Floyd Bennett was born in Warrensburg, Warren County, N.Y., on 25 October 1890. With the entry of the United States into World War I, he enlisted in the Navy on 15 December 1917, in Burlington, Vt., and was ordered to the Naval Air Station, Bay Shore, N.Y. In March 1918 he was transferred to the Naval Training Station, Norfolk, Va., where he received the rating of machinist's mate 2d class, aviation. May 1918 saw Bennett at the Naval Air Station, Hampton Roads, Va. Promoted to machinist's mate 1st class, aviation, in September 1918, he was made chief machinist's mate, aviation, in February of the following year.
Honorably discharged on 30 July 1919, he immediately reenlisted and served continuously until 1927. In December 1919, he received orders to the Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Fla., where he took the aviation course for enlisted pilots. He returned to Hampton Roads a year later and remained on duty there until September 1924 when he transferred to the cruiser Richmond (CL-9). He was one of the pilots from Richmond who conducted a landing site reconnaissance in Greenland for Army around-the-world pilots in 1924. It was while serving in Richmond that he was re-rated as an aviation pilot.
In April 1925, he moved to the Naval Air Station, Anacostia, in Washington, D. C., for duty in the naval air detail of the MacMillan Arctic expedition. The officer in charge of the air detail was Lt. Comdr. Richard E. Byrd. The mission of the air detail was to survey areas designated, to test equipment and to gain more experience in the problems of air navigation in the northern latitudes. During this expedition, the three amphibian planes flew over Greenland, Baffin Bay and Baffin Island. On November 17, 1925 the Secretary of the Navy commended Bennett for his "Efficiency, indefatigable energy and courage while engaged on duty in connection with operations of the air unit, MacMillan Polar Expedition, summer of 1925."
He next saw duty with the Byrd Arctic expedition and was the pilot with Byrd in the famous first flight over the North Pole on 9 May 1926. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal on 6 August 1926 for his "Exceptionally Meritorious service to the Government; his courage and ability contributed largely to the success of the first heavier than air craft flight to the North Pole and return." By act of Congress of 5 January 1927, Bennett was promoted to warrant officer rank, warrant machinist. On 19 February 1927, Congress awarded him the Medal of Honor for the North Pole flight, the award personally bestowed upon him by President Calvin Coolidge.
Subsequently, Bennett made a successful tour of 44 American cities in the same plane in which he flew over the North Pole and for this very trying tour he received a letter of commendation from the Secretary of the Navy. Although Byrd selected Bennett to accompany him in America in a transatlantic flight, serious injuries suffered on a test flight accident in April 1927 prevented his participation in the enterprise.
Byrd's next venture called for an aerial expedition to the South Pole, and he chose Bennett to be his second in command. Meanwhile, Bennett flew to the relief of Capt. Hermann Koehl and Baron Günther von Hünfeld of Germany and Commandant James Fitzmaurice of Ireland, who together made the first westbound transatlantic flight from Dublin, Ireland, to Greenly Island, Newfoundland. It was during this operation that he contracted pneumonia. In an attempt to save Bennett's life, Byrd flew serum from New York to Quebec and was at his side when he died on 25 April 1928. Floyd Bennett was buried at the National Cemetery, Arlington, Va.
Bennett (DD-473) was laid down on 10 December 1941 at the Boston Navy Yard; launched on 16 August 1942; sponsored by Mrs. Floyd Bennett, widow of Aviation Machinist Bennett; and commissioned on 9 February 1943, Comdr. Edward B. Taylor in command.
After fitting out at Boston and Casco Bay, Maine, Bennett got underway on 23 March for shakedown training near Guantanamo Bay. On 6 April, the destroyer rescued the entire 57-man crew of the torpedoed merchant ship SS John Sevier and returned them to Guantanamo Bay before completing her month-long shakedown cruise. She conducted her post-shakedown availability at Boston and then set sail for Norfolk on 7 May to prepare for a passage to the western Pacific in company with the aircraft carrier Essex (CV-9), and the destroyers Anthony (DD-515) and Roe (DD-418). The four warships departed Norfolk on the 10th, transited the Panama Canal on the 16th, and reached Pearl Harbor on the 31st. Bennett conducted exercises in Hawaiian waters into late July.
On 5 August, she stood out to sea with three Army transports bound for Australia. The destroyer took leave of the transports at New Caledonia and then joined the 3rd Fleet at Efate, New Hebrides, on 27 August. Bennett conducted training with the carrier Saratoga (CV-3) before shepherding a convoy to Guadalcanal, which served at that time as the staging point for planned operations against Bougainville.
