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Edsall I (DD-219)


Norman Eckley Edsall, born on 3 June 1873 in Columbus, Ky., enlisted in the Navy on 27 June 1898. While serving in the cruiser Philadelphia, Seaman Edsall went ashore with a landing party on 1 April 1899 to suppress hostile natives near Apia, Samoa. He was killed attempting to carry his wounded commander to safety, and is buried on Samoa.


(DD-219: displacement 1,308 (full load); length 314'4.5"; beam 30'11.5"; draft 9'4" (mean); speed 32.50 knots (trial); complement 122; armament 4 4-inch, 1 3-inch, 12 21-inch torpedo tubes; class Clemson)

The first Edsall  (Destroyer No. 219) was laid down on 15 September 1919 at Philadelphia, Pa., by William Cramp & Sons; reclassified as DD-219 on 17 July 1920; launched on 29 July 1920; sponsored by Mrs. Bessie Edsall Bracey, sister of Seaman Edsall; and commissioned on 26 November 1920, Cmdr. Arthur H. Rice, Jr., in command.

Edsall sailed from Philadelphia on 6 December 1920 for San Diego, Calif., on her shakedown. She arrived at San Diego on 11 January 1921 and remained on the west coast until December, engaging in battle practice and gunnery drills with fleet units. Returning to Charleston, S.C., on 28 December, Edsall was ordered to the Mediterranean and departed 26 May 1922.

Arriving at Constantinople on 28 June 1922, Edsall joined the U.S. Naval Detachment in Turkish Waters to protect American lives and interests. The Near East writhed in turmoil with civil strife in Russia and Greece at war with Turkey.

She did much for international relations by helping nations to alleviate postwar famine in eastern Europe, evacuating refugees, furnishing a center of communications for the Near East, and all the while standing by for emergencies. When the Turks set fire to Smyrna (Izmir), Edsall was one of the American destroyers who evacuated thousands of Greeks. On 14 September 1922 she took 607 refugees off Litchfield (DD-336) in Smyrna and transported them to Salonika, returning to Smyrna on 16 September to act as flagship for the naval forces there. In October she carried refugees from Smyrna to Mytilene on Lesvosis. She made repeated visits to ports in Turkey, Bulgaria, Russia, Greece, Egypt, Palestine, Syria, Tunisia, Dalmatia, and Italy, yet managed to keep up gunnery and torpedo practice with her sisters until her return to Boston for overhaul on 26 July 1924.

Edsall sailed for the Asiatic Station on 3 January 1925, joining in battle practice and maneuvers at Guantanamo Bay, San Diego, and Pearl Harbor before arriving at Shanghai, on 22 June. She was to become a fixture of the U.S. Asiatic Fleet on the China coast, in the Philippines and Japan. Her primary duty was protection of American interests in the Far East, expanding constantly since acquisition of the Philippines. She was faithful guardian through civil war in China, and the Sino-Japanese War. Battle practice, maneuvers and diplomacy took her most frequently to Shanghai, Chefoo, Hankow, Hong Kong, Nanking, Kobe, Bangkok, and Manila.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 Edsall -- Lt. Joshua J. Nix in command -- readied for action with DesDiv 57 at the southeast Borneo oil port of Balikpapan. She raced to Singapore, embarked a British liaison officer and four men to search for survivors of the British battleship HMS Prince of Wales and the battle cruiser HMS Repulse, sunk off Malaya the 10th. She intercepted a Japanese fishing trawler with four small boats in tow and escorted them into Singapore. She joined heavy cruiser Houston (CA-30) at Surabaya, Java, to escort shipping retiring to the relative safety of Darwin, Australia. While so serving, she became the first U.S. destroyer to sink an enemy submarine in World War II. With three Australian corvettes, Edsall sent I-124 to the bottom on 20 January 1942 off Darwin.

Continuing to escort convoys in a race against time, Edsall was damaged when one of her own depth charges exploded prematurely during an antisubmarine attack on 19 February 1942. She gamely continued to operate off Java, then on 26 February steamed from Tjilatjap to rendezvous with the seaplane tender Langley (AV-3). The 27th, the seaplane tender and escorts Edsall and Whipple (DD-217) were attacked by nine large twin-engine bombers which damaged the Langley so badly she had to be abandoned.

Edsall picked up 177 survivors, Whipple 308. On the 28th the two destroyers rendezvoused with Pecos (AO-6) off Flying Fish Cove, Christmas Island. More Japanese bombers forced Edsall to leave before transferring all Langley men, but she completed the job on 1 March, then headed back to Tjilatjap. She never arrived. The gallant old destroyer fought a hopeless action against Japanese battleships Hiei and Kirishima, who sank her on the afternoon of 1 March 1942.

Edsall received two battle stars for her World War II service.

Published: Fri Feb 18 08:36:57 EST 2022