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Blue I (DD-387)

1937–1942

The first U.S. Navy ship named for Rear Adm. Victor Blue—born on 6 December 1865 in Richmond County, North Carolina, to John Gilchrist Blue, a former lieutenant-colonel in the Confederate Army, and Annie M. Evans of South Carolina. Blue grew up on his father’s plantation “Bluefields” and was appointed as a cadet midshipman to the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA) on 6 September 1883, graduating on 11 June 1887 as an engineering officer and being detached from the Academy to report to Pensacola. Travelling via the commercial steamship Pennland, he ultimately reported to Pensacola on 1 August 1887.

Transferred to the screw corvette Quinnebaug three days after Christmas of 1887, he served in that vessel until detached by Rear-Adm. James A. Greer, commander of the European Squadron, on 7 April 1889, returning to the USNA on 23 April. He reported back on board Pensacola on 2 July 1889, and received his commission as an assistant engineer eight days later, to rank from 1 July.  Detached from Pensacola on 8 December 1891, Blue received orders to report to the Union Iron Works, San Francisco, Calif., which he did on 16 December. Detached from Union Iron Works on 25 February 1892, he joined Charleston (Cruiser No. 2) on 1 March, and served in that warship until he received orders dated 10 October to report to the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Va., which he did two days later. Before the year was out, he was transferred from the Navy’s Engineer Corps as an ensign (12 December 1892), being appointed to that rank on 24 January 1893, to rank from 12 December.

Detached from duty at Portsmouth the day following his appointment (25 January 1893), Blue received a tour of temporary duty in the receiving ship Franklin, reporting five days later. A little over two months later (31 March), he received charge of a draft of sailors at New York to embark in a steamer on 10 April to proceed to the screw gunboat Alliance, then to serve as a watch and division officer upon arrival. Delivering the draft of men on 6 May, he reported to Alliance as ordered. Blue returned to the cruiser Charleston on 14 April 1894, then served in the screw gunboat Thetis (27 July 1894-25 June 1895) before taking a commercial steamer to join Bennington (Gunboat No. 4), reporting on Independence Day 1895.

Following a tour of shore duty at the USNA (28 September 1896-8 April 1898), during which time he received promotion to lieutenant, junior grade, on 9 February 1890, to rank from 5 December of the previous year. He reported to the converted light house tender Suwanee at the Norfolk Navy Yard, fitting out for service, and served in that vessel during the Spanish-American War (1898). The ship initially landed supplies for Cuban insurgents, allowing Blue and other officers to become close to those fighting for their freedom from Spain.

In May 1898, Rear-Adm. William T. Sampson’s U.S. Atlantic Fleet blockaded Santiago Bay, trapping Adm. Pascual Cervera y Topete’s Spanish squadron, but the size and strength of the enemy was unknown. Blue volunteered to scout out the location of the Spanish ships. On 11 June 1898, he linked up with Cuban insurgents commanded by Gen. Jesús Rabí, and joined Cuban Maj. Francisco H. Masaby y Reyes, who, along with other guerrillas helped Blue to travel for three days via mule behind Spanish lines and scout the bay. He and his guides were able to locate four Spanish armored cruisers and supporting warships, while evading capture by Spanish patrols on a trek of sixty miles. Their main observation post was a hill about 1,000 yards from a Spanish garrison. Blue conducted a second recon mission in late June, and later received a Special Meritorious Metal for “Extraordinary Heroism” and was advanced five numbers in rank by President William McKinley. Armed with Blue’s reports, Rear-Adm. Sampson was ready when Adm. Cervera sortied out of the bay on 3 July, sinking the entire Spanish squadron at the Battle of Santiago Bay (3 July 1898).

Detached from Suwanee on 8 August 1898, Blue received his first command, the captured Spanish gunboat Alvarado, which he commanded from 9 August 1898 to 14 February 1899. He received orders to Massachusetts (Battleship No. 2), reporting for duty on 14 February, and received promotion to lieutenant on 8 June, to rank from 3 March 1899.  On 17 October 1899, Blue married Eleanor Foote Stuart of Morristown, N.J., a union that produced two sons, John Stewart (who would attend the USNA – see Blue II (DD-754) for biography) and Victor.

Detached from the battleship on 19 March 1900, Blue received orders to report to the training ship Pensacola (his first ship) for temporary duty, after which he was to proceed to the Asiatic Station per commercial steamship, where he reported for duty to the senior squadron commander on 18 April 1900. He went on to serve as flag-lieutenant for Rear Adm. Louis Kempff during the Boxer Rebellion (1900-1901),

On 11 February 1901, he was advanced five numbers in rank for the afore-mentioned Extraordinary Heroism displayed in Cuba, then on 23 March, was transferred to Kentucky (Battleship No.5); a short tour of duty, for he was detached on 14 July 1901 to travel via U.S. Army Transport to Mare Island Navy Yard, Vallejo, Calif., thence across the country to assume the post of Assistant Inspector of Equipment at Cramps’ Shipyard, duties subsequently modified to include additional inspection duty at Philadelphia, Pa., and Wilmington, Del.

Shortly before the middle of June 1902, Blue received orders to serve as an aide for Rear-Adm. Philip H. Cooper, the flag officer in charge of the defenses of the east coast of the U.S. from Barnegat, N.J., to the border with Canada. Reporting on 1 July 1902, he received additional duty commanding the armed yacht Hist, which Cooper would use as his flagship during the combined Army-Navy maneuvers while he used the Naval War College as his headquarters. Blue assumed command of Hist on 18 July 1902. Subsequently, Blue received orders dated 5 January 1903 to proceed to the Asiatic Station per steamer from San Francisco, sailing on 20 January, then to report for duty as Rear-Adm. Cooper’s aide.

Reporting for duty on 7 February 1903, he later joined Wisconsin (Battleship No.9), on 15 June 1903. Blue transferred with Rear-Adm. Cooper to the protected cruiser New Orleans (ex-Amazonas) on 21 March 1904, then back to Wisconsin when the admiral transferred his flag to the battleship on 23 March. Ordered detached three months later (23 June), Blue was detached on 1 July, then reported on 26 July to accompany Rear-Adm. Cooper home to the U.S., proceeding with him to Morristown, N.J.

