Tuesday, March 12, 2013

USS Upshur (DD-144, AG-103)

Figure 1:  USS Upshur (DD-144) in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, circa 1931-1932. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 2:  USS Upshur (DD-144) in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, circa 1931. The heavy cruiser in the background is a flagship version of the Northampton class, either Chicago (CA-29), Houston (CA-30), or Augusta (CA-31). US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 3:  USS Upshur (DD-144) circa 1934-1935, location unknown.  Notation in the lower right-hand corner of the photograph mentions “San Diego, California,” but this may not be where the photograph was taken.  Courtesy Tim Rizzuto. Click on photograph for larger image. 

Figure 4:  USS Upshur (DD-144) photographed during the 1930s. Courtesy of Donald M. McPherson, 1969. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 5:  USS Upshur (DD-144) and USS Tarbell (DD-142) tied up in port during the late 1930s. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 6:  USS Upshur (DD-144) photographed circa 1940-1941. Note the degaussing cables installed externally on her hull, just below the main deck level. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.

Figure 7:  USS Upshur (DD-144) at the US Navy Yard, Charleston, South Carolina, 12 April 1945. Courtesy Jim Flynn. Click on photograph for larger image.

Named after Rear Admiral John Henry Upshur (1823-1917), the 1,247-ton USS Upshur (DD-144) was a Wickes class destroyer that was built by William Cramp and Sons at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and was commissioned on 23 December 1918. The ship was approximately 314 feet long and 31 feet wide, had a top speed of 35 knots, and had a crew of 113 officers and men. Upshur was armed with four 4-inch guns, two .30-caliber machine guns, 12 21-inch torpedo tubes, and depth charges.
After being commissioned, Upshur patrolled the western Atlantic for several months and in May 1919 was stationed along the route taken by the US Navy’s “NC” flying boats during their attempt to fly across the Atlantic Ocean. Upshur spent the next two months in northern European waters and then was transferred to America’s Pacific coast.
Upshur spent roughly the next two years as a unit in the US Navy’s Asiatic Fleet. Upshur initially arrived at Cavite in the Philippines, but soon reported for duty in the waters of the lower Yangtze River in China. At Yochow, China, on 16 June 1920, troops under the local warlord Chang Ching-yao murdered an American missionary, William A. Reimert. At that time, Upshur was at Hankow and was sent urgent orders to proceed to Yochow to save the rest of the American missionaries there. Upshur arrived at Yochow on 23 June and sent ashore a landing party of one officer and 40 men to protect the American mission in Yochow. After guarding the mission for two days and making sure that the local warlord understood that any more attacks would be met with gunfire from both the ship and the landing force, the sailors returned to the destroyer. Meanwhile, the Commander-in-Chief of the Asiatic Fleet, Admiral Albert Cleaves, arrived at Yochow on board the destroyer USS Elliott (DD-146) to observe the situation there. Eventually, the offending Chinese warlord, Chang Ching-yao, was removed from his command and the Chinese foreign office, while “investigating” the incident, expressed its profound regrets.
Upshur remained on the Yangtze River until 9 July 1920. After that, the destroyer conducted naval exercises in the Philippines and then returned to China, this time off the coast of Chefoo. After completing her tour of duty in the Far East in early 1922, Upshur arrived back on America’s west coast in the spring and was decommissioned at San Diego, California, on 15 May 1922 and placed in reserve.
Re-commissioned in June 1930, Upshur served in both the Pacific and the Atlantic before being placed in reserve in December 1936 at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The outbreak of World War II in Europe called Upshur back to duty in October 1939. The ship was assigned to the Neutrality Patrol and escorted ships in the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico. Upshur began convoy escort missions in the north Atlantic in September 1941. This assignment became increasingly dangerous during the next three months, as relations between the United States and Hitler’s Germany rapidly deteriorated into a state of undeclared war. German U-boats prowled the Atlantic and American warships ran the very real risk of being torpedoed while escorting merchant ships. The American destroyer USS Reuben James (DD-245) was torpedoed and sunk on 31 October 1941 while escorting one such convoy, showing just how dangerous work on the Neutrality Patrol could be. Out of a crew of 159 officers and men, only 44 survived.
Upshur’s Atlantic convoy escort duties continued for more than two years after the United States formally entered the war on 7 December 1941. During one such convoy escort mission on the evening of 4 February 1942, Upshur left Londonderry, Northern Ireland, along with the destroyers USS Gleaves (DD-423), USS Dallas (DD-199), and USS Roper (DD-147), as well as the Secretary class US Coast Guard Cutter USCGC Ingham. Throughout the day on 5 February, the warships hunted a U-boat that seemed to be following the American ships as they were sailing towards the merchant convoy they were assigned to escort.  Seven times the destroyers and the Coast Guard cutter attacked the submarine, dropping 30 depth charges, but they could not sink the elusive U-boat.
After rendezvousing with Convoy ON-63 on the morning of 7 February 1942, the American escorts steamed southwest with a total of 30 merchant ships, shepherding them and trying to keep them in formation in the rough wintery seas. Upshur’s lookouts suddenly spotted a U-boat slithering along the surface two miles away and gave chase, but the German lookouts on board the submarine saw the destroyer and the U-boat was able to submerge before Upshur could attack. For two hours, Upshur and Ingham scoured the area for the U-boat, dropping 15 depth charges before returning to the convoy. Upshur had no sooner returned to the convoy when she again spotted a U-boat roughly 8,000 yards away. Accelerating to full speed, Upshur bounded towards the enemy, only to see the submarine beginning to submerge once again. Upshur fired two rounds from her forward 4-inch gun, with both shells splashing around the submarine’s conning tower. Gleaves soon arrived on the scene and assisted Upshur in searching for the U-boat. Neither ship was able to make contact with the submarine that day or the next, but they succeeded in preventing the U-boat from attacking the convoy and managed to bring all of the merchant ships safely to port.
With more modern escorts becoming available by 1944, Upshur was reassigned to provide plane guard and target services for new aircraft carriers. Re-designated AG-103 in June 1945, Upshur was decommissioned on 2 November 1945 and struck from the Navy list nine days later. USS Upshur was sold for scrapping on 26 September 1947.