Warship Wednesday, August 19, 2020: Under New Management
Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places. – Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday, August 19, 2020: Under New Management
Here we see Japanese and U.S. naval officers negotiate the surrender of Mili Atoll, a collection of 92 coral islands in the Marshall Island group, aboard the Cannon-class destroyer escort USS Levy (DE-162), some 75 years ago this week. While numerous such isolated garrisons would lay down their arms in the months to come, Mili Atoll is often described as the first surrender of pre-WWII Japanese territory– rather than islands such as Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and Saipan which were taken by force without surrender– making this moment historically significant.
Some 116 Cannons were ordered during WWII from late 1942 onward, with the class sandwiched between the more numerous Buckley– and Edsall-class destroyer escorts. Fundamentally diesel-powered corvettes built for convoy work, they were 1,600-ton, 306-foot vessels with a long range– 10,000nm at 12-knots– and fast enough at 21 knots to keep up with a convoy. Geared to ASW work, they bristled with depth charges and hedgehogs. To ward off surface threats, they had a trio of 21-inch torpedo tubes while a variety of open 3″/50 cal and 40mm Bofors mounts could poke holes in kamikazes.
Levy and her sisters could float in just 11 feet of water, which would make them very useful in the littoral space of the Pacific’s far-flung islands.
Our tin can to this day is the only warship named for Commodore Uriah Phillips Levy, a hero remembered today chiefly as the US Navy’s first Jewish flag officer but should be perhaps best known as the 19th Century “Author of the Abolition of Flogging in the Navy of the United States” and the man who purchased and later restored President Jefferson’s near-ruined Monticello. An experienced mariner sailing under a Navy appointment issued by President Madison in the War of 1812, Levy served on the USS Argus, raiding off the British coast, and ended that conflict on an RN prison hulk. He went on to fight pirates and slavers, then command the Mediterranean Squadron before his death in 1862, aged 70.
USS Levy (DE-162) was laid down 19 October 1942 by the Federal Shipbuilding & Drydock Co., Newark, N.J., sponsored at launch the elderly niece of the late Commodore Levy, and commissioned 13 May 1943.
Her wartime service was fairly sedate, arriving in the Society Islands 19 August 1943 and spending the next 16 months escorting and screening oilers during various fueling operations in the South and Central Pacific theaters– a vital if an unglamorous task that saw her pursuing suspected sonar contacts and fighting off interloping Japanese aircraft seeking to bag her charges. As such, she followed the fleet in the support of the Hollandia operation and the strikes against Truk, Statwan, and Ponape; took part in the Battle of the Philippine Sea; and was there with the 3d Fleet during the conquest of the western Carolines and the liberation of Leyte.
She retired to San Diego in December 1944 for an overhaul, then pointed back West to rejoin the push.
Levy’s 1945 saw quite a bit more detached service. The hard-working DE helped blockade and bombard the remaining Japanese-held atolls in the Marshalls and assisted in the rescue of 238 waterborne Marshallese natives who had escaped from enemy-held Jaluit.
On 12 August 1945, Levy arrived off Japanese-controlled Mili Atoll while the war was still very much active– the battleship USS Pennsylvania (BB-38) was damaged by an aerial torpedo in Buckner Bay, Okinawa that very same day, for example.
Mili had been a German colony from the 1880s until the Great War when ownership passed to the Empire of Japan under the League of Nations’ South Seas Mandate. Since then, it had become an important Japanese radio station and seaplane base with a ~5,000 man Army/Navy garrison and, located 2,875 miles East of Tokyo and 2,286 miles West of Pearl Harbor, is often included in the conspiracy theory over the 1937 disappearance of aviatrix Amelia Earhart.
Mili’s location midway between Hawaii and Japan made it the logical choice for one of the earliest raids on Japanese bases by American carriers, struck by aircraft from USS Yorktown (CV-5) just seven weeks after Pearl Harbor. The Atoll would later be plastered in the last eighteen months of the war by a ceaseless bombing campaign conducted by long-range American aircraft and the occasional plastering by U.S. warships– including famously the USS Iowa.
On 13 August 1945 at 1220, Levy was the last U.S. Navy ship to bombard Mili Atoll, retiring shortly after. Two days later, it was announced that Japan had surrendered unconditionally to the Allies.
On the morning of 19 August– 75 years ago this week– a PBM Mariner arrived alongside the destroyer escort with seven officers aboard, headed by CAPT. Harold Bartley Grow (USNA 1912) acting under the authority of RADM (later VADM) William Keene Harrill (ComMarGilArea) and less than two hours later, Levy received a whaleboat from Mili carrying LCDR Toyda and LT. Hutsu of the Japanese Navy under a white flag. After a brief negotiation, the Japanese officers left Mili made for shelter at nearby Majuro Atoll, then under U.S. control.
