President Coolidge was a 654-foot ocean liner built for the Dollar Line by Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Company in 1931. In the lead up to the Second World War, the Coolidge was put into service as a troop transport for the US Army in June 1941. In early 1942 she was physically altered for her new duties, removing many civillian luxuries and adding gun emplacements; she now had the capacity to carry 5,000 troops as well as war materiel.

On October 7, 1942 SS President Coolidge left San Francisco bound for Noumea, New Caledonia loaded with 4800 troops; her ultimate destination was the newly invaded island of Guadalcanal to provide reinforcements. After a four day layover in Noumea, she departed for the staging area of Luganville, Espiritu Santo (in present day Vanuatu), where a large military base had been established. Unfortunately, the Coolidge's sailing orders lacked critical routing instructions into Segund Channel leading into the harbor at Espiritu Santo--and the entrance to that harbor had been heavily mined as a defense agaist enemy vessels. Unaware of the mines, Captain Henry Nelson steamed into the channel only to hit two of the defensive mines in quick succesion. Knowing his ship was doomed, Captain Nelson ran the ship aground in the hope that she could be saved, and ordered the troops on board to abandon her. All on board were successfully evacuated, with only two casualies. The President Coolidge wouild not be so lucky, however, and she soon rolled over on her side and slipped off the reef and slid stern first to the bottom of the channel. Today the wreck lies port side down with the bow at a depth of 70 feet and the stern at 230 feet. The wreck is a premier dive attraction and a time capsule of military supplies that never made it to Guadalcanal.


All images were taken with a Canon 5D digital SLR in a Seacam housing with Canon 14mm and 16-35mm lenses in 2008.

Special thanks to Jon Salas for his kind and invaluable modeling efforts!

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All images, text and content Copyright © Bradley Sheard. All rights reserved.