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The Wickes and Clemson Class Destroyers: Flush Decks and Four Pipes

USS Ward DD-139

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have so  much I could write about right now but instead I am going to go back to the well and dredge up an older post about some iconic warships. I guess that you can say that I am kind of taking a bit of a break from the present to remember the past, but be assured, a lot of stuff is percolating in my mind, so be expecting some new material about the COVID-19 pandemic, and some new Navy ship articles soon. However, until Monday, unless something really dramatic happens I will be continuing to re-pubish some older articles about historic Naval warships, or Warship classes that I find fascinating. 

Have a great day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

USS_Pope_(DD-225)

USS Pope DD-225

The destroyers of the Wickes and Clemson classes defined the destroyer force of the U.S. Navy. In 1916 with the advent of the submarine as an effective weapon of war the Navy realized that its pervious classes of destroyers were insufficient to meet the new threat. Likewise the lack of endurance of earlier destroyers kept them from vital scouting missions since the U.S. Navy unlike the Royal Navy or Imperial German Navy maintained very few cruisers for such missions.

uss paul jones late war

USS Paul Jones DD-230 late war note 3 stacks and radar

The Naval Appropriation Act of 1916 included the authorization of 50 Wickes Class destroyers to compliment 10 new battleships, 6 battlecruisers and 10 light cruisers with the goal of building a Navy second to none. The new destroyers were designed for high speed operations and intentionally designed for mass production setting a precedent for the following Clemson class as well as the destroyer classes built during the Second World War.

uss boggs dms 3

USS Boggs DMS-3

The Wickes Class had a designed speed of 35 knots in order to be able to operate with the new Omaha Class light cruisers and Lexington Class Battlecruisers in the role of scouting for the fleet. They were flush-decked which provided additional hull strength and their speed was due to the additional horsepower provided by their Parsons turbines which produced 24,610 hp. They were 314’ long and had a 30 foot beam. Displacing 1247 tons full load they were 100 tons larger than the previous Caldwell class ships. They were armed with four 4 inch 50 caliber guns, one 3” 23 caliber gun and twelve 21” torpedo tubes.

uss crosby apd 17

USS Crosby APD 17

Although they were very fast they proved to be very “wet” ships forward and despite carrying an additional 100 tons of fuel they still lacked range. Due to the realization the U-Boat war required more escorts the order for Wickes Class ships was increased and 111 were completed by 1919.

  USS Gillis with PT Boats and PBY Catalina

The Wickes Class was followed by the Clemson Class which was an expansion of the Wickes class being more tailored to anti-submarine warfare. They had a greater displacement due to additional fuel tanks and mounted, the same armament, identical dimensions and were capable of 35 knots. However, these ships were built with a larger rudder in to give them a tighter turning radius. 156 ships of the class were completed.

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Honda Point Disaster 

In the inter-war years a number of each class were scrapped and 7 of the Clemson Class from DESRON 11 were lost in the Honda Point Disaster of September 8th 1923 when the lead ship of their formation turned too soon with the majority of the squadron following it at high speed into the rocks. Other ships served with the US Atlantic, Pacific, and Asiatic Fleets, remaining the mainstay of the Navy’s destroyer and scouting forces until new classes of destroyers were introduced in the 1930s. Likewise many of the ships were laid up in an inactive status and with World War II approaching many were recommissioned, with 50 being provided to the British Royal Navy as part of the Lend Lease program, where they became known as the Town Class. Most of these ships had 2-3 of their 4” guns and some of their torpedo tubes removed in order to increase their depth charge capacity and to mount the Hedgehog ASW mortar system.

HMS Leamington ex- USS Twiggs 

Britain in turn loaned 9 of them to the Soviet Union in lieu of Italian destroyers  claimed as reparations by the Soviets in 1944. The surviving ships were returned to Britain in 1949-51 and all were scrapped by 1952.

uss gamble dm 15

Many of the ships never saw combat in either war as numerous ships were scrapped due to the limitations of the London Naval Treaty. Of the 267 ships of the two classes only 165 were still in service in 1936. As new destroyers were added to the navy in the 1930s a number of ships from each class were converted to other uses. Some became High Speed Transports (APD) and carried 4 LCVP landing craft and a small number of troops, usually about a company sized element. Others were converted to High Speed Minelayers (DM) or High Speed Minesweepers (DMS). The USS Caine in Herman Wouk’s classic novel The Caine Mutiny was a DMS. A few were converted to Light Seaplane Tenders (AVD). These conversations also included the removal of boilers which reduced their speed by 10 knots in order to accommodate the equipment added during their conversions. Since they were no longer Destroyers in the true sense of the word the loss of speed and armament was not considered detrimental.