In need of a base within light-bomber and fighter range of Rabaul, Allied planners decided to capture Cape Torokina, only 200 miles away. On 28 October, the destroyer departed Efate in the screen of landing craft carrying 13,000 Marines to Bougainville. The landings on 1 November unfolded flawlessly, in large part thanks to a long-range bombing campaign against Rabaul which blunted aerial opposition from the base. Some enemy pilots did offer resistance, and Bennett splashed one, possibly two, of them. After American warships thwarted a Japanese attempt to break up the landings in the Battle of Empress Augusta Bay early the subsequent morning, she returned to Guadalcanal with the empty troopships. The destroyer continued to escort troop and supply convoys to the newly established beachhead on Bougainville until 27 January, splashing at least three Japanese aircraft during that period.
After Bougainville and Cape Gloucester, the planners chose the Green Islands, a small group located just northwest of the Solomons, as the next link in the ring closing around Rabaul. During the early morning hours of the 31st, Bennett covered the landing of a reconnaissance mission which found scant defenses on the islands. The following morning, the troops reembarked in the high-speed transports, and Bennett ushered them back to Vella Lavella before retiring to New Georgia to practice shore bombardment on abandoned Japanese pillboxes at Kolombangara. On 13 February, the destroyer set out for the invasion of the Green Islands as one of five destroyers assigned to the screen of the First Transport Unit. The landings, which took place two days later, met little opposition. By the time Bennett escorted transports containing reinforcements from Guadalcanal on the 20th, the 102 Japanese defenders had ceased organized resistance.
She returned to Purvis Bay on the 22d, fueled at the Treasury Islands on the 24th, and then joined in antishipping raids off Rabaul and Kavieng. Bennett and her four cohorts in Destroyer Division (DesDiv) 89 scoured the coasts of Duke of York Island, New Ireland, and New Hanover, sinking or leaving aflame a handful of small coastal craft. On 10 March, she began three days of patrols in the Bougainville Strait with Hudson (DD-475) to interdict enemy barge and submarine traffic. She then escorted reinforcements to the Green Islands and to Emirau Island before returning to Purvis Bay on 29 March.
After returning to the Solomons from a two-week rest in Sydney, Australia, Bennett departed Purvis Bay on 24 April to investigate reported submarine contacts in Buka Passage. When these forays yielded no prey, she joined destroyers Halford (DD-480), Fullam (DD-474), and Hudson on 1 May to cover Breese (DM-18) and Sicard (DM-21) during minelaying operations off Buka. Bennett resumed antisubmarine operations in the Bougainville Strait three days later and exchanged fire with an enemy observation post on one of the Shortland Islands before concluding her operations on the 10th. She then steamed down "The Slot" and touched at Tulagi Harbor, before reaching Espiritu Santo on 12 May for four days of replenishment. On the 20th, the destroyer began a week of shore bombardment exercises and landing rehearsals off Cape Esperance in preparation for the Saipan assault. She returned to Espiritu Santo to load provisions and ammunition before joining her colleagues in DesDiv 89 in the antisubmarine screen for the escort carriers of Task Group (TG) 53.7 en route to Kwajalein Atoll, one of two points of departure for the Saipan operation. Bennett took leave of the tiny carriers three days later to rendezvous with Task Force (TF) 53's Bombardment Group 2, composed of battleships New Mexico (BB-40), Idaho (BB-42), and Pennsylvania (BB-38).
Departing Kwajalein on 10 June, Bennett refueled at Eniwetok and then rejoined the bombardment group's antisubmarine screen. On 15 June, she shifted to Fire Support Unit 8 for the landings and remained on patrol off Saipan until 8 July. On that day, the bombardment of Guam began, and Bennett took up position in the screen of Rear Admiral Turner Joy's cruisers, occasionally contributing a few 5-inch shells to the effort. Early on the 18th, she covered the salvage of a landing craft stranded on the beach at Asan Town before resuming her place in the cruisers' screen. Following two more days of delivering occasional harassing and interdicting fire, Bennett joined the battleship screen on the 21st as it laid down a preparatory barrage, to which she made a contribution as well. The destroyer then patrolled off Guam until 10 August firing on targets of opportunity by day and lighting up the battlefield for Allied forces with illumination shells at night.
She stopped at Eniwetok and Espiritu Santo for minor repairs, upkeep and replenishment before returning to Tulagi on 4 September. Two days later, she again stood out to sea, this time as part of a fire support unit in Rear Admiral W. L. Ainsworth's TG 32.12, consisting of Tennessee (BB-43), Minneapolis (CA-36), Cleveland (CL-55), Guest (DD-472), Halford and herself. The task group steamed a northwesterly course to the Palau Islands, a cluster located at the extreme western edge of the Caroline Islands. When the destroyer reached Peleliu on the 12th, she alternated between firing on the beach defenses and protecting minesweepers working to clear Kossol Passage. On the day following the invasion, Wadleigh (DD-689) hit a mine which exploded amidships, and Bennett towed the stricken destroyer out of danger.
