Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 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, Nov. 17, 2021: From Casablanca to Taipei
Here we see the future Cannon/Bostwick-class destroyer escort USS Carter (DE 112) launching at the Dravo Corporation yard in Wilmington, Delaware, 29 February 1944.
Named for a 20-year-old TBF gunner, AOM3 Jack Carter (2686624), who was lost at sea during the Torch Landings after searching for a Vichy French submarine, Mrs. Evelyn Carter Patterson sponsored the new tin can, the late aircrewman’s aunt.
What were the Cannons?
The Cannon 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.
Besides a heavy ASW armament, these humble ships carried a trio of Mk.22 3″/50s, some deck-mounted torpedo tubes to be effective against larger surface combatants in a pinch, and a smattering of Bofors/Oerlikon AAA mounts.
In all, although 116 Cannon-class destroyer escorts were planned, only 72 were completed. Some of her more well-known sisters included the USS Eldridge, the ship claimed to be a part of the infamous Philadelphia Experiment. The vessels were all cranked out in blocks by four yards with Carter— along with class leaders Cannon and Bostwick— among the nine produced by Dravo.
Getting into the war
Commissioned 3 May 1944, with LCDR Francis John Torrence Baker, USNR (Sewickley, Pa.) as her only wartime skipper, Carter reported to the Atlantic Fleet. After two months of shakedowns to Bermuda and back, her first turn in the barrel was, appropriately for her namesake, shepherding Convoy UGS 50 bound for North Africa as the flagship of Escort Division (CortDiv) 79, a task she would repeat before the year was out with Convoy UGS 63 from Norfolk to Gibraltar, arriving at Oran to have Christmas dinner there three days late due to heavy storms.
On her way back through the Med returning home, she had a close brush with one of Donitz’s wolves when U-870 (KrvKpt. Ernst Hechler) pumped a torpedo into the Liberty ship SS Henry Miller on 3 January 1945.
From Carter’s War History, in the National Archives:
While Miller was a constructive loss with no injuries to her crew and managed to unload her cargo once towed to port, this was balanced out three months later when U-870 was herself sunk by Allied bombs while dockside at Bremen.
Notably, with the likelihood of engaging a German cruiser or surface raider slim to none by this stage of the war, Carter landed her torpedo tubes at Philadelphia Navy Yard.
She was then assigned to regular antisubmarine patrols from Casco Bay in early 1945 as part of an all-DE submarine Killer Group, a tasking she would conduct for the remainder of the war in the Atlantic. It was with this that she was part of the endgame, moving against the last U-boat offensive against the Eastern Seaboard, one that the brass thought (falsely) might contain V1/V2 rocket carrying subs.
The rumors, mixed with intel that seven advanced U-boats, assigned to Gruppe Seewolf, the last Atlantic Wolfpack, were headed across the Atlantic, sparked Operation Teardrop, an extensive barrier program of ASW assets that ranged the East Coast in early 1945. In the end, Gruppe Seewolf was a dismal failure and the German rocket submarine program never got off the drawing board.
From Carter’s War History, on the engagement she shared with USS Neal A. Scott (DE 769) west of the Azores against U-518, an experienced and successful Type IXC under Oblt. Hans-Werner Offermann, on her seventh patrol. The submarine would not have an eighth:
In May, Carter and her group oversaw the surrender of two U-boats– U-234 (Kptlt. Johann-Heinrich Fehler) and U-858 (Kptlt. Thilo Bode), the latter a Type IXC/40 that had never successfully fired a torpedo in anger, and, true to form, was the first German warship to surrender to U.S. forces without a shot.
U-234, on the other hand, was a big Type XB U-boat built as a long-range cargo submarine with missions to Japan in mind. Commissioned 2 March 1944, she left Germany in the last days of the war in Europe with a mysterious cargo that included dozen high-level officers and advisors, technical drawings, examples of the newest electric torpedoes, one crated Me 262 jet aircraft, a Henschel Hs 293 glide bomb, and 1,210 lbs. of uranium oxide. She never made it to Japan as her skipper decided to make it for Canada instead after the fall of Germany. Two Japanese officers on board committed suicide and were buried at sea while the sub– packed with her particularly important glow-in-the-dark stuff– surrendered south of the Grand Banks, Newfoundland on 14 May, a week after VE Day.
Speaking of Japan, after three weeks in New York City, during which the veteran destroyer escort saw “an almost complete turnover in personnel” as it was thought “the Carter would be readied for Pacific duty,” instead the tin can was dispatched to Florida to clock in for lifeguard work on plane guard duty for new aircraft carriers working up in the warm waters down south, carrying 64 members of the USNA’s Class of 1946 with her on their Mid cruise.
Post-VJ Day saw Carter make for the big round of victory celebrations including “Nimitz Day” in Washington, D.C. (where 10,000 locals visited the ship), followed by Navy Day in Pensacola anchored alongside with USS Guadalcanal (CVE 60), Floyd B. Parks (DD 884), and Gunnel (SS 253) where the tiny warship, her glad rags flying, was “open for inspection with myriads of people getting the thrill of being on a warship.”
