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 January 18, 2017: Vasili and the Cuban Cony
Photo: Ed Zajkowski via Navsource.
Here we see the Fletcher-class destroyer USS Cony (DD/DDE-508) off Norfolk in October 1963 as seen from the USS Keppler (DD-765). Though she earned 11 battle stars for World War II service, two for Korean War service and spent five months off Vietnam, it was a little-acknowledged day in 1962 that Cony witnessed what could have been the start of World War III.
One of the last pre-WWII destroyer designs of the U.S. Navy, the amazing 175 Fletchers proved the backbone of the fleet during the conflict. These expendable ‘tin cans’ saved Allied flyers, sank submarines, duked it out with shore batteries, torpedoed larger ships, screened the fleet, and shot down wave after wave of enemy aircraft, keeping the carriers and transports safe behind their hail of fire.
With the ability to float in just 17.5-feet of seawater, these ships crept in close to shore and supported amphibious landings, dropped off commandos as needed, and helped in evacuations when required. Small ships with long legs (5500-nm unrefueled at 15-knots) they could be dispatched to wave the flag in foreign ports, provide gunboat diplomacy in times of tension, and race just over the horizon at 36.5-knots to check out a contact.
The hero of our tale, laid down at Bath Iron Works on Christmas Eve 1941, was named after one Lt. Joseph Saville Cony, USN, notable for several successful small-boat expeditions along the Carolina coast during the Civil War before going down in a storm with the merchant vessel City of Bath in 1867 at age 33.
Commissioned 30 October 1942, LCDR H. D. Johnson in command, our warbaby was off to the Pacific.
(DD-508) Photograph taken circa late 1942. Note her dark scheme. This view has been heavily retouched by wartime censors to hide radars atop her Mark 37 gun director and foremast, and the hull number on her bow. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Catalog #: NH 104873
Cony soon arrived off Guadalcanal, where she served as Vice Adm. Theodore S. Wilkinson’s flagship for the landings on Vella Lavella. In October, over a two-night period, she and six other tin cans intercepted Japanese barges evacuating Kolombangara, sinking an enemy torpedo boat and 40 barges while chasing away a quartet of smaller destroyers of the Imperial Navy.
Cony took two bombs from Japanese dive bombers on 27 October 1943 which sent her back to California’s Mare Island Naval Shipyard for refit and repair after her crew fought fires for more than 20 hours– though she reportedly splashed 5 Japanese planes in the exchange.
The following are excerpts from the shipboard diary of the rear gunner, Stanley Baranowski:
“27 Oct – … at 3:oo PM got contact with a lot of planes – enemy… at 3:15 they came at us. So many of them. We started to fire everything we had… 3:25 we got 2 direct hits on port and starboard… Lots of men were hit. Worked on fires. Was up all night taking care of wounded.
“28 Oct – Still working on fires… we started to throw ammo over the side. Ship was listing to port… 11:15 AM port engine gave out. Tug came along and started to tow us. 12 PM fire was out. 1 PM moored to taker “Oragon” and took off wounded men.
“29 Oct – Got up at 6:30 AM. Worked like hell and at 1:35 PM took off 2 dead fellows burned to death – what a horrible sight. Admiral came on board to look things over, said it’s a State-side job and at 5:30 PM a show started named – ‘Accidents Will Happen.’”
When Cony emerged from Mare Island four months later it was with a new camo scheme: Measure 32, Design 21D.
(DD-508) Off San Francisco, California, 25 February 1944. NH 104497
(DD-508) Seen from almost directly ahead, while in San Francisco Bay, California, 25 February 1944. NH 104877
(DD-508) Seen from almost directly astern, while in San Francisco Bay, California, 25 February 1944.NH 104878
Once repaired, she sailed again for the West Pac, arriving in time for pre-invasion bombardment on Tinian in July 1944 before moving on to supporting the landings on Peleliu.
By October 1944, she was involved in the toe-to-toe fleet engagement with the Japanese Imperial Navy that was the Battle of Surigao Strait, during which she traded salvos and broadsides with the IJN’s destroyer Asagumo (Morning Cloud) of some 2,408-tons.