Following brief service in the auxiliary cruiser Buffalo (10-18 August 1904), Blue reported to Bennington on 22 August for duty as navigator. The following spring, he was moved up to executive officer on 25 May 1905; tragically, a boiler explosion on 21 July 1905 killed Ens. Newman K. Perry, Chief Machinist George T. Clark and Pay Clerk H. C. Metius, and also snuffed out the life of 62 enlisted men. The disaster caused such heavy damage that precluded repairs; Bennington was decommissioned on 31 October 1905.

Blue, detached on 8 November 1905, and soon reported to the Bureau of Ordnance for “special temporary duty” soon thereafter. Assigned to duty as assistant to the inspector of ordnance at the Newport News Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co., Newport News, Va., he reported on 28 November 1905, being commissioned as lieutenant commander four days before (24 November), to rank from 28 June 1906. Additional duty fitting-out North Carolina (Armored Cruiser No. 12) at Newport News followed, reporting on 23 July 1907, turning over his duties as Inspector of Ordnance that spring (28 April 1908), receiving orders to report for duty as the ship’s navigator when commissioned, which occurred on 7 May 1908; on 21 April 1909, he became North Carolina’s executive officer.


Rear Admiral Victor Blue
Caption: A dapper and distinguished Rear Admiral Victor Blue, in an undated portrait. “A generous-hearted, lovable man,” a classmate wrote, “with a fund of quiet merriment which was a distinguishing characteristic.” (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 56204)

Detached from North Carolina on 16 November 1909, Blue received promotion to ad interim commander on that date, to rank from 1 July 1909, then was commissioned as commander on 16 December 1909. A modification of his October 1909 orders to take command of Yorktown (Gunboat No. 1) soon followed, and he proceeded to San Francisco, then took passage to join the ship at Corinto, Nicaragua, reporting for duty on 10 March 1910.

Cmdr. Blue commanded Yorktown until ordered to duty as chief of staff to the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, a post he held from 21 November 1910 to 20 May 1911. Detached on the latter date, he reported for duty with the Navy’s General Board five days later (25 May 1911). He served in that capacity for almost two years, being commissioned ad interim Chief of the Bureau of Navigation with the rank of rear admiral, to rank from 26 March 1913. Accepting the appointment on that date, he executed the oath of office; that same day, he was detached from the General Board. He received his commission as Chief of the Bureau of Navigation with the rank of rear admiral from 9 May 1913, for a period of four years, an unusual post for someone of his rank and age.

As bureau chief, Blue oversaw naval personnel as the navy expanded before the U.S. entry into the World War and was involved with the creation of the Naval Flying Corps. He took command of Texas (Battleship No. 35) on 14 August 1916 (he had been commissioned as a captain on 10 March 1914) but was reduced in seniority when the ship grounded off Block Island in 1917. During World War I, Texas joined the Sixth Battle Squadron, earning Blue a Distinguished Service Metal with the following citation: “for exceptionally meritorious service in a duty of great responsibility in command of the U.S.S. Texas, operating in the War Zone in association and cooperation with the British Grand Fleet.” After the war, he returned to the post of Chief of the Bureau of Navigation (reporting on 2 January 1919) before being transferred to the retired list on 17 July 1919 (effective 11 July “by reason of physical disability,” an examining board having found him incapacitated by angina pectoris.

Victor Blue spent much of his retirement in Fort George, Florida, and while en route by train to Walter Reed General Hospital for treatment died suddenly of a heart attack near Lannin, S.C., on 22 January 1928. He was laid to rest near his home in Marion, S.C., on 25 January 1928.

I

(DD-387: displacement 1,850 (standard), 1,500 (normal); length 341'4"; beam 35'5"; draft 10'4"; speed 35+ knots; complement 273; armament 4 5-inch guns, 4 .50 caliber machine guns, 16 21-inch torpedo tubes, 2 depth charge tracks; class Bagley)

The first Blue (DD-387) was laid down on 25 September 1935 at Portsmouth, Va., by the Norfolk Navy Yard; launched, along with her sister ship Helm (DD-388), on 27 May 1937; sponsored by Kate Lilly Blue, sister of the late Rear Adm. Blue and author of the 1895 naval romance novel The Hand of Fate; and commissioned on 14 August 1937, Lt. Cmdr. Jerauld Wright in command.


USS Blue (DD-387)
Caption: Starboard broadside view of Blue, 24 August 1937, as she leaves Portsmouth to conduct builders’ trials. She is painted in No. 5 Navy Gray, with her identification number 387 in white with black shadowing. Note the awning ridge poles forward and aft, standard equipment to support awnings. Her .50-caliber machine guns do not appear to have been fitted at this time. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 97684)

After commissioning, Blue conducted her shakedown, then underwent the usual post-shakedown availability before she began participating in multiple training operations predominantly along the West Coast. She took part in Fleet Problem XX in February 1939 in the Caribbean, evolutions formulated to test the ability of a U.S. fleet to control the Caribbean sea lanes while maintaining sufficient naval strength in the Pacific to protect vital American interests there. It also exercised the fleet in long-range search operations, protecting merchantmen, establishing and defending advanced bases, and conducting the inevitable fleet battle. Fleet Problem XX saw the Battle Force arrayed against the Scouting Force. President Roosevelt witnessed a portion of the exercises from the deck of heavy cruise Houston (CA-30).


USS Blue (DD-387)
Caption: A starboard broadside view of Blue, underway during Fleet Problem XX, seen from Houston, 27 February 1939. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 63134)

Cmdr. Wright, an avid duck hunter who went on to command Mississippi (BB-41) during World War II, turned over command to Lt. Cmdr. Charles Owen Camp on 15 May 1939, and Blue continued her training regimen along the West Coast. Blue was stationed in San Francisco, Calif., on 1 July 1939, and visited Sausalito, Calif., on the 5th. On 17 July, Blue sailed from San Francisco to San Diego, Calif., arriving on the 19th. Blue returned to San Francisco and went to the Mare Island Navy Yard, Vallejo, Calif., for repairs from 20 August to 21 October, before returning to San Diego on the 22nd.


