Warship Wednesday, March 21, 2018: After 75 years, take a breather

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

Here we see the Cannon-class destroyer escort USS Atherton (DE 169) in a shot taken from a US Navy Blimp as the two team up to sink U-boats in the Atlantic in 1945.

The class, ordered in 1942 to help stem the tide of the terrible U-boat menace in the Atlantic, was also known as the DET type from their Diesel Electric Tandem drive. The DET’s substitution for a turbo-electric propulsion plant was the primary difference with the predecessor Buckley (“TE”) class. The DET was in turn replaced with a direct drive diesel plant to yield the design of the successor Edsall (“FMR”) class In all, although 116 Cannon-class destroyer escorts were planned, *only* 72 were completed. Some of her more famous sisters included the USS Eldridge, the ship claimed to be a part of the infamous Philadelphia Experiment.

Named for contemporary naval hero Lt (JG) John McDougal Atherton, lost on the destroyer USS Meredith (DD-434) when she was jumped by planes from Zuikaku, our hearty destroyer escort was built at Federal Shipbuilding and Drydock Company, Newark, New Jersey, and commissioned at the height of the battle of the Atlantic on 29 August 1943. This hearty little 1600-ton boat, just a hair over 300-feet long was packed with guns, torpedoes, Hedgehog ASW mortars, depth charge racks, and projectors.

By January 1944, she was prowling the Atlantic as part of TF60, escorting convoys from Norfolk and New York City to various ports in the Mediterranean. As noted by DANFs, these ports included Casablanca, Morocco; Bizerte, Tunisia; and Oran, Algeria.

On 6 May 1945, she counted coup on the German submarine U-853 (Oblt. Helmut Frömsdorf and 54 hands) and was given credit for her sinking. She sent her to the bottom 7 miles east of Block Island, Rhode Island, resulting in the loss of her entire crew.

“After four depth charge attacks, pieces of broken wood, cork, mattresses, and an oil slick broke the surface. Atherton, in conjunction with Moberly (PF-63), was later credited with destroying the German submarine U-853,” said DANFS.

USS Moberly conducts a Hedgehog attack on U-853, USS Atherton in distance. HH-NH48872


The encounter was the day before Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm Keitel signed the Allied surrender terms, in Berlin, but U-853, a Type IXC/40 submarine, showed no signs of surrendering– she sank the SS Black Point, a small collier out of Boston, just the day before Atherton found her.

According to NHHC, U-853 was one of the final half-dozen German subs sent to the bottom in combat, with three others (U-1008, U-2534, and U-881) being scratched the same day and U-320 meeting Davy Jones on 7 May.

Today the U853 is a popular dive, lying in just 120 feet of water 11 miles off the US East Coast. You can thank the USS Atherton for putting her there.

Today the U853 is a popular dive, lying in just 120 feet of water 11 miles off the US East Coast. You can thank the USS Atherton for putting her there.

The action contributed to Atherton winning her sole battlestar for Atlantic Action in WWII.

Post-VE-Day, she immediately sailed for the Pacific and conducted anti-sub patrols there for a few more months before the Japanese surrendered. The plucky destroyer escort was decommissioned 10 December 1945 and placed in reserve status for 10 years before she got on with her life.

On 14 June 1955, Atherton was transferred to the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF), becoming one of the first ships of the new Japanese Navy, operating as the destroyer escort JDS Hatsuhi (DE-263, later FF-6) though this is sometimes spelled “Atsuhi” is western sources.

She put in a solid 20 years with the Japanese.

Japanese frigate Atsuhi, commissioned as USS ATHERTON (DE-169). Turned over to JMSDF, 14 June 1955. Paid off June 1975. Transferred to the Philippines, 13 September 1976. NH 46122

DE 263 JDS Hatsuhi – Japan Maritime Self defense Force (1955-75)

NH 46123, Japanese frigate Atsuhi, FF-6

The Japanese returned the then 30-plus-year-old Atherton and her sister-ship, the former USS Amick (DE-168), to the US Navy in 1977. Then, the vintage tin cans began a third career as a Barko ng Republika ng Pilipinas (BRP) naval vessel.

