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HISTORICAL RECORD OF THE U.S.S. BUCKLEY (DE-51)
The USS BUCKLEY (DE-51), name ship for its class of American destroyer escort, was launched January 9, 1943 at the Bethlehem-Hingham Shipyard, Inc., Hingham, Mass. As one of the first, if not the first, vessels of its type laid down for the United States Navy, its completion and commissioning date was not until April 30, 1943 because of delays caused by the especially rigorous weather during those early Spring months.
Following the customary shake-down cruise in the Bermuda, B.W.I. area, the Buckley was assigned training ship duties, cruising out of Norfolk, VA. Here over a period of some four months, several hundred naval officers and men were introduced to this newest of combatant ships of the fleet.
Upon its return from a training cruise to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the BUCKLEY took up its new duties with the Submarine Chaser Training Center, Miami, Fla. Here it was that many additional hundreds of officers and men were oriented to the Anti-Submarine work aboard the now well prepared training cruise ship. Altogether another six months of cruising along the Florida Keys and other training areas in the vicinity, was spent by the vessel in this so important work.
On April 1, 1944 the BUCKLEY was detached from duty as a training ship, and, undertook a series of experiments for the Bureau of Ships and other Bureaus in the Navy Department. Engaged in these tests and trials during the early part of the month, the ship's personnel gained their sea legs for extended deep-water cruising.
Towards the end of April, the Buckley was attached to an anti-submarine task group (TG 21.11) composing several escorts and an early escort carrier, the ill-fated BLOCK ISLAND. This group was assigned a patrol in the then very active enemy submarine area, North and West of the Cape Verde Islands off the South African coast. On April 22, 1944, the force left the United States for the South Atlantic waters, waters from which the carrier was destined never to return.
By the first week in May the group was on station and numerous contacts testified to the presence of enemy submarines in, or passing through, the area. Not until the small hours of May 6, however, was a definite target tracked down. For then it was that a patrol plane from the carrier picked up a surfaced submarine some 20 miles distant from the BUCKLEY. Orders to intercept and destroy from the carrier, sent the BUCKLEY racing at top speed in pursuit, and shortly after 3 a.m. the enemy craft was observed visually,
brilliantly illuminated in the path of the full moon.
The BUCKLEY's approach was so expertly executed, the enemy submarine (U-66) was caught completely by surprise when she opened fire with all guns at almost point blank range. The fire was so accurate and concentrated, little opportunity was presented the crew of the enemy craft to man their deck guns and defend themselves. Their recourse was to flee, for the initial gun-fire had so damaged them as to make submerging impossible. Be manuevering and turning stern toward the pursuing BUCKLEY, the better to fire torpedos, the sub's forward deck gun was manned. Soon she was as hotly returning the fire she was receiving, fortunately with only insignificant damage to the attacking ship. A ramming contest then ensued with the BUCKLEY riding up onto the submarine just forward of the conning tower. In the hand-to-hand melee that resulted, coffee cups and expended shell casings as weapons were used by members of the gun crews in subduing some ten prisoners on the Buckley forecastle before the two speeding craft separated.
The action was shortly continued with both vessels maintaining a rapid and damaging fire, until as the two fighters drew abreast for a second time, the undersea boat, either intentionally or out of control, rammed the BUCKLEY amidships, piercing her skin on the starboard hand, and in the crash that followed, damaging her starboard shaft and screw. The close contact finished off the enemy, however, for they provided the after batteries with an extremely vulnerable target at point blank range. Almost immediately still swiftly speeding and now flaming furiously, from several hand grenades down the conning tower, the enemy craft nosed down and slipped beneath the surface of the sea. Shortly several underwater explosions indicated her complete destruction.
The next several hours after the sub's destruction were spent by the BUCKLEY in the rescue of survivors, and an additional twenty-six prisoners were retrieved from the water and taken into custody.
Later in the afternoon, a rendevous was affected with the balance of the force, and the prisoners were transferred to the carrier. After a complete assesment of the damage suffered, it was decided necessary to withdraw for repairs, and the following day the long return trip was started to the haven of a U. S. Navy Yard for a well earned and extended availability.