Blue (DD-387)
Caption: An undated view from off Blue’s port bow, showing her moored at an unidentified location. Note the addition of life rafts, and Mt. 52 at maximum elevation. (Blue (DD-387) Ship History File, Naval History and Heritage Command)

On 1 April 1940, Blue and dozens of other ships left San Diego for Lahaina, Territory of Hawaii, as part of the Pacific Fleet’s buildup of forces, arriving in Hawaiian waters on 10 April. U.S. Fleet departed the West Coast and set course for Hawaiian waters to conduct Fleet Problem XXI, large fleet exercises that concluded the training year. Conducted in two phases, Parts II and VI of the annual fleet exercises, the training took place in the waters of the Pacific in the vicinity of Hawaii and extended to the westward. Part II pitted two fleets (the augmented Battle Force vs. the augmented Scouting Force) of approximately equal strength to battle, one side concentrated and the other dispersed widely, in scouting, screening, and conducting major fleet engagements. Part VI pitted two fleets of approximately equal strength (the same opponents as in Part II), each dispersed, in scouting, screening, protecting convoys, seizing and defending advanced bases, and conducting major fleet engagements.

Blue and the other ships transferred to Pearl Harbor, arriving on 25 April 1940. Destroyer Squadrons 3 and 4 (Clark (DD-361), Cassin (DD-372), Conyngham (DD-371), Downes (DD-375), Reid (DD-369), Case (DD-370), Shaw (DD-373), Cummings (DD-365), Tucker (DD-374), Selfridge (DD-357), Bagley (DD-386), Helm, Henley (DD-391), Jarvis (DD-393), Mugford (DD-389), Patterson (DD-392), and Ralph Talbot (DD-390)) formally reported to the Hawaiian Detachment on 8 May 1940, the day after President Roosevelt ordered the U.S. Fleet to remain in Hawaiian waters indefinitely as a deterrent to Japan.

Though assigned to the Hawaiian Detachment, Blue frequently returned to the West Coast as detachments from the Fleet rotated back to the west coast at intervals. She cleared Pearl Harbor on 14 October 1940 for San Diego, arriving on the 21st. After a few weeks at San Diego, she left for San Francisco and on 4 November, arriving two days later. Blue returned to San Diego on 26 November before leaving for Pearl Harbor on 6 December, arriving in Hawaii on 12 December 1940. Blue left Pearl Harbor on 2 February 1941, arriving at the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Bremerton, Wash., on the 9th were she underwent a refit. She sailed from Puget Sound on 31 March for San Diego, arriving 5 on April. A few weeks later, Blue returned to Pearl Harbor, leaving San Diego on 21 April and arriving in Hawaiian waters on the 27th, whence she operated into the autumn of 1941.

Blue and Jarvis cleared Pearl Harbor on 18 October 1941 as escorts for the stores issue ship Castor (AKS-1), the three ships proceeding as a unit under Cmdr. Samuel B. Brewer in Jarvis, setting course for Wake Island. On board Castor were 8 officers and 194 enlisted men slated to reinforce the Wake Detachment of the First Defense Battalion. The three ships arrived on schedule on 27 October, but the vessels rolled heavily in the rough swells with occasional rain squalls—weather that did not prove conducive to landing men and equipment. Castor managed to conduct an underway replenishment with Blue that day, however, providing her with 27,686 gallons of fuel-oil and transferring bread and ice cream, too. Conditions allowed Castor to disembark her passengers on the 30th and the task group departed shortly before midnight on the last day of October. The stores issuing ship fueled Jarvis on the morning of 1 November, sending over 10 gallons of ice cream during the evolution, then topped-off Blue’s bunkers. The task group reached Pearl on 5 November after an uneventful passage.

Following a period of voyage repairs and upkeep, Blue cleared the nest alongside destroyer tender Dobbin (AD-3) at Berth X-2 on the morning of 28 November 1941, soon taking an inner anti-submarine screening position for the battleship Nevada (BB-36); she performed an identical service for that ship and Arizona (BB-39) for the rest of that day. The destroyer conducted individual ship exercises during the forenoon watch on the 29th, then calibrated her radio direction finder before providing an anti-submarine screen for light cruiser Detroit (CL-8) for most of the remainder of that day, as well as conducting exercises during that time. Oklahoma (BB-37) joined the training evolutions late on the morning of 30 November 1941, as the relentless pace of training continued in the Hawaiian Operating Area, with Blue and her sisters screening the battleships. On the afternoon of 1 December, the destroyer conducted a battle problem.

The next day [2 December 1941], Blue fired antiaircraft battle practice (AABF) “G” and antiaircraft machine gun battle practice (AAMGBP) “G” during the afternoon watch, recovering the sleeve dropped by the towing plane upon the conclusion of that evolution. She then served as the reference vessel for Ralph Talbot’s concluding practice, after which Blue fired her scheduled runs, Ralph Talbot serving as the recording vessel and Mugford the reference ship. Blue completed her firing that afternoon, steering on “various courses at various speeds” again to recover the target sleeve.

The following morning [3 December 1941], Blue took station and served as camera ship for Henley’s firing AABF “G” and AAMGBP “G,” after which the former acted in the same capacity for the ships of Destroyer Division (DesDiv) 7 that afternoon. Those evolutions completed, Blue steamed with DesDiv 7 to rendezvous with Battleship Division 1. Darkening ship and increasing speed, she formed part of the inner anti-submarine screen for the battleships soon thereafter, and maneuvered with them as they fired gunnery practice. Those ships operated together on 4 December.

Blue returned to Pearl Harbor on Friday, 5 December 1941 after the latest stint of intensive exercises carried out by the Pacific Fleet. After serving as an inner anti-submarine screen for Oklahoma, the destroyer moored at Berth X-7 on the northeast side of Ford Island less than a mile from Battleship Row, alongside Bagley, starboard side-to, at 1045; Helm came alongside to port at 1102.  The following day [6 December], the muster at 0730 showed no absentees.

Bagley, her having a loose bilge keel discovered in the recent at-sea period, cleared Blue’s side at 0805 on 6 December 1941 and set course for the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard to begin the repair period. A little over an hour into the afternoon watch, a YO [fuel-oil barge] came alongside and, for almost two hours, provided the destroyer with 73,616 gallons of fuel oil before clearing the side at 1525. That night, most of the crew went on shore leave.

Blue lay moored next to Helm at Berth X-7 on the morning of 7 December, on the northeast side of Pearl Harbor less than a mile from Battleship Row. Helm departed for West Loch at 0726, leaving all of her magnetic compasses and chronometers on board her sister ship in preparation for her scheduled deperming.         

