Born in Manitowoc, Wis., on 9 March 1918, Robert George Tills enlisted in the Naval Reserve as a seaman second class on 24 May 1937 and reported for active duty on 14 June. After serving until 14 July 1938, Tills was appointed an aviation cadet on 3 August and reported to the Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Pla., for flight training on 26 August 1938.
On 18 September 1939, 17 days after Hitler's German legions marched into Poland and commenced hostilities in Europe, Tills was commissioned an ensign in the Naval Reserve, and reported to Patrol Wing 2, Patrol Squadron 21, on 5 December. On 14 April 1941, Tills was augmented to regular Navy status and commissioned as ensign.
By this time, Ensign Tills was flying neutrality patrols with Patrol Wing 10, based on the tender Langley (AV-3) in the Philippines at Cavite. With war imminent, Commander in Chief, Asiatic Fleet, Admiral Thomas C. Hart, deployed his surface units to the southward, away from the vulnerable Manila Bay anchorages so tantalizingly in reach of Japanese land-based bombers on Formosa. As part of this southern movement, William B. Preston (AVD-7) received orders dispatching her to Malalag Bay, near Davao Gulf, on the southeastern coast of Mindanao. Dropping anchor on 1 December, she served as an advance base for three PBY's assigned the duty of patrolling the eastern reaches of the Celebes Sea.
Ensign Tills flew one of the Catalinas, and the planes alternated on aerial reconnaissance flights. Early on 8 December 1941, a radio dispatch crackled over the airwaves into the destroyer-seaplane tender's radio room: "Japan started hostilities; govern yourselves accordingly." The terse message alerted all hands, and William B. Preston and her planes prepared for war.
One plane took off immediately to search the seas for signs of the Japanese; while the other two, including the one to which Tills was attached, remained in the serene waters of Malalag Bay, their crews ready to take off at once. William B. Preston shifted her anchorage from the two Catalinas to lessen the chances that one bomb, aimed at the ship, would also damage the aircraft. Anxious eyes peered intently into the lightening skies for signs of Nipponese aircraft.
Shortly before 0800, nine Mitsubishi A5M4 "Claudes" from Japanese carrier Ryujo, escorting 13 Nakajima D3A-1 "Vals," swept around the narrow point of land screening Malalag Bay from Davao Gulf. Leaving the destroyer seaplane tender alone for the time being, the "Claudes" strafed the helpless PBY's, turning them into collanders of metal and fabric and setting them afire. Ensign Robert Tills died in the fusillade of bullets from the Japanese strafers, the first American naval officer killed in the defense of the Philippines.
(DE-748: dp. 1,450; 1. 306'; b. 36'10"; dr. 13'9"; s. 24 k.; cpl. 221; a. 3 3", 2 40mm., 10 20mm., 2 dct., 8 dcp., 1 dcp. (hh.), 3 21" tt; cl. Cannon)
Tills (DE-748) was laid down on 23 June 1943 at San Pedro, Calif., by the Western Steel and Pipe Co.; launched on 3 October 1943; sponsored by Miss Helen Irene Tills, the sister of the late Ensign Tills; and commissioned on 8 August 1944, Lt. Comdr. James L. Brooks, USNR, in command.
Tills was assigned to Escort Division (CortDiv) 53 and conducted trials and shakedown off San Diego before post-shakedown availability at Terminal Island. On 16 October, the ship departed the west coast in the screen for Task Group (TG) 19.5, which included escort carriers Makin Island (CVE-93), Lunga Point (CVE-94), Salamaua (CVE-96), and Bismarck Sea (CVE-95). She reached Pearl Harbor on the 23d and took part in antisubmarine operations in Hawaiian waters for the remainder of 1944.
On 2 January 1945, Tills departed Pearl Harbor for exercises with TG 12.3, before the hunter-killer group headed for the Marshalls. Arriving at Eniwetok on 15 January, the destroyer escort remained there a fortnight before beginning exercises on the 29th.
Tills weighed anchor on 5 February for a hunter-killer mission. In this, like the other operations staged from the Marshalls, the ship sailed easterly by day and westerly by night to a distance some 400 miles east of Eniwetok. Her patrolling of this stretch of the Pacific between the Hawaiian Islands and the Marshalls continued for 10 days before Tills returned to Pearl Harbor for availability alongside tender Algor (AD-34).
