Tuesday, May 12, 2009

USS Hopewell (DD-181)

Figure 1: USS Hopewell (DD-181) at anchor, 15 November 1919. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 2: USS Hopewell (DD-181) photographed circa 1919-1920. Courtesy of Donald M. McPherson, 1973. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 3: USS Hopewell (DD-181) anchored in a harbor, circa 1919-1920, with other destroyers. USS Bagley (DD-185) is at left. Courtesy of Leonard R. Efrein, 1972. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 4: The destroyer HMS Bath (ex-USS Hopewell, DD-181) early in her Royal Navy career while operating with the 1st Minelaying Squadron, based at HMS Trelawney, the Kyle of Lochalsh, Scotland, circa 1940. Courtesy Robert Hurst. Click on photograph for larger image.

Named after Midshipman Pollard Hopewell who was killed on board the USS Chesapeake during the war of 1812, USS Hopewell (DD-181) was a 1,090-ton Wickes class destroyer that was built at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co., Newport News, Virginia, and was commissioned on 22 March 1919. The ship was approximately 314 feet long and 31 feet wide, had a top speed of 35 knots, and had a crew of 101 officers and men. Hopewell was armed initially with four 4-inch guns, two 3-inch guns, and four 21-inch torpedo tubes, although this armament changed slightly later on in her career.

On 19 April 1919, Hopewell joined the Third Destroyer Squadron (which was based in New England) and in May was assigned to an observation station off the Azores during the historic trans-Atlantic flight by US Navy seaplanes. Hopewell returned to New York on 8 June to complete her fitting out and then rejoined her destroyer squadron in August. During the winter of 1920, Hopewell was assigned to training and naval exercises in the Caribbean.

Hopewell returned to New England in May and remained there until September, primarily training reservists and participating in division naval maneuvers. She then was sent to Charleston, South Carolina, in September and carried out similar duties there until returning to New York in May 1921 for reserve training. Generally inactive after October 1921, Hopewell was decommissioned at the Philadelphia Navy Yard on 17 July 1922 and stayed there for almost 18 years.

As a response to the start of World War II in Europe on 1 September 1939, Hopewell was re-commissioned on 17 June 1940. During the summer of 1940, she was assigned to Neutrality Patrols off the coast of New England. On 18 September, Hopewell arrived at Halifax, Nova Scotia, where she was decommissioned on 23 September 1940 and transferred to Great Britain as part of the “Destroyers for Bases” agreement. Renamed HMS Bath, she initially was assigned to the 1st Minelaying Squadron based in Scotland. Bath served with the Royal Navy until April 1941, when she was given to the Royal Norwegian Navy and named HNoMS Bath.

HNoMS Bath was assigned to the “Liverpool Escort Force” in early June 1941 and on 18 August she was escorting convoy OG-71, which had left Liverpool and was bound for Gibraltar. Bath, under the command of Lieutenant Commander C.F.T. Melsom, RNoN, was detached from the convoy and was sent behind the convoy to look for stragglers. Bath was steaming approximately 400 miles southwest of Ireland when the German submarine U-204 spotted her. Shortly after 2:00 AM on 19 August, U-204 fired a torpedo at the destroyer and hit it directly amidships. The ship sank in only six minutes, capsizing to port. As the ship went down, her depth charges exploded and killed the captain and many other survivors who were swimming in the water. Of the enlarged wartime crew of 124 officers and men, only 41 survived and were picked up by two Royal Navy warships. The survivors were taken to Gibraltar, but two of them died of their wounds along the way.

With the USS Hopewell in “mothballs” for almost 18 years, the nearly obsolete destroyer’s brief wartime career showed how desperate the Allies were for ocean-going escorts and her tragic end showed just how dangerous the modern U-boat war could be.