USS Cony (DD-508) lays a smoke screen near USS West Virginia (BB-48), to protect shipping off Leyte from Japanese air attack, during the landings there on 20 October 1944. Note manned anti-aircraft batteries on board the battleship, including a Mark 51 director in the foreground, 20mm gun at left, 40mm quad gun mount in center and 5/38 twin gun mounts beyond. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Catalog #: 80-G-289679
She went on to support the Lingayen Gulf landings and ended the war in the approaches of the Yangtze River of China, calling on Shanghai. Cony performed occupation and repatriation service for a few months, then was promptly decommissioned and laid up at Charleston, S.C in 1946.
Her period in mothballs lasted just over three years and she was recommissioned (as DDE-508) on 17 November 1949, with much of her outdated armament removed and equipped for an emphasis in antisubmarine warfare.
Though she served in the Korean War zone for five months in 1951 providing naval gunfire support, she would spend most of the next decade in the Atlantic fleet supporting NATO operations in the Atlantic, Caribbean, and the Med.
(DDE-508) In Hampton Roads, Virginia, 12 March 1957. Old Point Comfort, with the Chamberlain Hotel and Fort Monroe, is in the center and right background. Note bridge-tunnel construction work in the left background. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. NH 104882
When Brigade 2506 (Brigada Asalto 2506) stormed ashore at the Bay of Pigs in Cuba on 17 April 1961, Cony was just offshore as part of the U.S. fleet that was ostensibly to support the landings by the 1,300 Cuban exiles looking to whack The Beard, but was under orders from Washington not to intervene.
Cuban exiles captured during the failed American-backed 1961 Bay of Pigs invasion
Cony played a serious part in the op, carrying a large part of the force to the landing zone with her whaleboat serving as part of the invasion flotilla. They immediately received fire from the beach and later, a Cuban helicopter fired on the whaleboat returning to the beach to rescue survivors.
However, her involvement in Cuba was far from over.
When the Cuban Missile Crisis kicked off in October 1962, Cony– reverted back to her DD-508 designation in June– was part of an anti-submarine task force centered around the Essex-class ASW carrier USS Randolph (CVS-15) that included the destroyers Bache (DD-470), Beale (DD-471), Eaton (DD-510) and Murray (DD-576).
Task Force ALFA, an experimental group specializing in developing ASW tactics, during anti-submarine exercises in the Atlantic, 1959. The other ships present are (from left): USS Murray (DDE-576), USS Beale (DDE-471), USS Bache (DDE-470), USS Eaton (DDE-510), USS Conway (DDE-507), USS Cony (DDE-508), USS Waller (DDE-466) and USS Valley Forge (CVS-45). This force, changing out Randolph for Valley Forge, largely sailed together during the Cuban Missile crisis. Photograph was released for publication on 3 August 1959. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. NH 96944
While enforcing the naval quarantine authorized by President Kennedy, the task force on 27 October came across the Soviet Foxtrot-class diesel-electric submarine B-59, which was heading from her White Sea base along with sister ships B-36, B-4 and B-130 to Havana with the mission “to strengthen the defense of the island of Cuba” and equipped with a total of 88 53-58 (T-5) nuclear-tipped torpedoes– 22 per submarine–just in case.
*Each T-5 carried an RDS-9 warhead with a 3-10 kiloton yield, enough to evaporate a carrier group if it got close enough*
Here is some footage of the first nuclear test fired at Novaya Zemlya of a RDS-9 equipped T-5 torpedo.
Notably, the deployment of the quartet of Foxtrots was the first documented deployment of their class to carry nuclear torpedoes as part of their magazine– and with the boat’s onboard leadership able to sign off directly on their use without asking Moscow for permission.
At 1659 on 27 October, Beale picked up B-59 on sonar and dropped practice depth charges on the Soviet smoke boat while pinging her with active sonar.
Then, at 1729, Cony upped the ante by dropping five hand grenades on top of the contact– one of the few documented instances of live ordnance being deployed in the crisis.
This, combined with the action of Beale, forced the sweltering Russki boat to the surface at 2050 where Cony‘s signalman established commo via blinker light with the submarine.
There, bathed in spotlights from the destroyers with their 5-inch guns trained on the Soviet submarine, one Second Captain Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov, executive officer of the 69th Torpedo Submarine Brigade, overruled B-59‘s Captain Valentin Savitskii and his deputy political officer Ivan Semenovich Maslenniko, who both wanted to fire off a salvo of atomic torpedoes at the American fleet upon surfacing. It should be noted that the effort to surface the B-59 was made just hours after Major Rudolf Anderson’s U-2 spy plane was shot down over Eastern Cuba, at the tensest moment of the crisis.
