Monday, December 24, 2007

USS Rich (DE-695)

Figure 1: USS Glennon (DD-620), at right, after her stern was blown off by a mine off Normandy on 8 June 1944. USS Rich (DE-695), a U.S. PT boat, a British motor launch, and a U.S. "Auk" class minesweeper are standing by. Rich soon hit another mine, which also destroyed her stern, and was then sunk by a third mine. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 2: USS Rich (DE-695) strikes a mine, amidships, while operating off Normandy on 8 June 1944. She had previously hit another mine, which blew off her stern. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 3: “Christmas decorating at a Naval Hospital.” Ensign Audrey Etie, a Navy Nurse, and two patients decorate a small tree, 25 December 1944. Seaman Second Class Robert S. Whitaker, a survivor of USS Rich (DE-695), sunk during the June 1944 Normandy invasion, is at left. Another Normandy veteran, Ship's Cook Third Class John Elliot Hunter, is at right. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.

Named after Ralph M. Rich, a decorated naval aviator who distinguished himself during the Battle of Midway, the USS Rich (DE-695) was built at the Defoe Shipbuilding Co. in Bay City, Michigan, and was commissioned on 1 October 1943. The Rich was a 1,400-ton Buckley class destroyer escort with a crew of 215 officers and men. Her primary missions were convoy escort and antisubmarine warfare and her armament consisted of three 3-inch guns, four 40-mm guns, eight 20-mm guns, two depth charge tracks, eight depth charge projectors, one “hedgehog-type” depth charge projector and three 21-inch torpedo tubes. The Rich was 306 feet long, almost 37 feet wide and had a top speed of 24 knots.

After a shakedown cruise off Bermuda, the Rich escorted ships along the East Coast of the United States until the end of February 1944. She then escorted ships across the Atlantic to England, completing three round-trip crossings by May. On 12 May 1944 she started her final trip across the North Atlantic, reaching England on 23 May. At that point she was assigned to “Operation Neptune,” which was the naval phase of the invasion of Normandy.

On “D-Day,” 6 June 1944, the Rich escorted and screened the naval bombardment group of Task Force 125, which was assigned to provide gunfire support for the landings on “Utah” Beach. She continued screening these ships until the morning of 8 June. She then was ordered to assist the destroyer USS Glennon (DD-840), which had struck a mine northwest of the Saint-Marcouf Islands off the coast of Normandy. Shortly after reaching the Glennon, and while trying to assist the damaged destroyer, the Rich struck two mines. The first blew off approximately 50 feet of her stern and the second one exploded under her hull, just forward of amidships. The order was given to abandon ship and a few minutes later what was left of the Rich sank beneath the waves. Of her crew of 215, 90 were killed and 73 were wounded.

In Figure 3, above, a survivor from the USS Rich (Seaman Second Class Robert S. Whitaker, who was still recovering from his wounds) celebrates Christmas 1944 with a US Navy nurse and another hospital patient who survived the Normandy invasion. Certainly Seaman Second Class Whitaker had a lot to be grateful for that Christmas, since so many of his shipmates were not as fortunate as he was. But this picture shows that, regardless of the war or the era, Christmas represents a little bit of home to our men and women in uniform. This Christmas, with US forces fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, we should all take some time to remember the many men and women in our armed services who are unable to spend the holidays with their loved ones. A safe and Merry Christmas to them all.