The ships converted to other uses had their armament reduced with dual purpose 3” 50 caliber guns replacing their  4” main battery, and the removal of their torpedoes. Those which remained received 6 of the 3” guns to replace their original gun armament and lost half of their torpedo tubes. During the war all the ships would have greatly increased their light anti-aircraft armament, radar, sonar, and ASW capabilities.

USS_Stewart_(DD-224)

USS Stewart DD-224 after return from Japanese service

In 1940 19 of the Clemson Class, 27 of the Wickes Class, and 3 of the preceding Caldwell class were transferred to the British Royal Navy under the Lend Lease program. Some of these would see later service in the Soviet Navy being transferred by the Royal Navy serving after the war with those ships being scrapped between 1950 and 1952.

USS Edsall being Sunk in the Battle of the Java Sea 

The ships of these classes performed admirably during the Second World War despite their age. The first U.S. Navy ship sunk by enemy forces happened before the war began. The USS Ruben James DD-245, a Clemson Class ship was escorting convoy HX-156 when she was sunk by a torpedo fired by U-552 on the night of October 31st 1941 when she inadvertently found herself between the U-Boat and her intended target. 100 of her 144 man crew died in the attack.

The USS Ward DD-139 fired the first shots of the war when it engaged and sank a Japanese midget sub outside of Pearl Harbor on December 7th 1941. After her conversion to an APD she was sunk after a Kamikaze attack which damaged her so badly that she had to be scuttled by gunfire from USS O’Brien which by coincidence was commanded by her skipper on December 7th 1941, Commander William Outerbridge.

The 13 ships of the Asiatic Fleet’s DESRON 29 took part in six engagements against far superior Japanese Navy units while operating in the Philippines and then in the Dutch East Indies as part of the ABDA Command including the Battle of Balikpapan where the USS John D Ford DD-228, USS Pope DD-225, USS Paul Jones DD-230 and USS Parrot DD-218 sank 4 Japanese transports. USS Edsall was sunk by two battleships and two heavy cruisers which fired over 1400 shells, as well as 26 Val Dive Bombers from Admiral Nagumo’s Kido Butai on March 1st 1942. The few survivors were executed later in the war. USS Pillsbury was overtaken and sunk with all hands on the night of March 2nd 1942 by the Japanese heavy cruisers Atago and Takeo. 

USS Pope February 1942

Pope and HMS Encounter escorted the crippled heavy cruiser HMS Exeter from Surabaya to Australia, and safety. Unfortunately they were tracked down by a surface group of four Japanese Heavy Cruisers and four destroyers and Carrier aircraft. During the action Pope fired 140 salvos from her main guns and all of her torpedoes in a three hour running battle. During it Pope avoided destruction under the cover of a rain squall. However, that was a temporary reprieve.  Once out of the squall she was rediscovered by Japanese aircraft, and was quite literally blown out of the water by the heavy cruisers Myoko and Ashigara. Though all her crew successfully abandoned ship, they waited 60 hours in the open sea for rescue, yet even so, 124 of her 151 man crew survived the war and were repatriated to the United States.

During that campaign 4 of these gallant ships were sunk in battle and a 5th the USS Stewart DD-224 was salvaged by the Japanese after being damaged and placed in a floating drydock at Surabaya following the Battle of Badung Strait. She was placed in service as a patrol ship by the Imperial Navy. A ship of her description was reported numerous times to the Navy during the war, but it wasn’t until after the war that she was discovered by U.S. Forces after the surrender and returned to the U.S. Navy. Since there was by now another USS Stewart the ex-Stewart was simply called DD-224. She was sunk as a target on May 23rd 1946 off San Francisco.

