The SS President Coolidge
The President Coolidge is often described as one of the greatest wreck
dives in the world because it has such a wide variety of things to see.
It has all the fine furnishings and decor one would expect of a fine ocean
liner - because it began life as a luxury passenger liner - yet at the
same time the The President Coolidge has all the military hardware and
equipment one would expect to see of a WWII combat vessel. The President
Coolidge is such a large wreck, that many dives are needed to see the whole
ship wreck in detail.
The SS President Coolidge was a luxury ocean liner that
was originally built in 1931, along with her sister ship the SS President
Hoover, for Dollar Steamship Lines. They were the largest merchant ships
the US had built up to that time. In 1938, when the Dollar Steamship Lines
collapsed, she was transferred to American President Lines. In 1941 she
was converted to carrying troops in the South Pacific.
Divers see a largely intact luxury cruise liner and a military ship
at once. They can swim through numerous holds and decks (earthquakes have
collapsed sections). There are WW2 guns, cannons, Jeeps, helmets, trucks
and personal supplies, a beautiful statue of "The Lady" (a porcelain relief
of a lady riding a unicorn) chandeliers, and a mosaic tile fountain. Coral
grows around, with many creatures such as reef fish, barracuda, lionfish,
sea turtles and moray eels.
Prior to World War II, she was operated by the American President
Lines as a luxury liner providing trans-Pacific passage and commercial
service. The Coolidge was aimed at holiday makers seeking sun in the Pacific
and Far East. During her time as a luxury liner, she broke several speed
records on her frequent trips to Japan from San Francisco. Passengers had
a luxurious experience on the ship with spacious staterooms and lounges,
private telephones, two saltwater swimming pools, a barber shop, beauty
salon, gymnasium and soda fountain.
In March 1939, President Coolidge became the last ship to sight
the custom-built Chinese junk Sea Dragon, built and sailed by American
explorer Richard Halliburton, before she disappeared in a typhoon some
1,900 km west of the Midway Islands.
In 1941, as war time activities increased, the US War Department
began to use the President Coolidge for occasional voyages to Honolulu
and Manila. She also helped evacuate Americans from Hong Kong when Japanese-British
relations became strained in 1940. She was later called upon to assist
in the evacuations of many people from Asia as the Japanese aggression
increased. In June 1941, the Coolidge went into service with the American
Army as a transport ship for reinforcing garrisons in the Pacific. A few
months later the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. After
this, the Coolidge was stripped of her finery, painted haze gray, mounted
with guns and turned into a troop ship. Many of the fixtures and fittings
were removed or boarded up for protection. After full conversion in 1942,
she could carry over 5,000 troops. As a troop carrier, she was never intended
to see any action. In her first few months of service, her ports of call
included Melbourne, Wellington, Auckland, Bora Bora, and Suva. On October
6, she set sail from her home port of San Francisco, California for New
Caledonia and Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu
A large military base and harbor had been established on Espiritu
Santo and the harbor was heavily protected by mines. Information about
safe entry into the harbor had been accidentally omitted from the Coolidge's
sailing orders, and upon her approach to Santo on October 26, 1942, the
SS Coolidge, fearing Japanese submarines and unaware of the mine fields,
attempted to enter the harbor through the largest and most obvious channel.
A mine struck the ship at the engine room and moments later, a second mine
hit her near the stern.
Captain Henry Nelson, knowing that he was going to lose the ship,
ran her aground and ordered troops to abandon ship. Not believing the ship
would sink, troops were told to leave all of their belongings behind under
the impression that they would conduct salvage operations over the next
Over the course of the next 90 minutes, 5,340 men got safely off
of the wreck and to shore. There was no panic as the troops disembarked
- many even walked to shore. However, the captain's attempts to beach the
ship were unsuccessful due to the coral reef. The Coolidge listed heavily
on her side, sank, and slid down the slope into the channel. She now rests
on her port side with her bow at a depth of 20 metres (70 ft) and her stern
at 70 metres (240 ft).
