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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER
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William D. Porter

 

William David Porter—born on 10 March 1808 in New Orleans, La.—spent much of his childhood in Chester, Pa. After an early and unsuccessful attempt to stow away on his uncle's, John Porter's, ship, ship-of-the-line Franklin, he signed on Franklin at the age of 12. Porter was appointed a midshipman on 1 January 1823 and 11 years later was commissioned a lieutenant. From 1838 to 1840, he served as lighthouse inspector for the portion of the east coast between Norfolk and New York. That duty was followed in 1840 with an assignment at the Washington Navy Yard as ordnance officer. During this assignment, he became interested in the development of an explosive shell suitable for naval use. After leaving Washington, Porter spent the next decade superintending the outfitting of new steam ships for the Navy, commanding supply vessels, and delivering mail and supplies to Navy units abroad.

 

Following retirement between 1855 and 1859, he was returned to active duty and took command of St. Mary's In that sloop-of-war, he patrolled the Pacific coasts of Mexico and Central America for two years protecting American interests in that area.

 

The secession of Southern states in 1860 and 1861 caused St. Mary's to be recalled to her base at Mare Island, Calif. In the summer of 1861, Porter was relieved of command of the ship and ordered to Washington. In the autumn, he was assigned to special duty in St. Louis, Mo., to assist in establishing the Western Flotilla to seize and control the Mississippi and its tributaries for the Union. On 3 October, he was given the command of a ferryboat-turned-gunboat, New Era. Serving under Flag Officer Andrew Foote, he patrolled the Cumberland River, keeping a wary eye upon the growing Confederate defenses along the river. In November, he took his ship to St. Louis for repairs; and, upon his return to the flotilla at Cairo, New Era sported a new name, Essex, in honor of his father's ship during the War of 1812.

 

Between January and August 1862, Porter served gallantly up and down the Mississippi. On 10 January, Essex and St. Louis engaged three Confederate gunboats and forced them to retreat to the protection of Southern shore batteries. The two Union gunboats repeated the feat three days later and succeeded in damaging their opponents. Only Confederate shore batteries prevented the capture of the three steamers.

 

On 6 February, Essex joined the rest of Foote's gunboat squadron in the attack on Fort Henry. Porter's ship, second in line, sustained heavy fire from shore batteries and received at least 15 direct hits. About half an hour into the fray, Essex took a 32-pound shot through her bow shield. It pierced her boilers, releasing steam which severely scalded 28 men. Comdr. Porter— himself blinded and scalded—continued to conn his ship until she was clear of the action.

 

Though still severely hampered by his injuries, Porter directed the extensive repair and renovation of Essex from his sick bed. At the same time, he also superintended the construction of two other warships, the ironclads Lafayette and Choctaw.

 

Porter completed the renovation of Essex at St. Louis in July and rejoined the Western Flotilla at Vicksburg later that month. At dawn on the 22d, Porter took Essex out to confront the Confederate ironclad ram Arkansas which had recently left her refuge in the Yazoo River to seek greater safety under the cover of Vicksburg's shore batteries. In company with the smaller converted riverboat Queen of the West, Essex moved in toward the Southern warship. During the approach of the two Union ships, Confederate shore batteries subjected them to a withering fire. Finally, Essex struck Arkansas a jarring blow but at an oblique angle. As a result, she glanced off the Southern ram and ran aground parallel to her adversary. Porter worked furiously to free his ship and, after much difficulty, managed to retire, with Queen of the West close behind.

 

Thereafter, since Essex had sustained only minor damage, Porter kept her on station patrolling the lower Mississippi River between Vicksburg and Baton Rouge. On 5 August, his ship and Sumter assisted Union Army troops in repelling a Confederate land attack on Baton Rouge. The following morning, he headed north to Vicksburg to confront Arkansas once more. He found his quarry on a bend in the river, close to the shore. In the ensuing bombardment, Porter used an incendiary shell which he himself had invented. After about 20 minutes of shelling, Arkansas erupted into flames and soon blew up. Evidence suggests that the Confederate crew had set their own ship afire to prevent her capture. Be that as it may, Porter's bold action played no small part in the ram's destruction. Moreover, Congress recognized the role played by Porter and his ship in June 1864 when they belatedly awarded the Essex crew $25,000 in prize money.