Much of Blue’s crew and almost all of the officers were ashore on the morning of 7 December. Nathan Asher, a twenty-three year old ensign and graduate of the Naval Academy (Class of 1939), was the senior officer on board. He and three USNR ensigns, Milton I. Moldafsky, John P. Wolfe, and Robert S. Scott, and six chief petty officers provided the necessary leadership on board the ship on the morning of the attack. Japanese planes arrived over Pearl Harbor just before 0800 and started dropping bombs. Asher and the other ensigns hurried to their stations: Asher on the bridge, Moldafsky on the forward machine guns, Wolfe on control, and Scott (who had only been on board a month) with the repair parties.

Asher sounded the general alarm at 0800, which initially confused some crewmen used to practice alarms on every day of the week except Sunday. Though shocked, Blue’s crew quickly jumped into action and many crewmen saw the gunnery training ship Utah (AG-16) get hit by torpedoes and capsize and Arizona (BB-39) explode, which encouraged decisive action. Some of the crew felt the lingering effects of the previous night. “There were several men who, I would say, had been drinking and still had a hangover,” Asher explained, “but in the morning they all snapped to very readily and they all remarked that they had never sobered up so fast in their lives.”

Despite the surprise, Blue’s officers and men were able to open fire on Japanese planes within minutes of general quarters. Blue’s ammo lockers were locked, and Lt. Cmdr. Harold N. Williams, the commanding officer, had the key ashore, so gunners simply smashed locks as necessary. Blue’s machine guns started to fire at 0805, while the 5-inch antiaircraft guns opened up at 0807. The larger guns required a five man gun crew, as well as ammunition hoisted up from below. Understaffed due to shore leave, individual crew members had to step up to keep the guns firing.

Matt2c James E. Stillwell, an African-American crewman and a heavyweight fighter, singlehandedly manned a handling room, normally a five-man job. Stillwell passed shells and powder to F1c Jack W. Randall, who operated the hoist. Meanwhile, at Gun No. 1, Sea1c John Smith tried to get his hoist to work. Smith fell to his knees and prayed “Oh, Lord! Oh, Lord! Make this gun ammunition hoist work just this once.” A tall mess attendant in the handling room reminded him “why, Smith, you got the oil turned off.” Smith jumped to his feet and said “it’s all right, Lord, I got it now.” Up on deck, the gun crews had to rapidly adapt and face equipment and men breaking down. CGM (PA) Martin L. Millard had to clear a loading causality single handedly at Gun No. 2. Though trained, the gun crews were all inexperienced in actual fighting. Gun no. 4 shot down a plane, then stopped firing so the crew could celebrate and pat themselves on the back. The chief gunners mate thought the gun had been disabled, until he checked on the crew, who resumed firing. Throughout the morning, Blue fired at least four Japanese aircraft, and probably shot down two.

As the gunners battled Japanese aircraft, other crewmen prepared the ship for battle by cutting down awnings and wooden ridgepoles that supported them, which had provided shade for the crew. The engine room was ready to go by 0847 and Blue got underway amidst the chaos of the attack. This was remarkably fast work, as it normally took around two hours to heat up boilers in preparation to start the engines. CMM (PA) Hugh M. Kizer worked as acting engineer officer and received credit for outstanding work of the engineering department. Blue headed out to the north of Ford Island and had to slow down while passing through debris (timbers used to cushion her decks during a recent stint as a bombing target) from Utah. When Blue approached the channel out of Pearl Harbor, four Japanese planes attacked but didn’t hit the ship. At some point in the battle, Ens. Asher hurled his field glasses at a passing plane. As he told a congressional hearing, “I did not know what my motive was. I was just kind of mad.” When Blue passed Hickam Field, she sped up to 25 knots to escape the harbor, but accidentally hit and broke a minesweeper’s paravane.

Despite this mishap, Blue passed the channel entrance buoys at 0910 and headed southeast to patrol the approaches to Pearl Harbor. At 0950, Blue made sonar contact with what was likely a Japanese midget sub, and dropped four depth charges. After investigating, Asher ordered two more depth charges, which were rewarded with an oil slick and air bubbles, indicating a probable kill. After patrolling for a few minutes, Blue dropped two more depth charges at 1020 after making sonar contact with another suspected midget sub heading towards the light cruiser St. Louis (CL-49). Blue claimed two subs possibly sunk that day. Blue screened St. Louis for the rest of the day, which would take the ship far out of port. At 1106, St. Louis signaled CinCPac that she had formed an attack group (TF 12) with Blue, Phelps (DD-360) and Lamson (DD-367) and would proceed “to locate the enemy.” The TF was ordered to attack Japan’s First Air Fleet – the force that had just devastated Pearl Harbor.

Still commanded by Ens. Asher, Blue’s officers planned to attack with torpedoes, lay smoke, and hope they could fire more torpedoes. No one expected this plan to work against a superior Japanese force. That afternoon, one of Blue’s torpedoes started running in the tube, and a warhead fell onto the deck, and rolled overboard – hardly an auspicious sign. Fortunately, TF 12 didn’t find the Japanese fleet, and ended up patrolling until the 8th.

Ens. Asher stood watch for 30 hours and, in the words of Lt. Cmdr. Williams, Blue’s commanding officer, “performed most commendably and efficiently” in taking the ship out of harbor while under attack, engaging multiple planes and submarines, joining an attack force, and safely returning to harbor. Asher received the Bronze Star for “distinguished service in [the] line of his profession,” while his fellow ensigns, and the senior enlisted men, received commendations for their actions on 7 December. Asher continued to serve in the Navy, retiring in 1960 as a commander, celebrated as an accomplished Jewish naval officer.

Blue returned to Pearl Harbor, taking station in the inner submarine screen for Enterprise (CV-6) during the forenoon watch on 8 December 1941, a task she performed into the first dog watch late that afternoon. The destroyer passed between the entrance buoys to the channel at 1715, then steered various courses and speeds to conform to the channel, darkening ship ten minutes later. Cmdr. Walfrid Nyquist, who had turned over command of Phelps to a successor in a routine change-of-command ceremony on 6 December, came on board Blue at 1835, as did Ens. John E. Lacouture, the ship’s assistant first lieutenant and assistant depth charge officer, who had missed the ship when she hurriedly sortied on the 7th. Nyquist, who had that day been given command of Destroyer Division 1, took the conn and oversaw Blue moored in a nest with Farragut (DD-348) and Aylwin (DD-355) at buoy X-18 at 2005; he left the ship soon thereafter. Dale (DD-353) joined the nest three quarters of an hour later.  Lt. Cmdr. Williams rejoined his ship at 2115. Blue’s crew heard occasional gunfire as nervous sailors and marines fired on anything suspicious; the battleship Arizona still burned.

