The Bucking Little DE's Drove the U-Boat From the Convoy Routes
By Stephen G. Thompson
Our Navy Magazine
01 August, 1944
Vol. XXXIX, No. 5
Bing -- Bing -- Bing -- Bing -- Bing..."All hands - man your battle stations".
In the middle of the night you are snapped out of your dreaming by that slow metallic, imperative ringing, and your quiet, dozing Destroyer Escort is immediately galvanized into action. Like a bevy of flushed quail every man aboard has suddenly turned out to join the regular watch, and every weapon is ready to commence firing.
It takes only seconds to tumble from your bunk, and slip into waiting shoes, trousers, jacket and lifebelt. Wide awake in a moment from the deepest slumber, you join a stream of other moving figures in the blackness, blindly feeling your way up several ladders until you reach your DE's small flying bridge on the top deck.
In no more than the time for telling, this ordinarily peaceful station, only about twenty feet square, has
become populated with a score of officers and men, and is humming with a steady, meaningful buzz of instruction and orders.
The word spreads rapidly..."Escort Thirteen detected the presence of a submarine and has started right after him".
There is nothing you can see but the shadowy forms of those close by. But you can feel the whole ship alive and alert, and you even sense the same electric activity on every other escort and convoy vessel in the darkness. There is no light except whatever happens to be provided by the moon or the stars...and a number of ominous, dull red glows coming vertically through the decks fore and aft, that couldn't be seen from the
U-boat anyway. These are the dark-adaptation lights from the ammunition storage rooms serving each gun.
From the low chorus of voices giving various reports and commands. you soon piece together the vivid, though invisible picture of everything that is going on. Bearings are being given on the position of the convoy and the re-grouped escorts since "Thirteen" left station. The speed, course and range of the enemy in regard to your own vessel is being plotted. Reports are being sent and received from the "Thirteen," and here aboard the flagship the commanding officer of the entire unit is issuing orders for all the convoy ships and the different escorts.
Zig-zag, or special navigating instructions are being relayed to your own helmsman from the bridge, and also changes in speed. And on top of it all, officers and "talkers" are speaking by phone to the different gun and battle stations on your DE to give target bearings and double-check all the preparations for action.
Despite everyone's desire for the most fitting climax, however, the DE's immediate destruction of the U-boat, this is "Thirteen's" unlucky day. The enemy was in fact already running as fast as it could away from the convoy, when originally detected. The enemy had managed to escape the range of underwater detection gear by the time "Thirteen" got close to his expected position.
Due to the overwhelming success of today's anti-submarine campaign, the DE's get few cracks at the U-boats in the Atlantic. The necessary numbers of ships, guns and planes we lacked at the outbreak of the war are now everywhere in evidence, and it is our side that carries the offensive.
Approaching one of our convoys today against all our distant observation patrols, the close hugging DE's, and the most modern underwater detection devices, a lone submarine is practically courting suicide. But we no longer wait for these hidden killers to approach anywhere near our convoys, instead, our attacking forces range afar from the convoy to seek out and destroy our undersea enemies, wherever they can be located or where they may be known to be concentrating.
American and British U-boat intelligence sections on both sides of the Atlantic, record every contact and sighting reported by our far flung air and surface and anti-submarine forces. Plottings of these contacts are made and approximate cruising ranges and locations are radioed to the convoys. Lone raiders, therefore, cause little anxiety, but are immediately hounded by the convoy's protective screen. Today the underwater raider that escapes in one encounter with our ships or planes can expect the same subsequent interception and almost inevitable destruction that was the fate of Allied merchant ships in the early days of the war.
The DE's job is less glorious than the destroyers job in the early days of this war, but the DE's are a double-service ship today. They not only are poison for any U-boat near a convoy, but practically every one frees a regular out-fighting destroyer from convoy duty for combat service with more formidable Navy battle forces. Today some convoys are escorted almost entirely by DE's.
Once away from the dock aboard these seagoing motorcycles...they clear the way and shepherd a convoy just like a motorcycle escort for an autocade...you are destined to go through all the motions ever experienced or ever built into a ship since Noah designed and laid down the Ark.
Pitching and rolling, twisting and turning, they wallow in even a moderate sea, and bend with every stiff breeze.
In rougher weather it is a slow, aggravating minor torture; not that the manhandling you must take is so severe, but its annoying constancy can become almost maddening...and it is so damned useless getting angry at the sea.
It wouldn't be so bad, set on a fixed course, at a relative good speed for your vessel. But most of the time your DE just corkscrews along at about half speed, while for accent there is an extra steep lurch every few minutes as she suddenly swings sharp around on a new leg of her zig-zag.
Built in one-half to one-quarter the time usually required for a Destroyer, and for about half the cost, the DE's have entered service at an almost unbelievable rate. The "Knockedabout" was the first one commissioned in April, 1943, and the first to begin regular convoy duty just about a year ago. Launched as many as six at a time from a score of yards on the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Gulf and the Great Lakes, the Navy reported in January that more than 300 were in the water already. By the end of this year we probably will have more DE's than any other single class of fighting ship. And most remarkable, perhaps they were designed, placed in full production without a delay, and rushed right into service, without a single bug of any consequence ever disrupting the job or seriously impairing the efficiency of the ships.
Not much different from a regular Destroyer, except in modified armament and speed, they are all roughly 300 feet long, have a beam of about 35 feet, and are of about 1,300 tons displacement. And despite their rolling, they have an exceptional inherent stability. That is, they were built for that wicked rocking, rolling Destroyer service. CONTINUE TO PAGE 2 OF ARTICLE HERE.
[from the archive of Rollins W. Coakly]