There were 2 casualties in the sinking of the Coolidge: The first
was Fireman Robert Reid, who was working in the engine room and was killed
by the initial mine blast. The second, Captain Elwood J. Euart, US Army
Field Artillery, had safely gotten off the Coolidge when he learned that
there were still men in the infirmary who could not get out. He went back
in to one of the sea doors, successfully rescued the men but was then unable
to escape himself and he went down with the ship. A memorial to Captain
Euart is located on the shore near the access points for the Coolidge.
Lying on her side in 70 – 240 ft (21-73m) of water, the SS Coolidge
is perhaps the most accessible shipwreck of this size and type. The wreck
is one of the most desirable dives due to relatively shallow site, easy
beach access, visibility. The depths involved mean that, with care and
decompression stops, recreational divers can explore large parts of the
wreck without specialized equipment. The massive expanse of the wreck,
combined with the gradual downward slope, means that care must be taken
monitoring depth, as the diver's horizontal frame of reference may be skewed
resulting in unaware continual gradual descent. from wikipedia
WWII Jeeps on the SS President Coolidge
President Coolidge - Hold One
It is crammed with equipment vital for the war effort, the loss of
which must have severely affected the Americans' push into the Solomons.
Today you can see the goods, six wheel drive trucks (10 wheels all up),
jeeps and an upside-down tracked vehicle (a dozer?). These are just
some of the things to see.
On the right at the back of the hold there are seven jeeps stacked
in twos. There is one by itself and the other six are stacked on top of
each other (at least now). The wheels are not on the jeeps, they are stored
inside the body.
President Coolidge - Holds Two and Three
Straight away you will see a huge wheeled artillery gun and more six
wheel drive trucks and jeeps. The gun may be one of four 155 mm
guns modified in Noumea and loaded onto the Coolidge at the last stop.
These were to be linked up with bases being built at Santo. See Joseph
Ritz's memories on the Coolidge's last trip page. There is a tracked
vehicle here. It is upside down and appears to be a bulldozer. At the
back right of the hold there are some aircraft drop tanks... On
the 4th level in, right side as you enter (towards stern), there are three
field guns. Two of these have huge wheels and are medium sized and the
other is a smaller gun but still quite large. I never saw these till October
2002, despite diving here dozens of times before!
Photo labeled as: Some
of the wheels at the front of Hold Two
Photo (incorrectly) labeled as: A
in Hold Two (not a Jeep - Dodge, GMC?)
President Coolidge - Bow and Sand Below Holds
There used to be a pistol (maybe it is still there hidden), a typewriter,
a large number of fire extinguishers, some Jeep steering wheels,
a huge spare anchor that fell off the deck and further out a lot of aluminium
aircraft drop tanks. From here you pass the masts and crane arms, which
all point down to the sand.
Photo (incorrectly) labeled as: Some
of the Jeep steering wheels at the bow (not from a Jeep - Dodge,
President Coolidge - Dive to Stern
In front is the docking bridge and then the rear hold (Hold 7), containing
more artillery guns, four-wheel drive trucks, jeeps and huge amounts
of ammunition. Below the hold on the sand is what looks like a trailer
of some sorts. I am not real clear on what it is as it is quite small and
not like a normal type of trailer, however from a description of a gun
in Hold 2 given by Peter Stone in his book The Lady and the President,
it may be a Long Tom gun carriage.
President Coolidge - Soda Fountain
The Soda Fountain was located under the Swimming Pool and now it is
at the same depth. You can enter through one of the windows (at bottom
or top). Here you will see a small wheeled artillery gun. This is
upsidedown. It may be the one that was used for practise gunnery on the
ship's voyage across the Pacific. From the artillery gun, turn right
and go up a level and enter through the largest window. You will see the
bar with spots for ice cream containers and the soda taps. On the bottom
(actually the port wall) there are hundreds, if not thousands, of Coca
Cola bottles (did you know that during the War, Coca Cola promised
to supply American troops with a bottle of Coke for five cents, no matter
where they were and what it might actually cost to produce and ship to
Photo labeled as: The
artillery gun near the Pool and Soda Fountain
President Coolidge - Promenade Deck
As you swim along the deck, there are lots of things to see, helmets,
water bottles, gas masks, rifles, bullets, Thompson sub-machine guns, plates,
cups, cooking utensils, morphine and cat gut phials (these used to
be there but have now disappeared) and many more pieces of equipment.