Having taken a delivery of 17 depth charges, 17 pistols, and 17 extender boosters from the Naval Ammunition Depot (NAD) at the end of the second dog watch on the 8th, Blue welcomed Vireo (AM-52) alongside the next morning [9 December 1941], the minesweeper delivering 276 cases of powder and 276 5-inch antiaircraft projectiles, in addition to 100 cases of powder from Dobbin.  The destroyer also received 37,791 gallons of fuel oil before she shifted to Berth X-11. Before the day was out, she received 125 more rounds of 5-inch projectiles, and 36 rounds of powder. That same day, The Pacific Fleet’s Emergency Personnel Office assigned additional enlisted men to Blue’s ship’s company on temporary duty, 27 men from the capsized Oklahoma (with which Blue had operated less than 48 hours prior to the Japanese attack) and five from the sunken West Virginia (BB-48). By the end of the month, 32 of those 33 men were assigned permanent duty on board.

On 10 December 1941, she underwent her first air raid alarm since returning to port, just after the conclusion of the mid watch, remaining at general quarters from 0410 to 0459 when she received the all clear. YO-24 fueled Blue soon thereafter, after which Selfridge (DD-357) moored alongside. Blue soon transitioned to wartime operations.

Wake Island had been under siege since the first day of hostilities, but had proved a tough nut to crack for the Japanese. Plans to relieve the defenders of the atoll proceeded apace into the second week of hostilities. On 15 December 1941, the seaplane tender Tangier (AV-8) and the oiler Neches (AO-5), escorted by four destroyers, sailed for Wake; the following morning, TF 14 sailed, Rear Adm. Frank Jack Fletcher wearing his flag in heavy cruiser Astoria (CA-34); two heavy cruisers accompanied her, as did four destroyers. That afternoon, the carrier Saratoga (CV-3) stood out; Blue, along with Bagley, Henley, and Helm, joined her; Jarvis caught up a little over an hour later. Task Forces 8 and 11 were to cover Fletcher’s advance.

On 17 December 1941, however, Vice Adm. William S. Pye, upon orders from President Roosevelt and Secretary of the Navy William F. [Frank] Knox, relieved Adm. Husband E. Kimmel, as Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, in temporary command pending the arrival of his designated relief, Rear Adm. Chester W. Nimitz. That same day, a Japanese task group built around two aircraft carriers received orders to cooperate in a second attack on Wake. Those two circumstances, followed by the recall of the relief expedition, spelled doom for Wake, which held out gallantly until two days before Christmas.

Reinforcements slated for Wake went instead to Midway. On 24 December 1941, Blue and Ralph Talbot were detached and escorted Tangier to that outpost, arriving on 26 December, the seaplane tender disembarking Battery “B” of the Fourth Defense Battalion USMC and the ground echelon of Marine Fighting Squadron 221. During the time, Blue patrolled off Midway, then joined her sister ship and Tangier for the return voyage to Pearl.


Blue (DD-387)
Caption: Tangier (right) unloads equipment and disembarks marines earmarked originally for Wake, while Ralph Talbot (left) lies moored port side-to the Navy Pier, her Measure 1 paint scheme (Dark Gray, with Light Gray paint applied to the upper part of the foremast) mirroring Blue’s appearance at that time. Net tender (tug class) Tamaha (YN-44) lies at the end of the pier. (U.S. Navy Photograph 80-G-31384, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Branch, College Park, Md.)

Blue then joined Vice Adm. William F. Halsey, Jr.’s TF 8 to raid Japanese positions in the south Pacific, and was assigned to TG 8.5 along with Enterprise (CV-6) and two other destroyers. While on the way to the Japanese-occupied Gilberts and Marshall Islands, Blue lost GM3c James C. Taylor overboard in bad weather at 1744 on 14 January 1942. Blue then screened Enterprise as she raided the island of Roi, in the Marshall Islands, on 1 February before returning to Pearl Harbor on the 5th.

Blue accompanied Enterprise again as the newly reclassified TF 1.1 left Pearl on 14 February 1942 on its way to Wake Island. On 21 February, one of Enterprise’s Grumman F4F-3A Wildcats had a mechanical problem (propeller pitch control) and crashed immediately after launching. Blue rescued pilot Ens. Norman D. Hodson, A-V(N), USNR, of Fighting Squadron Six, and returned him to the Enterprise. Blue continued to watch for downed aviators while accompanying the carrier. This was popular duty, as Enterprise would send Blue five gallons of ice cream for every pilot recovered.

A few days later, Blue, along with destroyers Dunlap (DD-384) and Ralph Talbot, screened Enterprise as the carrier raided Wake and nearby islands on 24 February, and again retrieved a pilot from the sea when Ens. Perry L. Teaff of Scouting Squadron Six lost power on takeoff and crashed in the pre-dawn darkness. After a 48-minute search, Blue rescued Ens. Teaff, who was suffering from shock, exposure, and a badly injured right eye. The destroyer continued the search, but could not find RM3c Edgar P. Jinks, Teaff’s radio-gunner. Blue continued to escort Enterprise as part of TF 16.5, re-designated on 1 March. Enterprise launched a strike on Marcus Island on 4 March. TF 16.5 returned to Pearl Harbor on 9 March. Cmdr. Williams received a letter of commendation with a ribbon for meritorious service for commanding Blue on these missions. Also, at some point during these raids, the ship visited Jarvis, an uninhabited island sometimes used as a weather station. Blue’s crew found the island deserted, but rescued a cat left behind. Jarvis the cat quickly became Blue’s mascot.

The next few months, Blue escorted convoys to and from Pearl Harbor as part of TF 16. She and Ralph Talbot left Pearl Harbor on 19 March 1942 and arrived in San Francisco on 3 April, having escorted 22 ships (Convoy No. 4074) from Pearl Harbor. Blue immediately entered Mare Island Navy Yard, Vallejo, Calif., for a “limited availability to accomplish alterations to improve anti-aircraft and submarine defense and minor repairs” (4-10 April).


