Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Figure 1: USS Palmer (DD-161) underway at high speed, probably during her trials, circa late 1918. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: USS Palmer underway, 26 February 1919. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: USS Palmer in a harbor, circa 1919. Courtesy of Jim Kazalis, 1981. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: USS Palmer photographed from the air while underway, circa 1919-1921. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 5: Destroyers laid up in reserve at San Diego, California, probably in 1922 or shortly thereafter. Ships nearest the camera are: USS Palmer (DD-161), in left center; USS Crane (DD-109), in right center; and USS Stansbury (DD-180), at right. Courtesy of ESKC Joseph L. Aguillard, USNR, 1969. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Named after Rear Admiral James Shedden Palmer who died in 1867, the USS Palmer (DD-161) was a 1,060-ton Little class destroyer built by the Fore River Shipbuilding Company at Quincy, Massachusetts. The ship was commissioned shortly after the end of World War I on 22 November 1918 and was approximately 314 feet long and 31 feet wide. Palmer was armed with four 4-inch guns, two 3-inch guns, 12 21-inch torpedoes and depth charges. She had a top speed of 35 knots and a crew of 122 officers and men.
Palmer was assigned to the Pacific Fleet and was based on the West Coast until she was decommissioned at San Diego on 31 May 1922. She remained in reserve until being re-commissioned on 7 August 1940. Palmer was converted into a fast minesweeper and re-designated DMS-5 on 19 November. She was sent to the Atlantic and was given minesweeping and escort assignments that would constitute the bulk of her duties for the next three years. Palmer participated in the invasion of Morocco, but was sent back to the Pacific to take part in the invasion of the Marshall Islands in January and February 1944. Palmer also escorted shipping between Hawaii and the central Pacific and went on to take part in the invasions of Saipan and Guam in June and July 1944. On 17 October 1944, Palmer assisted in sweeping the main channels near Leyte Gulf prior to the American invasion of the Philippines. She also escorted transports through the swept channels during the actual invasion.
On 7 January 1945, Palmer was part of the American invasion force that was about to attack the island of Luzon in the Philippines. While on a minesweeping mission in Lingayen Gulf, Palmer struck a mine. A large explosion followed, but Palmer remained afloat and the crew tried valiantly to save its ship. Progress was made in repairing the damage caused by the explosion, but three hours after the blast a Japanese twin-engine bomber flew in low over the ship and dropped two bombs, both of which hit the port side of the ship. The bomb blasts started an enormous fire that engulfed most of the ship and caused substantial damage below the waterline. Palmer started to go down while men frantically jumped into the sea to get away from the stricken warship. Palmer sank in just six minutes. Twenty-eight crewmembers were killed and 38 were wounded.
Ironically, Palmer was a ship that was built for one war but was sunk in another. She also spent 18 years in reserve before having an outstanding five-year career in World War II. Palmer proved that a ship could be kept in reserve for a number of years and still be a valuable wartime asset. Palmer received five battle stars for her service in World War II.
Posted by Remo at 8:58 AM
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Figure 1: The five Sullivan Brothers on board USS Juneau (CL-52) at the time of her commissioning ceremonies at the New York Navy Yard, 14 February 1942. All were lost with the ship following the 13 November 1942 Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. The brothers are (from left to right): Joseph, Francis, Albert, Madison and George Sullivan. They were adamant about serving together in spite of the US Navy wartime policy to separate family members. Surviving the brothers were their parents, Thomas and Alleta, their sister Genevieve, and the youngest brothers’ wife, Katherine, and their son, James. The family today includes two grandchildren of Albert Sullivan: Kelly Ann Sullivan Loughren and John Sullivan. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: Letter that was sent by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to the parents of the Sullivan brothers, all of whom were lost after the 13 November 1942 Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: USS Juneau (CL-52) photographed off New York City, 1 June 1942. She has a barge alongside her starboard quarter. Her superstructure retains its original camouflage scheme, but her hull has been repainted to a different pattern. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: USS Juneau off New York City, 1 June 1942, with a Lee and Simmons company barge alongside. Note differing camouflage schemes applied to hull and superstructure. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 5: "The five Sullivan brothers, ‘missing in action' off the Solomons, THEY DID THEIR PART," Office of War Information poster 42, number 1943-0-510254. It shows the Sullivan brothers on board USS Juneau (CL-52) in early 1942. All were lost with Juneau on 13 November of that year. Donation of the Steamship Historical Society of America, 1965. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Albert, Francis, George, Joseph, and Madison Sullivan were born in Waterloo, Iowa, between 1914 and 1920. George and Francis enlisted in the Navy in 1937. Their three bothers enlisted in the Navy in early 1942, shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. All five brothers strongly requested that they not be separated, even though US Navy policy during World War II was to prevent family members from serving on board the same ship. Their request, though, was granted and all five of the brothers were assigned to the commissioning crew of the USS Juneau (CL-52), a 6,000-ton Atlanta class light cruiser built at Kearny, New Jersey. The ship was officially commissioned in February 1942 and, after a shakedown cruise in the Atlantic and the Caribbean, Juneau was sent to the South Pacific in August 1942.
