Tuesday, July 1, 2008

USS Aaron Ward (DD-483)

Figure 1: USS Aaron Ward (DD-483) approaching USS Wasp (CV-7) on 17 August 1942, during operations in the Solomon Islands area. Note that her port anchor is missing, probably removed as a weight-saving measure. Also note her pattern camouflage. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 2: The USS Aaron Ward (DD-483) berthed at the Brooklyn Navy Yard on 4 May 1942. She shows a good example of the correctly applied US Navy Measure 12 Modified camouflage. USN courtesy of Floating Drydock. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 3: USS Aaron Ward (DD-483) probably photographed in New York Harbor, circa 15 May 1942. Wartime censors retouched this image. They removed radar antennas atop the gun director and foremast. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 4: USS Aaron Ward (DD-483) afloat immediately after she was launched, at the Federal Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company shipyard, Kearny, New Jersey, 22 November 1941. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 5: View on board the USS Aaron Ward (DD-483), looking aft from the bow, while the ship was in New York Harbor on 15 May 1942. Note her forward 5"/38 gun mounts, with 5" powder canisters stacked on deck nearby; and Mark 37 gun director, with "FD" radar antenna, atop the pilothouse. The tug Robert Aikman and a Navy covered lighter (YF) are alongside. Fort Richmond, on Staten Island, is visible in the right distance. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 6: Ships of Task Force 18 in Tulagi Harbor, Solomon Islands, shortly before departing hurredly to avoid the large-scale Japanese air attack that marked the beginning of Japan’s "I" Operation, 7 April 1943. Photographed from USS Fletcher (DD-445). USS Aaron Ward (DD-483) is partially visible at left. She was fatally damaged in this air attack and sank near Tulagi during salvage attempts. Light cruiser in center is USS Honolulu (CL-48). USS Saint Louis (CL-49) is behind her, to the right, with a Fletcher class destroyer beyond. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.

USS Aaron Ward (DD-483) was the second ship named after Rear Admiral Aaron Ward, who served in the US Navy from 1867 to 1913. Aaron Ward was a 1,630-ton Gleaves class destroyer that was built by the Federal Shipbuilding and Drydock Company at Kearny, New Jersey, and was commissioned on 4 March 1942. The ship was approximately 348 feet long and 36 feet wide, and had a top speed of 35 knots and a crew of 208 officers and men. She was armed with four 5-inch guns, two twin 40-mm gun mounts, two single 20-mm gun mounts, two quintuple 21-inch torpedo tube mounts and depth charges.

After a brief shakedown cruise off the coast of Maine, Aaron Ward was sent to the Pacific in May 1942. For roughly a month she escorted the aircraft carrier Long Island (AVG-1) and several old battleships as they left America’s West Coast and patrolled the waters off Hawaii. Aaron Ward then played a substantial role in the naval battle for Guadalcanal. In July, Aaron Ward steamed toward the South Pacific, where she escorted merchant ships to Guadalcanal. While escorting some warships near the island, Aaron Ward witnessed the sinking of the carrier USS Wasp (CV-7) after it was torpedoed by the Japanese submarine I-19 on 15 September 1942. On 17 October 1942, Aaron Ward fought off several Japanese aircraft and bombarded enemy positions on shore. On October 20, while screening American warships, she came to the assistance of the heavy cruiser USS Chester (CA-37) after she was torpedoed by another Japanese submarine. Aaron Ward escorted the damaged cruiser to Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides for repairs.

Aaron Ward shelled additional Japanese positions on Guadalcanal on 30 October as part of a task force centered on the light cruiser USS Atlanta (CL-51). Aaron Ward escorted merchant ships to Guadalcanal on 11-12 November and successfully protected them against enemy air attacks as they steamed off the coast of the island. On the night of 12-13 November 1942, during a major naval battle off Guadalcanal, Aaron Ward was part of a group of cruisers and destroyers that attacked a larger Japanese naval task force that included two battleships. The destroyer was hit several times during the battle and was even fired on (but not hit) by the Japanese battleship Hiei.

After the battle, Aaron Ward was sent to Pearl Harbor for repairs. She was sent back to Guadalcanal in February 1943. While steaming in nearby Tulagi Harbor on 7 April, Aaron Ward received a radar warning that a huge Japanese air raid was about to take place. The destroyer quickly moved away from Tulagi and went into the open waters of nearby Iron Bottom Sound (which got that name because of all of the ships that were sunk there). There the Aaron Ward’s luck ran out because several Japanese dive-bombers attacked her. The ship sustained one direct hit and several near misses, which flooded both her fireroom and engine room. Twenty-seven men were killed during the attack and 59 were wounded. The ship also had no power and began to sink. Two salvage ships came to the assistance of the Aaron Ward and tried to tow the stricken destroyer back to Tulagi. But the damage was too great and she soon sank, stern first, only 600 yards away from shore.

The Aaron Ward received four battle stars for her service in World War II. However, her story does not end there. During the mid-1990s, the wreck of the Aaron Ward was discovered by divers off the coast of Tulagi. She is sitting upright 240 feet below the surface, with both her bow and stern seriously mangled by the destroyer’s impact with the ocean floor. But despite the damage, the ship is well preserved and numerous divers have visited it. Aaron Ward may have been sunk in 1943, but to this day she provides mute testimony to the viciousness of the naval battles that were fought off the coast of Guadalcanal.