Dispatched again to Mili with Grow’s team embarked on 21 August, on the next morning IJN CPT Masanori Shiga, LCDR Hiroshi Tojuno, and LT Horoshi Otsu came aboard Levy, signing the surrender document at 1300 sharp.
Afterward, Levy anchored in Mili lagoon and got to work with the business of peace.
She remained there for the rest of the week, her crew busy removing “all arms up to and including 13mm machine guns, swords, and bayonets” while building a new dock. At noon on the 28th, RADM Harrill and his staff arrived and at 1405, Levy’s armed honor guard hoisted the colors on Mili, firing a 21-gun salute, as the disarmed Japanese stood by.
Everett Greenbaum, a Navy man who later went on to be a comedy writer who worked on M*A*S*H* among other shows, was stationed at Naval Air Station Majuro, where CAPT. Shiga was taken as an EPW, and the two’s lives became intertwined with Greenbaum later saying, “Insisting on moving into my tent, Captain Shiga committed Hara- karri with my toenail clippers.”
Back to our destroyer escort.
On the 29th, just a day after raising the flag on Mili, Levy fired up her diesels and served as the platform for Grow to negotiate the surrender of the 2,000 men under IJN RADM Nisuke Masuda on Jaluit Atoll. While Levy left that atoll after Masuda’s party retired, tasked with other missions, her sistership USS McConnell (DE-163) received the Japanese surrender on 5 September. Masuda would go on to commit ritual suicide on the eve of a war crimes trial for the execution of captured American aircrews during the conflict.
At the time of his and Jaluit’s surrender, however, Levy had her hands full, liberating the Japanese-held American territory at Wake Island.
Accompanied by the destroyer escorts USS Charles R. Greer (DE-23) and USS Lehardy (DD-20), Levy on 2 September took aboard a party that included Marine BGEN Lawson H. M. Sanderson, Marine COL. Walter L.J. Bayler– often termed “the last man off Wake Island,” which he had left on 21 December 1941– and nine other officers along with 25 war correspondents including representatives of the New York Times and LIFE Magazine.
The Japanese surrender party came aboard on 4 September at 0740 and IJN RADM Shigematsu Sakaibara, 65th Base Garrison commander, signed the surrender documents at 0819.
As white-gloved Japanese officers in their full dress uniforms saluted, the American flag was raised over the island by Levy’s honor guard at 1348.
Shigematsu would later become a convicted war criminal sentenced to death by a military tribunal in connection with his actions on Wake Island, which included the execution of 98 U.S. civilian workers who had been kept on the island for forced labor. He was hanged on Guam in 1947. At the end of his trial, the 48-year-old career officer said the hearings were “unfair” but “I obey with pleasure.”
Levy got underway from Wake on 11 September, her war concluded. She was soon transferred to the Atlantic, where on 14 November she joined the St. John’s River Group, 16th Fleet, at Green Cove Springs, Florida, and was placed In Commission, In Reserve.
For her 30 months of service, almost all spent in the Pacific war, the vessel earned five battlestars.
She was decommissioned 4 April 1947 and retained as part of the Atlantic Inactive Fleet at Norfolk, until she was stricken on 2 August 1973. The historic vessel was sold for scrap on 18 June 1974 to the Boston Metals Co., Baltimore, Md for $94,666.66, as part of a bid for her and five other destroyer escorts.
Of her sisters, just 72 of the planned Cannons were built. One, USS Roche (DE-197) was lost to a Japanese mine during the war, a remarkable string of luck. Most of the others were soon given away as military aid.
An amazing 54 of the class were transferred around the globe, with the economical destroyer escorts serving with no less than a dozen navies. Three of those, USS McAnn (DE-179) in Brazil, USS Slater (DE-766) in New York (who spent 40 years in the Hellenic fleet), and USS Hemminger (DE-746) in Thailand– the latter nominally still in service– are preserved as museums.
Of late, Slater has been undergoing an extensive refurb and looks great, please visit her if you can.
When it comes to direct relics of Levy, at least one of her wartime ensigns are preserved in private collections and the Mili Atoll surrender pen is in the Naval History and Heritage Command’s holdings.
Commodore Uriah Phillips Levy and the destroyer escort named for him should be remembered in a new destroyer or frigate, and I have written both my Congressional delegation and the SECNAV’s office on the fact.
1,240 tons standard
1,620 tons full load
Length: 306 ft
Beam: 36 ft
Draft: 11 ft full load
4 GM Mod. 16-278A diesel engines with electric drive
6,000 shp (4,500 kW), 2 screws
Speed: 21 knots
Range: 10,800 nautical miles at 12 knots
201 enlisted men
3 × 3 in (76 mm)/50 guns (3×1)
2 × 40 mm AA guns (1×2)
8 × 20 mm AA guns (8×1)
3 × 21 in. torpedo tubes (1×3)
8 × depth charge projectors
1 × depth charge projector (hedgehog)
2 x depth charge tracks
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