Edward Martin Blessman--born on 29 December 1907 in Nott, North Dakota--was appointed midshipman from the 9th District of Wisconsin on 21 June 1927 and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy on 4 June 1931. Service at sea in Maryland (BB-46) and Hale (DD-133) preceded flight training at Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Fla., after which he served in VS-2B in Lexington (CV-2) and VP-17F, based on Thrush (AVP-3). Following a two-year tour at the NAS Anacostia, Blessman--promoted to lieutenant in January 1939--joined Marblehead (CL-12), then with the U.S. Asiatic Fleet, on 10 December 1939. He was still serving in her when Japan launched its onslaught in the Far East in December 1941.
On 4 February 1942, Marblehead stood out of Surabaya, Java, as part of a mixed American-Dutch cruiser-destroyer force under Rear Admiral Karel W. F. M. Doorman, RNN. Japanese flying boats from the Toko Kōkūtai, however, spotted the force as it attempted to transit the Madoera Strait to attack the Japanese Borneo invasion fleet. Thus forewarned, Japanese naval land attack planes bombed the allied force. At 1027, a stick of seven bombs from a Kanoya Kōkūtai plane straddled Marblehead. The first of the two bombs to hit the ship penetrated the main deck and exploded near “wardroom country,” the blast ripping through the light sheet metal bulkheads that comprised the boundaries of the compartment. Blessman, who, as the ship’s senior aviator had no air defense station and was in the wardroom at the time, was killed instantly by the concussion.
(DE-69: dp. 1,400; l. 306'0"; b. 37'0"; dr. 13'6"; s. 23.6 k.; cpl. 213; a. 3 3", 4 1.1", 8 20mm., 8 dcp., 1 dcp. (hh.), 2 dct.; cl. Buckley)
Blessman (DE-69) was laid down on 22 March 1943 at Hingham, Mass., by the Bethlehem-Hingham Shipyard; launched on 19 June 1943; sponsored by Mrs. Helen Maloy Blessman, Lt. Blessman’s widow; and commissioned at her builders’ yard on 19 September 1943, Lt. Comdr. Joseph A. Gillis, USNR, in command.
After fitting out at the Boston Navy Yard and running her acceptance trials in Massachusetts Bay, Blessman departed Boston on 9 October 1943 for shakedown training. Operating out of Bermuda, the new destroyer escort completed her initial gunnery, antisubmarine, and engineering training early in November. She left Bermuda on the 5th, arrived in Boston on the 8th and began post-shakedown availability.
Leaving Boston again a week later, Blessman reached the New York Navy Yard on the 16th. Assigned to Escort Division (CortDiv) 19, the destroyer escort sailed with a fast troop convoy on 20 November, screening it safely across the Atlantic and into Londonderry, Northern Ireland, 10 days later. Clearing the Irish Sea on 8 December, Blessman escorted a westward bound convoy on the return leg of her maiden voyage and arrived at New York five days before Christmas of 1943. Over the next six months, Blessman made three more round-trip Atlantic crossings escorting convoys, returning from the last of these on 1 May.
Her fifth Atlantic passage proved the most eventful. Clearing New York on 12 May, she arrived at the other end of the “Milk Run” on the 23d, at Londonderry. Instead of returning in the screen of a westbound convoy, however, she shifted to Belfast on the 27th in company with her sisterships and divisionmates Rich (DE-695), Bates (DE-68), and Amesbury (DE-66), and became part of the armada forming for the assault on Normandy. Blessman departed Belfast on 3 June and headed for Baie de la Seine, France, escorting the bombardment group of the assault force. Heavy weather compelled the postponement of the invasion of France, but it abated enough to permit the landings to commence on 6 June. Initially, Blessman drew duty screening the amphibious command ship Ancon (AGC-4). Then, as Operation OVERLORD actually unfolded, Blessman switched to screening to seaward of the invasion force to deal with possible E-boat attacks.
Mines, however, proved a much greater threat than any posed by enemy planes and ships. Attack transport Susan B. Anthony (APA-72) struck one early on 7 June, while proceeding in what had been regarded as a swept channel. By 0805 the stricken auxiliary was taking water badly. Having lost all power, with her rudder stuck “hard left,” Susan B. Anthony assumed an eight-degree list to starboard. Blessman gingerly came alongside the doomed, drifting, ship and removed six officers and 38 enlisted men before being ordered away because of the imminent danger of the transport’s foundering. Less than an hour later, Blessman sped to the assistance of the mined USAT Francis C. Harrington. After embarking 26 seriously wounded men, the destroyer escort transported them to an LST designated to handle casualties.
