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Aaron Ward I (Destroyer No. 132)


Aaron Ward was born on 10 October 1851 in Philadelphia, Pa. Following graduation from the United States Naval Academy in 1871, he was ordered to California on the Pacific station. He next served in Brooklyn in the West Indies from 1873 to 1874, before reporting to Franklin on the European station.

Ward served a tour of duty at the Naval Academy from 1876 to 1879. Next he served with the Constitution training squadron in 1879 through 1882. Ward was occupied with various professional duties at the torpedo station in Newport, R.I., and the New York Navy Yard through 1885. From 1885 to 1888 he was stationed in Hartford and Monongehela on the Pacific station. Between 1889 and 1894, Ward served as naval attache in Paris, Berlin, and St. Petersburg. He sailed with New York in the West Indies and Brazil until 1894, and in San Francisco in the Mediterranean through 1896.

During the Spanish-American War, Ward commanded Wasp. Commended for gallantry, he was advanced to lieutenant commander for conspicuous service at the Battle of Santiago. He then commanded Panther for a year in the West Indies, followed by service as chief of staff to the Asiatic station commander. From 1901 to 1908, Ward commanded Yorktown, Don Juan de Austria, and Pennsylvania successively. He served for one year as supervisor of the harbor at New York before becoming an aide to the Secretary of the Navy in 1909. In 1910 Ward was promoted to rear admiral. In 1911 he became second in command of the Atlantic Fleet. Rear Admiral Ward retired on 10 October 1913. He died on 5 July 1918, and is buried in Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn, N.Y.


(Destroyer No. 132: displacement 1,090 (standard), 1,154 (normal); length 314'5"; beam 31'8"; draft 8'8"; speed 35 knots; complement 113; armament 4 4-inch,  2 3-inch, 12 21-inch torpedo tubes; class Wickes)

The first Aaron Ward (Destroyer No. 132) was laid down on 1 August 1918 at Bath, Maine, by the Bath Iron Works; launched on 10 April 1919; sponsored by Mrs. Washington Lee Capps, the daughter of Rear Adm. Aaron Ward and the wife of Rear Adm. Capps; and commissioned on 21 April 1919, Cmdr. Raymond A. Spruance in command.

Upon commissioning, the destroyer reported for duty with Division 13, Squadron 2, Atlantic Fleet. She performed her first significant service for the Navy at Trepassy Bay in May 1919 when she served as one of the pickets for the transatlantic flight attempt by three Navy Curtiss flying boats. One of the boats, NC-4, completed the flight successfully, Aaron Ward continued to serve with Atlantic Fleet until September, at which time she was transferred to the Pacific. Her first assignment there consisted of a month of salvage operations in Angeles Bay, Mexico, to recover a sunken Army plane and the bodies of its crew. At the conclusion of that mission, she began training operations with the Battle Fleet.

On 17 July 1920, the Navy adopted alphanumeric identification numbers, and Aaron Ward became DD-132. Her work with Battle Fleet was interrupted early in 1921 by two rescue missions near the Canal Zone. Between January and March of that year, she cruised the waters along the coast of the Canal Zone searching for the flying boat, NC-6, that had crashed in the vicinity. In February, she turned from that mission to pursue another errand of mercy, the rescue of survivors from Woolsey (DD-77), that had sunk after a collision with the U.S. freighter Steel Inventor on 26 February. Aaron Ward resumed normal duty with the Battle Fleet in March 1921 and continued that duty until she was decommissioned on 17 June 1922 and berthed with the Reserve Fleet at San Diego.

The destroyer remained inactive for almost eight years and then was recommissioned at San Diego on 24 May 1930. After active service until mid-1932, she entered the Rotating Reserve in which she alternated active periods at sea with intervals of inactivity pierside with a minimal crew embarked. The ship continued in that status until December 1934 when she returned to full activity. On 1 April 1937, the destroyer once more was placed out of commission and returned to the Reserve Fleet.