USS Gregory and USS Little off Guadalcanal 

Other ships of these classes were sunk during the Guadalcanal Campaign. The Wickes Class USS Colhoun APD-2 was sunk by Japanese aircraft off Guadalcanal on August 30th 1942, followed by her sisters USS Gregory APD-3, and USS Little APD-4 which were sunk by Japanese Destroyers on September 5th 1942. USS McKean APD-5 was sunk by a torpedo launched a Mitsubishi GM4 Betty  near Bougainville in November 1943 while on a troop reinforcement mission.

In the Atlantic USS Jacob Jones was sunk by the U-Boat U-578 with the loss of all but 11 of her crew.

In February 1942 the USS Gamble DM-15 was heavily damaged in a bombing attack off Iwo Jima in February 1945. She survived the attack but was determined to be a total loss and was sunk off Arpa Harbor Guam on July 16th 1945. USS Barry was sunk by a Kamikaze off Okinawa on June 21st 1945, while  USS Perry DMS-17 was sunk by a Japanese mine off Palau on 13 September 1944.

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HMS Cambeltown (ex USS Buchanan DD-131) at St Nazaire

Whether in the Atlantic or the Pacific the ships contributed to the Allied victory. The former USS Buchanan DD-131 which had been transferred to the Royal Navy where she was re-named the HMS Campbeltown and used in the Saint-Nazaire Raid. For the raid she was altered in appearance to look like a German Möwe class destroyer was rammed into the only drydock on the Atlantic capable of holding the Battleship Tirpitz. The mission was successful and the drydock was unusable by the Germans for the rest of the war. Following her return from service in the Soviet Navy, Leamington played the role of Campbeltown in the 1950 Trevor Howard film Gift Horse. She was scrapped in 1951.

The Clemson Class HMS Borie engaged in one of the most notable destroyer versus U-Boat battles of the war when she engaged the U-405 in the early morning hours of November 1st 1943. After being forced to the surface by Borie’s depth charges the battle was conducted at point blank range as Borie first rammed U-405 and then fought a close range small arms battle where her 4” guns were unable to be depressed far enough to hit the sub and Borie’s crew used a 20mm anti-aircraft gun, and small arms to keep the submarine’s crew from manning their significant surface armament. Finally U-405 sank with all hands. However, Borie was heavily damaged, suffered significant flooding, and lost power. With up to five Wolf Packs in the area it was determined to scuttle Borie. Her crew was removed and aircraft for the Escort Carrier USS Card sank her.

During the war these ships served in every major campaign and when no longer fit for front line service were used in escort roles in rear areas as well as in a variety of training and support roles. By the end of the war the surviving ships of both classes were worn out and a number were decommissioned and some scrapped even before the end of hostilities. Of the American ships that survived the war were all decommissioned by 1946 and most scrapped between 1945 and 1948.

During Second World War 9 of the Wickes Class were sunk in battle, and 7 were sunk or destroyed in other ways. 5 were later sunk as targets and the remaining ships were all scrapped. A total of 20 of the Clemson Class were lost either in battle or to other causes, including those lost at Honda Point.

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USS Peary Memorial, Darwin, Australia 

The brave Sailors that manned these ships in peace and war become fewer in number every day as the Greatest Generation passes.

USS Peary Sinking at Darwin

It is a sad testimony that none of these ships were preserved as a memorial; however the Australians have a memorial at Darwin dedicated to the USS Peary DD-226 which was sunk with 80 of her crew during the Japanese raid on that city’s port on 19 February 1942. The memorial has one of her 4” guns pointed in the direction of the wreck of the Peary. A memorial to the USS Ward which showcases her #3 4” gun which sank the Japanese midget sub is located on the Capitol Grounds in St. Paul Minnesota.

The ships of the Wickes and Clemson classes were iconic, and their crews were heroic. Though none are left we should never forget the valiant service of these ships during both World Wars.

When I think of ships like these, designed over 100 years ago which are far more heavily armed and nearly as fast as the Navy’s current Littoral Combat Ships and build in massive numbers at an adjusted cost far lower than the modern ships, one has to wonder what we are getting for our tax dollars. Personally I would rather have Wickes, Clemson, or Fletcher Class destroyers with upgraded electronics and weapons suites rather than the overpriced, under armed and terribly vulnerable LCS ships.