Detached from OVERLORD on 12 June, after rounding out her duty screening the invasion force from air attacks and E-boat raids, Blessman reached New York on the 21st. She then escorted a troop convoy to Londonderry in early July and returned home as an escort for a convoy of transports bearing men wounded in the fighting at Normandy, and brought her sixth round-trip to a conclusion at the end of July.
While en route home, Blessman had received word that she was to be converted to a high speed transport. Accordingly, she entered the Sullivan Drydock and Repair Corp. yard, Brooklyn, N.Y., on 28 July 1944. She emerged from this major overhaul and alteration period on 25 October 1944, reconfigured to handle four landing boats (LCPL) and troops. Redesignated APD-48, Blessman departed New York and headed for a brief shakedown in Chesapeake Bay before continuing on to the Pacific. The warship proceeded to her new theater of war, sailing via the Panama Canal, and, after touching at San Diego and San Francisco en route, reached Hawaii on 27 November. At Pearl Harbor, Blessman embarked Underwater Demolition Team (UDT) 15 and resumed her voyage westward on 11 December. She touched at Eniwetok, Saipan, Ulithi, and the Palaus, leaving Kossol Roads on New Year’s Day 1945, bound for Luzon. Enemy air attacks began to materialize on 3 January, as the invasion forces neared their objective. American sailors again encountered kamikazes, suicide planes that they had first met only weeks before in the invasion of Leyte. The attacks continued over the following days, “off and on, day and night.”
Blessman’s primary mission off Luzon lay in sending UDT 15 to assault beaches Green No. 1 and Yellow No. 2, covering the swimmers with her guns while they reconnoitered surf conditions, located underwater obstacles, and determined beach gradients. At 1430 on 7 January 1945, Blessman stood in toward the Lingayen beaches and, by 1436, had all four of her LCPLs in the water. The boats shoved off 20 minutes later. Reaching her assigned position off the objective at 1510, Blessman soon commenced firing with her forward 5 inch gun. She maintained covering fire for her UDT until shortly before she recovered her four boats. All LCPLs were on board by 1650, and Blessman then headed to a rendezvous with Humphreys (APD-12) to transfer UDT-15’s commanding officer to that ship with the results of the day’s covering the night retirement of TG 77.2.reconnaissance. The transfer went off by 1815, and Blessman took position in the screen
As that task group returned to the gulf to carry out its assigned shore bombardment mission, Blessman returned with it, bringing the commander of UDT-15 back on board that morning at 0800 before the ship received orders to close California (BB-44) and to lower a boat. She complied and soon embarked Capt. B. Hall Hanlon, Commander, UDT Pacific Fleet, and two members of his staff. Over the next two days, Blessman served as courier and delivered mail among the ships of TG 77.2, each night taking a station to seaward in the screen of the task force. On 10 January, Blessman’s unit had a close encounter with a kamikaze when she and other vessels in the screen took an enemy plane under fire at 0711. “It finally dove,” wrote Blessman’s commanding officer, “after circling high above as though trying to make up its mind who to hit,” and crashed close aboard a destroyer on the picket line 1,800 yards to the east.
Later that afternoon, Blessman, in response to the orders from the task unit commander embarked in Humphreys, sent UDT-15 on a beach reconnaissance mission "from the east flank of Crimson Beach to a point 3,000 yards east of that point." Still later, she received orders to report to the commander of Destroyer Division (DesDiv) 120 for escort duty. Accordingly, she moved out, recalling her boats as she did so. A heavy surf prevented the recovery of four of UDT-15's men who finally found temporary shelter on board LST-627 and LSM-11 and who Humphreys later returned to their own ship.
After Capt. Hanlon had returned from Wasatch (AGC-9), and Blessman had recovered all of her LCPL's, the fast transport departed the area at flank speed and joined the designated task unit for the passage to Leyte, reporting "on station" at 2015. On 13 January, Blessman arrived at Leyte and reported for duty to the Commander, Philippine Sea Frontier. After escorting transports back to Ulithi, the warship rested, reprovisioned, and trained for her next operation that would take her one step nearer to Japan.
Blessman reported for duty at Ulithi, and in company with other high-speed transports of TG 52.4, on 3 and 6 February 1945, conducted rehearsals for her forthcoming operation--the invasion of Iwo Jima. All units of the task force to which Blessman was attached, TF-52, sailed from Ulithi for Saipan on 10 February for further training and rehearsals that were carried out on 12 and 13 February. During these practice evolutions Blessman operated as a screening vessel. Her sonar gear failed on the 11th, but was left inoperative owing to the lack of time to repair the damage.