“We’re gonna blast them now! We will die, but we will sink them all – we will not become the shame of the fleet,” Savitskii reportedly said, according to a journal kept by Captain Third Rank Anatoly Andreev.
Soviet submarine B-59, forced to the surface by U.S. Naval forces in the Caribbean near Cuba. U.S. National Archives, Still Pictures Branch, Record Group 428, Item 428-N-711200
By refusing to sign off on the engagement, Arkhipov became one of the unsung heroes of the Cold War who exercised enough restraint to keep the conflict from turning into a real live shooting war with mutually assured destruction as the third act.
Anyway, the Rudolph ASW task force allowed B-59 to charge her depleted batteries overnight on the surface, submerge the next morning and continue on its way Cuba.
Cony resumed her peacetime training and patrol operations, which included participating in the NASA recovery fleets for MR-IA, MR-4, GT-3, MA-4 and AS-204, and conducting Midshipmen cruises to Europe.
Good overhead recruiting poster shot of DDE-508 in her Cold War haze scheme, Photograph dated 12 March 1967, which would put her just before her Vietnam deployment. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. NH 104499
Then came Vietnam, where she sailed for in the summer of 1967.
From 28 August to 24 September, she provided gunfire support first for the 1st Cav Div’s operations in the II Corps area then for SEAL units operating in the Mekong Delta. She later was assigned to Task Group 77.8 on Yankee Station in the Gulf of Tonkin, Cony provided plane guard duty for the carrier Oriskany (CVA‑34). From 14 August 1967 to Christmas 1967, she patrolled the Taiwan Straits and was on gunfire support and plane guard duty in Cam Ranh Bay, Cape Saint Jacques, Vung Ganh Rai, the Saigon River, and Mui Ba Kiem, RVN.
Not bad looking for a 25 year old tin can that had fought in three wars. (DD-508) Underway in the Atlantic, 12 March 1968, the year before she was pulled from the line. Photographed by Lieutenant D.V. Orgill, USN. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. #: NH 104498
Upon return to the states, she was decommissioned and stricken 2 July 1969.
Cony was sunk as a target off Puerto Rico 20 March 1970 via naval gunfire.
Most of her sisters met a similar fate with the last in U.S. Naval service, USS Stoddard (DD-566), being stricken 1 June 1975, and sunk in an exercise by Navy Seals of Seal Team One, 22 July 1997 off the coast of Hawaii in 2,550 fathoms of cool Pacific water.
A number of oral history interviews with members of Cony‘s crew are in the Library of Congress and her plans are in the National Archives.
To do your part to remember the old girl, you can visit one of the four Fletcher sisterships have been preserved as museum ships, although only USS Kidd was never modernized and retains her WWII configuration:
–USS Cassin Young, in Boston, Massachusetts
–USS The Sullivans, in Buffalo, New York
–USS Kidd, in Baton Rouge, Louisiana
–AT Velos, former USS Charrette in Palaio Faliro, Greece
As for Arkhipov, the Soviet staff officer who prohibited the firing of the nuclear-tipped torpedoes, in 2002 then-director of the US National Security Archive, Thomas Blanton, said that “Vasili Arkhipov saved the world.”
The Soviet submariner– who incidentally was XO of the “widow maker” K-19 and retired as a Vice Admiral in the 1980s– died 19 August 1998 at age 72.
(DD-508) In San Francisco Bay, California, 25 February 1944. The ship is painted in Camouflage Measure 32, Design 21D. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. NH 104876
(As commissioned, 1942)
Displacement: 2924 tons (full load)
Length: 376.5 ft. (114.8 m)
Beam: 39.5 ft. (12.0 m)
Draft: 17.5 ft. (5.3 m)
Propulsion: 60,000 shp (45 MW); 4 oil-fired boilers; 2 Allis Chalmers geared steam turbines; 2 screws
Speed: 36.5 knots (67.6 km/h; 42.0 mph)
Range: 5,500 miles at 15 knots
(8,850 km at 28 km/h)
Complement: 329 officers and men
Armament: 5 × single 5 inch (127 mm)/38 caliber guns
4 × 40 mm Bofors AA guns, 10 × 20 mm Oerlikon cannons
10 × 21 inch (533 mm) antiship torpedo tubes (2 × 5; Mark 15 torpedoes)
6 × K-gun depth charge projectors (later Hedgehog)
2 × depth charge racks
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