The ship conducted post-availability exercises off Oahu before screening for Sangamon (CVE-26) in late February, while the escort carrier's planes carried out night flight training operations. Returning to Pearl Harbor on 2 March, the ship two days later joined TG 19.3, formed around Kasaan Bay (CVE-69). Two five-day training cruises followed, before Tills was briefly reassigned to TG 19.2, whose nucleus was Tripoli (CVE-64).
After routine training and availability at Pearl Harbor, the destroyer escort embarked 2 Navy officers and 23 Navy and Marine enlisted men for transportation to the Marshalls. On 29 March, she rendezvoused with Gilligan (DE-508) and Whitman (DE-24) which helped her to screen a 17-ship convoy, PD-355T, to Eniwetok. After making port on 6 April, Tills rejoined TG 12.3, which conducted hunter-killer operations between the Hawaiian Islands and the Marshalls.
Following her 14 April return to Eniwetok, the escort ship remained with TG 12.3, steaming on antisubmarine patrols east of the Marshalls. On 20 April, a typhoon upset the group's routine by grounding Cor-regidor's aircraft and pitching the small destroyer escorts in the heavy seas and 70-knot winds. The storm finally abated three days later, and the battered task group returned to Eniwetok.
Designated Task Unit (TU) 96.6.7, Tills departed the Marshalls on 30 April and arrived at Ulithi on 3 May. Two days later, the destroyer escort rendezvoused with UOK-9 and screened that convoy to the Ryukyus. En route to Okinawa, Tills sighted an abandoned Japanese patrol boat and sank the vessel with gunfire and depth charges.
Dropping anchor off Hagushi Beach on 10 May, the destroyer escort got underway soon thereafter and relieved Starling (AM-64) on screening duty in the transport area. On the 12th, Tills went to general quarters upon learning that enemy aircraft had been sighted. Spotting two planes emerging from a smoke screen, her gunners opened fire with the 40-millimeter battery before a sharp-eyed lookout noted that the planes were "friendly." The Bofors guns ceased firing immediately, and the aircraft flew away undamaged.
Following her duties with the transport screen off Okinawa, Tills was assigned to the screen of Carrier Division 22 which contained escort carriers Santee (CVE-29), Chenango (CVE-28), and Block Island (CVE-106). As these small carriers steamed toward Sakishima, their planes loaded bombs and prepared to launch. Their target, Sakishima, had been serving as a refueling base for Japanese aircraft shuttling between Kyushu and Formosa and was thus an important link in the chain of airbases which supplied Japan's dreaded kamikaze offensive with its deadly aircraft. Tills served as antisubmarine screen and plane guard for these strikes which commenced on 1 June. The group returned to Kerama Retto to rearm and refuel before proceeding northward on 20 June for further strikes.
Four days later, the destroyer escort returned to hunter-killer operations and maintained antisubmarine patrols on a continuous basis until making port at Ulithi for availability alongside Oahu (ARG-5). For the remainder of July and into August, Tills continued antisubmarine operations on the sea lanes converging in the Western Caroline basin.
As the war progressed to its conclusion in the Pacific, Tills commenced a needed availability at Guam. While in Apra Harbor, the destroyer escort received word that an atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, on 6 August. As Tills entered dry-dock ABSD-6 three days later for repairs to her sonar dome, a second atomic blast hit Nagasaki. While the destroyer escort was docked, in company with Torrance (AKA-76), Roberts (DE-749), and SS A. McKensie, airwaves brought the welcome news that Japan had surrendered on 15 August. The long Pacific war was now over.
After remaining at Apra Harbor until 29 August, the destroyer escort headed for Saipan which she reached later that day. She remained there for almost a month. On 24 September, she was assigned to duty with Transport Squadron 12 at Buckner Bay, Okinawa.
Following her arrival at Nagasaki with transports bringing American occupation forces, Tills made two round trips between Nagasaki and Manila before making port at Saipan on 21 October, ending the initial leg of her homeward-bound voyage. Two days later, in company with three sister ships, the remainder of CortDiv 53. Tills weighed anchor, headed for Hawaii, and reached Pearl Harbor on 31 October.
