USS West Lianga (ID-2758) was a cargo ship for the United States Navy during World War I. She was later known as SS Helen Whittier and SS Kalani in civilian service under American registry, as SS Empire Cheetah under British registry, and as SS Hobbema under Dutch registry.
West Lianga was launched for the United States Shipping Board (USSB) in May 1918 as a part of the West boats, a series of steel-hulled cargo ships built on the West Coast of the United States for the World War I war effort. West Lianga briefly had the distinction of being the fastest-launched and fastest-completed ocean-going ship in the world. Pressed into cargo service for the US Navy, USS West Lianga was commissioned into the Naval Overseas Transportation Service (NOTS) and completed four round-trip voyages to France for the Navy. After decommissioning in mid 1919, she was briefly in cargo service out of Seattle before being laid up in late 1921.
West Lianga was sold to the Los Angeles Steamship Company (LASSCO) in early 1929, refurbished, and renamed Helen Whittier for intercoastal cargo service. When Matson Navigation Company purchased LASSCO in 1931, Helen Whittier frequently sailed on Matson’s Hawaiian sugar routes. She was renamed Kalani in 1938 and continued in Hawaiian service until 1940 when she was sold to British interests to help fill the United Kingdom’s urgent need for merchant ships.
After sailing to the UK as Kalani, the ship was renamed Empire Cheetah and sailed in transatlantic convoys, making three round trips between February 1941 and May 1942. At that time, Empire Cheetah was transferred to Dutch interests and renamed Hobbema. She successfully completed one transatlantic roundtrip under Dutch registry and was on the homeward leg of her second in Convoy SC 107, when that convoy was attacked by a wolf pack of German submarines. Shortly after midnight on 4 November 1942, Hobbema was struck in the engine room by a single torpedo fired by German submarine U-132. Of Hobbema‘s complement of 44 men and British gunners aboard, only 16 survived the attack. Hobbema was one of 19 Allied ships in the convoy sunk by German submarines. The sinking of Hobbema (or possibly Hatimura, also sunk by U-132 at the same time) resulted in one of the largest non-nuclear man-made explosions in history, with the German submarine also destroyed by the ensuing explosion.
The West ships were cargo ships of similar size and design built by several shipyards on the West Coast of the United States for the USSB for emergency use during World War I. All were given names that began with the word West, like West Lianga, one of some 24 West ships built by Skinner & Eddy of Seattle, Washington.West Lianga (Skinner & Eddy No. 21; USSB No. 1176) was laid down on 14 February 1918. When she was launched on 20 April with an elapsed time of 55 working days—65 calendar days—from keel laying to launch, it was reported in the New York Times as a new world-record.
When all remaining post-launch work on West Lianga was completed and she was delivered on 4 May, 67 working days after her keel laying, it was another world record for ocean-going vessels. By 1920, West Lianga still counted as the third-fastest delivery, behind two ships that were over one-third smaller than West Lianga. Shipbuilder Skinner & Eddy received a $71,600 bonus ($1.2 million today) for completing West Lianga early.
West Lianga was 5,673 gross register tons (GRT), and was 409 feet 5 inches (124.79 m) long (between perpendiculars) and 54 feet 2 inches (16.51 m)abeam. West Lianga had a steel hull and a deadweight tonnage of 8,800 DWT. The ship had a single steam turbine that drove her single screw propeller which moved the ship at an 11.5-knot (21.3 km/h) pace.