Movie Sealore Mr. Roberts Reluctant

"Anchors Away"

A Movie
That Bugged Me


What Ship Was Used In The Movie Mr. Roberts?
We'll tell you here
...and, if you are a ship buff, particularly for FSs, and AKLs, you must see this: Click Here

This just in: 08 July 2002 - An eye witness report!
The rest of this page is rendered redundant...unless you enjoy bouncing balls.

Click on the bouncing ball for the clincher!
"Eye Witness Report". high_bouncing_ball.gif


The ultimate in Marine trivia: What actual ship did Hollywood use, and what modifications, if any, did they do to the vessel, in making the movie?
Ordinarily, such trivia isn't of any interest to me, unless it was a ship I sailed on. To be interested in the vessel in the making of Mr. Roberts, and/or what alterations were made to the ship in the production, surprises me, in that the type of vessel never interested me. The small Army FS ( FS for Freighter Small in Army parlance ) never came over my horizon...not even to this day. I had heard of them from some of the old timers who sailed them for the Army as USAT FS - ( number ), and during the early MSTS days as T-AKL - ( number ), or ( name ) and T-AKL - ( number ), but it meant nothing to me, except to be something "before my time".
Now, for some un-explainable reason, I'm taking on the task to solve this mystery of what "real" ship was used in the movie - Mr. Roberts, but more so to document to what extent Hollywood went to to modify the superstructure, which to some extent, I now think they did.

First...if "Anchors Away" isn't your thing, just page up, and "shoot" it. Secondly, I'll be jumping around the page, so just follow the bouncing ball by clicking on it when you see it.

Now...a typical FS/AKL - can be seen here as the USNS T-AKL -25.

Specs on these ships were: Displacement 515 t.(lt); Length 177'; Beam 33': Draft 10'; Speed 13kts; Complement 52; Armament two .50 cal. machine guns; Propulsion, two 500hp GE diesel engines, twin screws...a neat small ship, to say the least.
Since there's very little documentation on these vessels available, it's only a guess whether they were diesel-electric, but assuming they were...the engines being other than "GE", but motors were GE. I have sailed with "GE" diesels, and they were large...around three-thousand HP, but modified from a Kooper-Bessemer plan. That was on the USNS Neptune...a cable layer...where there were three of these engines.

Note: Dec 2004, in recent e-mail discussions about the engines used in these vessels, the consensus now is that for most of them, they were General Motors Diesels...specifically GM 6-278A ( six cylinder, 278 cu. in. ), and generator. For further documentation on these vessels, check out Ramon's Pages.

It's interesting to note right off, that the Bridge Deck is "raised" a few feet, like an "orlop" deck in old freighters' holds.

This is important to this whacky investigation, because, as you will see, Hollywood had to do some fancy ship "alts" ( alterations ) in order to produce their "Palm Tree" deck.

Here are the results of my exhaustive search of the internet for historical information on the USS Hewell, and information on the movie - "Mr. Roberts".

In a little side line...these gallant little ships also made it into the
"Space Program".

So...whatta ya think? It seems the USS Hewell played the part as the USS Reluctant AK-601...doesn't it. The timing is right, the ship being in the area at the time, and de-commissioned shortly after. I think it was. Now...did you catch "AK-601"? In the film, "AK 601" is painted on the bow. In the novel by Thomas Heggen, that's the ship type, and number used. However, in the novel, the "Reluctant" is an AKA - an Attack Cargo fact the ship that inspired, and which Heggen sailed on, was the USS Virgo AKA-20...the same type ship I sailed on in the Navy - USS Arneb AKA-56. Needless to say, the "Reluctant" in the movie is an AKL...not an AKA...not by ten, or more times the size. So...that was a mistake by the film-makers....You can't misplace ship designators like that. However...we don't hear anyone's just a movie. We'll get into dumber stuph now.

Here's really what has prompted me to waste time on this idiocy: Take a look first at the whole picture, and try to remember's a photo I took off the TV. Fix your attention on the "built-up" housing forward of the original superstructure, or house.

