USS Clemson

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The USS Clemson was a Clemson class destroyer that was in service from 1918-1945. It was the first, or "Class-ship" of 156 of the design that served from the 1920s through World War II, and were known as four-stackers or four-pipers for their four funnel design. The USS Reuben James, the first American warship sunk by enemy action in WW II, on October 31, 1941, was a Clemson-class destroyer.

It was named for Henry A. Clemson, an officer in the United States Navy in the early 1800s, born in 1820.

A native of New Jersey, Clemson was appointed a midshipman in 1836. He served on the USS St. Mary's and the USS Somers during the Mexican-American War. He was lost on December 8, 1846 when the USS Somers capsized off Vera Cruz while chasing a blockade runner.

  • Laid Down, 11 May 1918, at Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co., Newport News, VA.
  • Launched, 5 September 1918
  • Commissioned, USS Clemson (Destroyer No. 186), 29 December 1919
  • Reduced to Commissioned in Reserve, 13 June 1920
  • Designated (DD-186) 17 July 1920
  • Decommissioned, 30 June 1922
  • Converted to Aircraft Tender (Small) (AVP-17), 16 November 1939
  • Recommissioned, 12 July 1940
  • Redesignated Seaplane Tender (Destroyer) (AVD-4), 6 August 1940
  • Reverted to (DD-186), 1 December 1943
  • Convert to a High-speed Transport and designated (APD-31), 17 July 1944
  • Decommissioned, 12 October 1945
  • Struck from the Naval Register, 24 October 1945
  • Final Disposition, sold for scrapping, 21 November 1946
  • Clemson received the Presidential Unit Citation as a unit of TG 21.1.4 and nine battle stars for her actions in the Atlantic and Pacific during World War II.
  • The ship's bell is privately owned in the Clemson area.

WW II action

Badger, Clemson, Dupont, Ingram, and Bogue Kill U-172

On December 12-13, 1943, a CVE-DD team fought an anti-sub battle that was to stand as a fine prototype for cooperative effort between the surface and air units of a hunter-killer group. Here was synchronized teamwork as successful as it was exemplary.

The group (Task Group 21.13) was composed of the escort carrier Bogue (Captain J.B. "Joe" Dunn) and the veteran destroyers George E. Badger (Lieutenant E. M. Higgins, U.S.N.R.), Dupont (Commander J.G. Marshall), Clemson (Lieutenant W.F. Moran, U.S.N.R.), and Osmand Ingram (Lieutenant Commander R.F. Miller, U.S.N.R.). Led by Commander E.W. Yancey, the quartet of old four-pipers teamed with Bogue to form a crack hunter-killer outfit under over-all command of Captain Dunn.

Conducting an offensive anti-sub patrol, the group was steaming en route from Casablanca to the States, and it had reached the vicinity of lat. 26-19 N., long. 29-58 W., when December 12 came up on the calendar. The date was not the only thing that came up on that day.

Action began when Bogue's scouting aircraft spotted a skulking U-boat. The enemy submerged, and the hunt was on. Racing to the area where the sub had been discovered, Clemson made sound contact with the U-boat and spread a pattern of depth charges over the appropriate spot. While the water boiled, a plane from Bogue took station overhead to watch for bubbles or debris.

Meanwhile, Badger, Dupont, and Ingram steamed forward to join Clemson in their hunt. Deep under the surface, the U-boat engaged in those evasive maneuvers which are the specialty of the submarine under fire - playing doggo with motors cut off; drifting this way and that; quietly fishtailing off in the hope of finding some foxhole under a density layer that will deflect the hunter's probing "ping." But the American destroyers were not to be eluded. For the remainder of that day and throughout the succeeeding night they remained on the deep-sea enemy's track. Intermittant sound contacts kept the DD's in touch. Circling and "pinging," they located the U-boat time and again. Down went the depth charges, hurling up voluminous geysers and tumbling the surface in the attacking destroyer's wake. The persistence of the DD's and the violence of barrage after barrage forced the U-boat captain to the surface during the night in a frantic effort to charge batteries or gulp fresh air. Instantly the destroyers opened fire on the submarine's silhouette, and the U-boat was forced to submerge and endure another prolonged depth-charge ordeal.

Then Bogue's impatient airmen rejoined the battle at 0400, and the implacable hunt went on in the dawn's early light. Shortly after 0800, one of the flyers - Lieutenant (jg) H.G. Bradshaw - sighted a telltale oil slick, and called the destroyers to the spot. Thereafter the sound gear was practically superfluous; the injured U-boat was leaking oil and leaving a trail as plain as the slime-track of a snail.

Following the oil slick, Clemson and Ingram thrashed the adjacent and subjacent waters for an hour with a steady rain of depth charges. Then another hour-and still another hour. By that time - and the clock well past mid-morning - both destroyers were short of teardrops and ashcans. And it looked as though their target would succumb to nothing less than a direct hit.

Then, just as American patience was giving out along with the anti-sub ammunition, the U-boat climbed to the surface and ran for it. One of Bogue's aircraft spied the sub as she broke water, and the aviator shouted the word over voice radio. Two [Grumman F4F] Wildcats zoomed from the Bogue's flight deck and bulleted to the target, whipping machine-gun fire at the U-boat. With three planes strafing the conning tower, and the destroyers closing in, the Nazi submariners opened the hatches and dived overside. The aircraft held their fire and veered off, believing the U-boaters were abandoning ship.

But not all of the U-boaters abandoned. Apparently those who leaped into the water were panic-stricken or mutinous; the Nazi captain and some of the crew rushed to man the deck guns, and the U-boat gunners opened fire. One shell struck Ingram's quarterdeck. The explosion killed a destroyerman and wounded eight others of the crew.

The DD's answered the Nazi's fire with deadly gunnery that soon had the U-boat wheeling helplessly in circles. Six minutes of this shooting match, and the submarine's decks were awash. As the Germans flung themselves from her bridge, the battered U-boat plunged for the last time. The captain, executive officer, and 33 other survivors were fished from the littered sea by the American hunter-killers.

The submarine destroyed by Task Group 21.13 was the U-172, one of Nazi Germany's largest and newest specimens. The stubborn resistance put up by this submersible, and its ability to absorb the shock of aerial bombs, strafing, prolonged depth-charging, and bursts of gunfire in a going-over of nearly 24 hour's duration, testified as to how tough these new U-boats were. As a matter of fact it was crew morale which first succumbed. The pressure hull sustained damage and leaked some oil, but it was the nerve of the embattled crew which apparently drained away. The submariners caved in - not the submarine.

- Theodore Roscoe, "United States Destroyer Operations in World War II", United States Naval Institute, Annapolis, Maryland, 1953, pages 291-292. Wikipedia's article on USS Clemson.