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, Dec. 2, 2020: Pickin up a Submarine 6-Pack
Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Catalog #: 19-N-60939
Here we see the brand-new but humble Buckley-class destroyer escort USS England (DE-635) off San Francisco, California, on 9 February 1944 during her shakedown period. Small in nature and seemingly uninspiring, this 1,700-tons of rock and roll spent just 675 days in commission but in that time racked up an amazing record that included 10 battle stars and a Presidential Unit Citation. Those kinds of things happen when you sink six of the emperor’s submarines in battle during a 12-day period.
With some 154 hulls ordered, the Buckleys were intended to be cranked out in bulk to counter the swarms of Axis submarines prowling the seas. Just 306-feet overall, they were about the size of a medium-ish Coast Guard cutter today but packed a lot more armament, namely three 3″/50 DP guns in open mounts, a secondary battery of 1.1-inch (or 40mm), and 20mm AAA guns, and three 21-inch torpedo tubes in a triple mount for taking out enemy surface ships. Then there was the formidable ASW suite to include stern depth charge racks, eight depth charge throwers, and a Hedgehog system. Powered by responsive electric motors fed by steam turbines, they could make 24-knots and were extremely maneuverable.
Class-leader, USS Buckley (DE-51), cutting a 20-knot, 1,000-foot circle on trials off Rockland Maine, 3 July 1943, 80-G-269442
Our ship, despite first impressions, was not named for the country bordering Scotland and Wales but for one promising junior officer, Ensign John Charles England, IV, D-V(G), USNR. Mr. England, a Missouri native, volunteered for the Reserves at 19 as an apprentice seaman then, as an alum of Pasadena City College, was picked for midshipman’s school and earned his commission nine months later following a stint on the battleship USS New York (BB-34).
Ensign John C. England, USNR, NH 85190
Transferred to the West Coast after radio school, England in the radio room of USS Oklahoma (BB-37) on that fateful morning that would go on to live in infamy. Mr. England, just days before his 21st birthday, survived the triple torpedo strike on Oklahoma but voluntarily re-entered to the stricken battlewagon four times, returning the first three of those with other shipmates.
The photograph was taken from a Japanese plane during the torpedo attack on ships moored on both sides of Ford Island shortly after the beginning of the Pearl Harbor attack. The view looks about east, with the supply depot, submarine base, and fuel tank farm in the right-center distance. A torpedo has just hit USS West Virginia on the far side of Ford Island (center). Other battleships moored nearby are (from left): Nevada, Arizona, Tennessee (inboard of West Virginia), Oklahoma (torpedoed and listing) alongside Maryland, and California. On the near side of Ford Island, to the left, are light cruisers Detroit and Raleigh, target and training ship Utah and seaplane tender Tangier. Raleigh and Utah have been torpedoed, and Utah is listing sharply to port. Japanese planes are visible in the right center (over Ford Island) and over the Navy Yard at right. U.S. Navy planes on the seaplane ramp are on fire. Japanese writing in the lower right states that the photograph was reproduced by authorization of the Navy Ministry. Official U.S. Navy photograph NH 50930.
England never made it back from his last sortie, and in 2016 was reburied next to his parents in Colorado Springs.
England’s grieving mother, Thelma, christened the destroyer escort named in his honor in San Francisco Harbor at Bethlehem Steel on 26 September 1943, and the new warship was commissioned on 10 December.
USS England (DE-635) slides down the building ways at the Bethlehem Steel Company shipyard, San Francisco, California, during launching ceremonies on 26 September 1943. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Catalog #: 19-N-51896
USS England (DE-635) Off San Francisco, California, on 9 February 1944. Photograph from the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives. Catalog #: 19-N-60938
Just four months after she was commissioned, England arrived to begin convoy duty out of Guadalcanal and was very soon in the thick of a Japanese effort to trap Halsey’s carriers in a briar patch of torpedoes as they approached the Palaus. The plan would see seven mainly Kaisho-type (RO-100 class) coastal submarines deployed in a picket line between the Admiralty Islands to Truk, ready to seal the deal.
Tipped off by CDR Joe Rochefort’s Station Hypo, England would sail in a three-ship hunter-killer task force alongside newly completed sisterships USS Raby (DE-697) and USS George (DE-697).
As summarized by DANFS:
On 18 May 1944, with two other destroyers, England cleared Port Purvis on a hunt for Japanese submarines during a passage to Bougainville. During the next 8 days, she was to set an impressive record in antisubmarine warfare, never matched in World War II by any other American ship, as she hunted down and sank 1-16 on 19 May, RO-106 on 22 May, RO-104 on 23 May, RO-116 on 24 May, and RO-108 on 26 May. In three of these cases, the other destroyers were in on the beginning of the actions, but the kill in every case was England’s alone. Quickly replenishing depth charges at Manus, England was back in action on 31 May to join with four other ships in sinking RO-105. This superlative performance won for England a Presidential Unit Citation, and the assurance from the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral E. J. King, “There’ll always be an England in the United States Navy.”
