USS Edsall (DD-219)
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|Namesake:||Norman Eckley Edsall of Kentucky|
|Builder:||William Cramp and Sons Ship and Engine Building Company|
|Laid down:||15 September 1919|
|Launched:||29 July 1920|
|Commissioned:||26 November 1920|
|Fate:||sunk 1 March 1942|
|Class & type:||Clemson-class destroyer|
|Length:||314 ft 5 in (95.83 m)|
|Beam:||31 ft 9 in (9.68 m)|
|Draft:||9 ft 3 in (2.82 m)|
|Propulsion:||26,500 shp (20 MW);
|Speed:||35 knots (65 km/h)|
|Complement:||101 officers and enlisted; 153 in WWII. During WWII her C.O.--LT Joshua James Nix (USNA 1930); XO--LT John F. Fairbanks, Jr. (USNA 32); GUN--LT Phil G. ('Budge') Wild, Jr. (USNA 36); ENG--LT Richard W. ('Dick') Meyers (USNA 36); First LT--LT (jg) Ray Arvel Snodgrass (USNA 37); TORP--LT (jg) Russell C. Dell (USNA 37); ASST ENG--Lt (jg) Morris D. ('Chick') Gilmore, Jr. (USNA 39); Commun.--ENS John Webster Gustin, DV-(G), USNR; DesDiv 57 Medical Officer--LT Charles G. Butler. ALL KIA.|
|Armament:||4 x 4" (102 mm), 1 x 3" (76 mm), 12 x 21" (533 mm) TT, with MK 8-IIIB torpedoes + numerous .30cal & .50cal MGs.|
Edsall was laid down by the William Cramp and Sons Ship and Engine Building Company on 15 September 1919, launched on 29 July 1920 by Mrs. Bessie Edsall Bracey, sister of Seaman Edsall and commissioned on 26 November 1920, Commander A. H. Rice in command.
Edsall sailed from Philadelphia 6 December 1920 for San Diego, California on shakedown. She arrived at San Diego 11 January 1921, and remained on the West Coast until December, engaging in battle practice and gunnery drills with fleet units. Returning to Charleston, South Carolina, 28 December, Edsall was ordered to the Mediterranean and departed 26 May 1922.
Arriving at Constantinople 28 June, Edsall joined the U.S. Naval Detachment in Turkish Waters to protect American lives and interests. The Near East was in turmoil with civil strife in Russia and Greece at war with Turkey.
She did much for international relations by helping nations to alleviate postwar famine in eastern Europe, transporting American commercial operatives, evacuating refugees, furnishing a center of communications for the Near East, and standing by for emergencies. When the Turks expelled the Anatolian Greeks from Smyrna (Izmir), Edsall was one of the American destroyers which evacuated thousands. On 14 September 1922, she took 607 refugees [DD-219's Log states 664 persons were evacuated] off Litchfield in Smyrna and transported them to Salonika, returning to Smyrna 16 September to act as flagship for the naval forces there. In October she carried refugees from Smyrna to Mytilene on Lesbos Island. She made repeated visits to ports in Turkey, Bulgaria, Russia, Greece, Egypt, Mandate Palestine, Syria, Tunisia, Dalmatia, and Italy, and kept up gunnery and torpedo practice with her sisters until her return to Boston, Massachusetts for overhaul 26 July 1924.
Edsall sailed for the Asiatic Fleet 3 January 1925, joining in battle practice and maneuvers at Guantanamo Bay, San Diego, and Pearl Harbor before arriving Shanghai, 22 June. She was to become a fixture of the Asiatic Fleet on the China coast, in the Philippines and Japan. Her primary duty was protection of American interests in the Far East. She served during the civil war in China, and the early part of the Sino-Japanese War. Battle practice, maneuvers and diplomacy took her most frequently to Shanghai, Chefoo, Hankow, Hong Kong, Nanking, Kobe, Bangkok, and Manila. In late OCT 1927, for example, DD-219 visited the Siamese capital at Bangkok, and had three of the Royal Princesses aboard for tea. In return 'Edsall's' skipper (CDR Jules James, USNA 1908) was given an engraved silver cigarette case by the Royal Family.