 

Porter's last real action in the war occurred in September 1862 when Essex conducted a bombardment of Natchez, Miss., and duelled the shore batteries at Port Hudson. Later that month, he returned to New Orleans where new orders awaited him. Promoted to the rank of commodore, Porter was assigned to duty at New York. There, he served in various capacities until hospitalized in April 1864. On 1 May 1864, Commodore Porter died of heart disease at St. Luke's Hospital in New York City. Although he was buried initially at Greenwood Cemetery in New York, he was moved to Philadelphia in June and laid to rest beside his famous father, Commodore David Porter.

 

(DD-579: dp. 2,050; l. 376'6"; b. 39'4"; dr. 17'9"; s. 35.5 k.; cpl. 273; a. 5 5", 4 40mm., 4 20mm., 10 21" tt., 2 dct., 6 dcp.; cl. Fletcher)

 

William D. Porter (DD-579) was laid down on 7 May 1942 at Orange, Tex., by the Consolidated Steel Corp.; launched on 27 September 1942; sponsored by Miss Mary Elizabeth Reeder; and commissioned on 6 July 1943, Lt. Comdr. Wilfred A. Walter in command.

 

William D. Porter departed Orange shortly after being commissioned. After stops at Galveston, Tex., and Algiers, La., the destroyer headed for Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on 30 July for shakedown. She completed shakedown a month later and, following a brief stop at Bermuda, continued on to Charleston, S.C., where she arrived on 7 September. William D. Porter completed post-shakedown repairs at Charleston and got underway for Norfolk, Va., at the end of the month. For about five weeks, the warship operated from Norfolk conducting battle practice with Intrepid (CV-11) and other ships of the Atlantic Fleet.

 

On 12 November, she departed Norfolk and the following day rendezvoused with Iowa (BB-61). That battleship was on her way to North Africa carrying President Franklin D. Roosevelt to the Cairo and TeheranConferences. During battle drills on the afternoon of the 14th, William D. Porter inadvertently fired a live torpedo at Iowa. However, the destroyer signalled Iowa in plenty of time to allow the battleship to turn hard to starboard, parallel to the torpedo's wake. The torpedo exploded some 3,000 yards astern of the mighty man-of-war. William D. Porter completed her part in the mission and steamed west to Bermuda, where she arrived on 16 November.

 

A week later, she returned to Norfolk and prepared for transfer to the Pacific. She got underway for that duty on 4 December, steamed via Trinidad, and reached the Panama Canal on the 12th. After transiting the canal, the destroyer set a course for San Diego, where she stopped between 19 and 21 December to take on cold weather clothing and other supplies necessary for duty in the Aleutian Islands.

 

On 29 December, William D. Porter arrived in Dutch Harbor, on the island of Unalaska, and joined TF 94. Between 2 and 4 January 1944, she voyaged from Dutch Harbor to Adak, whence she conducted training operations until her departure for Hawaii on the 7th. The warship entered Pearl Harbor on 22 January and remained there until 1 February at which time the destroyer put to sea again to escort Black Hawk (AD-9) to Adak. The two ships arrived at their destination nine days later, and William D. Porter began four months of relatively uneventful duty with TF 94. She sailed between the various islands in the Aleutians chain, serving primarily as an antisubmarine escort.

 

On 10 June, the destroyer stood out of Attu and headed for the Kuril Islands. She and the other ships of TF 94 reached their destination early on the morning of the 13th. They started to shell their target, the island of Matsuwa, at 0513. After 20 minutes, William D. Porter's radar picked up an unidentified surface vessel, closing her port quarter at a speed in excess of 55 knots. Her radar personnel tentatively identified the craft as an enemy PT-type boat, and the warship ceased fire on Matsuwa to take the new target under fire. Soon thereafter, the craft's reflection disappeared from the radar screen, presumably the victim of TF 94's gunfire. Not long afterward, the task force completed its mission and retired from the Kurils to refuel at Attu.