Notice railings, and the proper recesses for cradling the booms when down...notice the boom cradles themselves, and then notice the ladders ascending a few steps to the bridge deck, and the openings in the bridge dodgers ( bulwark ).

By now you have a good picture of the "Palm Tree" deck...the deck supposedly "built" by Hollywood, but did they build the complete house. For that it would be nice to have "before, and after" photos of the Hewell, but there aren't any photos of the Hewell to be found readily. Probably in someone's attic, but not on the primary source for this non-sense.

However, we do have photos of other ships with "built-up" housing in this, the USNS Range Recover, you've already seen. Bare in mind, you won't see any ladders ascending, nor railings adorning them. The USS Brule AKL-28 comes to my rescue!

To conclude...just more bouncing balls to contend with. On different occasions while watching the movie simply for it's story, I did notice one could see "into" the spaces through the portholes in the "built-up house"...the structure the "Palm Tree" deck is on. Ordinarily, I'm quick to see "stage settings", especially aboard cargo ships...since I've sailed so many of them.
I didn't pay attention to the goings, and comings of the actors from the bridge deck to the "palm tree" deck, but only to their ascent, and descent to the hatch top...that ladder always looked phoney to me, as ladders don't land on hatch covers, or hatch tops.
The railings around the deck were well done, even to the recess to accomodate the cargo booms when cradled, making me believe they were original, but they're not, though they are of steel.
The Hollywood alterations are: 1. The ladder up to the top of the "built-up" house. 2. The railings around that house. 3. The openings through the Bridge Dodgers on both sides, and 4. The two short wooden ladders from that house top, or "Palm Tree" deck ( 01 Level ), to the Bridge Deck.
While watching the movie about a week ago, I did notice Jack Lemmon - one of the actors, take hold of the hand rail afixed to that housing at the main deck level. That is original, as is the "built-up" housing...the only thing Hollywood didn't have to add.
Now...with that mystery solved: The USS Hewell AG-145 ex AKL-14 ex FS 391 was the ship used as the USS Reluctant - the "Bucket" in the movie "Mr. Roberts".
As far the Captain having a Public Address consol on his desk...that I doubt, as his cabin adjourned the wheel house, where there was one a few feet away. It was strange not to ever see the XO...Fonda playing the "Cargo Officer".
Actually, all of this is strange...even learning, though it's just a rumor passed down three, or four times, that the USS Hewell lies at the bottom of the sea, having foundered.


Talk about coincidences....As I conclude this subject, I am being, at this moment, visited by an ol' ship mate - Bill V. a retired Radio Officer. Bill had sailed on several of this type of vessel...once on an Army FS, he thinks it was the USAT FS 288 ( not sure ), and two MSTS AKLs - one, the USNS Range Recoverer. It's been a half-century since, and all Bill can remember is that his quarters were on the main deck, and his Radio "shack" was the Bridge - no proper Radio Shack. He remembers a small settee in the Wheelehouse he could sack-out on. See Bill's page here:



Ref 1994. Ref1979/1986: The role of the ship was played by USS HEWELL (AG-145) 172' LOD. The "palm tree" deck was added by studio technicians. Henry Fonda played the role of Roberts in some 1600 performances on Broadway before he did the film. DRB The Hollywood Military Advisor File Drawer #19

If you use this hyper link, Please Return by Clicking on the "Back" Button. To resume reading where you left off, Click on the Bouncing Ball at the Bottom of this Item.


USS Hewell AG-145 ex AKL-14

Camano Class Light Cargo Ship: Laid down at United States Concrete Pipe Corp., Los Angeles, CA.; Launched, 1944; Operated by the US Army as FS-391; Acquired by the Navy, 2 February 1948; Commissioned a Miscellaneous Auxiliary USS Hewell (AG-145), 5 June 1948; Reclassified a Light Cargo Ship, (AKL-14), June 1949; Decommissioned, 15 March 1955, at Astoria, OR.; Laid up in the Pacific Reserve Fleet, Columbia River Group, Astoria; Struck 1 November 1959; Final Disposition, sold, 2 June 1960, to Steve Pickard, fate unknown. Hewell received seven battle stars for Korean service.

