Oil on canvas painting of the destroyer HMS Campbeltown (I.42, ex-USS Buchanan, DD-131) heading for the lock gates at St. Nazaire, 27 March 1942, by Norman Wilkinson, National Maritime Museum, London, (BHC1597). Scanned from “Ship: A History in Art and Photography” Edited by Andrew Lam.
OH BOY OH BOY DO I HAVE SOME GOOD BOATS AND SHIPS FOR YOU
USS Borie (DD-215):
Borie was a part of USS Card (CVE-11)’s group during the Battle of the Atlantic. On 31 October, 1943, she spotted via sonar the submarine U-256, and depth charged her three times. An oil slick was spotted, prompting the signal, “SCRATCH ONE PIG BOAT - AM LOOKING FOR MORE.” However, U-256 survived with heavy damage and limped home. However, at 0143 the next day, she spotted the U-boat U-405. After a depth charge attack, U-405 surfaced, initiating a battle that must’ve seemed like a throwback to an earlier age. Using her spotlight, Borie engaged U-405 with her four-inchers and 20mms at a range of 360 metres. Her 20mm sweeped the deck of U-405 clean, while three four-inch shells destroyed U-405′s deck gun. Then, Borie rammed U-405, at which point the crews of both ships opened fire with small arms. Borie’s 4-inch guns couldn’t depress far enough to fire, while the sub’s machine guns could fire freely. However, Borie’s crew possessed small arms and the German gunners had no cover on board their boat.
Borie’s crew engaged with absolutely everything they had to keep the machine guns from being manned. And by everything, I mean everything. A German sailor was hit in the chest with a Very flare. At a key point in the fight, when Borie’s crew was running out of 20mm and small arms ammunition, two German sailors rushed out. One sailor was taken down by a thrown knife, while the other was knocked overboard when a gun captain threw an empty 4-inch shell casing at him. After the ships finally pulled away, Borie was able to land a hit on U-405 with her four-incher, dooming the submarine for good.
Unfortunately, the whole battle doomed Borie as well, as the aging ship was unable to withstand the strain of ramming a submarine in storming seas. She was sunk by a bomber from USS Card.
USS Harder (SS-257):
On Harder’s fourth war patrol, Harder rescued a pilot despite enemy snipers, boiling shoals, and her precarious position. Later, she sank the destroyer Ikazuchi. Then, on her fifth war patrol, she sank Minazuki and Hayanami. On 8 June, she sank Tanikaze, and a few days later, sank a fourth destroyer. her frequent attacks and a rash of enemy contact reports on this fleeting marauder so frightened Admiral Soemu Toyoda that he believed Tawi-Tawi surrounded by submarines. On her sixth and final war patrol, Harder sank frigates Matsuwa and Hibari, but she was later sunk by Japanese Patrol Boat No. 102, also known as the captured USS Stewart (DD-224).
USS Growler (SS-215):
To quote a good friend: “SS-215 did not give a single atom of a fuck.”
On her first war patrol, she fired a salvo of torpedoes while on the surface at three destroyers, who responded with two torpedoes of their own. As the two torpedoes swished by either side of Growler, all of her torpedoes hit. The Japanese destroyer Arare was sunk, and the other two, Kasumi and Shiranui, were severely damaged.
On her fourth war patrol, Growler snuck inside of a convoy, and fired torpedoes at a range of 360 metres from a destroyer after launching torpedoes and sinking Chifuku Maru. Later, on 7 February, 1943, a gunboat turned to ram her. Growler turned to ram the gunboat instead.
Commander Gilmore was grievously wounded by raking machine gun fire during this action, and despite not being in the sub, ordered for his XO to “take her down!”, leaving him to drown. For this action, he was the first submarine skipper to get the Medal of Honor.
On her tenth patrol, Growler participated in a wolf pack. In a night surface attack, a destroyer (Shikinami) attempted to head-on ram Growler. The sub calmly fired a spread of torpedoes, leaving the destroyer heavily damaged, but still oncoming. Growler dodged, but at such a close distance the fire seared the paint on Growler’s bridge.
USS Edsall (DD-219):
A Clemson-class destroyer like Borie, Edsall is the namesake of this blog. An old and rusty destroyer at the start of WWII, she participated in the sinking of the first full-size Japanese submarine of the war - I-124, with three Australian corvettes. Unfortunately, while depth charging another suspected submarine, her depth charge went off too close to Edsall and ruptured her stern plates. This brought her down to 26 knots, and left her as an option for a suicide mission: after Edsall rescued survivors from USS Langley, she was ordered to continue on to Tjilatjap to land 32 fighter pilots, who would then fight as infantry. She split off from her sister ship Whipple and the oiler Pecos, only to receive a distress call from Pecos a few hours later. Edsall responded to her distress call, but before she could rescue Pecos’ survivors, she ran into the Kido Butai - a force of two battleships, two heavy cruisers, and four carriers. Edsall was mistaken for a light cruiser, Marblehead-class, due to her four stacks. Edsall made as many maneuvers as possible, as her 26 knot speed meant she couldn’t outrun the Kido Butai.
“[T]his enemy ship was extremely maneuverable, and repeated changing speeds and courses, and ran away like a Japanese dancing mouse.”
