John E. Pillsbury, born in Lowell, Mass. 15 December 1846, was appointed Midshipman in 1862 and commissioned an Ensign in 1868. After serving on various stations afloat and ashore, he commanded the coast steamer Blake from 1884 to 1891 and did excellent scientific work, using in some of his research instruments of his own invention. In the SpanishAmerican War he commanded the dynamite cruiser Vesuvius, operating around the island of Cuba and in the vicinity of Morro Castle. In 1905 he served as Chief of Staff of the North Atlantic Fleet and in 1908–09, was Chief of the Bureau of Navigation. Although Rear Admiral Pillsbury’s attainments as a sailor and a fighting man were noteworthy, he is perhaps best known as having been one of the world’s foremost geographers and as an authority of the Gulf stream. Actively identified with the National Geographic Society for many years, he was president of the society at the time of his death, 30 December 1919.
(DE–133: dp. 1,200; l. 306’0”; b. 36’7”; dr. 12’3”; s. 21 k.; cpl. 216; a. 3 3”, 8 40mm., 6 dcp., 2 dct., 1 dcp. (hh.), cl. Edsall)
The second Pillsbury (DE–133) was laid down by the Consolidated Steel Corp., Orange, Tex., 18 July 1942; launched 10 January 1943; sponsored by Mrs. Elsie G. Richardson; and commissioned 7 June 1943, Lt. Comdr. W. Parker, USNR, in command.
After shakedown Pillsbury’s first duty was as flagship for Escort Division 4 escorting convoys into Casablanca and Gibraltar. Pillsbury then reported to Task Group 21.12, consisting of CVE Guadalcanal and four DE’s, on “hunterkiller” patrol to seek out and destroy enemy submarines operating along or near convoy routes from the United States to Europe.
On the night of 8 April 1944, planes from Guadalcanal (CVE–60) attacked a surfaced German U-boat. The U-boat immediately submerged for deep evasive tactics. Pillsbury and Flaherty (DE–135) raced to the scene and Pillsbury made initial sound contact and attacked with hedge hogs. The depth charges forced the U-boat to the surface, but the German sailors were determined to fight to a finish with the torpedoes. Flaherty joined Pillsbury, and in a murderous crossfire made short work of U–515. Six officers, including the Captain, and fifty-seven of the crew were captured.
After repair at Norfolk, the hunter-killers sailed from Norfolk in May with a special mission to “bring one back live.”
On 4 June, about 100 miles off the Cape Verdes, sound contact was made on a U-boat trying to penetrate the destroyer screen for a shot at Guadalcanal. Two pilots sighted the submarine running under the surface, and splashed the sea with gunfire to point out the contact to Pillsbury, Jenks (DE–665), and Chatelain (DE–149) rushing to the attack. The destroyers fired their depth charges and in 13 minutes forced the submarine to the surface. In a withering fire of small arms and light gunnery the German gun crews were swept from the decks. Pillsbury lowered a boarding party and, in a drama reminiscent of old Navy days, the boarding party rushed on board and took as prisoners the U-boat Captain, five officers, and fifty-three of her crew. A 2,500 mile haul to Bermuda was made, with U–505 trailing meekly on the end of a tow line. The captured submarine revealed some of the German Navy’s most guarded secrets. For this demonstration of conspicuous gallantry and achievement, Pillsbury was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.
On 24 April 1945 Pillsbury, as a member of Task Unit 22.7.1 operating in the North Atlantic, depth charged and sank U–546.
After hostilities with Germany ended, Pillsbury and Pope (DE–134) escorted the first surrendered Nazi U-boat, U–858, from mid-Atlantic to Cape May, N.J., after placing a prize crew aboard.
In 1947, Pillsbury was placed out of commission, in reserve, in the Florida Group, Atlantic Reserve Fleet.
In June 1954 the vessel was moved to the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, fitted out with the latest equipment, redesignated a radar picket ship, DER–133, in August 1954 and recommissioned 15 March 1955. After refresher training and shakedown Pillsbury sailed for Newport, R.I. to assume her duties as a radar guardship acting as an element of the protective radar screens around the United States. During 1958 Pillsbury made seven picket patrols on the Atlantic Barrier, five trips to Argentia, Newfoundland, and one trip to Summerside, Prince Edward Island. She decommissioned 20 June 1960; was struck from the Naval Vessel Register 1 July 1965; and was sold for scrapping to Boston Metals Co., Baltimore, Md. in 1966.
Pillsbury received five battle stars for World War II service.