World War II
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor 7 December 1941, Edsall was stationed with DesDiv 57 at the southeast Borneo oil port of Balikpapan. En route to Batavia (Djakarta) on 8 December [in the Far East] 1941 when word of the war was received, DesDiv 57 altered course to Singapore to act as ASW screen for Force Z. She embarked a British liaison officer and four men at Singapore from HMS Mauritius and was sent to search for survivors of HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Repulse, sunk off Malaya on the 10th. She intercepted a Japanese fishing trawler, the Kofuku Maru (later renamed MV Krait and used in Australian Special Ops) with four small boats in tow and escorted them into Singapore before turning them over to HMAS Goulburn.
She and her division mates then joined the heavy cruiser USS Houston and other US units at Surabaya on 15 December 1941. Many would escort shipping retiring to the relative safety of Darwin, Australia. During the first week of 1942 Edsall escorted the so-called Pensacola Convoy from Torres Strait back to Darwin. Later, after fueling operations in the Lesser Sunda Islands, while conducting the oiler USS Trinity to Darwin, she became the first U.S. destroyer to participate in the sinking of a full-sized enemy submarine in World War II. With three Australian corvettes (HMAS Deloraine, HMAS Lithgow, and HMAS Katoomba), Edsall helped sink the Japanese submarine I-124 on 20 January 1942, off Darwin. Contrary to rumor, this sunken submarine was never entered, nor were classified documents ever recovered from it.
Continuing to escort convoys in northern Australian waters, Edsall was damaged when one of her own depth charges exploded prematurely during an anti-submarine attack on 23 January 1942 in the shallow (8 fathom) Howard Channel. On 3 February Edsall and other American units of ABDA moved up to Tjilatjap, Java in order to be closer to the combat theater and also to fuel stocks. She continued in her service as a patrol vessel off southern Java. On 23 Feb she and the old gunboat USS Asheville operated off Tjilatjap as ASW patrols.
On 26 February she steamed from Tjilatjap with her sister ship USS Whipple to rendezvous with the converted seaplane tender USS Langley which was bringing in P-40E fighters and crews for the defense of Java. On the 27th, the seaplane tender, along with Edsall and Whipple came under attack by sixteen (16) Mitsubishi G4M "Betty" bombers of the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service's Takao Kōkūtai, led by Lieutenant Jiro Adachi, flying out of Den Pasar airfield on Bali, and escorted by fifteen (15) A6M reisen fighters. The attack damaged Langley so severely that she had to be abandoned. Edsall picked up 177 survivors; Whipple, 308.
On the 28th the two destroyers rendezvoused with the fuel ship USS Pecos off Flying Fish Cove, Christmas Island some 250 miles southwest of Tjilatjap. More Japanese bombers forced Edsall and the other ships to head for open sea. They headed directly south into the Indian Ocean for the rest of the 28th in high winds and heavy seas; in the early pre-dawn hours of 1 March all Langley crew were transferred to Pecos. This was completed between 0430 (USN/local time) and 0815 on 1 March. Whipple then set off for the Cocos I. as protection for the tanker Belita sent to meet her there; Pecos, carrying about 700 survivors from Langley, Stewart and Houston, plus assorted stragglers, was ordered to Australia. Edsall had retained 32 USAAF personnel from Langley to be used to assemble and fly 27 P-40E fighters shipped to Tjilatjap aboard the transport Sea Witch. Edsall was instructed to return these "fighter crews" to the port. Following orders, at 0830 she reversed course, headed back to the NE for Java, and was never seen again by Allied forces.
Last engagement of Edsall
Pecos was detected later that morning by air patrols from the carriers of VADM Nagumo Chuichi's Kido Butai (or KdB) and came under heavy air attack. For some time she sent out distress calls to any Allied ships in the area, as it was assumed the ship would probably be lost. Whipple, less than 100 miles distant, copied some of these calls, but was too far away to return quickly. USS Mount Vernon, a troopship many hundreds of miles away in the Indian Ocean also read some of the signals. At approximately 1548 hours Pecos sank after being attacked for several hours by four waves of IJN dive-bombers from Nagumo's KdB.
At 1550 hours (USN/local time) a single "light cruiser" was spotted about 16 miles behind the Japanese task force: this mistakenly identified ship was in fact the Edsall. At this time the old destroyer was perhaps no more than 25–35 miles from the last reported position of Pecos and likely attempting to get to her stricken comrades. At about 1603 hours she was first spotted by the Japanese heavy cruiser Chikuma and within another five minutes the cruiser opened fire with her 8" guns. Fifteen minutes later the battleships of VADM Mikawa Gunichi's Sentai 3/1 opened fire with their main battery of 14" guns at extremely long range (27,000m/29,500 yds.) All shots missed as the old destroyer fled, conducting evasive maneuvers that ranged from flank speed – about 26 knots for the hobbled ship – to full stop, with radical turns and intermittent smoke-screens.
