The S.S. Donbass III began its life as a lend-lease tanker, launched at Kaiser Ship Building, in Portland, Oregon. The ‘T-2’ was nearly identical to all the other tankers that served as oilers in the U.S. Navy during World War II.
Tankers of this type were constructed similar to the Liberty Ship and both were considered weak in the keel. They were known to break in half under the right conditions and were even referred to as ‘Kaiser Coffins’ for this reason.
Originally named S.S. Beacon Rock when launched in 1944, she was given to the Russian Navy that same year and renamed. Her main role was transporting fuel from the U.S.’s west coast, through the Bering and Okhotsk Seas and the Sea of Japan to Vladivostok, Russia.
Several U.S. Nay ships were ordered to proceed to the Aleutian Islands, near Adak, Alaska in February 1944. When they got there, they found the bow section of the vessel still afloat with six survivors aboard after encountering a gale and breaking in two.
The Navy tried to get the stranded crew of the dying ship, but they refused aid until the Soviet ship, Belgorod, arrived and took them aboard and towed the section of remaining vessel away. The bow was later scrapped.
The aft section was located and assisted by the American tanker S.S. Puente Hills, which removed another 23 crew members including a woman, before towing it to Port Angeles, Washington with another 20 crew members aboard.
Eventually the U.S. Maritime Commission sold it to Pacific Power & Electric for $125,000, after the company learned the engineering section with its GE turbine-generator, was still working. PG&E towed the section to Eureka, California and beached so it could serve as a power plant, providing Eureka with five-megawatts of power following World War II.
It was dismantled about ten-years later after a new power-plant was built to serve the city and surrounding area.
The Soviets named the vessel after the Donbass region of eastern and southern Ukraine. A coal mining area since the late 19th century, it has become a heavily industrialized territory.
In March 2014, large swaths of the Donbass region became gripped by unrest. This grew into a war between pro-Russian separatists affiliated with the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics, and the post-revolutionary Ukrainian government.