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Filed under film, History, Military, Navy Ships, US Navy, World War II at Sea

Background to “The Pacific” Part One: The Guadalcanal Campaign and the Beginning of Joint Operations

The Battle of Bloody Ridge

Note: This is the first of a series that I will post on the campaign in the Pacific.  Some are older articles that I wrote for my Masters Degree program and others will be new material dealing with specific topics in this long neglected campaign.  I was watching the second episode this evening and found it quite powerful…so much that I was in tears as the Marines of 1st Marine Division and John Basilone came aboard the troop transport and went to the Mess Deck.  I have served with the Marines for around six years including with Marine advisers in Iraq and been the Chaplain for the USS HUE CITY which is named after the Battle of Hue City.  I love the Marines and this series has touched me already.  I hope everyone watches it on HBO.

The Guadalcanal Campaign and the Beginning of Joint Operations

Marines on Guadalcanal

The Guadalcanal campaign was the first experiment by the United States of conducting a “joint” campaign in modern warfare involving Naval and Naval Air, Ground combat units, Army air assets and amphibious operations. The campaign involved numerous land, sea and air battles. It was under the command of Admiral Nimitz as CINCPACFLT and included commanders for ground, air and sea forces engaged.  For brevity and simplicity sake I will discuss the campaign and sea even though they are interconnected with the sea and air campaigns directly affecting the outcome of the land campaign.

Designated OPERATION WATCHTOWER and aptly called OPERATION SHOESTRING the campaign was launched on short notice, approved on 2 July the commanders of the operation first learned of it on 7 July. Utilizing the 1st Marine Division, which would later be reinforced by the Americal Division, landed on Guadalcanal and the neighboring island of Tulagi on 7 August.  The Marines took Tulagi after a brief but bloody fight and the few Japanese troops on Guadalcanal fled inland allowing the Marines to seize the airfield.  Unfortunately, the commander of the supporting US carrier task force, Admiral Frank Fletcher fearing danger to his carriers and withdrew following the landings. The forces in direct support were surprised by a Japanese cruiser force under Admiral Mikawa losing 3 American and 1 Australian heavy cruiser in one of the worst American naval defeats in history at the Battle of Savo Island. The next morning the transports, many still full of supplies left the Marines.  Admiral Fletcher’s action, which left the Marines without air cover and carrier support gave the Marines a new term, still in use today, for being left high and dry: “to be Fletchered.”

Japanese dead of the Ichiki Detachment after the Battle of the Tenaru (Ilu) River

The Land Battles: The Japanese quickly responded sending in Naval Landing forces which went in light without all their troops or equipment. The Ichiki detachment was wiped out in the battle of the Tenaru (Ilu) river on 20 August.  The Kawaguchi detachment of 3,500 men landed in two groups, again short of men, material and equipment landed in the closing days of August and attempted to seize the now operational “Henderson” field on September 13 to 14th after one of its supporting units had been destroyed by the 1st Raider Battalion in a small amphibious assault.  Kawaguchi’s attack was disjointed and his units dispersed.  He was defeated in detail by the Marines in the Battle of “Edson’s ridge” or “Bloody Ridge.”

Chesty Puller

The Marines attacked and destroyed another Japanese force at the Mataniko river on 9 October.  The Marines were further reinforced by the 7th Marine Regiment while Kawaguchi was reinforced by the HQ of 17th Army under General Hyakutake who brought the 2nd Division onto the Island under the command of General Maruyama.  Kawaguchi would then be relieved and sent home following disagreements with Maruyama and his chief of staff prior to the next major Japanese attack which took place 23-25 October along the same ridgeline that Kawaguchi had assaulted. Though the Japanese now had 15,000 troops with good artillery support, the attacks were fierce but uncoordinated. Defended by 7th Marines under Chesty Puller as well as troops from the recently arrived Americal, the Marines again effectively destroyed the attacking Japanese force.

Sergeant John Basilone USMC with Medal of Honor

Despite additional reinforcements of the 38th Division, the Japanese, due to severe food, supply and ammunition shortages would not make any more major attempts to take the airfield.  The Americans would shift to the offensive with the Army XIV Corps composed of the 25th Division, Americal Division and Second Marine Division under Major General Lawton J “Lightening Joe” Collins commanding in December.

