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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER
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Somers

 

Richard Somers-born in 1778 or 1779 at Great Egg Harbor, N.J.-was appointed midshipman on 25 April 1797 and served in the West Indies during the Quasi War with Prance in frigate United States commanded by Capt. John Barry. Promoted to lieutenant on 21 May 1799, Somers was detached from United States on 13 June 1801 and ordered to Boston on 30 July 1801. He served in the latter frigate in the Mediterranean.

 

After Boston returned to Washington, Somers was furloughed on 11 November 1802 to await orders.

 

On 5 May 1803, Somers was ordered to Baltimore to man; fit out; and command Nautilus; and, when that schooner was ready for sea, to sail her to the Mediterranean. Nautilus got underway on 30 June; reached Gibraltar on 27 July; and sailed four days later to deliver dispatches to Capt. John Rodgers at Malaga, Spain. He then returned to Gibraltar to meet Commodore Edward Preble, in Constitution, who was bringing a new squadron for action against the Barbary pirates.

 

Nautilus sailed with Preble on 6 October to Tangier where the display of American naval strength induced the Europeans of Morocco to renew the treaty of 1786. Thereafter, Tripoli became the focus of Preble's attention.

 

Somers' service as commanding officer of Nautilus during operations against Tripoli won him promotion to master commandant on 18 May 1804. In the summer, he commanded a division of gunboats during five attacks on Tripoli.

 

On 4 September 1804, Somers assumed command of bomb ketch Intrepid which had been fitted out as a "floating volcano" to be sailed into Tripoli harbor and blown up in the midst of the corsair fleet close under the walls of the city. That night, she got underway into the harbor, but she exploded prematurely, killing Somers and his entire crew of volunteers.

 

(DD-381: dp. 1,850; l. 381'0"; b. 36'11"; dr. 18'0"; s, 39.0 k. (tl.) ; a. 8 5", 8 1.1", 12 tt.; cl. Somers)

 

The fifth Somers, a destroyer, was laid down on 27 June 1935 by the Federal Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co., Kearny, New Jersey; launched on 13 March 1937; co-sponsored by Miss Marie Somers and Miss Suzanne Somers; and commissioned at the New York Navy Yard on 1 December 1937, Comdr. James E. Maher in command.

 

Somers sailed on 11 February 1938 for her shakedown cruise and visited a number of ports on the Gulf of Mexico and along the eastern coast of South America. After some 20 months of peacetime operations with the Atlantic Fleet, Somers began a new type of assignment in the fall of 1939. With the outbreak of war in Europe on 1 September, the United States reacted quickly to protect her rights as a neutral power and remain outside the newest European imbroglio. Thus, Somers joined the Neutrality Patrol ordered by President Roosevelt on 5 September and for over two years patrolled the western Atlantic.

 

On the morning of 6 November 1941, Somers and Omaha (CL-4) came upon a ship midway between the prominences of South America and Africa. The merchantman was ordered to heave to while Omaha went to General Quarters and dispatched a motor whale-boat with a boarding party. On the stern of the merchant ship was the name Willmotto, of Philadelphia; and she flew the colors of the United States. Just before the boarding party came alongside the merchant, she hoisted the international flag signal, "Fox Mike," indicating that she was sinking and in need of lifeboats to pick up her passengers and crew who were already abandoning ship.

 

The detonation of explosions in the ship aroused the suspicions of the already wary boarding party. Upon boarding, they soon discovered that their quarry was the German blockade runner Odenwald. Only one of the ship's generators was operating and selected watertight doors were open. All this clearly indicated that an attempt was being made to scuttle her. The skill and determination of the American sailors, however, saved Odenwald and she was brought into San Juan, P.R., for disposition. In 1947, the crews of Somers and Omaha were awarded salvage money by the United States District Court for Puerto Rico.

 

Throughout 1942, Somers cruised the South Atlantic between Brazil and Trinidad, patrolling and escorting convoys to rendezvous points off Trinidad. On 21 November 1942, Somers had her second encounter with a German blockade runner. Early that morning, Cincinnati (CL-6) contacted an unidentified merchantman. The group changed course to intercept her, and Somers was dispatched to investigate personally. The mystery ship identified herself as the Norwegian merchantship SS Skjilbred, but gave no further information. Somers closed the suspicious ship and made fruitless attempts to communicate with her. When Somers had closed to about 1900 yards, fires broke out on Skjilbred's bridge and boats were lowered. Somers immediately called a boarding party away, but before they could reach Skjilbred, three heavy explosions rocked the merchantman. The boarding party clambered aboard, but the fire and flooding were beyond control, so they left the stricken ship taking only some evidence indicating that she was the German merchantman Anneliese Essberger. At 0711, the blockade runner slipped beneath the waves, and the survivors were taken on board Milwaukee (CL-5).

 

In January 1943, Somers left her patrols in the South Atlantic to perform a special mission. On the 5th, she got underway from Recife, Brazil, in company with Memphis (CL-13) and headed for Bathurst, Gambia. There, Memphis served as flagship for President Roosevelt during the Casablanca Conference between Churchill and Roosevelt; and Somers provided screening and escort services for the flagship. Somers remained at Bathurst from 10 to 27 January 1943; then moved on to Dakar, Senegal, where she rendezvoused with the task group escorting the French ships, Richelieu and Montcalm, to the United States. This task group stood out of Dakar on 30 January 1943 and headed west. During the evening of 8 February, Somers and Montcalm were detached from the main group and headed for Philadelphia. They anchored in Delaware Bay on the evening of the 10th and moored at Philadelphia the next day.