President Coolidge - Salvage Works
After working in the Solomons (on the Honiara wrecks) and New Guinea,
May came back to Santo in 1971 and returned to the Coolidge. During this
work 50 tons of field gun shells and rifle rounds were removed.
Most came from hold three and after removing the explosive, the casings
were sent to Australia. They also removed wheels and tyres and sold
them to locals. The wheels were useless, sometimes falling apart as
soon as they were used, but the tyres were still okay. Rifles from the
holds were also taken to the surface but they were corroded. Barry
May and his crew entered the engine room but finding a almost four metres
of oil in there, they decided not to open it up. The price being paid for
used metal dropped around this time so they decided to stop the salvage
work and left Santo.
President Coolidge - Dive Index
Ahead you see winches and huge guns, then a mast and its cranes. Amazing!
It is a breathtaking sight that confronts you. Ahead is the enormous bridge,
stretching all the way to the bottom at more than 40 metres. To your right
runs a jumble of huge masts and above you there is a huge gun emplacement
and below you, yet another gun. The masts themselves disappear out of sight,
angled down towards the sand. This is really a lot bigger than you imagined.
Your first dive on the wreck has vastly changed your views on what to expect.
This is the SS President Coolidge, the largest easily accessible shipwreck
in the world.
President Coolidge - Main Index
History Page: The History
of the Dollar Steamship Line, the American Steamship Lines, the Newport
News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co .
The Ship: Details
of the ship (size, engines, layout etc)
The History of the Ship:
Details of the history of the ship till its fatal journey
Crossing the Pacific:
Details of the last crossing of the Pacific from San Francisco to Noumea
The Sinking: Details
of the trip from Noumea to Vanuatu and the sinking
Some Photographs of the
Sinking: Includes some rarer phtographs
Minute by Minute Account
of Sinking: Log Book written by Lt Craig Hosmer - specifically 26 October
First Hand Memories of
Sinking: Memories of the sinking by people who were there
Details of awards given to some people involved in rescues and attempted
rescues during sinking
The Salvage Work:
Details of the various salvage attempts carried out from 1942 to the mid-1970s
Investigation into the
Sinking: The investigation of the sinking and the three inquiries (courts
or commissions) held after the sinking. This page leads to other related
Diagram of the Wreck:
An Interactive diagram of the ship as it is now
Dives on the Wreck:
Descriptions of many dives on the Coolidge
The Fall of The Lady:
The Lady has now fallen from the wall of the Smoking Lounge and is in the
process of being salvaged.
Michael McFadyen for allowing us to repost his wonderful & extensive
work researching the SS Pres. Coolidge.
The USS John Penn
On one trip (1943?) to Noumea in New Caledonia (perhaps the first and
only one), a new jeep was collected at the Army Base by E. Wallace
Haynes, MoMM First Class. He brought it back to the John Penn and it was
loaded aboard. On board the ship was a Commodore, perhaps by the name of
Anderson. This jeep was for his use. When the John Penn was in New
Zealand collecting suppliers, Mr Haynes drove Commodore Anderson around
in the jeep.
When I dived it in 1995 I found a Jeep on the sand nearby,
also previously unknown. If you go out from the bridge, (which collapsed
late in 95), the Jeep is sitting upright about twenty metres from
the wreck. I don't know if the bridge has collapsed onto the aircraft remains
which consisted of the entire tail section from about three feet forward
of the vertical stabiliser, and an oleo strut (wheel leg). The jeep
was obviously the one collected by Mr Haynes in Noumea and used in New
The Toa Maru No 2
Maru No 2 (Japanese)
This is a very good wreck, the equal of many of the Chuuk Lagoon shipwrecks.