Blue (DD-387)
Caption: Blue, off Mare Island on 11 April 1942 following after her first limited availability to upgrade her secondary battery, in which she her 50-caliber Browning machine guns were replaced, on a one-for-one basis, by 20-millimeter Oerlikons. Note the reduction in top hamper, the two depth charge projectors on the main deck aft, and the life rafts stowed atop the depth charge tracks at the stern. Radars have not yet been fitted, and as part of the weight reduction measures, the port anchor has been removed and the hawsepipe blanked off. (U.S. Navy Bureau of Ships Photograph 19-LCM Collection)

The destroyer stayed in port until 11 April, when she joined Ralph Talbot to escort 26 ships in convoy (Convoy No. 2057) to Pearl Harbor, arriving on the 24th and immediately taking another convoy of 13 ships (No. 4095) back to San Francisco, arriving on 6 May. From 7-18 May, Blue received a second limited availability at Mare Island. On the 19th, Blue went to San Pablo Bay for deperming [degaussing] and on the 20th she went to the Magnetic Range in San Francisco Bay to calibrate degaussing equipment, the magnetic compass, and radio direction finder. After refueling at Point Richmond, Calif., Blue spent the rest of the 21st waiting around San Francisco for a delayed convoy. On the 22nd, Blue and Ralph Talbot took a convoy of fifteen ships to Pearl Harbor, arriving on 1 June.

On 3 June 1942, Blue and Ralph Talbot escorted Guadalupe (AO-32) to Midway, as the oiler was to replenish fuel supplies used up during the Battle of Midway. While en route, the Japanese submarine I-156 (Lt. Cmdr. Ohashi Katsuo commanding, ten days into her fifth war patrol) spotted Guadalupe and her escorts but proved unable to maneuver to a good firing position. The Americans did not spot the sub and arrived at the island on 6 June, where Blue alternated brief shore leave for the crew with patrolling around Midway, before joining Rear Adm. Raymond A. Spruance’s TF 16 on 8 June. For the next few days, Blue conducted antisubmarine patrols and screening for TF 16, particularly Hornet (CV-8) before returning to Pearl Harbor with Guadalupe on 12 June.

Blue left Pearl Harbor again on 14 June 1942, this time headed to the South Pacific as part of TF 6, along with Ralph Talbot once more escorting Castor, and arrived at Samoa on 21 June, after which the two destroyers proceeded to Auckland, New Zealand, on 4 July 1942, before being formally assigned to the South Pacific Forces on the 5th. That day, Blue and Ralph Talbot sailed to Sydney, Australia, arriving there on 9 July. On the 10th, Blue joined Ralph Talbot and corvettes HMAS Rockhampton and HMIS Bombay escorting four freighters for a few days, before splitting off on independent duty towards Port Phillip, Australia, on 12 July. Blue arrived at Port Philip the next day, and then refueled at Melbourne, Australia, on 14 July before heading out of port to rendezvous with Destroyer Squadron 4. That day, Blue dropped depth charges on a sonar contact, which was later determined to be a non-submarine echo. On 18 July, while en route to Wellington, New Zealand, Blue encountered a severe storm. The ship and crew endured a 40-degree roll and heavy seas tore a 26-foot motor whaleboat from its davits before the ship stood in to Wellington harbor later that day. On the 19th, Blue joined Destroyer Squadron 4 as part of Rear Adm.V.A.C. Crutchley, R.N.’s TF 44 centered around five cruisers. Blue spent the next few days patrolling off the entrance to the port of Wellington, before TF 44 joined Rear Adm. Richmond Kelly Turner’s TF 62 on 22 July as part of the Guadalcanal invasion force. TF 62 headed to Koro Island (Fiji) and practiced landing operations there from 28-30 July. The next few days, Blue assisted in screening TF 62, refueled, and traveled to Efate on 3 August along with other destroyers for refueling, but didn’t refuel there. The task force then proceeded to Guadalcanal, practicing anti-aircraft and approach operations on the way. Blue spotted Guadalcanal Island at 0235 on 7 August 1942.           

TF 62’s mission was to transport elements of the First and Second Marine Divisions to Guadalcanal. Blue screened the fleet on the 7th as the landing went forward with minimal problems. Blue and Ralph Talbot were equipped with new SC radar used for air and surface targets. As such, the ships proved effective at detecting incoming Japanese bombers. Blue fired two 5-inch shells at a passing formation of around two dozen Mitsubishi G4M1 Type 1 land attack planes at 1315. At 1331, Blue opened fire on a Mitsubishi A6M2 Type 0 carrier fighter harassing a formation of American scout bombers, ultimately expending twenty-eight 5-inch shells. While this did not damage any enemy planes, it did help protect U.S. bombers. The two destroyers patrolled the channels to either side of Savo Island that night, each covering an area of around six and a half miles at a speed of twelve knots. Blue continued screening on the 8th. Around 1045, Blue received intelligence warning that 40 twin-engine Japanese bombers were on their way to Guadalcanal.

Blue’s SC radar picked up these planes at 1130 at a distance of 27,000 yards. Though Blue’s radar lost contact with the bombers, lookouts spotted them at 1153. Blue moved to bring her anti-aircraft guns to bear and opened fire at 1158. Blue’s flak crews were somewhat restricted by HMAS Canberra, and had to shift fire three times to avoid hitting the Australian cruiser. Blue claimed that two planes fired upon by Blue “were seen to falter and turn away from the vicinity of bursts” and that five additional crashes occurred after Blue ceased fire.

In this engagement, Blue expended 135 rounds of 5-inch and 200 rounds of 20-millimeter. Blue also retrieved four Japanese airmen, the first at 1442 and three others at 1535. Two of the aviators had suffered broken legs. The other two had minor injuries and all were treated by Lt. Donald L. Martinson, MC-V(G), USNR, the medical officer. According to Cmdr. Williams’ report of the action, the anxious aviators “all appeared to expect drastic and inhumane treatment.” Instead, after receiving prompt medical attention, they were sent to the transport Neville (AP-16) for interrogation.


Blue (DD-387)
Caption: In the lengthening shadows of 8 August 1942, Blue transfers wounded Japanese airmen retrieved from the water earlier that afternoon to a landing craft alongside; close investigation of this image reveals that one of the injured is on a stretcher. Photographed from Neville. (U.S. Navy Photograph 80-G-31384, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Branch, College Park, Md.)