Specifications: Displacement 515 t.(lt); Length 177'; Beam 33': Draft 10'; Speed 13kts; Complement 52; Armament two .50 cal. machine guns; Propulsion, two 500hp GE diesel engines, twin screws. NavSource Online

If you use these hyper links, Please Return by Clicking on the "Back" Button. To resume reading where you left off, Click on the Bouncing Ball at the Bottom of this Item.


An island off the coast of Maine.

(AG-145: dp. 515; l. 177'; b. 33'; dr. 10'; s. 13 k.; cpl. 52; a 2 50 cal. mg.; cl. Camano)

Hewell (AG-145) was launched in 1944 by United States Concrete Pipe Corp., Los Angeles, Calif.; served the United States Army as FS-391; acquired by the Navy 2 February 1948, and commissioned 5 June 1948, Lt. (j.g.) J. W. Hinkleman in command.
Hewell's shakedown took her through then Pacific to Guam, Midway, and Saipan. As part of the Service Force, Pacific. Hewell operated in support of America's far-flung Asian defenses. Reclassified AKL-14 in June 1949 she continued her duties of transporting cargo through the vast pacific areas covered by the U.S. Navy. when Communist troops began their onslaught on the Korean peninsula in June 1950, Hewell shifted her base of operations to Japan. Shuttle trips to the Korean coast kept American and Allied units, both naval and land, supplied with stores and ammunition. Overhaul at Pearl Harbor and tactical training designed to keep Hewell in a state of readiness varied her duties out of Japan.
With the end of hostilities in Korea in August 1953, Hewell continued to make frequent supply voyages from Japan to occupying troops until June 1954, when she made a final swing through the Pacific Island bases. Hewell departed Hawaii for home in mid-October 1954, remaining at Astoria, Oreg., until she decommissioned there 15 March 1955 and joined the Pacific Reserve Fleet. Hewell remained there until 1 November 1959 when her name was stricken from the Navy List and sold to Steve Pickard 2 June 1960. Hewell received seven battle stars for Korean service.

Transcribed by Richard H. Bouchard. The Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships


Film Facts
Mister Roberts was originally a hit on the Broadway stage. Henry Fonda re-created his stage role for the film. Cagney blended humor into the otherwise one dimensional part of the Captain. William Powell played doc and Jack Lemmon began a whole career out of his role as pulver. It was filmed on the South Pacific island of Midway and aboard the U.S.S. Hewell. Director John Ford became ill while filming and Mervyn Leroy completed the film, both received screen credit, nominated for three academy awards including best picture, Lemmon won for best supporting actor. Before it's release Cagney, Fonda and Lemmon re-created scenes on the Ed Sullivan Show" Film Facts

If you use these hyper links, Please Return by Clicking on the "Back" Button. To resume reading where you left off, Click on the Bouncing Ball at the Bottom of this Item.


The U.S.S. Reluctant has set sail on her final voyage. The U.S.S. Hewell was the actual 250-ton cargo ship at the naval base at Midway, which doubled for the U.S.S. Reluctant used to film MISTER ROBERTS. Henry Fonda was Lieutenant (jg) Doug Roberts or just known as beloved Mister Roberts to his crew. Mister Roberts was a man of dignity and honor who just wanted to do his part in the war. Instead Mister Roberts is rendered impotent on the U.S.S. Reluctant commanded by a hot-tempered, eccentric basically uneducated Captain brilliantly played by James Cagney. The script under the tenure of director John Ford mixed his usual comic military camaraderie with the despair of the sailors stuck in remote out of action sea-lanes and ports during World War II in the South Pacific. Top 100 Vintage Classic Films 1930 to 1959

studlink_chain_black.gif The real “Mister Roberts"

If you use these hyper links, Please Return by Clicking on the "Back" Button. To resume reading where you left off, Click on the Bouncing Ball at the Bottom of this Item.