Juneau took part in the massive naval battles off the coast of Guadalcanal and was near the carrier USS Wasp (CV-7) when that ship was sunk on 15 September 1942. Juneau also took part in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands on 26-27 October, in which the carrier USS Hornet (CV-8) was lost. Japanese and American task forces then ran into each other in the early morning hours of 13 November 1942, and what followed was the famous “Friday the 13th” naval battle for Guadalcanal. During this vicious fight, Juneau was torpedoed and badly damaged. The ship remained afloat although a number of the crew was killed or wounded. One of the wounded was George Sullivan, but he was treated and then sent back to his battle station next to the depth charge racks. The next morning, the Japanese submarine I-26 spotted the American warships that had survived the previous night’s battle and fired two torpedoes. The first torpedo missed all of the ships but the second hit Juneau. A massive explosion ensued, blowing a few of the surviving crewmen off the ship and into the water. What was left of Juneau after the explosion sank almost immediately.
The remaining American warships saw the explosion and assumed that none of the crewmen could have survived the catastrophe. Also, since the torpedoes indicated there were enemy submarines in the area, the battered US ships decided to withdraw and not search for survivors, reasoning that any search would endanger the remaining crippled warships.
But there were survivors. One of them was George Sullivan, who had been thrown off the ship by the explosion. He swam desperately in the oil-stained sea, frantically searching for his four brothers. Approximately 100 men survived the explosion, most of them severely injured and now bobbing in the ocean in their life jackets. George swam from survivor to survivor, checking to see if any of them were his brothers. The men eventually found three life rafts in the debris field left by the sunken ship. Some of the survivors clung to the rafts, while most of the severely wounded slipped away and died. The next day, 14 November, George and a few other men were still alive. That day sharks began attacking the survivors who were nearby but still in the water. Gradually the sharks, along with the lack of water and medical attention, began claiming most of the men.
The following day, the remaining survivors were divided among the three life rafts. There were eight men in one raft, 19 in the second, and roughly 12 more in the third, including George Sullivan. After the fourth day, George became delirious and turned to Allen Heyn, one of the other men in the raft, and said that he was going to swim to shore and take a bath. George stripped off his clothes, jumped into the water, and started swimming for what he thought was land. Then Allen Heyn heard the terrible screams as the sharks attacked George and pulled him beneath the waves. The last Sullivan brother was gone.
On 20 November, seven days after the loss of the Juneau, an American destroyer found George Sullivan’s raft. Allen Heyn was the only survivor. In all, only 10 men survived out of a crew of 695 officers and men. It was the first time since the Civil War that one family had lost five sons in battle. The country was devastated by the news, but the remaining members of the Sullivan family banded together and encouraged the rest of the country to continue the war effort. Mr. and Mrs. Tom and Alleta Sullivan, the parents of the five boys, even helped to christen a new destroyer in February 1943 that was named USS The Sullivans (DD-537), in honor of their five children. The tradition continues today with the Arleigh Burke class destroyer, DDG-68, which also was named USS The Sullivans. The ship was commissioned in 1997 and still serves in the US fleet.
Memorial Day is the only day of the year on this blog where we highlight individuals and not ships. This year, Memorial Day is on 26 May and it is only fitting and proper that we take time out to remember the families who have given so very much in defense of this nation. The sacrifice made by the Sullivan boys and their family must be remembered by this and future generations of Americans. We should also be humbled by the notion that there still are families and individuals in this country who are willing to sacrifice everything for this land of ours.