On 14 February, TF-52, with Blessman among its warships, sailed from Saipan at 0900. On the 16th, after the Fire Support Units 1 and 4 had commenced the pre-landing bombardment of Iwo Jima, Blessman was detached from the screen and conducted a close reconnaissance of the beaches while circling the island counter-clockwise.
After screening the heavy ships that evening, Blessman rendezvoused with Gilmer (APD-11) south of "Hot Rocks," the code name for Iwo Jima, shortly after 0941. She then lowered three of her four boats and sent in UDT-15 to reconnoiter beaches and observed small caliber shell splashes around her as she retired to seaward. Upon reaching a point some 8,000 yards from the shore, Blessman stood off Beaches Blue 1 and Blue 2 for a little over an hour before standing in and recovering her boats. Despite the heavy opposition reported by UDT-15, only one man suffered wounds; the covering LCI(G)'s, though, reported sustaining much damage and many casualties. That afternoon, Blessman carried out another beach reconnaissance, recovered all of her boats safely by 1751, and stood out to the command ship Estes (AGC-12). The following day, she headed for a screening station.
While she was en route, however, an enemy bomber, identified as a "Betty," came in at 2121, very low over the port quarter, strafing, and scored a direct bomb hit in the high-speed transport's starboard mess hall, above her number one engine room. A second bomb hit her stack, glanced off, and splashed close aboard without exploding. Fire broke out immediately in the mess hall, galley, and troop quarters on the main deck; and the ship lost all power. Heavy smoke forced the abandonment of the number two fire and engine rooms, while a 500-gallon-per-minute portable pump was demolished and all other such pumps were rendered inoperable by the shock. This damage reduced Blessman's crew to bucket brigades and the use of helmets to keep the blaze from spreading. Her sailors jettisoned topside ammunition aft, and attempted to clear ammunition from clipping rooms and bedding from troop quarters to halt the fire's spread. At 2250, antiaircraft and small arms ammunition began exploding, forcing the evacuation of wounded to the bow and stern. Meanwhile, bucket brigades kept the fire from spreading to the superstructure deck, confining the blaze to the enclosed spaces on the main deck.
"Just as destruction had come out of the night," wrote Blessman's historian, help appeared as suddenly. Gilmer came alongside at 2310, commenced pouring water on the blaze, and also sent across hoses. Gilmer evacuated the wounded in her boats and on Blessman's rubber rafts. By 0300 on the 19th, the combined efforts of both ships' crewmen brought the fire under control, although some small arms ammunition continued to explode. After transferring all passengers and wounded to Gilmer, Blessman was taken in tow by Ardent (AM-340) and headed back to Iwo Jima. Towed around the northern end of Iwo Jima, Blessman buried her dead at sea and then--towed in turn by Gear (ARS-34), LSM-70, and Hitchiti (ATF-103)--reached Saipan at 1800 on 24 February and moored alongside Hamul (AD-20). Her historian recorded that, on the voyage to Saipan Blessman's men "...lived more like soldiers than sailors," cooking their meals in a makeshift fireplace on the fantail.
As her chronicler also recorded it, "The repair officers at Saipan" he continued, "thought little of the practicability of restoring the ruined ship." But, as they made their estimates, "Blessman's crew was busy." The rapid strides her sailors made in carrying out repairs caused these experts to revise their estimates accordingly. Made seaworthy enough for the transpacific voyage, Blessman arrived at the Mare Island Navy Yard on 23 April 1945 for permanent repairs. While this work proceeded, the ship was designated as flagship for Underwater Demolition Squadron (UDRon) 1. Clearing Mare Island for Oceanside, Calif., on 11 August, to embark Capt. Roy D. Williams, Commander, UDRon 1, the ship reached that port on the 14th and embarked UDT-17. The next day, Capt. Williams hoisted his command pennant on board Blessman.
On 16 August, two days after V-J Day, Blessman sailed for the western Pacific to take part in the occupation of Japan. After stops at Pearl Harbor, Eniwetok, Ulithi, Manila, Subic Bay, and Okinawa, the fast transport entered Wakanoura Wan, where UDT 17 charted the landing beaches soon to be used by the Army's I Corps to occupy the Kobe-Osaka area. Five days later, Blessman stood out of Wakanoura Wan and headed for the west coast of the United States. Following a preinactivation overhaul, Blessman was placed in reserve on 28 August 1946 in the San Diego group of the Reserve Fleet. She was decommissioned on 15 January 1947.
Eventually, Blessman was transferred to Taiwan under the sales provisions of the Military Assistance Program. Her name was struck from the Navy list on 1 June 1967. Renamed Chung Shan (PF-43), the warship remained in active service with the Taiwanese Navy into 1985.
Blessman received three battle stars for her World War II service.
Robert J. Cressman
26 January 2006