When the "Snark" - the U.S.'s first Intercontinental Missle finally achieved it's fully intended range of 5,500 miles, it forced the construction of the tracking stations that would become the Eastern Test Range. To fill the 1,600 mile gap between the West Indies, and Ascension Island, the U.S. Air Force, in 1956, broke out six FSs, and gave them no names, except for the phonetic call signs of Echo, Foxtrot, Golf; Hotel, India, and Kilo. The gun emplacements where converted to accomodate radars for tracking, and the cargo holds for housing electronic equipment. By the end of October 1957, the FSs where in position to track.
The above info gleaned from the article "The Rocket Ships" by Dan Kovalchik in the January, 2002 edition of Air and Space Magazine ( Smithsonian ).


It was interesting reading what you have on your website about the movie "Mr. 
Roberts" and the real Navy ship that starred in the movie - the USS Hewell 
(AKL-14). Well, I served on the Hewell during that time as a yeoman - one of 
33 enlisted men and four officers on the light cargo ship. You are right that 
most of the movie was filmed at Midway in the central Pacific and aboard the 
Hewell. But the big scene where the natives came out to the Reluctant in 
outrigger canoes was filmed in Kaneohe Bay, no question the prettiest port I 
have ever seen. It is across Oahu from Honolulu. When that scene was being 
shot, I couldn't help but recall a similar incident that happened a few 
months before when the Hewell's home port was in Japan. A Navy seaplane had 
to make a forced landing near Wotje Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The Hewell 
was dispatched to Wotje to accommodate the seaplane crew until the plane 
could be repaired and flown out. After our ship was anchored off the main 
atoll, natives came out in outrigger canoes and invited us to come ashore as 
their guests. It was the most unusual liberty I ever pulled during my four 
years in the Navy.You also are right that the "palm tree" deck and the 
housing around it was constructed in Honolulu to make the Hewell look like a 
larger ship, at which I thought Hollywood failed. Most of the addition was 
made of wood. The Hewell was on her way back to Astoria, Oregon, for 
decommissioning when we made a port call at Honolulu to take on fuel and 
provisions. We were only supposed to be in port for a few days before 
continuing on the Hewell's last Navy cruise. Days turned into weeks, and we 
sailors grew impatient to get back home to the United States. Warner Brothers 
and the Navy were negotiating over using the Hewell in "Mr. Roberts." 
Finally, we were told of the decision and, for four months, sailed around the 
western Pacific mostly under the command of Director John Ford. Interesting 
that you served on an attack cargo ship. Before going aboard the Hewell, I 
served two years on the USS Chara (AKA-58). Waylon Smithey, Birmingham, 

In a follow-up, Waylon adds the following:

Carl: Thank you for the quick reply. First off, you have my permission 
to use the information on your website about the Hewell and "Mr. Roberts." 
None of the inside scenes in the movie were shot on the Hewell; I suppose 
they were shot in Hollywood. Most of the enlisted men on the Hewell were used 
as extras in the movie, and were paid $300 each by Warner Brothers. 
(Considering how many times that movie has been replayed on TV, I would have 
been a lot better off if I had held out for royalties). I am in about four or 
five scenes. When Cagney had Fonda and the rest of the crew on deck in front 
of the superstructure outlining the new "rules," I am the lone sailor in 
undress whites standing at attention who is framed between the two actors. We 
sailors at first were upset about being held up for the filming of the movie, 
but later the experience seemed to be worth the delay. For one thing, almost 
every weekend the film crew and cast threw a big bash at one of the Waikiki 
Beach hotels, and the Hewell crew was invited. It was a great perk in our 
estimation, and we all accepted the invitations. After my tour in the Navy, I 
got a degree in journalism and was a newspaperman for 36 years. One day in 
the 1980s when I was at The Birmingham (Ala.) News, an Associated Press 
dispatch came in about the old ship that once was the Hewell. She and her 
civilian crew were nabbed off the coast of southern California with a load of 
marijuana from Mexico. Heck of a thing to happen to such a proud ship. I have 
never heard anymore about the ship. Thanks so much. Waylon.