There are numerous items to see, including tanks, trucks, jeeps and
On 31 January 1943 the Toa Maru was carrying equipment and supplies
to Kolombangara again. Her destination was Vila Harbour (also called Disappointment
Cove) on the south-eastern corner of the island where there was a Japanese
supply base. The ship was spotted by coastwatchers (mostly Australian and
British men stuck there when the war started) leaving Rabaul on New Ireland
in Papua New Guinea a few days earlier. On 31 January 1943, 12 Douglas
TBF Dauntless torpedo bombers from the Marine Scout/Torpedo Bomber Squadron
VMSTB -142, as well as perhaps some Douglas SBD 5 Dauntless dive bombers
(not sure how many), left Henderson Airfield on Guadalcanal to the south
with the aim of attacking shipping in Vella Gulf. They were escorted by
eight Grumman F4F-4 Wildcats from Marine Fighter Squadron VMF-112 (it was
not necessarily mentioned in reports that the aim was to find and destroy
the Toa Maru). The dive bombers had hit the Toa Maru. The wreck today has
two bomb holes in the bow. The first is a large hole in the hull on the
port side in Hold One and the second is a smaller hole between the Chain
Locker and Hold One, also on the port side. It is also reported that the
rear holds was hit, probably by the fighters. The Toa Maru sank sometime
after on the northern side of Sepo Kokiti Island which is located about
seven kilometres to the north of Gizo township.
Between Holds One and Two is a mast. This is still in place and
extends right out over the sand. Behind the mast is the hold. The most
obvious thing you will see here is a two man tank. This is sitting
upside down on the side of the hold's entrance. The turret is easily seen
as is the small gun barrel that extrudes from it. Behind the tank there
is another track. Whether this was a spare or from another tank buried
under debris I do not know. In the hold there are thousands of beer bottles,
steel girders and some ammunition. What we noticed most were timber packs
containing four mortar bombs. There are hundreds of these.
Outside you will notice some very interesting things between the
holds and on the sand under the opening to Hold Three. There is a large
kingpost (the H shaped part of a ship) and above the uppermost support
there is an object that Danny Kennedy of Adventure Sports dive shop at
Gizo says is a motorcycle. He said that it originally had a side car.
Nowadays it does not resemble a bike at all (apart from the seat perhaps).
There are other objects here that appear to me to be parts of a largish
field gun. I say this after my three trips to Chuuk Lagoon where I saw
a lot of this on wrecks. To me, the "bike" looks like the parts of a gun
where the crew sit and adjust the gun. However, Danny assures me that in
the mid-1980s when he moved to Gizo it definitely looked like a bike. Despite
this, I am confident that the other bits here are a gun. Why? Because on
the hull above here there are at least two (or maybe three) large barrels
and trigger assemblies, a gun mount and other parts of field guns. It is
likely that the salvage attempts moved these here to get at other items
in the holds or perhaps they had some intentions to later salvage them.
Hold Three is mostly empty but just outside the hold there is a
truck. At the back of the upper level of this hold there are some lanterns.
They look very nice when you put a torch inside them. In Holds Two and
Three, Danny's dive guides have hidden away a lot of artefacts that they
pull out to show you. Some of the things include large ampoules, bottles
of pills and other items. There are also plates, cups, thermos flask and
other items on display on the holds' edges. A level down is the communications
area. There is a typewriter, telephone and radio equipment here. Further
back there is the galley, with a stove, pots and other kitchen equipment.
I seem to recall that in the bridge our guide also showed us a glass jar
full of condoms!! Somewhere we also saw a pile of Japanese newspapers.
Below the entrance to the Hold Four there are at least two trucks
on the sand, covered with seagrass or kelp. Behind here is the rear H shaped
kingpost. Coming out of Hold Five you will see a jeep to the rear
under the rear mast. Hold Six contains hundreds of 44 gallon drums. Just
outside the entrance to this hold there is a small fuel tanker,
lying on its left side with the engine towards the wreck. The tank cylinder
has rusted a fair bit and most of it has gone.