Blue (DD-387)
Caption: One of the wounded Japanese picked up by Blue is secured in a Stokes stretcher to be brought up to Neville’s deck. Note the impromptu camouflage applied to the decks of the boat, and one of the prisoners’ rifle-armed guards, in the landing craft, and the curious sailors, some wearing life jackets, looking down at what is transpiring. (U.S. Navy Photograph 80-G-31383, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Branch, College Park, Md.)

At 1801, Blue and Ralph Talbot returned to the western mouth of what is now known as Ironbottom Sound, and started patrolling the channels to either side of Savo Island at 1915, Blue to the southwest and Ralph Talbot to the northeast. Like the previous night, the destroyers were chosen for picket duty as they were equipped with new radar sets. Unfortunately, their new SC radar did not prove very good at picking up surface contacts, particularly with relatively inexperienced crews. At 2345, after being warned by Ralph Talbot, Blue made radar contact with an unidentified plane. Some crewmen claimed “to have sighted running lights on the plane.” Lt. (j.g.) John E. Lacouture, Blue’s gunnery officer, beseeched Cmdr. Williams to let him fire on the airplane. Williams denied the request, reasoning, mistakenly as it turned out, that a plane with running lights was probably friendly.

About an hour later, Blue was still on patrol, in alert Condition of Readiness II, relying on radar to detect incoming Japanese ships. Five miles away from Blue, at 0043 on 9 August 1942, less than three-quarters of an hour into the mid watch, a lookout on board the Japanese heavy cruiser Chokai spotted Blue and informed Vice Adm. Mikawa Gunichi of her proximity. Mikawa commanded a force of five heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and one destroyer, all heading past Savo Island with the intent of sinking the Allied force landing supplies at Guadalcanal. Japanese lookouts were trained to find targets at remarkable distances at night, and proved far more effective than American radar that night. The Japanese warships slowed, turned slightly away, and trained their weapons on Blue, waiting to see if the destroyer had spotted them. One Japanese captain recalled “from her deliberate, unconcerned progress, it was plain that she was unaware of us – or of being watched – and of the fact that every gun in our force was trained directly on her. Seconds strained while we waited for the inevitable movement when she must sight us – and then [Blue] reversed course.” Blue got within 11,000 yards of Japanese cruisers before turning around on her patrol route. Once past Blue and Ralph Talbot, Mikawa’s warships proceeded on to sink heavy cruisers Vincennes (CA-44), Quincy (CA-39), Astoria (CA-34) and HMAS Canberra, killing over a thousand Allied sailors in the disastrous Battle of Savo Island.

Though there were many reasons for Allied losses at Savo Island, Blue and Ralph Talbot’s ineffective patrol is towards the top of the list, and hence has received much scrutiny and criticism. A 1950 Navy War College analysis of the battle called Blue “not vigilant, at least on certain bearings.” As one crewman recalled in 2001, Blue getting blamed for letting the Japanese cruisers through is “kind of a dubious honor.” A number of things went wrong, most notably the radar, which a Navy assessment of the battle described as “highly ineffective.” Rear Adm. Crutchley, when assigning the two destroyers to picket duty, was apparently told that their radar was effective for 12-14 miles, which proved very much not to be the case. Blue’s radar struggled to distinguish between ships, planes, and islands, and was not easy for inexperienced and fatigued crewmen to use. Blue and Ralph Talbot also had an ineffective patrol pattern, with gaps of up to twenty miles between the ships. In addition Blue’s lookouts were exhausted from the previous night’s patrol and distracted with looking out for Cape Esperance to make sure the ship was on the correct course. Regardless of the reason, Blue missed engaging a column of enemy warships a few miles away. Capt. Hayakawa Mikio of the heavy cruiser Chokai put it well that night: “The Americans must be asleep.”

After the Japanese cruisers passed Blue, she continued on her patrol, finally seeing flashes of gunfire in the distance around 0145 and went to Condition of Readiness I, as the Japanese successfully attacked Allied cruisers. Cmdr. Williams also saw airplanes and attempted to report them, but was unable to contact any ship other than Ralph Talbot. Without any new instructions, Williams decided to follow his previous orders and continue Blue’s radar and anti-submarine patrol. At 0215, Blue made sound contact with an unidentified vessel 2,000 yards away that turned out to be a civilian schooner. At 0230, Blue spotted a burning ship, probably Quincy, and saw the Ralph Talbot being fired on by the withdrawing Japanese.

A few minutes later, at 0250, Blue sighted and trailed another ship, identifying her at 0325 as Jarvis, which had been badly damaged by a torpedo in an air attack the day before. Lacking functional radio equipment, Jarvis slowly crept westward between Savo Island and Cape Esperance, and took fire from Japanese cruisers at 0134 and again by the destroyer Yunagi around 0150 as she brought up the rear of Mikawa’s column. Fortunately, Jarvis sustained no damage that evening and tried to withdraw from the area before being spotted by Blue. After identifying Jarvis, Blue informed her that she was trailing oil and asked if Jarvis was all right. She responded, inaccurately, “affirmative.” Blue resumed her patrol until 0515 when she was commanded to assist HMAS Canberra. Tragically, Jarvis was steaming the wrong direction—she had been ordered to proceed eastward, not westward.

Canberra had taken severe damage during the battle and was on fire when Blue arrived. One of the destroyermen later recalled that the cruiser was “beat up like you couldn’t believe.” Blue lowered a boat to recover Canberra’s crew in the water, before going alongside the cruiser at 0622. Patterson (DD-392) joined the rescue effort a few minutes later. Saving the crew proved difficult, as Canberra was still on fire and listing 15 degrees to starboard. Matt2c Stillwell leaned over between the two ships several times at great risk to himself while helping to transfer Australians to Blue.


Blue (DD-387)
Caption: While Canberra still burns fiercely amidships, Blue can be seen alongside the doomed cruiser, forward, taking off her crew while Patterson approaches aft, as photographed from Chicago (CA-29), 9 August 1942. (U.S. Navy Photograph 80-G-31384, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Branch, College Park, Md.)

