By Jennifer Young
During the years of World War II, many ships achieved renown, maybe even everlasting fame for their contribution to the war or what they and their sailors endured as a result of battle. Ships like the USS Indianapolis, USS Arizona, and USS Enterprise (AKA Grey Ghost) and their stories are well known; however, many lesser-known vessels contributed substantially to the war effort.
One of those ships was the USS Wolverine (IX-64), a training aircraft carrier used in the Great Lakes to train as many nearly 20,000 pilots, landing signal officers, and other members of our Naval forces.
The Wolverine began life as the Seeandbee, a luxury steamer cruise ship that shuttled over the lakes from cities like Cleveland to Buffalo. Naval architect Frank designed the steamer for the Cleveland and Buffalo Transit Company, which was based in Cleveland. She was designed with paddle propulsion, which gave her improved maneuvering ability and stability during rough lake weather. The ship also featured a compound inclined steam engine that produced less vibration than other types of steam engines, allowing passengers to enjoy a more restful night’s sleep during the passage.
Construction of the vessel was left to the Detroit Shipbuilding Company. Upon completion the Seeandbee became the largest side-wheel steamer ship of its time. Its initial launch took place on November 9, 1912. In the years that followed, passengers enjoyed crossing the Great Lakes in considerable comfort and elegance aboard the ship, which boasted mahogany surfaces, a decadent promenade deck, a dining room with alcoves and bay windows, and other luxuriant features. The ship included 510 rooms—many of which were outfitted with their own private toilet, a luxury for the era.
By 1938, heavy losses forced the Cleveland and Buffalo (C & B) Transit Company to sell Seeandbee. The C&B Transit Company of Chicago acquired the ship, using it for short trips and lake excursions. After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, the Navy fast-tracked the conversion of lake steamers and purchased the Seeandbee for $756,500. Converting such ships would save the Navy from having to build training vessels from scratch.
After the Navy acquired the ship, they removed its existing superstructure and refashioned the vessel into a freshwater aircraft carrier. On August 12, 1942, Seeandbee was renamed Wolverine and began her new career in the United States Navy, supporting the advanced training of American aviators in carrier take-offs and landings. Shorter and closer to the water than other contemporary combat carriers challenged green fliers, but the challenge would prove immensely helpful in the high-quality training of naval aviators.
Wolverine was decommissioned in 1945 and was sold for scrap in 1947. Soon after, the Department of Justice filed a case against the C&B Transit Company, having determined that the company inflated the cost of the ship, and that its actual value was along the lines of $275,000. The company’s president, while neither admitting guilt or disputing the charge was fined and the company’s stockholders were required to return $275,000 to the government along with capital gains taxes.