 

On 24 June, the destroyer left Attu with TF 94 for her second mission in the Kurils. Following two days at sea in steadily increasing fog, she arrived off Para-mushiro on the 26th. In a dense fog with visibility down to about 200 yards, she delivered her gunfire and then departed with TF 94 to return to the Aleutians. A month of training exercises intervened between her second and third voyages to the Kurils. On 1 August, she cleared Kuluk Bay for her final bombardment of the Kurils. On the second day out, an enemy twin-engine bomber snooped the task force and received a hail of fire from some of the screening destroyers. That proved to be the only noteworthy event of the mission, because the following day the bombardment was cancelled due to poor weather and the enemy reconnaissance plane. William D. Porter dropped anchor in Massacre Bay at Attu on 4 August.

 

After a month of antisubmarine patrol, the warship departed the Aleutians for a brief yard period at San Francisco preparatory to reassignment to the western Pacific. She completed repairs and stood out of San Francisco on 27 September. She reached Oahu on 2 October and spent the ensuing fortnight in training operations out of Pearl Harbor. On the 18th, she resumed her voyage west; and, 12 days later, the warship pulled into Seeadler Harbor at Manus in the Admiralty Islands. She departed Manus early in November to escort Alshain (AK-55) via Hollandia to Leyte.

 

Though William D. Porter arrived in the western Pacific too late to participate in the actual invasion at Leyte, combat conditions persisted there after her arrival in San Pedro Bay. Soon after she anchored there, Japanese planes swooped in to attack the shipsin the anchorage. The first plane fell to the guns of a nearby destroyer before reaching William D. Porter's effective range. A second intruder appeared, however, and the destroyer's 5-inch guns joined those of the assembled transports in bringing him to a fiery end in mid-air.

 

For the remainder of the year, William D. Porter escorted ships between Leyte, Hollandia, Manus, Bougainville, and Mindoro. On 21 December, while steaming from Leyte to Mindoro, she encountered enemy air power once again. Two planes made steep glides and dropped several bombs near the convoy. The destroyer opened up with her main battery almost as soon as the enemies appeared but to no avail. Their bombs missed their targets by a wide margin, but the two Japanese aircraft apparently suffered no damage and made good their escape. Not long thereafter, four more airborne intruders attacked. William D. Porter concentrated her fire on the two nearest her, one of which fell to her antiaircraft fire. The second succumbed to the combined efforts of other nearby destroyers, and the remaining two presumably retired to safety. From then until midnight, enemy aircraft shadowed the convoy, but none displayed temerity enough to attack. Before dawn the following morning, she encountered and destroyed a heavily laden, but abandoned, enemy landing barge. After completing her screening mission to Mindoro, William D. Porter returned to San Pedro Bay on 26 December to begin preparations for the invasion of Luzon.

 

For the Lingayen operation, William D. Porter was assigned to the Lingayen Fire Support Group of Vice Admiral Jesse B. Oldendorf's Bombardment and Fire Support Group (TG 77.2). The destroyer departed San Pedro Bay on 2 January 1945 and joined her unit in Leyte Gulf the following day. The entire group then passed south through the Surigao Strait, thence crossed the Mindanao Sea, rounded the southern tip of Negros, and then proceeded generally north along the western coasts of Negros, Panay, Mindoro, and finally, Luzon.

 

By the time the unit reached the southwestern coast of Luzon, it came within the effective range of Luzon-based aircraft. Beginning on the morning of 5 January, enemy planes—including kamikazes—brought the force under attack. William D. Porter saw no action during the first stage of those attacks, because the group's combat air patrol (CAP) provided an effective protective blanket. However, the last raid broke through the CAP umbrella at 1650 and charged to the attack. William D. Porter took three of those planes under fire at about 1713, but growing darkness precluded evaluation of the results of that engagement. During that raid, cruiser Louisville (CA-28) and escort carrier Manila Bay (CVE-61) suffered extensive damage from kamikaze crashes.