For a more detailed essay on the slaying of the above six-pack of submersibles, see RADM Samuel J. Cox’s H-Gram on the subject, H-030-1.
Following the wild success of her hunter-killer group, England would spend the next several months in a more low-key mode, busy doing unsung work escorting troop and cargo convoys into the Philippines and along the Manus-Ulithi sea-lanes.
Then, on 23 March, she would sail for Okinawa, serving in the screen for, ironically, USS New York, during the pre-invasion bombardment of that Japanese stronghold. There on the early morning of 27 March, she fought off her first of four progressively more dire air attacks.
Detached later that same day to return to Ulithi to escort the cruisers USS Mobile and USS Oakland to join TG 58.2, England would arrive back on station off Okinawa where she remained, observing and protecting the fleet, shepherding another group of ships in from Saipan, and dropping Hedgehogs on sonar contacts.
On the late-night of 25 April, England fought off a four-aircraft kamikaze strike coming out of the low moon. One of the aircraft crashed just 20 feet off of the tin can.
A third attack, on 28 April, splashed a bogie within 800 yards.
On 9 May, England’s luck wore out and she was attacked by a trio of Japanese dive bombers, which her AAA batteries managed to swat down. However, one of these crashed squarely into the escort’s starboard side, just below the bridge, and had its bomb explode shortly after.
The Japanese aviator at the stick likely felt no pain as, in her after-action report, England‘s skipper noted that, “When the Val hit it had been seriously damaged by the ship’s gunfire. One wheel had been shot off, the plane was afire, and the Jap[anese] in the forward cockpit was observed to be slumped over his controls as if dead.”
The ensuing fight to save the ship was successful but left 37 of her crew dead or missing at sea, and another 25 seriously injured.
USS England (DE-635) Damage from a Kamikaze hit received off Okinawa on 9 May 1945. This view, taken at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Pennsylvania, on 24 July 1945, shows the port side of the forward superstructure, near where the suicide plane struck. Note scoreboard painted on the bridge face, showing her Presidential Unit Citation pennant and symbols for the six Japanese submarines and three aircraft credited to England. Also, note the fully provisioned life raft at right. 80-G-336949
Burned-out officers’ stateroom in the forward superstructure, from a Kamikaze that hit near her bridge while she was off Okinawa on 9 May 1945. This view was taken at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Pennsylvania, on 24 July 1945. 80-G-336950
This photo shows the interior of the wrecked deckhouse just forward of the bridge, looking toward the #2 3″/50 gun. Photographed at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, 24 July 1945.
Fire damage in the pilothouse, near where a Japanese Kamikaze struck England while she was off Okinawa on 9 May 1945. This view was taken at the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Pennsylvania, on 24 July 1945. 80-G-336952
England would have to be towed to Kerama Retto, then was able to make Leyte. After further repairs, she limped the long way home to Philadelphia for reconstruction to an APD high-speed transport, a “green dragon,” for the final push on the Japanese Home Islands.
What a difference two years makes! USS England (DE-635) off the Philadelphia Navy Yard, Pennsylvania, on 21 July 1945. She was there for repairs after being hit by a Kamikaze off Okinawa on 9 May 1945. 80-G-336947
VJ Day interrupted this plan and she was instead decommissioned on 15 October 1945. Left in an unrepaired state, she was essentially unusable and was sold for scrap, 26 November 1946.
The name “England” would return to the Navy List in 1962 after a 17-year hiatus from ADM. King’s promise, assigned to the Leahy-class destroyer leader/guided-missile cruiser DLG/CG-22, which would go on to serve 31 years during the Cold War.
A starboard bow view of the guided-missile cruiser USS ENGLAND (CG 22) underway, 1/10/1983 NARA 6404285
England’s wartime diaries and reports are digitized and available in the National Archives.
She is also remembered in maritime art and in scale model form.
(Image from Jane’s Fighting Ships 1971-72 via Navsource)
USS England by Paul Bender
To this date, England’s record has not been bested
Drawing prepared by the Bureau of Ships for a camouflage scheme intended for escort ships of the Buckley (DE-51) class. This plan, approved by Captain Torvald A. Solberg, USN, is dated 7 September 1944. It shows the ship’s port side. Note that this camouflage scheme calls for painting the ship’s starboard side in the darker tones of Measure 32. #: 19-N-104889
Displacement: 1400 tons (light), 1740 tons (full)
Length: 300′ (wl), 306′ (oa)
Beam: 36′ 9″ (extreme)
Draft: 10′ 6″ (draft limit)
Propulsion: 2 “D” oil-fired Express boilers, G.E. turbines with electric drive, 12000 shp, 2 screws
Speed: 24 kts
Range: 6,000 nm @ 12 knots
Complement: 15 / 198
3 x 3″/50 Mk22 (1×3)
1 1.1-inch “Chicago Piano” AA
8 x 20mm Mk 4 AA
3 x 21″ Mk15 TT (3×1)
1 Hedgehog Projector Mk10 (144 rounds)
8 Mk6 depth charge projectors
2 Mk9 depth charge tracks
200 depth charges
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