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USS Underhill (DE-682)

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Laid down:16 September 1943
Launched:15 October 1943
Commissioned:15 November 1943
Fate:sunk by kaiten
Struck:1 September 1945
General Characteristics
Displacement:1400 tons light, 1673 tons standard
Length:306 feet
Beam:37 feet
Draft:13.5 feet
Propulsion:Turbo-electric drive, 12,000 hp
Speed:23 knots
Complement:15 officers, 198 men
Armament:three three-inch/50-caliber guns, three 21-inch torpedo tubes (later removed), two or four 40mm cannon, one 1.1-inch gun, eight or ten 20mm cannon, one hedgehog, two depth charge tracks, eight K-gun projectors

USS Underhill (DE-682), a Buckley-class destroyer escort, was named in honor of Ensign Samuel Underhill, a naval aviator of the United States Navy who was killed in action during the Battle of the Coral Sea. Her keel was laid down on 16 September 1943 by the Bethlehem Steel Company's Fore River Shipyard at Quincy, Massachusetts. She was launched on 15 October 1943 sponsored by Mrs. David (Bertha) Underhill, aunt and guardian of Ensign Underhill. Underhill was commissioned exactly one month later under the command of Lieutenant Commander Sidney R. Jackson.

After trial runs and crew training, Underhill moved to the Boston Navy Yard for provisioning and loading of ammunition. On 2 December 1943, she was underway to Bermuda for further training and shakedown, returning to Boston Navy Yard on 10 January 1944 for minor repairs. She got underway from Boston on 17 January 1944 and arrived at Guantanamo Bay on 22 January, reporting to Commander, Caribbean Sea Frontier, for duty. She operated out of Trinidad and Guantanamo escorting convoys until late in May when she escorted SS George Washington from Kingston, Jamaica, to Miami, Florida.

Returning to Boston Navy Yard on 30 May 1944, Underhill's torpedo tubes were removed and replaced with Bofors 40-millimeter antiaircraft guns. 20-millimeter antiaircraft guns were added on the fantail. Her new area of operations was the Mediterranean Sea, and the Junkers Ju 88 dive bombers flying out of Southern France had been converted to torpedo planes and were taking a toll on British and French convoys.

Following training exercises in Casco Bay, Maine, Underhill got underway before dawn on Independence Day and steamed from Hampton Roads to screen UGS 47, a large, slow convoy bound for Mediterranean ports. Underhill conducted battle drills and investigated sonar contacts during the long, uneventful Atlantic voyage. In the Mediterranean Sea on 21 July and 22 July, she responded to several air raid warnings, but no enemy action materialized, although the last three convoys to pass along this route had been attacked by German planes.

She escorted convoys between Bizerte, Tunisia and Oran, Algeria. After her first convoy in Bizerte, Underhill was ordered out into the Mediterranean Sea where she steamed all night at flank speed, fully illuminated in waters known to be populated with U-boats and overflown by German aircraft. The invasion of southern France was launched a few days later; it is likely Underhill's cruise was a diversion or a probe. When returning to Bizerte, she struck a ship sunken in the channel and badly damaged her port propeller and shaft, which was repaired in Oran. After arriving at that port on 27 July, she underwent temporary repairs; then, on 5 August, she departed North Africa. Early on 6 August, she joined the escort of Convoy GUS 47, with which she arrived safely at New York City on 18 August. Six days later, Lieutenant Commander Robert M. Newcomb relieved Jackson as commanding officer; he would hold the post for the rest of his life.

The next convoy, UGS 54 to Plymouth, England in September, was uneventful until Underhill left Plymouth in October. Upon leaving the harbor, a submarine sonar contact was made in the English Channel. Several hours of depth charging accomplished nothing, but while running the patterns, the ship struck an underwater object (possibly a U-boat) destroying the ship's sonar soundhead. Underhill drydocked at Plymouth, but the British were unable to make needed repairs, so Underhill returned to Boston with a group of tank landing ships for a new sound head.

She escorted Convoy UGS 60 from Boston to Mers el Kebir in November; then engaged in antisubmarine warfare exercises out of Oran with French submarine Doris. She departed that Algerian port on 3 December escorting GUS 60 and reached New York on [[21 December]]. She entered the Brooklyn Navy Yard on 21 December, departing for New London, Connecticut, on 8 January 1945 for a temporary assignment with Submarine Forces, Atlantic. Operating out of New London, she served as a training and escort ship for submarines, took part in exercises in Block Island Sound and Long Island Sound; and trained intensively in antisubmarine warfare.

In late January 1945, Underhill was assigned to the Seventh Fleet in the Philippine Islands, departing New London on 8 February 1945, rendezvousing with HMS Patroller to escort the British escort carrier to the Canal Zone. Underhill then steamed via the Panama Canal, the Galapagos Islands, and Bora Bora to the Admiralty Islands and arrived at Seeadler Harbor on 15 March 1945.

Her first convoy took her to Lingayen Gulf where she remained for four days of radar picket duty. From there she went on to Hollandia and Biak. On 5 June 1945, Underhill left Hollandia escorting the troopship USS M.B. Stewart (AP-140) to Leyte Gulf.

On 10 June 1945, Underhill left Leyte for Hollandia, but in route received a distress call from OA-10 #23, a B-24 Liberator bomber. Underhill and Thadeus Parker were diverted to the crash site by orders of the Commander, Philippine Sea Frontier. The destroyers and various aircraft patroled the area until 12 June when the search was abandoned. After Parker and the aircraft had left the area, Underhill's lookouts spotted green dye marker and a ration can floating in the water. Investigating further, into a rain squall, the lookouts found three survivors, who had been in the water about 60 hours with life jackets but no life raft. Underhill took them aboard at 0759 and transported them to Hollandia.