With the fighting over, at least for now, Carter continued her role as a plane guard in Florida into April 1946, where she was placed “out of commission in reserve” at NAS Green Cove Springs in the St. Johns River and added to the 500-strong mothball fleet that swayed at a series of 13 piers built there just for the purpose.
Carter received one battle star for World War II service.
A long second life
While Carter’s initial service would last 23 and ¾ months, others could desperately put the low-mileage destroyer escort to good use.
Ultimately 14 of the Cannon/Bostwick class went to France and Brazil during the war, followed by another eight to the French– who apparently really liked the type– four to Greece (including USS Slater which returned home in the 1990s to become the only destroyer escort afloat in the United States), three to Italy, two to Japan, six to the Dutch, three to Peru, five to the Philippines, two to South Korea, one to Thailand, and two to Uruguay.
When it comes to Carter, she and three sisters: Bostwick, Thomas (DE-102), and Breeman (DE-112), in a short ceremony on 14 December 1948, were transferred to Nationalist (Chiang Kai-shek’s KMT) China. Carter became Tài zhāo (also seen transliterated as Taizhao, T’ai Chao, and Tai Chao) after the capital city in central Jiangsu province in eastern China, with the hull/pennant number DE-26.
The four destroyer escorts were soon put into emergency use. During the last phase of the Chinese Civil War in 1949, the 26 loyal ships of the ROCN engaged in the protection of supply convoys and the withdrawal of the Nationalist government and over 1 million refugees to Taiwan.
Carter/Tài zhāo was captured in great detail during this time period in Nationalist use by LIFE magazine.
Needing bigger guns for the work envisioned of them, the Chinese quickly upgraded their two forward 3-inchers to a pair of 5″/38 singles in open mounts, as well as substituting the stern 40mm mount for one of the same which gave the ships a 2+2 format with twin 5-inchers over the bow and a 5-inch over a 3-inch over the stern.
The 1950s saw the fleet heavily involved in the pitched and tense engagements around Kinmen (Quemoy), Matsu (where Carter/Tài zhāo fired 160 5-inch shells against a Red artillery battery ashore), and the Yijiangshan and Dachen Islands in the Taiwan Straits as well as the clandestine Guoguang operations in which the KMT tried to retake the mainland by landing would-be guerilla organization teams in Red territory.
In all, Carter and her three sisters continued to hold the front lines of the Taiwan Straits for 25 years and, for the first decade of that, were the most powerful assets available to the ROCN, a title they held until two Benson-class destroyers (USS Benson and USS Hilary P. Jones) were transferred in 1954. They were also later fitted in the 1960s with Mk.32 12.75-inch ASW torpedo tubes for Mk 44s– which were a lot more effective than depth charges.
As part of the pressure on Communist China in the tail end of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, the Nixon administration transferred a huge flotilla of more advanced warships to Taiwan between late 1970 and early 1973 that included two GUPPY’d Tench-class submarines (one of which is still active), five Gearing-class destroyers, six Sumner-class destroyers, four Fletchers, and USS McComb (DD-458)— a late Gleaves-class destroyer that had been converted to a fast minesweeper. With all these “new-to-you” hulls, the long-serving destroyer escorts could be retired and, by the end of 1973, Carter and her three sisters in Formosan service had been disposed of for scrap.
While Tài zhāo’s name was not recycled by the ROCN– probably as it is the name of a 4-million person city on the mainland– the ChiCom People’s Liberation Army Navy has had two Taizhous including a Type 053 frigate commissioned in 1982 and a Russian-built Sovremenny-class destroyer (ex-Vnushitelnyy) commissioned in 2005.
A number of Carter’s WWII war diaries, as well as her war history and plans, are in the National Archives.
Besides the museum ship USS Slater (DE-766), now sitting dockside in Albany New York, and the pier side training ship USS Hemminger (DE-746) (now HTMS Pin Klao DE-1) in Thailand, there are no Cannon-class destroyer escorts still afloat.
The Destroyer Escort Sailors Association honors the men of all the DEs, regardless of class. Sadly, their 45th annual convention last year was their last as their numbers are rapidly declining.
In 1967, Revelle released a 1:248 scale model of “Nationalist Chinese frigate Tai Chao,” complete with box art that showed her racing among bracketed ChiCom shell plumes, no doubt a fitting tribute to those years of the warship’s life spent fighting an undeclared shadow war in the Taiwan Straits.
Displacement: 1,240 tons standard, 1,620 tons full load
Length: 306.1 ft
Beam: 36.1 ft
Draft: 11.5 ft full load
Propulsion: 4 GM Mod. 16-278A diesel engines with electric drive 4.5 MW (6000 shp), two screws
Speed: 21 knots
Range: 10,800 nm at 12 knots
Complement: 15 officers 201 enlisted men
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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