Following a refit in South Korea paid for in part by Washington, the two joined the Philippine Navy 27 February 1980. At the time the island nation was already operating another Cannon-class warship– the former USS Booth (DE-170). The deal also saw Manila buy the condemened sister ships former USS Muir (DE-770) and USS Sutton (DE-771) from the Koreans for a token fee. These two ships were so old and worn out that they were acquired simply with the intention to be cannibalized for spare parts to keep the Atherton, Boothe, and Amick running.

Well, in 1981, Booth (as BRP Datu Kalantiaw PS-76) was sunk during a typhoon, leaving just two DEs in the PI.

The former USS Boothe hard aground after a typhoon in 1981. This left the PI Navy with but two destroyer escorts...

The former USS Boothe hard aground after a typhoon in 1981. This left the PI Navy with but two destroyer escorts…Atherton and Amick

Then Amick, thoroughly worn-out (as BRP Datu Sikatuna PF-5) was scrapped in 1989.

This left Atherton (as BRP Rajah Humabon PF-11), as the only real blue-water warship left in the Philippine Navy. Other than a three-year local refit/lay-up from 1993-1996, this humble 300-foot ship held the line for over two decades.

SOUTH CHINA SEA (April 21, 2009) - Philippine Navy ship BRP Rajah Humabon (PF 11) steams ahead during an exercise with the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) and the amphibious dock landing ship USS Tortuga (LSD 46), as part of exercise Balikatan 2009 (BK09). Essex has been invited by the Republic of the Philippines to participate in BK09, which is an annual combined, joint-bilateral exercise involving U.S. and Armed Forces of the Philippines personnel, as well as subject matter experts from Philippine civil defense agencies. BK09 is the 25th in the series of these exercises, directed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and requested by the government of the Republic of the Philippines. Essex is commanded by Capt. Brent Canady and is the lead ship of the only forward-deployed U.S. Amphibious Ready Group and serves as the flagship for CTF 76, the Navy's only forward-deployed amphibious force commander. Task Force 76 is headquartered at White Beach Naval Facility, Okinawa, Japan, with a detachment in Sasebo, Japan. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Greg Johnson/Released)........Other than the dazzle paint and some commercial navigational radar, she is the same as pictured above in 1945.

SOUTH CHINA SEA (April 21, 2009) – Philippine Navy ship BRP Rajah Humabon (PF 11) steams ahead during an exercise with the forward-deployed amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2) and the amphibious dock landing ship USS Tortuga (LSD 46), as part of exercise Balikatan 2009 (BK09). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Greg Johnson/Released)……..Other than the dazzle paint and some commercial navigational radar, she is the same as pictured above in 1945.

In 2011, the 44-year old USCGC Hamilton (WHEC-715), was transferred to the Philipines by the US State Department and renamed BRP Gregorio del Pilar (PF-15), giving the Atherton her first back up in over 20 years. Another “378” the USCGC Dallas (WHEC-716), was transferred in 2013 as the BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF-16). A third, ex-USCGC Boutwell (WHEC-719), followed as BRP Andres Bonifacio (FF 17) in 2016.

Today the larger, younger and better equipped Hamilton/Pilar, Dallas/Alcaraz and Boutwell/Bonifacio undertake most blue water missions while the old USS Atherton/JDS Hatsuhi/BRP Rajah Humabon, at a spry 70-years of age, was still considered in active, albeit limited commission, armed, and ready to respond if needed– up until last week.

BRP Rajah Humabon (PS-78)

As such, she was only one of just three ships to still carry working 3-inch Mk22 guns (the other two being a Brazilian river monitor and a Thai sister ship) as well as the last warship in the world to carry the old Oerlikon 20mm in active service. Besides the museum ship USS Slater (DE-766), now sitting dockside in Albany New York, and the pierside training ship USS Hemminger (DE-746) (now HTMS Pin Klao DE-1) in Thailand, Atherton is the last destroyer escort afloat in the world, and the only one since 1992 still in regular naval service.