Underhill escorted shipping between Manus, Bora Bora, and Palau, until she joined a large convoy of supply and troopships. She departed Leyte Gulf on 9 July and arrived at Okinawa on 14 July 1945. There, she was assigned to radar picket duty until relieved to serve as escort commander of Task Force Unit 99-1-18, a convoy from Buckner Bay, Okinawa back to Leyte Gulf on 21 July 1945. The convoy included one troop ship and six LSTs carrying troops of the 96th division back to the Philippines for rest and reinforcements. The convoy escorts were patrol craft PC-1251, PC-803, PC-804, and PC-807, sub chasers SC-1306 and SC-1309, and patrol craft escort PCE-872.

On the morning of the third day out, 24 July 1945, about 200 to 300 miles northeast of Cape Engano, Underhill's radar detected a Japanese "Dinah" bomber circling the convoy about ten miles out. Her crew immediately manned their battle stations and ordered other escorts to air defense stations. The Japanese pilot remained out of gun range, determining the convoy's base course and relaying it to Japanese submarines in the area. After some 45 minutes, Underhill crew secured from battle stations and ordered the other escorts to resume assigned patrol stations. During this time, an SC had developed mechanical problems and had to be taken in tow by PCE-872.

Two or three Japanese submarines were in the area. After establishing the convoy's base course, one released a dummy naval mine in the path of the convoy. When sighted by Underhill lookouts, the ship's commander ordered a general course change to port. When the last ship had cleared, Underhill stood in to sink the mine. After repeated direct hits by the 20-millimeter guns and 30-calibre rifle fire, the convoy realized the mine was a diversionary tactic by the Japanese submarines.

A sonar contact made earlier had been lost during the course changes required by the mine threat, but Underhill regained contact and guided PC-804 into a depth charge attack with no immediate results. A few minutes later, however, a sub was sighted on the surface in the area where PC-804 had attacked. Underhill set course to ram, but the sub dove and the command was changed to drop depth charge. A 13-charge pattern was laid, explosions brought up oil and debris, and PC-804 reported a kill.

Underhill reversed course and passed back through the debris. Sonar picked up another contact. The depth charges had brought to the surface two kaiten, Japanese midget suicide submarines or manned torpedoes, each with a warhead equivalent to about two standard torpedoes. One was on either side of Underhill; the one to starboard was too close for any of Underhill's guns to bear.

At 1515, the captain ordered flank speed, a turn onto collision course, and all hands to stand by to ram. Underhill struck the kaiten to port, and two explosions resulted, the first directly under the bridge and magazine area, the second, a few second later, forward of the bridge area and more to starboard. Underhill broke in half at the forward fire room. The stern section remained upright and afloat; The bow, sticking straight up, began drifting away to starboard. The explosions flung a tremendous quantity of oily water over the aft section, knocking down men and washing some overboard, but also dousing possible fires in that portion of the ship.

Chief Boatswain's Mate Stanley Dace was in the fire room leading a damage control party that was repairing damage from the depth charge attack on the first sub when Underhill struck the kaiten. Chief Dace assumed command, rallied the crew, prevented panic, and directed damage control and self-defense operations. He ordered the survivors to not abandon ship, because too many of the seriously wounded would not have survived in the water. At one point, he went below decks forward to check watertight integrity and to evaluate whether the remaining hulk would stay afloat. While below, he rescued Frank Dougherty, who lost a leg but survived.

Chief Dace continued to direct the survivors while the other escort vessels of the convoy lowered motor whaleboats and were picking up survivors in the water. The "walking wounded" manned the remaining guns to fire on any submarine that surfaced. None did, but the survivors were prepared to defend themselves. All medical personnel aboard Underhill were killed except Pharmacist's Mate Third Class Joe Manory, who distinguished himself caring for the wounded.

Although hampered in their rescue efforts by the necessity to pursue sound contacts and by alarms over real and imagined periscope sightings, PC-803 and PC-804 quickly came to the aid of survivors in the water and on the slowly sinking aft section. On board Underhill, the wounded were brought to the boat and main decks. The survivors displayed training and discipline as they calmly and efficiently went about their tasks, aiding the injured, and attempting to control the damage.

About an hour later PC-803 and PC-804 had returned to rescue survivors. Hampered because of still being under attack by the midget subs, the transfer of many seriously wounded men to the patrol craft was difficult. PC-804 was the first to reach the combat site to assist with rescue operations and hove-to off the starboard quarter of Underhill. The 804's skipper called to the senior surviving officer, Lieutenant Elwood Rich, "I have a sub contact. Do you want me to come alongside to take your people off, or do you want me to go after the contact?" Before the Lieutenant could answer, over a hundred crewmen yelled as one, "go get that son-of-a-bitch!" The patrol boats and sub chasers alternated between assisting survivors and attacking submarine contacts.

After the last known survivors were aboard PC-803 and PC-804, Electrician's Mate First Class Rodger Crum and Electrician's Mate Second Class Paul Adams returned to the hulk to assist Chief Dace in conducting a final search for any remaining survivors. At 1830, Chief Dace was the last man to leave the hulk. Upon orders from Commander, Philippine Sea Frontier, a firing line was formed by PC-803, PC-804, and PCE-872. The fragments of Underhill were sunk by three-inch and 40-millimeter gunfire at 1917.

The remainder of 24 July was spent rejoining the convoy. The survivors were transfered to LST-768 at about 0300 on 25 July. Task Force Unit 99-1-18 proceeded to its destination of Leyte Gulf.

A total of 112 crew member of Underhill perished in the explosion, while 122 survived. Ten of the fourteen officers were lost, including the commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Newcomb. Every crewman was awarded the Purple Heart, and Newcomb also received the Silver Star.

USS Underhill was struck from the Naval Vessel Registry on 1 September 1945.