Thank you, Waylon...great info!

Click on the bouncing ball below to continue, or just exit the site. Ed.



You lucked out for being interested in the basic AKL, originally built as a U.S.A.T. FS ( FP ). We have here a rare find - photos of some of the original plans from the archives in Washington, D.C.
To conserve memory/space, I have re-sized the originals to fit the screen, and have edited the presentations to appear straight/square. I have also replaced the hand printed data with digital print, preserving it all as written.
Most sorry to report that these are the only plans available at the archives, but they give us a good idea of the interior spaces of the vessel. It would have been nice to have Outboard Profiles which would give us a good picture of the ship in general, and it would also have been nice to have "Typical Sections" - cross sections for those interested in building a model. However, a cleaver model builder may find help in referring to the photos in this gallery.
Click on the links below for what there is:

Inboard Profile
Plan Bridge Deck ( Wheelhouse, Chart Room, and Radio ) plus Capacity Plan
Plan Second Deck Aft
Plan Main Deck Aft
Plan Main, and Second Decks Forward
Trim Table
Stern View Photo of typical FS (AKL)
Original Capacity Plan for 176' FS (AKL)

The above images were colored blue...the originals were black on white. If ever more plans are discovered, especially the "Typical Sections", they will be posted here. Notice also that originally all these FSs ( originally called FP ) were configured for Army, or Merchant Marine ( civilian ) manning.
The plan is simple, and adequate, but for Navy manning there were considerable modifications made, and the designation went from FS to AKL.
Happy remenising.

Alright, we have unearthed "Typical Sections", and alot more...see The Dead Seas Plans.

Here's another anomoly with these FS/AKL types...the 02 Level, or Bridge Deck, and that includes the Captain's Stateroom...the movie showing that to be just abaft the Wheel House, so...that too had to be two to three feet above the 01 Level, or Boat Deck. There probably was an engine room casing rising near center-line causing this...I don't know, but there's something taking up that vertical space.
Click Here for complete photo of this ship - the USNS Range Recoverer T-AGM-2.
Please Click "Back" to Return to This Page...and continue to follow the bouncing ball.


Note the "built-up" house at the aft end of #2 hatch. It's not center-line, but off-set to port somewhat, though it does maintain a height equal to that of the 01 Level. This "ship alt" ( alteration ) is just about half the size of that on the USS Hewell ( USS Reluctant ). I'd venture to say that quite a few AKLs were modified this way considering the small, original housing area aboard these ships. I, my self, had a similar structure approved for the USNS Kane, on the centerline, but adjourning the aft end of the house at main deck level.


The highlighted ( dark ) section of the photo on the left shows the built-up house ( there's a couple of boxes on top ) forward of the original superstructure ( house ) can see the starboard side door quite well.
In the photo below, in the highlighted ( dark ) circle, you can see the port side WTD ( Water Tight Door ) into the built-up house. This is not the Hewell, but another ship - the USS Brule AKL-28...both photos.
Unlike the smaller house on the Range Recover, this structure, if examined carefully, is identical in size to that on the Hewell.

The photo shows the "Palm Tree" deck complete. Note the cargo boom cradles in the same place as the cradles on another AKL - USNS T-AKL - 25.

While we are here, examine the ladder coming up to the "Palm Tree" deck ( actually the 01 Level ). See how light it isn't a proper ladder, nor are the two ladders to the bridge deck...they seem to be made of wood.

While at this view, let's study the openings through the bridge dodger at the top of each short ladder. Though nicely fabricated, can you imagine the "hurricane" on the bridge wing while heading into a any breeze of any consequence. What we have here are two nicely formed "scoops"...wind scoops. Just for laughs, figure the wind four-points on the bow, and the wheel house doors open, the down-wind "scoop collecting the wind, and the up-wind scoop acting like a syphon, sucking the wind through the wheel house. Ha ha. If, these alterations were left in place as the Hewell made it way back to states, it must have been a riot. Though it all looks nice, and convenient to the foredeck, this arrangement is most lubberly, and incorrect.

Back for another look.