Escanaba ship has ties to D-Day

Joseph H. Thompson was part of invasion fleet

Ilsa Matthes | Daily Press The Joseph H. Thompson is shown as it heads out into Lake Michigan Wednesday in Escanaba. The vessel, which was part of the D-Day invasion fleet, is now owned by VanEnkevort Tug & Barge of Escanaba. Escanaba is the ship’s home port. It is docked at North Shore Marine Terminal & Logistics, Inc.’s facility in Escanaba off of 1st Avenue North when not sailing the Great Lakes.

ESCANABA — Today marks the 75th anniversary of D-Day — the day when Allied forces landed in Normandy during World War II. The Joseph H. Thompson, a ship which has been docked in “Escanaba’s backyard,” has close ties to this historical event.

“She was at D-Day,” VanEnkevort Tug & Barge (VTB), Inc. Director of Purchasing Peter Groh said of the ship.

VTB has owned the Joseph H. Thompson for about four years.

According to information from www.boatnerd.com, the Joseph H. Thompson was originally built by Sun Shipbuilding and Dry Dock of Chester, Pa. in early 1944. It was constructed for the U.S. Maritime Commission as part of the World War II effort; originally, it was known as the Marine Robin.

The brochure “From Salt Water to Fresh Water,” which focuses on the Joseph H. Thompson’s history, states the Marine Robin’s maiden voyage brought U.S. troops from Newport News, Va., to Bremen, Germany. For three months, the ship brought soldiers from North Africa to southern France, and it was present at the Normandy invasion on June 6, 1944.

After D-Day, the Marine Robin took 1,500 German prisoners of war to the United States. The ship also visited Oran, Le Havre, Naples, Southampton, Marseille and Mediterranean ports.

On Oct. 5, 1945, the ship traveled through the Suez Canal and entered the Pacific theater. It was used by the military through August 1946; along with a repatriation trip to return German nationals from China, it visited Hawaii, Japan and the Philippines. The Marine Robin was then retired.

In the early ’50s, the Marine Robin was purchased by the Hansand Steamship Company, converted for use as a lake carrier and transported to the Great Lakes. A new midsection was built for the ship; as the ship’s new length was about 714 feet — a significant increase from its original length of 515 feet — it had to be transported on the Mississippi River and Chicago’s canal system in two sections and rejoined later.

Over the years, the Joseph H. Thompson has been used as a vessel and a tug barge. It currently serves as a tug barge in VTB’s fleet, and is docked at North Shore Marine Terminal & Logistics, Inc.’s facility in Escanaba.

Groh said VTB is proud to own and operate the Joseph H. Thompson.

“I think it’s unique that she does have past history supporting our troops and that she has survived all these years and is still in general commerce today,” he said.

The Joseph H. Thompson left Escanaba Wednesday and is currently sailing the Great Lakes.


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