Edsall also disrupts the Japanese with counter-attacks, firing her torpedoes – which narrowly miss Chikuma – and with 4" gunfire, even though outranged. Edsall manages to get off a signal saying she had been surprised by two enemy battleships; this is copied by the Dutch merchant ship Siantar over 100 miles away.
The Japanese surface vessels (2 cruisers, 2 battleships) fired 1,335 shells at Edsall that afternoon with no more than one or two hits. These failed to stop the gritty old destroyer. "Seething with rage," VADM Nagumo ordered airstrikes: a total of 26 Type 99 divebombers (Aichi D3A) (kanbuku) in three groups (chutai) took off from the carriers Kaga (8), Hiryu (9), and Soryu (9). These divebombers were led by LTs Ogawa, Kobayashi, and Koite respectively. Their 250 kg (551 lb) bombs at last bring Edsall to a halt.
At 1722 the Japanese ships resume firing on the now-immobile destroyer. A Japanese camera-man, probably on the cruiser Tone, films about 90 seconds of her destruction. (A single frame from this film is culled for use as a propaganda photo later, misidentified as "the British destroyer HMS Pope".) Finally, at 1731 hrs (1901 IJN/Tokyo time) Edsall rolls onto her side, "showing her red bottom" according to an officer aboard the Japanese battleship Hiei, and disappears into the abyss of the Indian Ocean in clouds of steam and smoke. Subsequent Japanese navy reports refer to this incident as "a fiasco".
The Fate of DD-219's Survivors
Japanese Imperial Navy officers aboard the cruiser Chikuma many years later reported that a number of men may have survived the sinking of Edsall—They were found in the water on liferafts, cutters, clinging to debris, etc. However, due to a submarine alert, the nervous Japanese only stopped long enough to rescue a handful (the Japanese word is jakkan) before they received orders to steam off for home base, leaving the others to perish in the Indian Ocean.
On board Chikuma the survivors were treated well, clothed & fed, and interrogated by their captors, giving the name of their ship as "the old destroyer E-do-soo-ru". After a few days the details of these interrogations were shared with the other ships of VADM Nagumo's Kido Butai during their return journey. There is some suggestion that the cruiser Tone may have picked up a survivor or two as well, but there is no confirming evidence of this. The Americans were held on Chikuma for the next ten days before returning to the Japanese force's advance base on 11 March 1942.
On 21 Sept. 1946 several mass graves were opened in a remote locale in the East Indies, over 1,000 miles from the point of Edsall's disappearance. In two graves, containing 34 decapitated bodies, are the remains of six Edsall crewmen and what are thought to be five more USAAF personnel from Langley, along with numerous Javanese, Chinese, and Dutch merchant sailors from the Dutch merchant-ship Modjokerto, sunk the same day as Edsall in the same area south of Christmas Island. These American bodies were reinterred in U.S. cemeteries between Dec. 1949 and March 1950.
War crimes trials conducted in 1946-1948 concerning other murders that occurred in or near Kendari by IJN personnel contain fragmentary information about the killings of Edsall survivors but were not recognized as such by Allied investigators, and were not pursued. For the next six decades no U.S. press reports or post-war historical texts ever cover the story of the final days and fate of these men.
Edsall received two battle stars for her World War II service.
L. Ron Hubbard Claim
L. Ron Hubbard claimed he served on the Edsall during WWII. Following its sinking he swam to shore, and remained in the jungle as the ship's sole survivor. He claimed that this is where he was during the bombing of Pearl Harbor, despite the fact that the Edsall was sunk in 1942, and the U.S. Navy has no record of his service on the ship. Navy records show that Hubbard was in training in New York when WWII broke out. He was supposed to be posted to the Philippines, but his ship was diverted to Australia. There he angered the Naval Attache for assuming "unauthorized duties," he was relieved from his assignment and returned to the United States. 
- Lawrence Wright "Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief,"
- Primary source: Donald M. Kehn, Jr.'s A Blue Sea of Blood: Deciphering the Mysterious Fate of the USS Edsall (Zenith Press 2009)
- This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. The entry can be found here.
- Movement record of Tone from combinedfleet.com
- The Sinking of the Edsall
- A SHIP TO REMEMBER: USS EDSALL (DD 219)