 

On 13 February, the destroyer departed Philadelphia and steamed independently to Charleston, S.C., for two weeks of availability at the navy yard. On the 28th, she got underway to return to South Atlantic patrol duty, this time out of Trinidad, B.W.I. Throughout 1943, Somers patrolled the South Atlantic for German blockade runners and guarded the sea lanes from German submarines. She also escorted convoys from the Caribbean area to Bahia and Recife, in Brazil.

 

On New Years Day 1944, Somers was steaming independently of Task Force 41 when she was ordered to intercept a suspicious ship being shadowed by patrol planes. She made contact with her target in the late evening hours of 2 January and, in response to the hostile action of that ship, open fire with her main battery. Her first salvo hit the mark and forced the crew to abandon ship. The ship, later identified as the German blockage runner Westerland, did not return fire and was soon lying dead in the water. Somers opened fire again and after several explosions-probably from scuttling charges-Westerland sank. The next day, Somers picked up survivors, 17 officers and 116 men, and took them to Recife.

 

Somers continued patrolling the South Atlantic through early February, then made for Charleston and six weeks at the navy yard for overhaul. On 2 April, she headed farther north to Casco Bay, Maine, where she conducted training until 14 May. On that date, she rendezvoused with a convoy bound for Plymouth, England, arriving there on the 25th. During the last week in May and the first week in June, England was a hotbed of rumor and speculation. Somers' crew hoped for an active role in the upcoming Normandy invasion, but had to content themselves with the necessary, but much less exciting, duty of escorting convoys. She shuttled back and forth across the English Channel, escorting convoys to the landing beaches and screening amphibious operations until mid-July. During that time, the excitement had somewhat subsided, but Axis air raids kept Somers' sailors on their toes.

 

On 12 July, the destroyer departed Plymouth for North Africa and arrived at Mers-el-Kebir, Algeria, on 21 July. After some brief training there, she joined Task Force 86 at Naples, Italy, on the 31st. She stood out of Naples on 12 August en route to the Sitka assault area off the lies d'Hyeres on the southern coast of France. Again, she patrolled and screened for the invasion forces as she had done at Normandy. On the morning of 15 August, while she was conducting antisubmarine and antisurface patrol south of Port Cros and the He du Levant, Somers picked up two ships on her radar screen. She challenged them and received no response; however, since they were not threatening the transport area, she merely tracked them on radar and maintained position to intercept should they move toward the assault area. At 0440, the unidentified ships came into range, and Somers sent a second challenge.

 

When the intruders failed to respond a second time and they began to maneuver, Somers unleashed a salvo from her main battery. She scored a hit on the first target, later identified as the German corvette Comasdo; but while turning to keep abreast of Comascio's evasive action, contacted the larerer corvette Escabort. The destroyer immediately shifted fire to the new target, striking home again on the first salvo. Escabort flamed from stem to stern as ammunition exploded. Leaving Escabort in a sinking condition, Somers turned once again to C&mascio, now fleeing to the southeast. She poured salvo after salvo into the hopelessly out-gunned German, receiving only two feeble, small-caliber bursts in return. At 0518, Comascio slowed down and began to circle to the right. Somers finished her off with four more salvoes and moved in at daylight to pick up survivors. Her boarding party salvaged Comaseio's ensign and some charts just before she sank.

 

Following this action, the destroyer moved inshore to give fire support to the invasion. For two days, she showered enemy strong points south of He de Port Cros with 5-inch shells. She remained in the Sitka assault area for another week; then moved to a position seven miles off the coast and to the east of Marseille. There she continued screening and relieved Rodman (DD-456) as fire support ship for minesweeping operations in the vicinity of Port de Bouc. On 22 August, she dueled with enemy shore batteries for half an hour. She emerged the undisputed victor, but the enemy gunners gave almost as well as they took. Somers sustained many shrapnel hits about her decks during the action.

 

For the next month, the destroyer operated in the Mediterranean, visiting ports on the southern coast of France; Ajaccio, Corsica; and Oran, Algeria. She steamed out of Oran on 28 September and arrived in New York on 8 October. Somers was overhauled at the Brooklyn Navy Yard until 8 November; then moved to Casco Bay, Maine, for training. On 23 November, she joined the screen of a Britain-bound convoy for the first of four transatlantic voyages which closed Somers' combat service. She returned to the United States on 12 May 1945 at the end of her last voyage to the United Kingdom. For the remainder of the war, Somers operated along the eastern seaboard and, in July, made one summer cruise to the Caribbean to train midshipmen.

 

On 4 August 1945, she put into Charleston, S.C., for overhaul and remained until 11 September. Instead of returning to active duty, Somers reported to the Commandant, 6th Naval District, for decommissioning and disposal. She decommissioned at Charleston on 28 October 1945 and was retained there until removed by her purchaser, Boston Metals of Baltimore, Md., on 16 May 1947. Somers was struck from the Navy list on 28 January 1947.

 

Somers (DD-381) earned two battle stars during World War II.