USNS Watkins (T-AKR-315)
The USNS Watkins is a Watson-class large, medium-speed roll-on/roll-off (LMSR) ship launched in 2000 and named for Travis E. Watkins, an Arkansas native who received a Medal of Honor for heroic actions during the Korean War.
Travis E. Watkins was born in Waldo (Columbia County) on September 5, 1920, but moved to Texas with his mother and brothers after his parents divorced. He joined the U.S. Army in 1939 and earned a Bronze Star at Guadalcanal during World War II. Remaining in the army, he had risen to the rank of master sergeant by the time the Korean War began. On August 31, 1950, he and a group of thirty soldiers were cut off from the rest of their regiment by a large force of North Koreans. Watkins formed a perimeter and heroically defended the position, gathering ammunition and fighting off enemy attacks until he was paralyzed after being hit by machine gun fire. On September 3, he ordered his men to leave him behind and cut their way through to the rest of the U.S. force; he apparently died that day. Watkins was awarded the Medal of Honor on February 16, 1951, with his citation stating that “through his aggressive leadership and intrepid action, this small force destroyed nearly 500 of the enemy before abandoning their position.” He is buried in Gladewater, Texas.
In the early 1990s, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff conducted a study that concluded that the military needed expanded sealift capabilities to meet wartime and national emergency needs. The Military Sealift Command was created to operate LMSRs capable of transporting an entire army task force, including 900 trucks, fifty-eight tanks, and forty-eight other tracked vehicles.
Eight Watson-class LMSRs were built to pre-position vehicles, troops, and supplies in support of an army heavy brigade, including the USNS Watkins. The Watkins’s keel was laid down by the National Steel and Shipbuilding Company at San Diego, California, on August 24, 1999. Christened and named for Travis E. Watkins, the vessel was launched on July 28, 2000, and delivered to the U.S. Navy on March 2, 2001.
The USNS Watkins is 951.4 feet long and 106 feet wide, with a draft of 34.1 feet. The unarmed vessel has a cargo capacity of 393,000 square feet and can carry up to 62,970 tons. Its twin propellers are powered by two GE Marine LM gas turbines providing 64,000 horsepower, allowing it to reach speeds of twenty-four knots. The Watkins has a slewing stern ramp as well as a removable ramp that can provide access through two side ports, allowing entry to vehicles that can then travel easily via interior ramps. The Watkins has a pair of 110-ton cranes to move cargo ashore and features a helicopter landing deck. Operated by a civilian crew, the USNS Watkins is assigned to Afloat Prepositioning Ship Squadron Four, based at Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.
For additional information:
“Large, Medium-Speed, Roll-On/Roll-Off Ships T-AKR.” United States Navy Fact File. https://www.navy.mil/navydata/fact_display.asp?cid=4600&tid=500&ct=4 (accessed November 14, 2019).
“USNS Watkins (T-AKR-315).” NavSource.com. http://www.navsource.org/archives/09/54/540315.htm (accessed November 14, 2019).
Mark K. Christ
Central Arkansas Library System
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