However, all good things must eventually come to an end, and as noted by the Philippine Navy on 15 March 2018:

“After 38 years of service, the Philippine Navy (PN) has formally retired its oldest warship, the BRP Rajah Humabon (PS-11), one of the last World War II-era warships still in active service, during short ceremonies in Sangley Point, Cavite Thursday morning,” said Philippine Fleet spokesperson Lt. Sahirul Taib in a message Thursday.

The retirement of BRP Rajah Humabon is in-line with the Navy’s Strategic Sail Plan of “moving to legacy vessels to more and capable and modern vessels,” he added.

She will be preserved, turned into one of the exhibits at the Philippine Navy (PN) Museum in Sangley Point, Cavite City. Taib said in a subsequent interview that turning the ship into an exhibit would happen shortly after it is stripped of its navigational equipment and other usable items.

Here in the states, Atherton is remembered by a veterans’ group and has a memorial on display aboard the USS Slater (DE-766) Museum. While a number of scale models are availble to celebrate the class, some of which specifically include Atherton in her Japanese scheme.

Not bad for a ship, class, and type that was considered disposable.


Cannon class DE’s via USS Slater.com

Displacement: 1,240 tons standard
1,620 tons full load
Length: 93.3 metres (306.1 ft)
Beam: 11 metres (36.1 ft)
Draft: 3.5 metres (11.5 ft) full load
Propulsion: 4 GM Mod. 16-278A diesel engines with electric drive
4.5 MW (6000 shp), 2 screws
Speed: 21 knots
Range: 10,800 nmi at 12 knots (22 km/h)
Complement: 15 officers 201 enlisted men
Armament: • 3 × single Mk.22 3″/50 caliber guns
• 3 × twin 40 mm Mk.1 AA gun
• 8 × 20 mm Mk.4 AA guns
• 3 × 21 in (533 mm) torpedo tubes
• 1 × Hedgehog Mk.10 anti-submarine mortar (144 rounds)
• 8 × Mk.6 depth charge projectors
• 2 × Mk.9 depth charge tracks

If you liked this column, please consider joining the International Naval Research Organization (INRO), Publishers of Warship International

They are possibly one of the best sources of naval study, images, and fellowship you can find. http://www.warship.org/membership.htm

The International Naval Research Organization is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the encouragement of the study of naval vessels and their histories, principally in the era of iron and steel warships (about 1860 to date). Its purpose is to provide information and a means of contact for those interested in warships.

With more than 50 years of scholarship, Warship International, the written tome of the INRO has published hundreds of articles, most of which are unique in their sweep and subject.

PRINT still has it place. If you LOVE warships you should belong.

I’m a member, so should you be!

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About laststandonzombieisland

Let me introduce myself. I am a bit of a conflict junkie. I am fascinated by war and warfare, assassination, personal protection and weaponry ranging from spud guns and flame throwers to thermonuclear bombs and Soviet-trained Ebola monkeys. In short, if it’s violent or a tool to create violence it is kind of my thing. I have written a few thousand articles on the dry encyclopedia side for such websites as Guns.com, University of Guns, Outdoor Hub, Tac-44, History Times, Big Game Hunter, Glock Forum, Firearms Talk.com, and Combat Forums; as well as for print publications like England Expects, and Strike First Strike Fast. Several magazines such as Sea Classics, Military Historian and Collector, Mississippi Sportsman and Warship International have carried my pieces. Additionally I am on staff as a naval consultant and writer for Eye Spy Intelligence Magazine. Currently I am working on several book projects including an alternative history novel about the US-German War of 1916, and a biography of Southern gadfly and soldier of fortune Bennett Doty. My first novel, about the coming zombie apocalypse was released in 2012 by Necro Publications and can be found at Amazon.com as was the prequel, Chimera-44. I am currently working on book two of that series: "Pirates of the Zombie Coast." In my day job I am a contractor for the U.S. federal government in what could best be described as the ‘Force Protection’ field. In this I am an NRA-certified firearms, and less-than-lethal combat instructor.

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