Posted by Remo at 6:53 AM
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Figure 1: USS Tucker (DD-374) completion photograph, taken off the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia, 2 March 1937. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: USS Tucker (DD-374) completion photograph, taken off the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Virginia, 2 March 1937. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: USS Tucker underway on 28 April 1938. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: USS Tucker off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, 11 March 1942. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 5: USS Tucker "jackknifed" amidships and under tow by USS YP-346 in the Bruat Channel, Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides, at about 2330 Hrs. GCT, 3 August 1942. Tucker had struck a mine in the area at about 2145 Hrs. GCT on that day, breaking her keel. She sank on 4 August. Photographed from a plane based on USS Curtiss (AV-4). U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 6: USS Tucker "jackknifed" amidships and under tow toward the northwest corner of Malo Island at about 0315 Hrs. GCT on 4 August 1942. She is being towed by a motor launch from the Naval Air Station, Segond Channel, Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides, in a final attempt to beach her before she sank. USS Breese (DM-18) is standing by, in the foreground. Tucker had struck a mine in the area at about 2145 Hrs. GCT on 3 August 1942, breaking her keel. She sank on 4 August. Photographed from a plane based on USS Curtiss (AV-4). U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 7: USS Tucker sunk near Malo Island, Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides, on 5 August 1942. She struck a mine after entering an unannounced defensive minefield during the evening of 3 August and sank early the following morning. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Named after Captain Samuel Tucker, an American naval hero during the Revolutionary War, the 1,500-ton USS Tucker (DD-374) was a Mahan class destroyer that was built at the Norfolk Navy Yard in Virginia. The ship was commissioned on 23 July 1936 and was approximately 341 feet long and 34 feet wide, had a top speed of 36.5 knots and carried a crew of 158 officers and men. Tucker was armed with five 5-inch guns, 12 21-inch torpedo tubes and depth charges.
Following her shakedown cruise in the western Atlantic, Tucker was assigned to the destroyer forces of the US Battle Fleet based at San Diego, California. She remained in the Pacific (cruising between the West Coast and the Hawaiian Islands) until 1940, except for a brief period of time when Tucker took part in Fleet Problem XX, a naval exercise that was held in the Caribbean and was personally observed by President Franklin D. Roosevelt on board the USS Houston (CA-30). With tensions rising between the United States and Japan, Tucker was sent from Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, to Auckland, New Zealand, arriving there on 17 March 1941 on a good will visit that was designed to “show the flag” in the South Pacific. Tucker returned to Pearl Harbor after her trip to New Zealand and took part in some fleet exercises before returning to her homeport in San Diego on 19 September 1941. After a brief stay there, the ship was sent back to Pearl Harbor where she began patrolling the waters around the Hawaiian Islands.
On 7 December 1941, Tucker was moored at berth X-8, East Loch, Pearl Harbor, in the center of a group of five destroyers and the tender USS Whitney (AD-4). Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class W.E. Bowe was on board Tucker and quickly manned a machine gun on the ship’s after superstructure as soon as he saw the Japanese planes attacking the surrounding warships. He began firing his machine gun even before the alarm for general quarters was sounded. Approximately two minutes later, the ship’s after 5-inch guns began firing as well, joining the antiaircraft gunfire that was coming from the other destroyers that surrounded Tucker. Soon the five destroyers put up a curtain of lead that brought down two of the attacking Japanese aircraft. Fortunately, Tucker was not damaged during the attack.
After the attack, Tucker patrolled the waters outside of Pearl Harbor. She went on to spend the next five months escorting convoys between the West Coast and Hawaii. Tucker then was sent to the South Pacific. She escorted the USS Wright (AV-1) to Tutuila, American Samoa, and the pair then sailed on to Suva in the Fiji Islands. The two ships next went to Noumea, New Caledonia, and then to Sydney, Australia, arriving there on 27 April 1942. After that, Tucker made port visits to Melbourne, Perth and Fremantle before returning to Sydney. Tucker escorted Wright once again to Suva, arriving there on 3 June 1942. The pair operated out of that base until 10 July, when Tucker relieved the USS Boise (CL-47) for convoy escort duties. On 30 July, Tucker arrived at Auckland and was sent back to the Fiji Islands the next day.
After arriving back at Suva, Tucker received orders to escort the freighter SS Nira Luckenbach to Espiritu Santo, New Hebrides. On 1 August 1942, the two ships departed Suva. Because of a communications failure, the two ships were not informed that they were heading directly for an American defensive minefield that was laid on 2 August near Espiritu Santo. As a result, at 2145 on 3 August Tucker hit a mine that almost immediately broke the destroyer’s back. Six men were killed in the explosion and the Nira Luckenbach quickly sent over lifeboats to rescue the crew of the stricken destroyer. The next morning, 4 August, the YP-346 and the USS Breese (DMS-18) arrived on the scene and tried to tow the Tucker into shallower water to make salvage operations easier. But as soon as the rescue ships tried to take the Tucker into tow, what was left of the destroyer broke in two, jack-knifed, and sank.
