Figure 1: USS Spence (DD-512) on 25 March 1943, a few months after she was commissioned on 8 January 1943, steaming off the coast of New York. US Navy photograph from the NARA 19-LCM-DD 512 photo file. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: USS Spence (DD-512) in San Francisco Bay, California, 24 July 1943. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: USS Spence (DD-512) in San Francisco Bay, California, 24 July 1943. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: Aft view of USS Spence (DD 512) at Hunters Point, San Francisco, California, on 24 July 1943. US Navy photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 5: USS Spence (DD-512) on 24 July 1943 at Hunters Point, San Francisco, California, upon completion of her upgrade to the five twin 40-mm gun mount configuration. This US Navy Bureau of Ships photograph (now at NARA in the 19-LCM DD 512 photo file) has a detailed listing of the changes made to the Spence at this time. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 6: USS Spence (DD-512) steaming in Iron Bottom Sound, off Guadalcanal, with her crew manning the rails, 23 March 1944. Photographed from USS Montpelier (CL-57). Savo Island is visible in the distance. Wartime censors retouched this image to delete the fire control radar antenna atop Spence's Mark 37 gun director. Official US Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 7: USS Spence (DD-512) in San Francisco Bay, California, circa early October 1944. The ship is wearing Camouflage Measure 31, Design 2c. Wartime censors retouched this image to delete the radar antennas atop the Spence's gun director and foremast. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 8: USS Spence (DD-512) off Hunters Point, San Francisco, California, October 1944. Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration, Photo No. 19-N-80398. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 9: USS Spence (DD-512) attempts to refuel from the battleship USS New Jersey (BB-62) on 17 December1944, the day before she sank. Photograph by MoMM2c George D. McCarthy from USS Hilbert (DE-742). PLEASE NOTE: The USS Hilbert has been mislabeled in this photograph. The correct spelling and hull number of this ship is: USS Hilbert (DE-742). Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 10: Fourteen of the survivors from USS Spence (DD-512), which sank on 18 December 1944. Courtesy Jim Felty. Jim's dad is in the top row, third from the right. Click on photograph for larger image.
Named after Captain Robert T. Spence (1785-1826), a famous American naval officer during the War of 1812, the 2,050-ton USS Spence (DD-512) was a Fletcher class destroyer that was built by the Bath Iron Works at Bath, Maine, and was commissioned on 8 January 1943. The ship was approximately 376 feet long and 39 feet wide, had a top speed of 35 knots, and had a crew of 273 officers and men. Spence was armed with five 5-inch guns, four 40-mm guns, six 20-mm guns, ten 21-inch torpedo tubes, and depth charges.
After completing her shakedown cruise in the Caribbean in February 1943, Spence served as an escort in the Atlantic and the Caribbean. The ship escorted a convoy to Casablanca, Morocco, but was then sent to the Pacific and left on 25 July for Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Spence left Pearl Harbor on 25 August and went to the south Pacific and soon began operations in the Solomon Islands area. During late September and October 1943, Spence participated in patrols off Kolombangara and Vella Lavella in the Solomon Islands and destroyed several Japanese barges while also supporting the American landings on the Treasury Islands. As part of the invasion of Bougainville, Spence conducted shore bombardments at the beginning of November.
Spence was part of Destroyer Squadron 23 (or DesRon 23), affectionately known as “The Little Beavers,” under the command of the famous Captain (later Admiral) Arleigh A. Burke. Shortly after midnight on 2 November 1943, the task force Spence was attached to was nearing a Japanese battle group consisting of two heavy and two light cruisers, as well as six destroyers. The enemy warships were steaming towards Empress August Bay and, at 0231 hours, Spence made radar contact at a distance of 16 miles. As the enemy warships got closer and closer, the Japanese opened fire and Spence was hit below the water line. But Spence managed to control the damage and remained in action. Spence fired a spread of torpedoes at a ship 3,000 yards away and hit it, with black smoke pouring out of the Japanese vessel. As Spence began leaving the area to rendezvous with the rest of her task force, she spotted more Japanese ships 4,000 yards away. Spence opened fire and hit a target, which stopped dead in the water and began to burn fiercely. By this time, Spence was running low on ammunition, so she called upon the other ships in her task force to finish off the enemy ship, which turned out to be the Japanese destroyer Hatsukaze. Hatsukaze was pounded by the other American ships and sank stern first. The Japanese light cruiser Sendai was also sunk during this battle.
Spence was heavily engaged in combat action throughout November 1943, fighting off Japanese air attacks and completing escort and patrol missions. On 24 November, Spence and DesRon 23 were refueling in Hathorn Sound when ordered northwest of Buka Island in the Solomons to intercept Japanese shipping that American intelligence had learned would attempt to evacuate enemy personnel from the Buka-Bonis airfields. Early the next morning on 25 November, Captain Arleigh Burke and “The Little Beavers” were patrolling off Buka Island. At 0142 hours, while in St. George Channel, Spence made surface radar contacts at 22,000 yards. The range closed rapidly. In the vicious night battle that followed, five American destroyers clashed with five Japanese destroyers and three of the Japanese warships were sunk without a single loss to the US Navy. This was a major victory for the US Navy because it finally proved the American warships could fight and win a major naval battle at night using radar, a relatively new electronic device on warships at that time.
Spence remained active in the Solomon Islands for the rest of 1943 and the first three months of 1944, shelling enemy targets ashore and afloat as the Allied offensive reached northward. Late in March 1944, Spence was ordered to the central Pacific to escort aircraft carriers as they raided the Caroline Islands and covered landings at Hollandia, New Guinea. In June 1944, as part of the Marianas Islands campaign, Spence bombarded Saipan, Guam, and Rota, and escorted carriers during the Battle of the Philippine Sea.
Following an overhaul at San Francisco, California, Spence was sent to the western Pacific in early November 1944, escorting Task Force 38’s carriers as their aircraft attacked the Philippines. On 17 December, Spence prepared to refuel and pumped out all of the salt water ballast from her tanks. Rough seas, though, caused the refueling operation to be cancelled. The next day on 18 December, the weather got worse and the storm Spence was sailing in turned into a typhoon. As Spence wallowed in canyon-like troughs of sea water, the ship’s electrical equipment got wet from the huge amounts of water that had inundated the ship. After rolling 72 degrees to port, all of the ship’s lights went out and her pumps stopped working. The destroyer’s rudder jammed and, after another deep roll to port at about 1100 hours, Spence capsized and sank. Only 24 crewmen survived the sinking and were later rescued. The destroyers USS Hull (DD-350) and USS Monaghan (DD-354) were also lost during the typhoon. On this occasion, the sea proved to be almost as deadly an enemy as the Japanese. USS Spence received eight battle stars for her service during World War II.