On 28 September, Bennett entered Seeadler Harbor at Manus in the Admiralty Islands for a week-long availability preparatory to a homeward passage. The destroyer touched at Pearl Harbor and Seattle before finally settling in at the Mare Island Navy Yard near San Francisco on 25 October. She enjoyed a six-week overhaul and yard availability there before putting in at San Diego on 13 December. Five days later, the warship arrived at Pearl Harbor where she spent the next month sharpening her crew's skills with torpedo, gunnery and antisubmarine exercises.
On 27 January 1945, Bennett stood out to sea in the screen of transports bound for Iwo Jima. Following a 10-day passage, the destroyer fueled at Eniwetok before sailing to Saipan to participate in landing rehearsals there. She left her radar-picket station off Saipan on 17 February and rejoined the transports headed for Iwo Jima. During the early hours of the 19th, Bennett searched the path to be taken by the transports for submarines. Her primary mission accomplished, she began patrolling the island while the transports closed the beaches. Shortly before the initial wave landed at 0900, the destroyer shifted her position 1,000 yards to seaward when "overs" from battleships on the eastern side of the island fell uncomfortably close. Later in the day, Bennett moved to a radar-picket station about 14 miles from Iwo Jima.
On 1 March, as the destroyer provided early warning to the vessels around Iwo Jima, a low-flying Mitsubishi G4M "Betty" medium bomber attempted to crash her near the bridge. Bennett swung to port to maximize her antiaircraft fire, and a 40-millimeter gun winged the bomber. The plane then passed low over the forecastle before splashing 3000 yards distant on the starboard beam. However, a bomb released moments before penetrated the ship 30 feet aft of the stern, though it failed to detonate. Despite the minor damage, she continued with her duties and even silenced an enemy battery which had taken a friendly transport under fire later the same day. On 3 March, she left her station to allow a diving team to survey her bomb damage. Makeshift repairs enabled her to sustain a speed of 20 knots, and she anchored in Leyte Gulf alongside the tender Dixie (AD-14) on the 10th before shifting to drydock for further repairs.
On 27 March, Bennett departed with TG 55.6, the Southern Attack Force screen for the transports carrying the 7th Infantry Division to Okinawa. Four days into the passage, she made two depth-charge runs on a submarine contact, but observed no evidence of hits. During the early morning hours of 1 April, as Bennett protected transports forming up for the assault on Okinawa, she splashed a "Betty" 2,000 yards away on the port beam and evaded two torpedoes that the intruder loosed at her. The destroyer continued to screen the transports during the landings and then headed for her assigned radar-picket station to the west of Okinawa. Until the 6th, bad weather blunted the sting of Japanese air attacks. However, on that day, Bush (DD-529) and Colhoun (DD-801) fell victim to Japanese suicide planes, and Bennett steamed to the area where Bush sank to search for survivors.
The swarm of kamikazes continued into the 7th and "bogey" sightings became a nearly constant occurrence. At 0840, the combat air patrol (CAP) sighted two Aichi D3A "Val" dive bombers closing Bennett. Although the first "Val" fell victim to an American fighter, his wingman continued toward the destroyer despite a flaming left wing. The CAP turned away as the "Val" pilot carried his shallow glide within range of the destroyer's antiaircraft fire, and neither her evasive maneuvers nor her heavy fire deterred the attacker as he pressed home his attack and crashed her starboard side. The plane itself did little damage, caroming off her side into the ocean, but his bomb penetrated the ship and detonated near a boiler, killing three men and wounding eighteen others. Despite severe damage to the forward engineering plant, she maintained a speed of 23 knots and Yuma (AT-94) took the warship under tow the next day. Bennett moored alongside Egeria (ARL-8) for a day of emergency repairs before she returned to Saipan on 17 April on the first leg of her voyage back to the United States. A tropical storm delayed her departure by a week, but she finally embarked on the second leg of that voyage on 24 April and reached Puget Sound Navy Yard on 18 May.
After an 85-day availability to repair the battle damage, she made a refresher training run to San Diego on 13 August. Two weeks after the Japanese surrender, Bennett departed San Diego for Petropavlovsk, located on the Soviet Union's Kamchatka Peninsula, to establish a fleet weather station. During her voyage, she also made port visits in Alaska to Dutch Harbor, Attu, Adak, and Sitka. The destroyer then returned to San Diego where she was placed in commission, in reserve, on 21 December 1945. She was decommissioned on 18 April 1946 and remained in reserve at San Diego until the late 1950s. On 15 December 1959, the destroyer was transferred to the government of Brazil under the Mutual Defense Assistance Program and served in the Brazilian Navy under the name Paraíba. On 1 August 1973, the name Bennett was struck from the Naval Vessel Register, and she was sold to Brazil.
Bennett earned seven battle stars during World War II.
Timothy L. Francis
8 February 2006