Tills departed Hawaiian waters on 2 November, bound for the west coast. En route, the ship received word that a large transport plane had crashed into the sea off Oahu, and she was ordered to aid in the search for possible survivors. Of the eight people rescued, Tills picked up two and soon transferred them to Casablanca (CVE-55) where more complete medical treatment was available.
Arriving at San Diego on 9 November, Tills underwent six days of availability before sailing for Panama on the 17th. Eight days later, on 25 November, she transited the Panama Canal for the first time.
Departing Coco Solo on 27 November, the destroyer escort proceeded to Hampton Roads for further availability in the Norfolk Navy Yard and initial preparations for decommissioning. On 16 January 1946, Tills reported to the St. John's River berthing area to commence initial preservation work for her eventual decommissioning in June 1946.
Reactivated early in 1947 to an "in-service status," the ship was towed to Miami, Fla., where she was partially fitted out. In July, she made a two-week training cruise to San Juan, Puerto Rico, with naval reservists on board. The following month, she entered the Charleston (S.C.) Naval Shipyard for overhaul. Refurbished by November, Tills was homeported at Miami and operated along the east coast from Boston to Panama and in the Caribbean, primarily training reservists.
Tills was placed back in full commission at Charleston, S.C., on 21 November 1950, with Lt. Comdr. Elmo R. Zumwalt in command. The destroyer escort subsequently operated off the east coast as a training ship, undertaking refresher and reserve training cruises. Homeported at Charleston, S.C., the ship took part in Exercise "Convex III" from 27 February to 20 March 1952 and in Operation "Emigrant" from 6 to 12 October 1952. In between these tasks, she made her first cruise to European waters in the summer of 1952, calling at Lisbon, Portugal, and Archachon, France, in June.
Continuing her reserve training cruises off the east coast through the summer of 1955, Tills cruised to Europe again and, after calling once more at Lisbon, added Cadiz, Spain, to her itinerary. In 1956, the destroyer escort undertook a total of 13 naval reserve cruises.
On 1 May 1958, Tills' home port was moved to Boston, Mass., shifting the locus of her operations northward to the northeastern coast of the United States and to the Canadian provinces of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland. On 1 September 1959, after the ship had conducted reserve training and refresher training cruises for over a year, her home port was moved still farther north to Portland, Maine. On 18 October 1959, Tills was decommissioned and placed in service as a unit of the Selected Reserve Training Program. Administrative control was accordingly shifted from Commander, Destroyer Force, Atlantic Fleet, to Commandant, 1st Naval District.
After making weekend reserve cruises through the summer of 1961, Tills was recommissioned on 1 October 1961 in response to the Berlin Crisis, with Lt. Comdr.W. L. Rich, USNR, in command. Following a six-week repair period at Newport, R.I., and refresher training in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the ship operated out of her home port of Norfolk, Va.
After the crisis situation eased, Tills returned to her erstwhile home port of Portland, Maine, on 12 July 1962and was decommissioned there on 1 August 1962. Attached to Reserve Destroyer Squadron 30 and Reserve Destroyer Escort Squadron, 1st Naval District, Tills operated out of South Portland, Maine, in an in-service basis and resumed making weekend reserve training cruises. On these brief voyages, she conducted antisubmarine exercises and steamed up and down the St. Lawrence Seaway. Moving to Newport on 20 October 1963, the ship underwent a one-month tender availability during which she received new torpedo tubes which replaced her old ones and her K-guns. She returned to Portland on 17 November and remained there for the remainder of the year.
During 1964, Tills participated in a number of diverse and interesting events. After a tender availability alongside Grand Canyon (AD-28) from 22 March to 18 April, Tills returned to the Naval Reserve Training Center at South Portland before getting underway for Boston on 13 June. A highlight of her reserve cruise was a four-day visit to the New York World's Fair.
After returning to her Maine base, the ship held an open house on 4 July and then visited Rockland, Maine, for the annual Rockland Seafood Festival on 3 August. On 28 August, Tills served as patrol ship for the annual Starboat Yacht Races off Winthrop, Mass.
After subsequently participating in joint United States-Canadian antisubmarine exercises, the ship returned to the Naval Training Center at Portland for repairs before resuming her training cruises, a mission she faithfully carried out for the remainder of her career.
Found unfit for further service, Tills was struck from the Navy list on 23 September 1968. On 3 April 1969, the ship was sunk as a target off the east coast.