On 30 September 1939, Aaron Ward came out of reserve for the final time. Recommissioned on that day, in response to President Franklin D. Roosevelt's establishment of the Neutrality Patrol following the outbreak of war in Europe at the beginning of the month, she became flagship of Destroyer Division 65, Pacific Fleet. In December, she was transferred to the Atlantic Fleet and, on the 11th, arrived at Key West, Fla. For the remainder of her United States Navy career, she conducted neutrality patrols in the Gulf of Mexico and in the West Indies.

On 9 September 1940, Aaron Ward was decommissioned at Halifax, Nova Scotia. Transferred to Great Britain as one of the overage destroyers traded to that nation in return for the right to establish American bases on British possessions in the western hemisphere, she was commissioned in the Royal Navy that same day as HMS Castleton, 44-year old Cmdr. Frank H. E. Skyrme, RN (Ret.), in command.

Though her name was not stricken from the U.S. Navy Register until 8 January 1941, HMS Castleton, given the pennant number I.23, began service under the White Ensign almost immediately. She reached Belfast, Northern Ireland, on 26 September 1940, and Devonport, England, two days later. There, she was assigned to the 8th Escort Group, Western Approaches Command, based at Liverpool, for convoy escort duty.

On 21 November 1940, the German submarine U-103 (Korvettenkapitän Victor Schütze) attacked convoy OB-244, torpedoing and sinking two merchantmen, the British-flag Daydawn and the Greek-flag Victoria (ex-U.S. freighter Bellflower). Corvette HMS Rhododenron (K.36) (Lt. Cmdr. William N. M. Faichney, RNR) picked up the 36 survivors from Daydawn's 38-man complement (60-year old Master James Horsfield and 15-year old galley boy Ronald Gunter went down with the ship). Castleton rescued Victoria’s entire crew (27 souls all told). 

In February 1941, she became a unit of the 17th Destroyer Division and supported the operations of the 1st Minelaying Squadron off the west coast of Scotland. However, in between minelaying support missions, she continued to provide convoy escort services. On 19 November 1941, she suffered damage as a result of an explosion and returned to Greenock. She then entered the yard at Newport in Monmouthshire where she remained until 20 April 1942. Repairs completed, Castleton resumed mining and convoy escort duty.

After a Consolidated PBY Catalina from Patrol Squadron VP-73 surprised and attacked the German submarine U-464 (Kapitänleutnant Otto Harms) southeast of Iceland on 20 August 1942, rendering the type XIV Milch Cow incapable of diving, Castleton and another former U.S. destroyer, HMS Newark -- ex-Ringgold (DD-89) -- captured Kapitänleutnant Harms and 51 of his crew (two of the German sailors died in the action) who had been retrieved from the sea by an Icelandic trawler. After taking the prisoners to Iceland, Castleton resumed her former duties.

Less than a year later, on 4 August 1943, Castleton participated in another rescue operation when a Short Sunderland flying boat of the Royal Canadian Air Force's No. 423 Squadron (Flying Officer A. A. Bishop, RCAF) sank U-489 (damaged the previous day, 3 August, by attacks by a Royal Air Force Catalina and an RAF Hudson) but also fell victim to the U-boat's antiaircraft fire. Castleton – 51-year old Cmdr. Charles W. V. T. S. Lepper, RN (Ret.), commanding -- and destroyer HMS Orwell (G.98) (Lt. Cmdr. John M. Hodges, RN) between them rescued six of the 11 crewmen of the crashed Sunderland, the U-boat’s commanding officer, Oberleutnant Adalbert Schmandt, and 49 of the submarine's 50-man crew (one German sailor was lost in the engagement) as well as three Luftwaffe airmen that U-489 had rescued from a shot-down Blohm & Voss BV-138C-1 flying boat on 28 July.  

During 1944 and 1945, Castleton served with the Rosyth (Scotland) Escort Force and operated frequently as a target ship for aircraft assigned to the northern air stations.

Placed in reserve at Grangemouth, in the Firth of Forth, on 13 March 1945, Castleton, ex-Aaron Ward, was ultimately scrapped at Bo'ness, Scotland, on 3 April 1947.

Robert J. Cressman and Raymond A. Mann

2 November 2020

Published: Tue Jun 21 10:41:47 EDT 2022