Tuesday, June 5, 2012

USS Hobson (DD-464, DMS-26)

Figure 1:  USS Hobson (DD-464) off Charleston, South Carolina, 4 March 1942. She is painted in Measure 12 (Modified) camouflage. This photograph has been censored to remove radar antennas atop her foremast and Mark 37 gun director. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 2:  USS Hobson (DD-464) off Charleston, South Carolina, 4 March 1942. She is painted in Measure 12 (Modified) camouflage. This photograph has been censored to remove radar antennas atop her foremast and Mark 37 gun director. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.   

Figure 3:  USS Hobson (DD-464) underway in the Atlantic, circa late 1942. She is painted in camouflage Measure 15. Official US Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 4:  USS Hobson (DD-464) off Boston Navy Yard, Boston, Massachusetts, on 2 April 1943.  National Archives photo BS 42487. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 5:  Expended cartridge cases and powder tanks from USS Hobson's 5-inch guns litter the deck after firing in support of the Normandy invasion off Utah Beach, 6 June 1944. View was taken on the ship's afterdeck, with mount 54 at right. Courtesy of Rear Admiral Kenneth Loveland, USN. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 6:  USS Hobson (DMS-26) after being converted into a minesweeper. Date and place unknown.  Courtesy of Joe Radigan and Ed Zajkowski. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 7:  USS Wasp (CV-18) at sea in the Far East, 5 January 1955. Wasp rammed into USS Hobson on the evening of 26 April 1952. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 8:  Damage to USS Wasp’s (CV-18) bow from her 26 April 1952 collision with USS Hobson (DMS-26). The carrier was photographed in dry dock at Bayonne, New Jersey. Photograph released 19 May 1952. Official US Navy Photograph from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.  

Named after Rear Admiral Richmond P. Hobson (1870-1937), a naval hero from the Spanish-American War,  the 1,630-ton USS Hobson (DD-464) was a Gleaves class destroyer that was built at the Charleston Navy Yard at Charleston, South Carolina, and was commissioned on 22 January 1942. The ship was approximately 348 feet long and 36 feet wide, had a top speed of 38 knots, and had a crew of 208 officers and men. Hobson was armed with four 5-inch guns, six 0.5-inch machine guns, 10 21-inch torpedo tubes, and depth charges.

After completing her shakedown training in Casco Bay, Maine, Hobson was assigned to escort the aircraft carrier USS Ranger (CV-4) and both ships participated in “Operation Torch,” which was the invasion of North Africa on 8 November 1942. Hobson continued escorting Ranger for most of 1943 and both ships took part in a dramatic and successful American carrier strike against German shipping at Bodo, Norway, from 2 to 4 October. Following this attack, Hobson was attached to the British Home Fleet and escorted the British aircraft carrier HMS Formidable during flight operations in November. After that, Hobson escorted two convoys from Great Britain to Iceland and then returned to the United States, arriving at Boston, Massachusetts, on 3 December 1943.

During the first few months of 1944, Hobson served with an anti-submarine hunter/killer group centered on the escort carrier USS Bogue (CVE-9). On the afternoon of 13 March 1944, the destroyers in the group spotted an oil slick and made sonar contact. Hobson and the other destroyers in the group began a systematic depth charge attack against the sonar contact and the German submarine U-575 was forced to the surface. Hobson immediately opened fire on the U-boat and soon the severely damaged submarine slipped beneath the waves for the last time and sank. The hunter/killer group continued searching the area for contacts for a few more weeks before returning to Boston on 2 April.

On 21 April 1944, Hobson sailed to England to join the vast armada that was going to attack Normandy, France. Hobson spent one month patrolling off the coast of Northern Ireland and then arrived at Plymouth, England, on 21 May to make final preparations for the invasion. Hobson was attached to the Utah Beach Assault Group and the destroyer arrived off the coast of Normandy on the morning of 6 June 1944, D-Day. Hobson spent most of the day bombarding German artillery positions along the coastline and she also assisted in the rescue of crewmen from USS Carry after it struck a mine and sank. Hobson continued firing at the enemy shore batteries until ordered to return to Plymouth later that afternoon.

But Hobson soon returned to battle. The destroyer went back to Normandy on 8 June 1944 to patrol the assault area and to escort convoys across the English Channel. Hobson steamed to Cherbourg, France, on 25 June to assist in the shore bombardment of that vital port. As Hobson fired at the large German batteries on shore, she also escorted the battleships USS Texas and USS Arkansas. When the battleships were almost hit by the German guns, Hobson and another destroyer generated a smoke screen that allowed all of the ships to withdraw. A few days later, Allied troops took Cherbourg and its crucial port.

