Whatever Happened to the Harry Lee?

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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.

The Disaster

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 completely destroyed.




More information can be found in the short biography,
The Harry Lee, Biography of an Attack Transport Ship in W.W.II,
by Dr. Steven J. Waszak