Blue took 343 of Canberra’s crew, of whom 18 were wounded, then left the empty hulk of Canberra at 0640 and transferred the rescued Australians to the transport Fuller (AP-14) at 0747, an action that would earn Blue recognition and friendship. One crewman recalled being feted later in the war while visiting Australia when his dining companions found out he had served in Blue and helped save Canberra’s people. All in all, though, Blue did not contribute much to the Battle of Savo Island. As Cmdr. Williams put it in his after action report, “this vessel took no active offensive measures, inflicted no damage to the enemy, and sustained no loss or damage.”

After the loss of the four heavy cruisers, TF 62 withdrew from Guadalcanal, leaving elements of the First and Second Marine Divisions behind. Blue screened for the task force, arriving at Nouméa, New Caledonia, on 13 August 1942. While there, Blue received additional ammunition, and Cmdr. Robert H. Smith, Commander Destroyer Division Seven, broke his pennant in the ship, which patrolled off New Caledonia on 15 August, and escorted store ship Aldebaran (AF-10) on 16 August. On 18 August, Blue and Destroyer Division 7—Helm and Henley—left Nouméa to escort the cargo ships Fomalhaut (AK-22) and Alhena (AK-26) to Guadalcanal, which it approached early on the morning of 22 August. Blue was briefly spooked by some destroyers, which turned out to be American, but which failed to respond to a challenge at 0140.

After separating from the auxiliaries and Helm, Blue and Henley started on a patrol, passing through Lengo Channel by 0235 that morning. Blue was about 400 meters ahead of Henley at 0324 when Blue made radar and sonar contact with an unknown craft that stayed on the scopes for about 11 minutes. The contact was only 2,900 yards away, and rapidly crossed in front of Blue. Blue’s gunnery officer asked to illuminate and open fire on the contact, but Blue’s commanding officer and the embarked division commander denied the request, fearing that the stranger was friendly. After losing contact, Blue’s radar and lookouts didn’t detect anything else until 0355, just minutes before the end of the mid watch, when radar and sonar detected with what turned out to be Japanese destroyer Kawakaze (Cmdr. Wakabayashi Kazuo, commanding). Blue’s sonar estimated the contact was moving at between “20 and 50 knots.” Kawakaze was on patrol, spotted Blue, closed to within 3,200 yards to fire torpedoes and then fled the area. Blue armed and aimed weapons, but remained at the relatively slow speed of 10 knots and didn’t try to close with the contact. This turned out to be a mistake, as lookouts spotted at least two torpedoes off the starboard quarter at 0359. Blue tried to evade by ordering right full rudder and speeding up, but a torpedo hit at 0400 on the starboard side not far from the stern of the vessel about two feet under water.

The torpedo penetrated ten feet into the ship before exploding. It threw men and equipment as much as fifty feet in the air, and sent “flaming objects” flying over the bridge. Blue was able to recover one man “blown overboard,” but nine men died, and twenty-one were wounded. The mangled stern of the ship was mostly blown off, barely hanging off of the keel, and several compartments flooded or buckled. The explosion also broke the propeller shafts, leaving Blue dead in the water until taken in tow by Henley. The damage to Blue was localized aft, so the rest of the ship continued to function and remained watertight. Cmdr. Smith transferred to Henley, which attempted to tow Blue towards Lunga, bringing the ship closer to shore and safety. Unfortunately, the mangled stern dragged in the water, limiting the ships to 3.5 knots. Even worse, Henley’s 10-inch manila tow line snapped at 0709, just over an hour after being attached.

Rear Adm. Turner ordered Blue to proceed to Tulagi for repairs and Henley reattached a 10-inch thick manila tow line at 1210. Still limited to a mere 3.5 knots, this line only lasted five hours, snapping at 1740. Henley then tried a ⅞-inch thick steel wire, starting to tow Blue at 1845. This had to be dropped at 2115 due to the sighting of a possible submarine. Henley patrolled for submarines while six landing boats from Tulagi tried, unsuccessfully, to tow Blue, giving up at 2330. Sailors from Blue, the high speed transport Manley (APD-1), and assorted landing boats attempted to tow the destroyer to Tulagi all day on 23 August, but tow lines repeatedly broke or had to be dropped for fear of submarines.

While this could have continued somewhat indefinitely, the ship was drifting, and the Japanese were expected to return on the night of the 23rd. Henley resumed towing Blue at 1815, but was unable to go fast enough to tow Blue out of Ironbottom Sound in time. Cmdr. Smith asked Adm. Turner for permission to scuttle Blue and received it at 2030. Smith gave the order to scuttle at 2050, and Henley dropped her towline. Blue’s crew opened all watertight doors and prepared the ship for scuttling, making sure to take Jarvis the cat. Lt. (j.g.) Lacouture, the gunnery officer, recalled inspecting the ship’s lower decks before evacuating and finding “some kid reading a book that hadn’t gotten the word. So I got him out.” The ship was abandoned by 2132 but remained stubbornly afloat. Henley fired a torpedo at Blue at 2144 and missed, before opening up with her 5-inch guns at 2220. Henley fired nine rounds of 5-inch into Blue, which sank quickly, stern first. The bow, reading 387, went under at 2221. Blue now rests in three hundred and forty fathoms of water in Iron Bottom Sound, ten miles north of Lunga Point, Guadalcanal.

Initially on board Henley, some of Blue’s 12 officers and 123 men transferred to Helm before being dropped off at Espíritu Santo, New Hebrides, on 28 August 1942. Cmdr. Williams asked Adm. Halsey for clothing for his crew, who had lost everything on board Blue. Halsey got the crew new shirts, pants, shoes, socks, and underwear from Enterprise’s supplies, and reportedly didn’t make the men sign for the equipment. Williams also tried to keep the crew together for assignment to a new ship, but over the next months, the crew was split up and reassigned to other ships and stations, Zeilin (AP-9) transporting them from Espíritu Santo to Wellington in September 1942.

Blue earned five battle stars during her nine months of wartime service in the Pacific.

Blue was stricken from the Navy List on 11 September 1942.

Commanding Officers                                              Dates Assumed Command

Lt. Cmdr. Jerauld Wright                                `           14 August 1937

Lt. Cmdr. Charles O. Camp                                        15 May 1939

Lt. Cmdr. Harold N. Williams                                    15 June 1941

 

Dr. John E. Fahey, NHHC

31 October 2022

Published: Tue Nov 01 13:10:06 EDT 2022