Edsall even managed to go on the offensive, narrowly missing the heavy cruiser Chikuma with a salvo of torpedoes, and opening four with her four-inch guns. 1,335 shells of between 6″ and 14″ caliber were fired at Edsall, with only one or two glancing hits. Vice Admiral Nagumo, enraged beyond belief, ordered an airstrike from his carriers. The 26 D3A Vals did their job, disabling Edsall. In one last act of defiance, small but nonetheless worthy of Melville, Edsall turned her bow to her attackers.
“Towards thee I roll, thou all-destroying but unconquering whale. To the last I grapple with thee. From Hell’s heart I stab at thee. For hate’s sake I spit my last breath at thee.”
Edsall lead the Kido Butai on a wild goose chase for two long hours, away from Pecos’ survivors. Though Pecos’ survivors wouldn’t understand until long after and were angry Edsall did not come to their rescue. However, Whipple, Edsall’s sister ship, was able to rescue the survivors without interference, thanks to Edsall’s sacrifice.
During her sinking, 90 seconds of film were shot from the heavy cruiser Tone, of which this picture was lifted from and modified to be used as propaganda. She was misidentified as “HMS Pope”, of which none exist. Only USS Pope - sunk on the same day, along with USS Houston, HMAS Perth, HMS Exeter and Encounter - had that name. For sixty years, Edsall’s last photograph was thought to be a photograph of USS Pope.
USS Hoel, Heerman, Johnston, Samuel B. Roberts:
Everyone knows this story. The Battle off Samar, featuring a group of small carriers and destroyers versus the largest ships of the Japanese navy. The Destroyer Escort That Fought Like A Battleship, I leave it to you to research the rest. It’s an amazing story.
HMS Acasta (H09):
Escorting HMS Glorious on 8 June 1940, along with sister ship Ardent, Acasta was engaged by two German pocket battleships, Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. Attempting to hide Glorious via laying smoke, Acasta managed several gun hits and a crippling torpedo strike on Scharnhorst, causing moderate damage to the much larger German vessel. After two hours of fighting, Acasta was sunk - and the German pocket battleships lowered their flags to half-mast in salute of her performance.
HMS Glowworm (H92):
On the morning of 8 April, 1940, Glowworm was engaged by two German destroyers, Z11 and Z18. The pocket battleship Admiral Hipper came to assist the German destroyers, leaving Glowworm in an extremely bad spot.
Glowworm’s radio room, bridge, and forward 4.7-inch gun were all destroyed by Admiral Hipper, and then additional hits in the engine room, the captain’s day cabin, and finally the mast. When the mast crashed down, her wiring short circuited - causing her siren to emit a piercing shriek for the rest of Glowworm’s remaining life. Glowworm rammed Admiral Hipper just abaft of her anchor, breaking off Glowworm’s bow and scraping up the side of Hipper. At 1024, Glowworm’s boilers exploded, ending the ship for good.
HMS Campbeltown (I42):
Campbeltown, originally a USN Clemson-class destroyer named Buchanan, was sold to the RN as part of the Destroyers for Bases Deal. While in drydock repairing, she was selected for a special mission - a mission to raid St. Nazaire, and destroy the only dock on the European Atlantic Coast big enough to hold the Germab battleship Tirpitz, the Normandie Dock. With a load of commandos and a flotilla of other small boats, and a belly full of 4.5 short tons of Amatol explosive. Ramming the Normandie Dock, Campbeltown’s commando complement launched the St. Nazaire raid, while she remained embedded in the drydock wall. Come morning, Campbeltown’s explosives went off - destroying the wall to the dock, killing dozens of German men who were searching the ship, and removing the Normandie dock from ever being used by the Nazis.
HMNZS Kiwi and Moa:
Kiwi and Moa were sister ships - Bird-class minesweepers of the Royal New Zealand Navy. On 29 January, 1943, while off the coast of Guadalcanal, the two small ships detected a submarine. Launching depth charges, on the second run the submarine - Japanese Navy’s I-1 - surfaced. Kiwi and Moa engaged with 20mms and four-inch gun. The Kiwi in particular rammed the submarine three times, damaging the bow of Kiwi moderately and making the I-1′s skipper decide to try to use his superior speed to escape into the dark of night. Unfortunately for I-1, their escape route from the two minesweepers led them straight into a sandbar, sinking the ship. At a mere 923 tons full load, I-1 was more than twice the weight of Kiwi and Moa, at 2,135 tons. Kiwi and Moa were also half the length.
USS Houston and HMAS Perth:
The last stand of these two ships was nothing short of amazing. Already damaged from a previous battle and nearly out of ammunition, Houston and Perth were sailing through the Sunda Strait when they discovered they had sailed straight into the heart of a Japanese task force without either side noticing until it was too late, a force of 78 ships - 58 being troopships. Without much ammunition and already damaged, the two ships fought like hell - soldiers on deck firing rifles and pistols to take out spotlights, when normal ammunition ran out practice ammunition and star shells were fired at the enemy, someone suggested firing potatoes. Five Japanese ships, four of them being troopships, were sunk by friendly fire. Perth and Houston did not survive the battle.
“Every single primary source, from her [Houston] log to Walter Winslow, mentions the state of her flag, caught in the Japanese searchlights, catching a breeze and flying defiantly from her mainmast just above the water: “ … a sudden breeze picked up the Stars and Stripes still firmly two blocked on the mainmast, and waved them in one last defiant gesture. Then with a tired shudder she vanished beneath the Java Sea.”