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World War II Destroyers

With the rise of Adolph Hitler in Germany in the early 1930s, authorizations began for the rebuilding of the American destroyer forces. Forty-five new DDs were authorized for the last half of the decade.

The destroyer during World War II continued in this role as an all-purpose ship ready to fight off attacks from the air, on the surface, or from below the sea. They could be called upon to give fire support to troops, deliver mail and people to other ships, rescue pilots who had been forced down at sea, and to serve as the distant early warning eyes of the fleet in hostile waters. [2] Destroyers did not have the glamour of a battleship or an aircraft carrier but without them the aircraft carrier and battleship would be helpless against enemy submarines. They were all-purpose ships whose support of general fleet operations was vital. No aircraft carrier or battleship ever proceeded into enemy waters without an escort of destroyers.

With the change in designations in the Fleet, the destroyers were established as Destroyer Squadron, Scouting Force, U.S. Fleet. From October 1, 1937, to July 3, 1940, units of this squadron were transferred continually to the Pacific Fleet. The outbreak of war in Europe reversed this trend.

On July 3, 1940, there were again enough destroyers in the Atlantic to establish a type command. This tycom was known as Destroyers, Atlantic Squadron, U.S. Fleet. When in November 1940, the Atlantic Squadron became the Patrol Force; the destroyer command was renamed Destroyers, Patrol Force, U.S. Fleet. On February 3, 1941, with the reorganization of the Navy and the dissolution of the Patrol Force; the U.S. Atlantic Fleet formed and Destroyers, Atlantic Fleet came into being.

When the war broke out in Europe on September 3, 1939, the United States again, as it had in World War I, tried to remain neutral. Once again, it was the German submarine threat that strained that neutrality.

On the morning of September 4, 1941, destroyer USS Greer (DD 145) was enroute from Newfoundland to Iceland when she picked up sonar contact with a German sub. A British patrol plane had warned Greer that the U-boat was lurking in her path earlier. The destroyer made and held contact uneventfully for nearly 3 1/2 hours, when suddenly, a torpedo was spotted heading for the ship. Greer turned sharply, avoiding the torpedo, and let loose a salvo of depth charges.Again, a sharp turn and another torpedo charged by the destroyer, which was followed by a salvo of depth charges from Greer. By late afternoon, Greer lost contact and after a three-hour search, she continued on to Iceland. Apparently, the sub had dropped the fight, but the attack prompted President Roosevelt to issue orders to "shoot on sight" any warships within "our defensive waters."

The destroyer USS Kearny (DD 432) was commissioned on Friday, September 13, 1940. Thirteen months later, Kearny, in company of destroyers Plunkett (DD 429) , Livermore (DD 431), and Decatur (DD 341), was dispatched on an emergency mission 350 miles south of Reyjavik, Iceland. A Canadian convoy was being attacked by German submarines. In the late afternoon of October 16, 1941, the four U.S. destroyers took up station as a screen around the Canadian merchantmen. The wolfpack which was followed by a salvo of torpedoes had temporarily withdrawn, shortly before midnight a merchantman suddenly went up in a ball of flame. The Germans had returned. Kearny and the other DDs rushed to the attack, but the U-boats broke off the engagement.

Minutes passed. Suddenly, two more merchant ships were ripped apart by German torpedoes, and the fight was on again. Near 2 a.m., Kearny had to cut her speed to avoid ramming a Canadian corvette. In the glow of the burning merchant ships, Kearny became a virtual sitting duck and one German submarine skipper took advantage of the situation, firing three torpedoes at the destroyer. Two missed, but the third tore a jagged hole in Kearny's starboard side, thus making her the first U.S. destroyer damaged in World War II. Kearny, which by the extent of the damage should have gone down, managed to limp into Iceland for repairs and continued fighting throughout the war.

Two weeks later, on October 31, 1941, a little more than a month before the United States entered the Second World War, USS Reuben James (DD 245) was escorting a convoy about 600 miles west of Ireland. With 44 merchantmen in the convoy, Reuben James, along with the destroyers Tarbell (DD 142), Benson (DD 421), Hilary P. Jones (DD 427) and Niblack (DD 424), was holding an average speed just under nine knots. It was 5:39 a.m. and Reuben James was 2,000 yards off the convoy's port flank. Without warning, a torpedo struck Reuben James, tearing her in two.

The bow section sank immediately and the stern went up in a tremendous explosion. Within minutes, there was nothing left of Reuben James. Only 45 of the 160 man crew survived, and Reuben James became the first destroyer casualty of World War II.

The war in the Atlantic saw the destroyer perform many varied tasks from hunting and destroying German submarines to rescuing downed airmen. These "greyhounds of the sea" were also on hand for the landings in North Africa, Sicily and Europe, using their guns to knock out shore batteries, to keep the skies clear of enemy aircraft, and to guard Allied landing craft.

The biggest operation destroyers participated in was Operation Overlord, the invasion of Europe on June 6, 1944. At Utah Beach, destroyers Fitch (DD 462), Corry (DD 463) and Hobson (DD 464) were the first ships of the invasion force to shell the shore. At Omaha Beach, destroyers Baldwin (DD 624), Carmick (DD 493), Doyle (DD 494), Emmons (DD 457), Frankford (DD 497), McCook (DD 496) and Thompson (DD 627) came in so close to the beach that their hulls rested on the bottom as their guns raked the enemy strongholds. It was the gunfire support of these and other ships that kept the German army from moving in reinforcements.

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Page last modified: 22-07-2011 17:38:56 ZULU