The US Navy paid a heavy price for the victory at Guadalcanal. Here the USS Wasp sinks after being hit by Japanese torpedoes

The Sea Battles: The sea campaign in the waters surrounding Guadalcanal would be marked by some of the bloodiest sea battles in the history of the US Navy.  So many ships from both navies would be sunk offshore that the waters would become known as “Ironbottom Sound.” Following the previously mentioned “Battle of Savo Island” the Americans lost the carrier Saratoga to torpedo damage and the Wasp was sunk while escorting a convoy. In the Battle of Eastern Solomon’s of 24 August the Americans have the Enterprise knocked out of action for 2 months and while sinking a Japanese light carrier and inflicting heavy aircraft losses on the Japanese. The Americans surprised a Japanese force on 11 October off Cape Esperance sinking a heavy cruiser and destroyer and heavily damaging a second heavy cruiser. The Japanese effort, now directed by Yamamoto brought battleships to support operations around Guadalcanal, including bombardments of the airfield on 13-14October in support of Maruyama. The attacks damaged but did not close Henderson field which was able to continue air support to the Marines and soldiers.  On 26 October a carrier engagement would be fought, the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands would be a tactical Japanese victory sinking the Hornet and damaging Enterprise, while losing no ships. Two Japanese carriers were damaged but they lost a large number of pilots and aircrews who could not be readily replaced. They also not succeed in their amphibious efforts to retake the island or Henderson field, gaining the Americans badly needed time.  On 13 November the Japanese attempted to repeat the bombardment of Henderson field but would be stopped from doing so by a task force under Admiral Daniel Callaghan.  The First Naval Battle of Guadalcanal cost the Japanese the battleship Hiei and two destroyers, additionally many of the transports bringing Japanese reinforcements would be sunk by aircraft from Henderson field and Enterprise.  The Americans lost 2 cruisers and 4 destroyers sunk and every other ship save the destroyer Fletcher damaged. Admiral Callaghan and Admiral Norman Scott, the victor of Cape Esperance were both killed.  The following night the Japanese would lose the battleship Kirishima to the USS Washington task group under the command of Admiral Willis Lee.  Further Japanese naval activity would be limited to attempts to reinforce the island with destroyers; during one of these operations on 29 November they would clash with a force of American cruisers and destroyers at Cape Tassafaronga, sinking 1 cruiser and badly damaging three more at the cost of one destroyer, but was unable to complete his supply run.  Though the Americans lost more total warships, the Japanese could not replace what they lost.

USAAF B-17E over the Solomons

Air Operations: The air operations would be decisive to the effort, land based aircraft of the Japanese played a key role in destroying some US shipping and sinking warships in waters off Guadalcanal however they could not maintain air superiority over the island which was maintained and increased by the Americans as Henderson field’s capacity grew and additional Army, navy and Marine aircraft were stationed there.  Naval air was extremely important in the sea battles around the island.

Beached and destroyed Japanese transport ship at Guadalcanal

Japanese Reaction: The Japanese reaction was one of dismay; they could not fulfill their promise to the emperor to retake the island.  They had lost many ships and aircraft as well as ground troops. From this time on the Japanese would go over to a strategic defensive in the Pacific.  Japanese losses were devastating as they could not be made up.

Importance for the Americans: This was important in a number of ways. For the navy it showed that they could defeat Japanese surface ships in night engagements and gave the navy great experience as it moved forward in the South and Central Pacific. American carrier air crews had become experienced and gained superiority over the Japanese.  On the ground the myth of the Japanese “superman” was destroyed, yet American commanders also began to appreciate the skill, endurance and tenacity of the Japanese soldier in future operations.

Importance for Joint Operations: The campaign also was a triumph for the Americans in the fact that they were able to overcome inter-service rivalries undertake a difficult operation against a stronger opponent far from major fleet logistics and support basis.  To be sure this was Joint Operations in its infancy and until the arrival of significant Army forces on the island to relieve the Marines was for the most part a Navy, Marine Corps and Army Air Corps operation.  When Major General Lawton “Lightning Joe” Collins assumed command of the island from Marine Major General Alexander Vandergrift it became a true-inter service operation and the beginning of Joint Operations.

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Filed under History, world war two in the pacific