Naval History and Heritage Command

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Barber (DE-161)

(DE-161: dp. 1,400; l. 306'0”; b. 36’10”; dr. 9'5”; s. 24 k.; cpl. 186; a. 3 3", 4 1.1", 8 20 mm., 2 dct., 8 dcp., 1 dcp. (hh.), 3 21" tt.; cl. Buckley)

The three Barber brothers Malcolm John, LeRoy Kenneth, and Randolph Harold enlisted in the Navy in 1940 at Chicago, Ill.; and, following training at Great Lakes, Ill., all were assigned to Oklahoma (BB-37). Each was advanced in rate; LeRoy and Malcolm became firemen, first class, and Randolph, fireman, second class. The brothers were on board Oklahoma at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 when the Japanese attacked, and all three perished when she capsized at her berth along Ford Island.

Barber (DE-161) was laid down on 27 April 1943 at Portsmouth, Va., by the Norfolk Navy Yard and launched on 24 May 1943. However, because the sponsor, Mrs. Peter Thomas Barber, the mother of the Barber brothers, could not be present at the launching of the ship, Barber's christening was delayed until the day of her commissioning, 10 October 1943, when the two ceremonies were held simultaneously. Mrs. Barber christened the ship and she was placed in commission, Lt. Eugene T. B. Sullivan in command.

Following shakedown training off Bermuda, the destroyer escort was assigned convoy duty along the Atlantic coast. She escorted troopships to Panama as her first duty and, on her return trip northward, escorted the crippled New Zealand light cruiser HMNZS Leander to Boston. Although they arrived in Boston on 23 December, Barber could not spend Christmas in port. Instead, she pulled out of the harbor on Christmas Day and headed for North Africa escorting a convoy of 95 merchantmen. She arrived in Casablanca, French Morocco, after an uneventful transatlantic crossing. While waiting for a return convoy, she patrolled the Strait of Gibraltar for several days in search of German submarines. After another uneventful voyage, the ship left the convoy at Norfolk and continued on to the New York Navy Yard.

She spent most of February and March 1944 performing escort duties between New York and Norfolk; and, then, on 24 March, received orders to join an antisubmarine "hunter killer" group built around Croatan (CVE-26) and joined by four other destroyer escorts. Formed to hunt German U-boats, the group recorded its first success on 26 April when the escorts teamed up to sink the German submarine U-488. Relieved by another hunter killer group, Barber's unit headed for home on 11 May. After a brief availability at the New York Navy Yard and two weeks of maneuvers at Casco Bay, Maine, Barber resumed her convoy escort duties. She made two more transatlantic voyages to North Africa before October 1944 but did not encounter any enemy ships.

On 9 October, Barber entered the Philadelphia Navy Yard for conversion to a high speed transport. Although she was reclassified APD-57 on 23 October, she did not complete the preparations for her new role until January 1945. On the 17th, she left Philadelphia and proceeded to Norfolk's convoy escort piers. For a month, the fast transport served as "school ship" for crews of APD's not yet commissioned. Each day she got underway to train these crews in evolutions such as fueling, gunfire, target tracking, and other combat procedures.

On George Washington's Birthday, the warship steamed out of Norfolk bound for the Pacific and her first combat duty as a high speed transport. After a short stay in San Diego, she continued on westward and arrived at Pearl Harbor on 26 March. The fast transport then conducted specialized training at Maui with underwater demolition teams (UDT's). The mission of such teams was to destroy obstacles on landing beaches, and APD's such as Barber delivered these teams to the areas four or five days before the actual invasion. Just two days after receiving word of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's 12 April death, she sailed via Eniwetok for Ulithi.

Barber arrived there on 30 April and spent five days preparing for front line duty at Okinawa. She departed the safety of Ulithi with a merchant convoy on 5 May and continually felt the presence of the enemy through possible submarine contacts, floating mines, and radio message traffic emanating from Okinawa. The high-speed transport anchored in Hagushi Anchorage on 10 May and, throughout the daylight hours, heard not a sound from the Japanese. However, with sunset, the Japanese air attacks began in earnest.

On 11 May, Barber received orders to assist Hugh W. Hadley (DD-774) on a radar picket station north of the anchorage. That destroyer had been hit by two kamikaze planes and two bombs. Barber mustered all the hands she could spare to help evacuate the injured from Hugh W. Hadley and then to work on saving the damaged warship. The fast transport assumed picket duty north of Ie Shima on the 12th. The enemy never came close by air; but, on 15 May, Barber picked up four Japanese soldiers in a raft and later transferred them to an Army boat for internment in an Okinawa camp.

Barber's good luck continued to hold. Every picket station on which she served had been the scene of a casualty either immediately before her duty there or would become one soon after she departed. On 20 May, the Japanese directed a massive force of midget submarines, mines and kamikaze planes at the Allied naval forces. Barber pursued two midget submarines and evaluated one as a "probable kill." The high speed transport continued on patrol, enduring nightly general quarters alarms for Japanese air raids. On 14 June, she captured three more prisoners. On the evening of 16 June, while Barber stood rescue-ship watch at anchor off Hagushi, Twiggs (DD-591) suffered a hit by air raiders and sank within an hour. Barber rushed to the area immediately to search for survivors. The fast transport worked through the night assisting in the rescue of the 188 sailors who survived before returning to the anchorage early the next morning.

Released from duty at Okinawa on Independence Day 1945, Barber joined a convoy of four other escorts and 32 LST's headed for Saipan. One day out of Saipan, Barber received orders to accompany a part of the convoy to Guam. Her new course took her across the routes used by American B 29 bombers headed for the Japanese mainland. On 9 July, the fast transport witnessed the crash of a returning bomber. Barber raced to the site and, despite fears of complete destruction, a raft appeared some 20 miles in the distance. Closer investigation revealed that the raft held all 11 members of the bomber's crew. The fast transport took them to Guam the next day.

Barber remained at Guam until 21 July when she sailed for Ulithi escorting escort carrier Salamaua (CVE-96). She continued on to Leyte Gulf where she screened battleships Texas (BB-35) and Mississippi (BB-41) on 8, 9 and 10 August and then returned to Leyte to await further orders. While there, the news of Japan's capitulation reached Barber and she headed for Okinawa escorting Mississippi and her sistership Idaho (BB-42). Arriving on 21 August, she departed the next day for a brief visit to Manila Bay. On 2 September, the fast transport commenced three weeks of duty in Subic Bay, at the conclusion of which she moved to Lingayen Gulf to join Transport Division (TransDiv) 20. From there, she led a procession of 20 transports for occupation duty. The group entered Wakanoura Bay at Honshu on 7 October and passed three slow weeks while minesweepers cleared a channel to Nagoya. Finally, TransDiv 20 was able to enter the channel safely while Barber remained behind to control the harbor entrance.

After another three weeks of screening incoming and outgoing ships, the transport received welcome orders to load passengers to capacity and return home. On 21 November, she embarked on the long voyage home. After steaming via Sasebo, Eniwetok, Pearl Harbor, San Diego, and Panama, Barber returned to the east coast for pre-inactivation overhaul. The fast transport was decommissioned on 22 May 1946 and was berthed with the reserve fleet at Green Cove Springs, Fla., where she remained for more than two decades. Her name was struck from the Navy list on 27 November 1968, and she was sold to the government of Mexico on 22 December 1969.

Barber received three battle stars for her World War II service.

Mary P. Walker

Published: Thu Apr 07 06:13:56 EDT 2016