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Thomas

 

Clarence Crase Thomas—born on 26 December 1886 in Grass Valley, Calif.—was appointed midshipman on 7 July 1904 and graduated from the United States Naval Academy on 5 June 1908. After service in armored cruiser Maryland and gunboat Yorktown, he was commissioned ensign on 29 June 1910.

 

In the next few years, Thomas served in Denver, Cleveland, and West Virginia. Appointed lieutenant (jg.) on 26 June 1913, he was detached from West Virginia in the summer of 1914 to attend a post-graduate course in steam engineering at the Naval Academy. He attended Columbia University in late 1915 and, on 24 June 1916, reported on board Florida as her electrical officer.

 

Thomas was commissioned lieutenant on 8 January 1917 and, about a fortnight after the United States entered World War I, was placed in charge of the naval armed guard on the merchant steamship SS Vacuum in April. On the 28th, when a lookout reported sighting a German submarine, some 120 miles west of the Hebrides Islands, Lt. Thomas went to the ship's after gun. A few moments later, a torpedo from U-21 struck Vacuum, and exploded, throwing Thomas and the gun's crew into the water. The ship sank within two minutes. Picked up by a boat, Thomas soon died of cold and exposure. He was the first United States naval officer to lose his life in the war with Germany and was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross "for distinguished service in the line of his profession as commander of the armed guard crew of the . . . Vacuum."

 

I

 

(Destroyer No. 182: dp. 1,213; 1. 314'4˝"; b. 30'11˝"; dr. 9'4" (mean) ; s. 33.67 k.; cpl. 122; a. 4 4", 1 3", 1221"tt; cl. Wickes)

 

The first Thomas (Destroyer No. 182) was laid down on 23 March 1918 at Newport News, Va., by the Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Co.; launched on 4 July 1918; sponsored by Mrs. Evelyn M. Thomas, widow of Lt Thomas; and commissioned on 25 April 1919, Lt. Comdr. Harry A. McClure in command.

 

Thomas operated off the east coast on training cruises and exercises until decommissioned at Philadelphia on 30 June 1922. During this service, she was classified DD-182 during the Navy-wide assignment of alphanumeric hull numbers on 17 July 1920. She lay in reserve in the Philadelphia Navy Yard's back channel for the next 18 years.

 

Recommissioned on 17 June 1940—as the United States Navy expanded to meet the demands imposed by neutrality patrols off American coastlines—Thomas was assigned to Destroyer Division 79 of the Atlantic Squadron and operated briefly in training and exercises off the eastern seaboard until transferred to the United Kingdom under the "destroyer-for-bases" agreement. She arrived at Halifax, Nova Scotia, on 18 September 1940 as part of the second increment of the 50 flush-decked, four-piped destroyers exchanged with the British for leases on strategic base sites in the western hemisphere. After a brief familiarization period for the Eoyal Navy bluejackets assigned to the ship, Thomas was officially turned over to her new owners on 23 September 1940. Her name was subsequently struck from the United States Navy list on 8 January 1941.

 

Simultaneously renamed HMS St. Albans (1.15) and commissioned the same day for service in the Royal Navy, the destroyer sailed for the British Isles on 29 September. After calling at St. John's, Newfoundland, en route, she arrived at Belfast, Northern Ireland, on 9 October. St. Albans and three sister ships—St. Mary's (1.12) (ex-Bagley, DD-185) ; Bath (1.17) (ex-Hope-well, DD-181) ; and Charlestown (1.21) (ex-Abbot, DD-184)—were attached to the 1st Minelaying Squadron as permanent escort force. Operating off the west coast of Scotland, the destroyers participated in some of the earliest minelaying operations in the Denmark Strait which separates Iceland from Greenland.

 

Between minecraft escort missions, St. Albans escorted convoys. On 17 and 18 January 1941, the destroyer searched for survivors from SS Almeda Star, torpedoed by U-96 on the 17th. St. Albans underwent repairs at Chatham in February to prepare for her transfer to the Royal Norwegian Navy-in-exile on 14 April. She had no sooner entered service with the Norwegians than she collided with the minesweeper HMS Alberic, sinking the minecraft and sustaining enough damage herself to necessitate repairs in the dockyard.

 

When again ready for action, St. Albans joined the 7th Escort Group, operating out of Liverpool. On 12 June, she picked up the survivors from the sunken motor vessel Empire Dew—torpedoed that day by U-48 —and brought them safely to Liverpool.

 

On 3 August 1941, while bound from Sierra Leone to the United Kingdom in the screen of convoy SL.81, St. Albans joined destroyer HMS Wanderer (D.74) and the "Flower"-class corvette HMS Hydrangea (K.39) in sinking U-401. During subsequent operations screening convoys in shipping lanes between west Africa and the British Isles, St. Albans made a score of attacks on U-boats but could not repeat her "kill" performance of 3 August.

 

During the following autumn, a heavy gale severely damaged St. Albans while she was escorting convoy ON 22 on 8 October. The following day brought little respite from the high seas and strong winds, but St. Albans' hardy Scandinavian sailors brought her safely into Reykjavik, Iceland. The destroyer's seaworthiness and the seamanship exhibited by her scrappy Norwegian crew elicited a warm commendatory signal from the Commander in Chief, Western Approaches (Cin-CWA). In this message of 12 October 1941, he also praised the destroyer's exemplary steaming performance during the previous three months.

 

St. Albans, meanwhile, continued her escort duties with the 7th Escort Group into 1942. In March, she escorted the damaged carrier HMS Illustrious from Liverpool to the Clyde and, in the following month, helped to screen convoy PQ 15 as it carried arms to Russia. During the operation, heavy German air and submarine attacks took a toll 01 three Allied ships.

 

In wartime, however, mistakes in identification or errors in navigation sometimes lead to disaster. On one occasion, these factors combined with tragic results when St. Albans and the minesweeper HMS Seagull sank the Polish submarine Jastrzab (ex-British submarine P—551) on 2 May. Jastrzab had strayed some 100 miles from her correct position in a convoy.

 

Later that month, the flush-decked destroyer joined the Liverpool Special Escort Division. Among the vessels escorted early in June was the Cunard-White Star liner RMS Queen Elizabeth, as the Cunarder steamed from the British Isles toward the Cape of Good Hope with troops bound for the Middle East. Then, after refitting at Falmouth between July and October 1942, St. Albans again operated with the Special Escort Division until the end of 1942. In January 1943, she served as a target vessel for training Coastal Command aircraft.

 

Late in February, she got underway and steamed into the North Sea toward the Scandinavian coast to search for a Norwegian merchantman which was reportedly attempting to escape to sea from Nazi-controlled waters. During this mission, the destroyer was attacked by German aircraft but emerged unharmed.

 

Shifted to the Western Local Escort Force soon thereafter, St. Albans was based at Halifax and operated in convoy escort missions in the western Atlantic for the remainder of 1943. Departing Halifax four days after Christmas of 1943, St. Albans arrived in the Tyne on 10 January 1944, where she was soon laid up in reserve. On 16 July, the British transferred the flushdecker to the Russian Navy, who renamed her Dostoinyi ("worthy"). She sailed under the "hammer and sickle" until returned to the British on 28 February 1949 at Rosyth, Scotland.

 

The veteran of service with the United States, British, Norwegian, and Russian navies was eventually broken up for scrap at Charlestown, England, in April of 1949.