Albert Thomas Harris—born on 29 August 1915 in Madison, Ga.—attended North Georgia College and the University of Georgia before enlisting in the Naval Reserve on 10 September 1940. After a period of training—some of which he spent in the battleship New York (BB-34)—- he was discharged on 15 June 1941 to accept an appointment as a midshipman in the Naval Reserve the following day. After receiving training at the Naval Reserve Midshipman's School at Northwestern University, he was commissioned an ensign in the Naval Reserve on 12 September 1941. Then, following instruction in communications, Harris, assigned to the 12th Naval District temporarily on 15 November 1941, awaited transfer to the heavy cruiser San Francisco (CA-38). He reported for duty on board that ship at Pearl Harbor on the afternoon of 6 January 1942.
Two days after he reported, his ship sailed with Task Force (TF) 8 as part of the force covering the movement of marines to Samoa. Detached from TF 8 to provide local cover for the newly arrived forces at Tutuila, San Francisco then rejoined her old division, Cruiser Division 6, part of TF 11, soon after clearing Samoan waters on 8 February. Ens. Harris saw his first action on 20 February 1942, when San Francisco screened the aircraft carrier Lexington (CV-2) as TF 11 battled Japanese land-based bombers off Bougainville, in the Northern Solomons. San Francisco received credit for downing one of the attacking aircraft.
On 10 March 1942, the heavy cruiser stood ready to protect Lexington, as that carrier, and Yorktown (CV-5), launched a successful surprise attack on enemy shipping off the New Guinea settlements of Lae and Salamaua. In the spring of 1942, Ens. Harris' ship escorted convoys between the United States, and Hawaii, Australia and the Fiji Islands.
After seeing a convoy safely to Fiji in July, San Francisco joined the expeditionary force bound for the Solomon Islands, in the initial assualt phase of Operation "Watchtower"—the invasion of Guadalcanal. His ship covered the landings on 7 August, and, following a logistics period at Noumea, New Caldeonia, covered a supply convoy to Guadalcanal; during the latter movement, he witnessed the loss of the carrier Wasp (CV-7) on 15 September. He took part on the Battle of Cape Esperance on the night of 11 and 12 October, and participated in the shelling of Japanese supply and ammunition dumps at Koli Point on 4 November.
Newly promoted Lt. (jg.) Harris saw his last action on the afternoon of 12 November 1942, when 21 Japanese twin-engined torpedo planes (Mitsubishi G4M1 "Betties") attacked San Francisco's task group near Lunga Point. While commanding the antiaircraft battery on the after machine gun platform, he directed the fire of his 20-millimeter guns on an approaching Japanese torpedo plane that had been set afire by gunfire from the nearby transport McCawley (AP—10). Harris and his gallant gunners unflinchingly remained at their posts, courageously maintaining a heavy tire until the "Betty" crashed into them; the young officer and three of his gun crews died in the fiery crash.
Comdr. Herbert E. Schonland, upon whose shoulders command of the heavy cruiser devolved after Capt. Cassin Young died of wounds suffered in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, praised "the remarkable fire discipline and courage" of Harris and his men. "They met their deaths without flinching," Schonland wrote, "and in a manner which has been an inspiration to us all." For his conspicuous bravery "in the face of certain death," Lt. (jg.) Harris was awarded the Navy Cross posthumously.
(DE-447: dp. 1,350; 1. 306'0"; b. 36'7"; dr. 13'4"; s. 24.3 k. (tl.); cpl. 222; a. 2 5", 4 40mm., 10 20mm., 3 21" tt, 8 dcp., 1 dcp. (hh.); 2 dct.; cl. John C. Butler)
Albert T. Harris (DE-447) was laid down on 13 January 1944 at Newark, N.J., by the Federal Shipbuilding & Drydock Co.; launched on 16 April 1944; sponsored by Mrs. J. D. Harris, the mother of Lt. (jg.) Harris; and was commissioned on 29 November 1944 at the New York Navy Yard, Lt. Comdr. Sidney King in command.
The destroyer escort spent three weeks at New York outfitting before embarking on her shakedown cruise to the British West Indies late in December. She returned to the United States briefly at the end of January 1945 but soon got underway again, bound for duty in the Pacific. The warship transited the Panama Canal in mid-February and continued, via the Galapagos and Society Islands, to Manus in the Admiralties. There, she became an element of Escort Division (CortDiv) 77, and for the next five months, served on convoy escort duty and screened three amphibious operations. Albert T. Harris served as part of a demonstration group making a feint at Morotai during the occupation of the Zamboanga Peninsula of Mindanao between 17 and 23 April and participated in the surface force that covered the landings at Santa Cruz on the Davao Gulf on 3 and 4 May. In June, she provided support for the seizure of Brunei Bay, Borneo.
Reassigned to the Philippine Sea Frontier in July, Albert T. Harris spent the remainder of the war escorting ships between islands of the Philippines, protecting them from Japanese submarines. Though she logged several attacks on suspected enemy submersibles, the destroyer escort scored no successes. Following Japan's capitulation, the warship joined the South China Force to assist in the occupation of territory still held by Japanese forces, a mission that took her to Shanghai and Hong Kong in China, Haiphong and Hongay in French Indochina, Korea, and the island of Formosa. She returned to the United States at San Diego on 12 February 1946 and was decommissioned there on 26 July 1946.
The destroyer escort remained in reserve with the San Diego Group, Pacific Reserve Fleet, for almost five years. The North Korean invasion of South Korea late in June 1950 triggered an expansion in the Navy's active fleet. Accordingly, Albert T. Harris was recommissioned at San Diego on 27 April 1951, Lt. Comdr. W. M. Robinson in command. While she saw no combat service, her reactivation released other Atlantic Fleet warships for duty off Korea. She served with the Pacific Fleet along the west coast until September. At that time, the destroyer escort transited the Panama Canal and joined the Atlantic Fleet as an element of Escort Squadron 12 based at Newport, R.I.
During the ensuing six years, Albert T. Harris operated along the eastern seaboard and in the West Indies. In addition to the normal training evolutions, independent ship's exercises, type training, and the annual Operation "Springboard" fleet problem— she also provided services to the Fleet Sonar School and made midshipman summer training cruises.
Reassigned to naval reserve training duty in September, 1957, under the operational control of the Commandant, 3d Naval District, the ship spent the remaining 11 years of her Navy career, operating out of New York helping reservists to sharpen their skills as sailors. In August 1968, Albert T. Harris was declared excess to the needs of the Navy. On 19 September 1968, she reported to the Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility at Philadelphia to begin inactivation. Decommissioned at Philadelphia on 21 September 1968, Albert T. Harris was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on 23 September 1968. The former warship was sunk as a target off the Virginia capes on 9 April 1969.
Albert T. Harris earned two battle stars during World War II.
Albert T. Harris (DE-447), 17 December 1944, in Measure 31, design 2D camouflage. The colors are haze gray, ocean gray and dull black on vertical surfaces; deck blue on the horizontal. (NH 96647)