The huge troop-carrying ship USS Hershel “Woody” Williams has been deployed to Souda Bay naval base in Crete as of October 1, the U.S. Sixth Fleet announced.
It is the first time in 40 years that a US ship will use the joint US-Greece base as a homeport, Stars and Stripes reported.
📢ANNOUNCEMENT: #USSHershelWoodyWilliams shifted its homeport from Norfolk, Va., to #SoudaBay, 🇬🇷, effective 1, Oct., 2020. HWW conducts @USAfricaCommand missions in the #Med & waters around East, South & West Africa, to include the Gulf of Guinea operating w/ regional partners. pic.twitter.com/EB0jdbWXx3
— U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet (@USNavyEurope) October 2, 2020
The ship shifted its homeport from Norfolk, Va., to Souda Bay in order to conduct missions in the Mediterranean, and the waters around East, South, and West Africa, to include the Gulf of Guinea operating with regional partners.
“Hershel ‘Woody’ Williams provides a new capability in the theater, which enhances our interoperability with our partners across the spectrum of maritime operations,” said Vice Adm. Gene Black, commander, US Sixth Fleet.
“The unique design of the ship fosters inter-service operations with our US Marine Corps and Special Operations communities, which improves our ability to ensure maritime security and stability.”
The ship, at 784 feet long, carries a crew of 240 and is designed to serve as a modular platform to perform large-scale logistics movements, including the transfer of troops, vehicles, and equipment from sea to shore.
The Puller class of expeditionary sea base ships is designed to reduce dependency on foreign ports and provide support if no ports are available.
Symbolic warning to Turkey?
Analysts say that the ship’s deployment could serve as a symbolic warning that the United States is frustrated with Turkey — including its incursions into Syria, its relationship with Russia in purchasing air defense systems, and its insistence on drilling for minerals in eastern Mediterranean Sea areas controlled by Greece.
The arrival of the ship could be a prelude to a US military buildup at Souda Bay, which could become an alternative to the US Air Force’s use of the Incirlik Air Base in Turkey, where nuclear weapons are reportedly stored.
The recent visit of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Crete has reinforced a notion expressed by senior Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee for Europe: that US officials are considering exchanging its facilities at Incirlik Air Force base in Turkey with an extension of the US Naval base in Souda Bay, Crete.
However, the Pentagon has not yet released any information suggesting that.
Related: Is the US Eyeing Crete as an Alternative to Military Base in Turkey?