For this most interesting action, regarded by several high naval officers as being the most "exciting" anti-submarine kill in the battle of the atlantic, the BUCKLEY personnel were authorized to wear a combat star in the European-African Theatre ribbon. The then commanding officer, Lt. Comdr. Brent M. Abel, USNR, of Cambridge, Mass., was awarded the Navy Cross for his part in its execution.
By the middle of July the BUCKLEY was once again engaged in extended operations, this time in escort of convoy work to the Mediterrannean. Together with the other ships of its division, and the escort commander, a large convoy was escorted to that area. It was one of the first to go through the Straits of Gibralter under American escort.
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Here it was, shortly after midnight on the first of August, the convoy and escorts were attacked by what was presumed to be a full squadron of approximately twenty JU-88 torpedo bombers, flown from Southern France by Nazi airmen. Although the air attack was energetically prosecuted, due to the darkness and the heavy fire of the defending escorts, it was successfully driven off withouth damage. The aircraft, even though close enough to launch several torpedos, were unable to affect a hit. This was not the case for the defending escorts, for several of the planes appeared to suffer serious damage, perhaps so severe as to be unable to return to base, while at least one was pretty definitely destroyed at the scene of the attack. As the anti-aircraft fire was well dispersed, positive credit for the possible kill was difficult to asses and no ship assignment or award was ever made by competent authority.
The return trip was conducted similarly to that of the easterly crossing, but remained completely without incident until well within the American area. This single action was inconclusive, as well, for while a promising submarine attack was evaluated, nothing definite was ever obtained. Apparently, however, the close screen had uncovered the lurking danger in time to forestall a damaging sneak attack.
Late in September a second convoy escort trip was made, similar in most respects to the earlier experience, only this cruise was completely uneventful in either crossing, going or returning.
After an extended availability, the BUCKLEY toward the last of November was selected as the Flagship of an anti-submarine task group to operate in the North Atlantic during the winter months. This duty was actively undertaken early in December, and several extended patrols were conducted without noteworthy incident prior to the end of the year.
The first several months of 1945 saw these rigorous northern patrols continued. It is the proud record of the ship and the others associated under her command, that while sinkings occured on several occasions from enemy submarine action, no ship was lost in the areas under patrol by the BUCKLEY group.
Conclusive proof of the existence of enemy craft in the area south of Halifax, N. S., was presented early on the morning of the 19th of April, when underwater contact was made by the BUCKLEY shortly before 4 a.m. After a lengthy examination and evaluation the attack was conducted and the heavy underwater explosion that followed indicated a hit. Shortly, additional and even more severe repercussions marked the attack as a definite kill(This was U-879, sank by a hedgehog volley, with assistance from DE-153 Reuben James).
Even as the BUCKLEY's previous action had been so extraordinary, this entirely different episode once again portrayed the ship as a dangerous oponent and thrououghly capable of a vigorous offensive attack. This because of such a carefully executed action, that with one run, she destroyed her second submarine with all hands. This achievement is scarcely to be paralleled in the entire history of U.S. Naval engagements.
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In recognition of this combat performance, the present commanding officer, Lt. Comdr. Robert R. Crutchfield, USNR, of Montross, Virginia, was awarded the Legion of Merit. The ship's personnel, together with seven individual awards and citations, were authorized to wear a second combat star, this time in the American Theater ribbon, for the successful attack.
The end of the war in Europe saw also the end of the BUCKLEY's combat days in World War II. For with the secession of hostilities in the Atlantic, the anti-submarine group was dissolved and the ship returned to its former duty of convoy escort.
A third escort of convoy experience to the Mediterranean was a close duplication of the second, in that the entire cruise was conducted completely without incident.
Upon its return to the United States the BUCKLEY was selected to be converted to a DE "Picket Ship," the first of its type, and ultimate duty in the Pacific. This tour of duty would have been one for which the ship and personnel were well fitted, with its enviable record of offensive and coordinated actions. But such was not to be realized, for prior to its completion, the war in the Pacific was also concluded, and the ship was destined never to fulfill the mission for which it had been so completely redesigned and rebuilt.
Jacksonville, Florida, as the BUCKLEY's Navy Day committment, brings the ship back to an area with which she was earlier so familiar, and where she numbers a host of friends. Many of the officers and crew members tours of duty extend back to those training days in Florida, two years previously almost to a day. To them its (SIC) like returning home after a long absence to relive again their so pleasant memories of the past.
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