Charles Preston Nelson, born in Baltimore, Md. 5 February 1877, was appointed naval cadet 19 May 1894; and graduated 2 April 1898. During the Spanish-American War, he served in New Orleans, participating in the blockade and battle of Santiago, Cuba. Then sent to the Far East, he served in the Philippines during the insurrection. Upon returning to the United States, he worked with the torpedo boat training command and then commanded in turn submarines Plunger and Porpoise. In 1912 he served as First Lieutenant of Illinois and later of Ohio. Appointed to command of Leonidas, a tender for submarine chasers, he also assumed command of the submarine chaser divisions ordered to Corfu, Greece. Twelve of the submarine chasers under his command participated with the British and Italian naval forces in the destruction of the Austrian naval base at Durazzo on 3 October 1918, during which two submarines were destroyed. As a screen for heavy ships during the bombardment, his craft were subjected to heavy fire. Returning to base, they helped screen HMS Weymouth. For his services during this action, Nelson was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal and several foreign decorations. From 1919 until 1929 he was assigned duties in the 3rd and 4th Naval Districts. In January 1929 he was appointed coordinator of the Seattle area, in which capacity he served until he retired as Rear Admiral 30 June 1933. He died at the Philadelphia Naval Hospital 16 November 1935.
(DD–623: dp. 1,630; l. 348’3”; b. 36’1”; dr. 13’5”; s. 37.4 k.; cpl. 276; a. 4 5”, 4 40mm., 5 21” tt.; cl. Gleaves)
Nelson (DD–623) was laid down 7 May 1942 at the Federal Shipbuilding and Drydock Co., Kearny, N.J.; launched 15 September; sponsored by Mrs. Nelson Stewart, daughter of Rear Admiral Charles Preston Nelson; and commissioned 26 November, Lt. Comdr. M. M. Riker in command.
After shakedown along the Atlantic coast, Nelson reported to the Atlantic Fleet 21 January 1943. Through 29 May, she operated on convoy duty as flagship of Destroyer Squadron 17, making runs to Bermuda; Port of Spain, Trinidad; Dakar, French West Africa; Aruba, Netherlands West Indies; Casablanca; and Gibraltar.
Upon completion of a short training period at Norfolk, Va., Nelson got underway 7 June to take part in the invasion of Sicily. During the crossing she screened Boise (CL–47), arriving at Algiers 20 June. Serving as flagship for Commander Task Force 81 during the Sicily operation, Nelson was assigned duty with the central part of the Western Task Force. This group was to land assault troops on beachheads near Gela, Sicily, to expand the captured area, and to seize the nearby airfield at Ponte Olivo.
At 0245 on D-Day, 10 July, the first assault waves hit the Gela beaches. Plunging in through the breakers, the shock troops encountered light opposition. But furious gunfire raked the follow-tip waves. Caught in the blue-white glare of searchlights, landing craft were subjected to intense fire, and LCI’s took direct hits.
At 0300 Nelson commenced figure eight patrols to the east of the transports. Shortly after dawn Axis aircraft joined the fight, flying out of the Acate river valley on the eastern coast and attempting to bomb and strafe Allied ships, landing craft, and beaches. Nelson fired sporadically at the planes throughout the day. At 1230 she received word that Maddox (DD–622) had been sunk. Enemy aircraft continued the attack the next day, delivering a high level bombing attack on the Nelson’s area and obtaining a direct hit on the liberty ship Robert Rowan. By 2302 the ships commenced laying a heavy smoke screen, and the Axis attacks were beaten off.
German dive bombers buzzed in on a surprise attack from the northeast at 1733 on the 12th, dropping bombs and making strafing runs. Nelson splashed one plane at 1742 and an hour later departed in convoy for Algiers, North Africa.
Returning to the battle area the 17th, she took up antisubmarine patrol station around Gela and Scoglitti until the 23rd, when she returned to Algiers. Later, on the 30th, she escorted troop ships into Palermo Harbor on the north coast of Sicily. During this operation she was harassed by constant German air attacks. At 0548 on 1 August she opened fire on a single plane, spashing it with the third salvo.
Nelson returned to New York 22 August, where Lt. Comdr. Thomas D. McGrath relieved Lt. Comdr. Riker of command 3 September. The ship was assigned to North Atlantic convoy runs for the winter. This duty took the destroyer to Belfast, Northern Ireland three times and to Greenock Bay, Scotland, and Gibraltar once each.
In May 1944 Nelson steamed to England to stage for the coming Normandy invasion. While moored alongside a tanker at Plymouth, England 24 May, her port screw fouled a mooring buoy, causing extensive damage to the screw and shaft. Nelson was placed in drydock where the screw and shaft, deemed beyond repair, were removed. But the need for fighting ships was so great that Nelson got underway 2 June with only a starboard screw. At Milford Haven she rendezvoused with a convoy, and by 8 June was in the Normandy assault area.
The next day she steamed into position No. 13 on the “Dixie Line” as part of the anti-submarine and E-boat screen around the Omaha beachhead. E-boats were the German version of PT boats—speedy, agile, hard-hitting, and hard to hit. Armed with 40mm. guns and torpedoes, they specialized in night attacks. On the night of 8–9 June several destroyers on the “Dixie Line” had taken under fire and chased several of these E-boats, sinking two.
Nelson was anchored in position 13 the night of 12 June. Thus far her only contact with the enemy had been in the form of a glide bomb which had exploded harmlessly off the starboard quarter during her first night in the area. At 0105 on the 13th she made a radar contact, challenged the contact by flashing light, and opened fire. The target slowed, turned away, and split into three distinct blips. The destroyer had loosed ten salvos when a torpedo struck her just aft the No. 4 gun mount blowing off the stern and No. 4 mount.Maloy (DE–791) stood by to transfer personnel, and Nelson was taken in tow. Twenty-four of her crew were killed or missing and 9 wounded. After emergency repairs at Londonderry, Northern Ireland, the destroyer was towed to Boston where she received a new stern.
Extensive repairs completed 23 November 1944, Nelson returned to Atlantic patrol duty. During December she steamed to Plymouth, England, conducting anti-submarine patrol enroute. She departed New York late in February 1945 on a convoy run to Oran, Algeria, returning 31 March.
Throughout April and May Nelson served as plane guard and screen for Card (CVE–11), and 16 May Lt. Comdr. Clark W. Freeman, USNR, relieved Comdr. Thomas D. McGrath as skipper. The destroyer transited the Panama Canal 1 August enroute Pearl Harbor, and then to Tokyo Bay 3 through 14 September, following Japan’s surrender. The last part of September she steamed to Okinawa, Korea, and Singapore, which she reached the 24th. Enroute home, she arrived Colombo, Ceylon the 30th. There, two days later, Lt. Comdr. Scott Lothrop relieved Lt. Comdr. Clark W. Freeman as commanding officer; and on 3 November, Nelson sailed for New York, via Capetown, South Africa, arriving 6 December. She got underway again 29 January 1946 for Charleston, S.C. By directive dated January 1947, Nelson was placed out of commission, in reserve, U.S. Atlantic Reserve Fleet, and berthed at Charleston. She was struck from the Naval Register 1 March 1968 and sold in July 1969.
Nelson earned two battle stars for World War II service.