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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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