 

Before dawn on the 6th, the destroyer moved into Lingayen Gulf with her unit to begin preinvasion bombardment. Throughout the day, enemy planes made sporadic attacks upon the bombarding ships. That evening, William D. Porter began firing on shore batteries guarding the approaches to the landing beaches. At 1738, her attention was diverted to a lone plane; and her antiaircraft battery brought it down handily. Twenty minutes later, a twin-engine "Betty" ran afoul of the destroyer's gunners who splashed this one neatly as well. William D. Porter then returned to her primary mission, shore bombardment.

 

After the 9 January landings, the destroyer's mission changed to call fire and night harassing fire in support of the troops. Then, from 11 to 18 January, she stood off Lingayen Gulf with TG 77.2 to protect the approaches from incursion by enemy surface forces. On the 18th, she reentered the gulf to resume support duty for forces ashore and to contribute to the anchorage's air and antisubmarine defenses. On 3 February, the warship bombarded abandoned enemy barges to assure that they would not be used against the invasion force or as evacuation vehicles. She thenresumed her antisubmarine and air defense role until 15 February, when she departed Lingayen Gulf to escort Lindenwald (LSD-6) and Epping Forest (LSD-4) to Guam.

 

After returning briefly to Lingayen Gulf, William D. Porter moved on to Leyte to prepare for the assault on Okinawa. She remained at Leyte during the first half of March; then joined the gunfire support unit attached to the Western Islands Attack Group for a week of gunnery practice at Cabugan Island. She departed the Philippines on 21 March, reached the Ryukyu Islands on the morning of the 25th, and began supporting the virtually unopposed occupation of Kerama Retto. Between 25 March and 1 April, she provided antiaircraft and antisubmarine protection for the ships in the Kerama roadstead, while performing some fire-support duties in response to what little resistance the troops met ashore on the islets of Kerama Retto.

 

However, by the time the main assault on Okinawa began on the morning of 1 April, she had been reassigned to TF 54, Rear Admiral Morton L. Deyo's Gunfire and Covering Force. During her association with that task organization, William D. Porter rendered fire support for the troops conquering Okinawa, provided antisubmarine and antiaircraft defenses for the larger warships of TF 54, and protected minesweepers during their operations. Between 1 April and 5 May, she expended in excess of 8,500 rounds of 5-inch shells —both at shore targets and at enemy aircraft during the almost incessant aerial attacks on the invasion force. During that period, she added five additional plane kills to her tally.

 

The constant air raids—launched from Kyushu and Formosa—prompted the Americans to establish a cordon of radar picket ships around Okinawa, and it was to this duty that William D. Porter switched in early May. Between 5 May and 9 June, she stood picket duty, warned the fleet of the approach of enemy air raids, and vectored interceptors out to meet the attackers. She brought down another enemy plane with her own guns; and fighters under her direction accounted for seven more.

 

On 10 June 1945, William D. Porter fell victim to a unique—though fatal—kamikaze attack. At 0815 that morning, an obsolete "Val" dive-bomber dropped unheralded out of the clouds and made straight for the warship. The destroyer managed to evade the suicide plane, and it splashed down close aboard her. Somehow, the explosive-laden plane ended up directly beneath William, D. Porter before it exploded. Suddenly, the warship was lifted out of the water and then dropped back again. She lost power and suffered broken steam lines. A number of fires also broke out. For three hours, her crew struggled courageously to put out the fires, repair the damage, and keep the ship afloat. The crew's efforts, however, availed nought; and, 12 minutes after the order to abandon ship went out, William. D. Porter heeled over to starboard and sank by the stern. Miraculously, her crew suffered no fatal injuries. The warship's name was struck from the Navy list on 11 July 1945.

 

Wiliam D. Porter received four battle stars for her service in World War II.