As the naval part of the Normandy invasion began to simmer down, Hobson was dispatched to the Mediterranean, arriving at Mers el Kebir, Algeria, on 11 July 1944. During the next month, Hobson escorted convoys to and from Algeria and Taranto, Italy. On 11 August, Hobson joined the massive Allied task force that left Taranto for the invasion of southern France. Early on 15 August, Hobson assisted in spotting targets for the battleship USS Nevada after the ships arrived off the French coast. Both Nevada and Hobson provided direct fire support for the amphibious troops that were wading ashore. Hobson remained in the area until the next evening and then steamed to Palermo, Sicily, for convoy escort duty. Hobson escorted merchant ships between Algeria, Italy, and France until ordered to return to the United States on 25 October. Hobson arrived at Charleston, South Carolina, on 10 November.

While at the naval shipyard at Charleston, Hobson was converted into a destroyer-minesweeper and re-designated DMS-26. Work on the ship was completed by the end of November 1944 and in December Hobson underwent trials and shakedown training off Charleston and Norfolk, Virginia.  On 4 January 1945, Hobson was sent via the Panama Canal to join the US Pacific Fleet. She arrived at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on 11 February, where her crew underwent further mine warfare training.  On 24 February, the ship steamed to Eniwetok in the Marshall Islands to join the last and the greatest amphibious operation of the Pacific war, the invasion of Okinawa.

Hobson arrived at Okinawa on 19 March 1945, well in advance of the assault troops, to sweep the offshore areas for mines.  While searching for mines, Hobson was often attacked by Japanese aircraft, especially the dreaded kamikazes. As the actual assault on the island began in April, the ship took up patrol duties and provided night illumination during the first critical days of the campaign. Although Japanese aircraft were sustaining heavy losses in their attacks on the American warships, a good number of them still got through the anti-aircraft fire and hit their targets. On 13 April, Hobson was placed on the radar picket line away from the island to warn the rest of the fleet of incoming Japanese aerial attacks. Needless to say, this also exposed the ship to a number of attacks since it was isolated from the rest of the fleet. On 16 April, a kamikaze aircraft was shot down by Hobson’s gunners and the plane crashed beside the ship’s starboard side. But the bomb the plane was carrying managed to land right on Hobson’s main deck and blew up, igniting a large fire. The tough destroyer kept on shooting at more incoming Japanese aircraft while simultaneously fighting the fire on board the ship. Throughout all of this, Hobson also managed to rescue 100 men from another American destroyer that was sunk by a kamikaze. But Hobson was badly damaged and had to withdraw from the radar picket line. She returned to Pearl Harbor on 16 May and then went, via the Panama Canal, to Norfolk for repairs, arriving there on 16 June 1945.

The war in the Pacific ended while Hobson was still being repaired and overhauled at Norfolk. The ship remained on active duty with the Atlantic Fleet during the post-war years. When the Korean War started in June 1950, Hobson’s schedule became more vigorous and included participation in numerous amphibious exercises. The ship also escorted aircraft carriers.

On the night of 26 April 1952, while escorting the aircraft carrier USS Wasp (CV-18) approximately 700 miles west of the Azores, disaster struck. As the ships turned into the wind so that Wasp could recover some aircraft, Hobson turned the wrong way and crossed directly in front of the carrier’s bow from starboard to port. As the giant carrier came closer and closer to the destroyer, panic seemed to grip the men on Hobson’s bridge. The new commanding officer of the ship, Lieutenant Commander James Tierney, just stared at the enormous bow of the carrier that was bearing down on them. When Wasp was approximately 200 feet from the ship, Tierney jumped off the bridge and into the water, directly into the path of the carrier. Wasp then smashed into Hobson directly amidships. The force of the collision rolled Hobson over on its side and sliced her in two. The two pieces of Hobson only remained afloat for a few minutes before sinking, taking 176 men with her. Miraculously, 61 men were thrown into the water and managed to survive. It was one of the great tragedies of the Cold War and it suddenly ended the brilliant career of a fine warship. What made matters worse was that Hobson survived several major battles during World War II only to be sunk in a senseless peacetime accident.  

A court of inquiry was convened in Bayonne, New Jersey, in May 1952 and it determined that Tierney, the new and inexperienced captain of Hobson, was to blame. Testimony revealed that Tierney, possibly confused because the ships were operating at night without lights, had turned left into the path of the Wasp, not right as he should have. Tierney had been in command of Hobson for only five weeks and had been at sea with his ship a total of seven days. Some crew members believe his dive into the sea was a suicide in the split-second he realized what he had done.

USS Hobson received six battle stars for her service in World War II and shared in the Presidential Unit Citation awarded to the ships in the USS Bogue antisubmarine task group in the Atlantic.