Warship Wednesday June 4, the guardian angel of Omaha Beach
Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1859-1946 time period and will
profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all of their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.
– Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday June 4, the guardian angel of Omaha Beach
Here we see the Gleaves-class destroyer USS Doyle (DD-494/DMS-34) along Fox Green landing area on Omaha Beach on D-Day. The Gleaves class is an unsung group of some 62 destroyers begun pre-WWII and completed into the first stage of the war. With the huge building of the follow-on Fletcher, and Sumner-class destroyers, the Gleaves are often forgotten. What should never be forgotten is the sacrifice these ships made, with no less than 11 of the class lost during WWII.
Built by Seattle-Tacoma Shipbuilding Corporation, Doyle was laid down six months before Pearl Harbor and commissioned 27 January
1943, at the height of both the Battle of the Atlantic and the war in the Pacific. It was decided that the ship, with her 11-foot draft, was
desperately needed in the Atlantic for something the brass had brewing, and she arrived, after a stint in anti-submarine patrols, in British
waters in early 1944. There, on June 5, 1944, she found herself sailing across the channel as part of the biggest amphibious invasion ever.
On D-Day, 70-years ago this week, the Doyle, was part of DESRON 18, under the overall command of Captain Harry Sanders. Consisting of the destroyers USS Frankfort (with Sanders aboard), USS Carmick, USS McCook, USS Emmons, and USS Thompson along with Doyle, these six hardy ships stood close by as the troops of the 29th Infantry Division and Big Red One, as depicted in the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan, moved ashore in their landing craft on Omaha Beach.
The idea was that specially equipped tanks would come ashore and roll over the German positions. However, just a handful of these amphibious equipped tanks made it ashore. To make matters worse, some of the coxswains of the landing craft missed got turned around in the smoke and haze and landed their troops at the wrong points. Some of the scariest moments were on Dog Beach, where the exits from the beachhead, Dog 1, the Vierville draw, was in fierce defilade of the German positions along the bluff overlooking the water.
It was murder.
Doyle‘s day started with this log entry,
0630: “‘H’ hour. Commenced indirect fire on target … to aid in clearing beach exit now completely obscured by smoke and dust.”
Soon the squadron was ordered to cease-fire for fear of hitting US forces moving ashore.
At 0830, violating a cease-fire order, USS Carmick opened up on the German positions with her 5-inch guns and within thirty minutes, the
other ships of DESRON 18, under Sanders’ order, closed in as close as they could with the beachhead to plaster the lines. Among the
ships that made it closest to shore, almost scraping bottom, was USS Doyle. She made it so close inshore, in fact, that her light AAA guns were able to pepper the German positions as well.
Doyle, as with the other destroyers, moved along Omaha, working her way where she was needed. These are selections from her log entries that day:
1100: “Stopped 800 yards off beach Easy Red. Observed enemy machine gun emplacement on side of steep hill at west end of beach Fox Red, enfilading landing beach. Fired two half [two-gun] salvos. Target destroyed. Shifted fire to casemate at top of hill, fired two half salvos, target destroyed. Army troops begin slow advance uphill from beach. Maneuvering ship to stay in position against current which is running west at 2.8 knots. Flood tide.”
With this, Doyle reported that Exit F-1 from Fox Red beach was open.
Can you imagine a 1600-ton, 348-foot long ship just 800 yards offshore? Spitting fire from everything that could be manned…
1355: “Observed guns firing from trees on hill-top to eastward of landing area [Fox Red] …. Fired four full salvos. All shots burst in vicinity of target area.”
1957: “Observed enemy soldiers manning abandoned machine gun nest on hill to eastward of landing beaches. Fired three salvos, men and gun emplacement destroyed.”
2109: “Splashes, probably from 75MM shells, seen on both bows close aboard, about 25 to 50 yards. Gun flashes seen from German Patrol boat inside [Port-en-Bessin] breakwater previously fired on. Opened fire with full salvos, covered area around boat. Direct hits impossible because of sea wall. … Enemy troops … in vicinity of boat seen abandoning positions.”
In all that day the little destroyer fired: “558 rounds of 5″ A.A. common, 156 rounds of 5″ common dye loaded ammunition [projectiles carrying a colored dye for use in spotting fall of shot]. No casualties to personnel or to any of ship’s equipment.”
For the next 64 hours, as retold in a period piece in Yank, Doyle pounded shore batteries, targets of opportunity, filled fire support requests from naval shore parties inland, dodged near misses from Messerschmitt Me 110s and torpedoes from unseen enemies while recovering 37 survivors from shot up landing craft.
Not all the destroyers on D-Day were as lucky. Doyle‘s sistership, USS Corry (DD-463), was sunk off Utah Beach by German shore batteries in a dramatic action.
In a postwar essay written by William B. Kirkland Jr., the WWII gunnery officer on Doyle, the following was noted:
“DESRON 18 never failed in its duty at Normandy or Omaha beach might have been lost, and it wasn’t. It is hard to say how many more graves would have been filled, and how the invasion of Fortress Europe would have fared, without the efficient and effective performance of these nine destroyers. There is no doubt that DESRON 18 cracked the German wall at Omaha Beach in actions above and beyond the call of duty. The ships and sailors who manned them deserve to be better remembered.”
Nevertheless, Doyle had more history to make and was on the move again just days after D-Day.
Within short order, she found herself covering the landings in Southern France and finished the war in Europe by escorting convoys.
Converted to a fast minesweeper (any ship can be a minesweeper at least once!) in June 1945, she was transferred to the Pacific to take part in the coming epic invasion of the Japanese home islands. This conversion removed one of her 5-innch mounts, the torpedo tubes, took her depth charge racks and repositioned forward from the stern and angled outboard, and her saw her stern modified to support minesweeping gear including a myriad of davits, winches, paravanes, extra generators, and kites.
Then came 1950.
When the North Koreans came screaming across the 38th Parallel into South Korea in June 1950, Doyle was immediately dispatched. She was visions of D-Day when she helped cover landings by ROK forces along the peninsula as well as supporting covert operations by commando units. As a minesweeper she helped clear invasion landings near Wonsan and Hungnam, remaining in Korean waters until the
end of open hostilities in 1953. A very busy ship, she earned six battle-stars in Korea.
She was decommissioned in the states on 19 May 1955, the Navy having enough of the more modern Fletcher-class destroyers that the slightly smaller and older Gleaves-class were no longer needed. Retained in mothballs for 25 years, she was struck from the Navy List 1 December 1970 and broken up two years later for the value of her scrap.
Displacement: 1,630 tons
Length: 348 ft 3 in (106.15 m)
Beam: 36 ft 1 in (11.00 m)
Draft: 13 ft 2 in (4.01 m)
Propulsion: 50,000 shp (37,000 kW) (37 MW);
Speed: 37.4 knots (69 km/h)
Range: 6,500 nautical miles at 12 kt
(12,000 km at 22 km/h)
Complement: 16 officers, 260 enlisted
4 × 5 in/38 cal guns (1 deleted in 1945)
4 x 40mm Bofors in two twin mounts.
7 x 20mm Oerlikon in single mounts.
Torpedo Tubes: 5 x 21-inch in one quintuple mount. (deleted in 1945)
ASW: 2 tracks for 600-lb. charges; 6 “K”-gun projectors for 300-lb. charges.
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