The USS Harry Lee had a varied career both before and after
its stint in the U.S. Navy.
Built in 1931 by the New York Shipbuilding Company in Camden, New Jersey, the ship was
originally a commercial supply ship which sailed under the houseflag of American Export
Lines as the Exochorda. She plied the New York-Mediterranean run until 1940,
when she was acquired by the U.S. Navy and sailed as the transport Harry Lee.
The Lee's career in the Navy ended in 1946 when she was declared surplus and was returned
to American Export, which again named her Exochorda, then quickly sold her to
the Turkish government. Renamed Tarsus by her new owners, she disappeared
from the maritime world for three years. After an extensive refit at Bethlehem Steel
Company's yard in Baltimore during 1949-50 that saw her passenger capacity increase from
140 to 465, the Tarsus was ready to resume her pre-war sailings between New
York and Istanbul, but under the houseflag of Turkish Maritime Lines.
Only three round voyages were made by the Tarsus, the first in 1951, the
second in 1954, and the third in 1955. It can only be presumed that her transatlantic
activities were not financially successful. After the third voyage, she was confined to
trading in the Mediterranean.
On December 14, 1960, the Yugoslav tanker, Peter Zoranic was sailing through the
Bosphorus ladened with gasoline and kerosene. About midway through, she crashed into the
empty Greek tanker, World Harmony sailing from the Sea of Marmara to the Black Sea.
A tremendous fire broke out on the Peter Zoranic, and several explosions occurred
aboard the Greek Tanker. After the collision, the Yugoslav tanker, burning fiercely and
out of control, started to drift with the current across the Strait. The Peter Zoranic
collided with the Tarsus, which was anchored outside a dry dock awaiting
repairs. The fire spread from the tanker to the Tarsus and she was