The destruction of the Tucker shows that ships can be lost in wartime by sheer accident. This tragic event not only cost the lives of six men, but it also prevented a badly needed US destroyer from taking part in the upcoming naval battle for Guadalcanal. The Japanese had just scored a victory without having to lift a finger, a bitter lesson for the US Navy.
Posted by Remo at 8:23 AM
Tuesday, May 6, 2008
Figure 1: USS Decatur (DD-341) underway during the 1920s or 1930s. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: USS Decatur in the Panama Canal during the 1920s or 1930s. Courtesy of the Naval Historical Foundation. Collection of Harriet A. Harris, USN(NC)-Retired. Donated by Mrs. J.B. Redfield, 1961. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: USS Decatur underway during the Fleet Review, 4 June 1927. USS Paul Hamilton (DD-307) is partially visible in the left distance. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: USS Decatur off the New York Navy Yard, 7 August 1943. Courtesy of A.D. Baker III. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the Collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 5: USS Decatur off the New York Navy Yard, 7 August 1943. Courtesy of A.D. Baker III. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the Collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 6: USS Yorktown (CV-5) with other ships at Pier 7, Naval Operating Base, Norfolk, Virginia, on 19 October 1937. The other ships present are (from left to right): USS Texas (BB-35); USS Decatur (DD-341); USS Jacob Jones (DD-130) and USS Kewaydin (AT-24). Note automobiles parked in the foreground. Photograph from Department of the Navy collections in the U.S. National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Named after the famous American Commodore Stephen Decatur, the 1,190-ton USS Decatur (DD-341) was a Clemson class destroyer built at the Mare Island Navy Yard, California. She was commissioned on 9 August 1922 and was the last of the more than 270 four-stack “flush-deck” destroyers built after World War I. The Decatur was approximately 314 feet long and 30 feet wide, had a top speed of 36 knots and carried a crew of 126 officers and men. The ship was armed with four 4-inch guns, two 3-inch guns, four 21-inch torpedo tubes and depth charges.
Soon after completing her sea trials off the coast of San Diego, California, the Decatur was placed out of commission on 17 January 1923. But she was re-commissioned on 26 September 1923 and was made the flagship of Destroyer Squadron 11 of the Battle Fleet. From 1923 to 1937, the Decatur patrolled the West Coast of the United States, while making occasional trips to Hawaii, the Caribbean and Atlantic coast ports. She also took part in the Battle Fleet’s cruise to Samoa, New Zealand and Australia in 1925, made an extensive survey of the Mexican coast in 1926, and participated in the Presidential Fleet Review in 1930.
By 1937 the Decatur was stationed at Norfolk, Virginia, as a training ship and she escorted the Presidential Yacht Potomac (AG-25) to New Orleans and Texas that same year. She was used to train Midshipmen and Naval Reservists, but also took part in Neutrality Patrols along the Eastern Seaboard until September 1941.
On 14 September 1941, the Decatur arrived at Argentia, Newfoundland, and assisted in escorting convoys to Iceland until 17 May 1942. From mid-1942 to January 1943, the Decatur escorted convoys from East Coast ports to the Caribbean and in February 1943 she began escorting convoys across the Atlantic and into the Mediterranean. On 24 November 1943, the Decatur was attached to an anti-submarine task group centered on the escort carrier USS Card (CVE-11). The task group returned to New York on 3 January 1944. From 26 January to 17 February the Decatur escorted a convoy to Panama and then escorted yet another convoy from Panama to Hampton Roads, Virginia. On 13 March 1944, the Decatur left Norfolk as flagship of Task Force 64, which escorted a large convoy to Bizerte, Tunisia. On 31 March, while steaming between Oran and Algiers, Task Force 64 successfully fought off an attack by German aircraft and submarines. The convoy reached its destination on 3 April. Eight days later, the Decatur steamed back to the United States, arriving at Boston on 2 May for an overhaul.
The Decatur was in Norfolk on 2 July 1944 and escorted convoys in the Caribbean until the end of June 1945, when she was sent to the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard for inactivation. She was decommissioned there on 28 July 1945 and sold for scrapping on 30 November of that same year.
The USS Decatur was literally the last of her kind, the final four-stack “flush-deck” destroyer built after the end of World War I. Too late to see any action in the First World War, the Decatur certainly proved her worth in the Second. The Decatur was assigned the vital (yet vastly underrated) job of convoy escort and she assisted hundreds of defenseless merchant ships in reaching their destinations. The US Navy had to make do with these old and outdated destroyers during the early days of World War II until more modern escorts could be built. Never given the recognition they deserved, none of these famous warships survive today as floating museums and that is a pity.
Posted by Remo at 8:50 AM