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Walter S. Brown (DE-258)

(DE-258: dp. 1,140; l. 289'5"; b. 35'1"; dr. 8'3"; s. 21 k.; cpl. 156; a. 3 3", 4 1.1", 9 20mm., 2 dct, 8 dcp., 1 dcp. (hh.); cl. Evarts)

Walter Scott Brown, born on 14 March 1916 at North Loup, Nebr., enlisted in the Navy on 9 January 1940. Assigned to Patrol Squadron (VP) 24 on 9 October, Brown advanced to the rank of aviation machinists' mate 2d class on 1 November 1941.

Flying PBY Catalinas, VP-24 operated on patrol flights out of Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay, Oahu, Hawaii. When Japanese carrier-based aircraft struck Pearl Harbor on 7 December, they also attacked other Navy and Army facilities on Oahu, including Kaneohe Bay. As the enemy planes bombed and strafed the seaplane base, Brown completely disregarded the danger to his own life as he attempted to repel the attack. Killed in action during the fight, Brown was commended by the Commander in Chief of the United States Fleet for his selfless bravery.

Walter S. Brown (DE-258) was laid down on 10 January 1943 at Boston, Mass., by the Boston Navy Yard; launched on 22 February 1943; sponsored by Mrs. Garth Thomas; and commissioned on 25 June 1943, Lt. Comdr. W. L. Harmon in command.

Following shakedown in Casco Bay, Maine, Walter S. Brown joined Escort Division (CortDiv) 5 and began escorting convoys across the Atlantic to Gibraltar and North African ports. By the spring of 1944, she had completed four such round-trip voyages, keeping a vigilant watch for Axis submarines and aircraft as she shepherded the merchantmen. Interspersed between these voyages were periods of refresher training and availability.

On 20 April 1944, Walter S. Brown arrived at Hampton Roads, Va., to join the screen of UGS-40. Three days later, this group, which included some 65 merchantmen, sailed for the Mediterranean. The screen, led by Campbell (WPG-32), contained three elderly flush-decked, four-pipe destroyers, six American destroyer escorts from CortDiv 5, and two French destroyer escorts.

Due to the success of recent attacks by the German Luftwaffe against Allied convoys in the western Mediterranean, UGS-40 sailed with an elaborate air defense plan, formulated by the convoy's screen commander, Comdr. Jesse C. Sowell, in Campbell. Practiced in Hampton Roads prior to the convoy's departure and as it crossed the Atlantic, these tactics were designed to meet mass aerial attacks by German aircraft carrying a variety of weapons ranging from bombs, to torpedoes, to radio-controlled glider bombs. Only a short time before, such a complex attack had devastatingly mauled UGS-38.

Off Gibraltar, UGS-40 acquired additional escorts- British antiaircraft cruiser HMS Caledon, Wilhoite (DE-397), Benson (DD-421), and two American minesweepers carrying special apparatus to jam radar transmissions and thus confuse the German glider bombs. A British salvage tug brought up the rear of the reinforcements.

On 9 May, the convoy possed through the Straits of Gibraltar without incident but, two days later, detected German "snoopers" trailing the convoy. In the next few hours, 10 successive shore-based fighter interception sorties, even sorties conducted by British radar-equipped Bristol Beaufighters, failed to drive off the enemy reconnaissance aircraft. The Germans persistently maintained contact with the Allied ships.

First alerted by shore-based radar "eyes," the escort screen went to general quarters at 1316 on 11 May, beginning the first of five successive "on again-off again" alerts. Walter S. Brown took station on the starboard bow of the convoy, some 6,000 yards from the guide. In Campbell, the commander of the screen, Jesse Clyburn Sowell, enjoined his escorts to be especially vigilant and warned that a dusk attack was well within the realm of possibility. At 2025, radar noted the approach of enemy aircraft; and Sowell formed his charges into eight columns 1,000 yards apart to allow for plenty of maneuvering room. As UGS-40 went to general quarters at 2043 that evening, Dobler (DE-48) and Ellis (DD-154) took stations on Walter S. Brown's flanks.

When the enemy was reported 70 miles north of Cape Corbelin, UGS-40 steered due east, through a smooth sea barely rippled by the light easterly airs, past Cape Bengut. Eleven minutes after sunset beneath a moonless, overcast sky, Walter S. Brown received orders to commence laying smoke.

The Germans, a mixed force of Junkers Ju.-88's, Heinkel He. 111's, and Dornier Do. 217's, approached from the stern of the convoy and broke into groups to attack from different points of the compass. Eight minutes after the initial sightings, the first German planes came in low and fast and entered Walter S. Brown's defense sector. The destroyer escort trained her guns on two planes, but these targets quickly slipped out of range. Two more, however, then came into range. Walter S. Brown commenced fire with her forward 20-millimeter and 3-inch battery and scored hits on both planes. One climbed for a moment into a steep, almost vertical bank but then faltered and crashed astern of the ship.

Seconds later, a fifth plane bore in fast across the destroyer escort's bow and her starboard side and crossed over to port. Both Walter S. Brown and Dobler deluged the plane in a murderous cross fire of 20-millimeter and 1.1-inch guns that slapped it into the sea. "Almost immediately," wrote Lt. Comdr. Louis B. Burdette, USNR, in his action report, "another single plane was reported coming in from ahead." Again all forward guns swung about, tracked their target, and opened fire as the plane swung right to attempt to launch a torpedo at the lead, escorts. Despite the fact that they could not hear the bearings being called out from the bridge over the sound-powered phones, the gunners manning the Oerlikons kept up a withering fire which forced the fifth enemy away.

When the smoke of battle cleared, the Allied force had emerged unscathed from the German gauntlet. Walter S. Brown, which had taken six enemy planes under fire during the seven-minute engagement, dropped astern at 2153, in company with Evarts (DE-5); British tug Hengist; and Cimieterre, to search for possible casualties. After a prolonged and thorough search in which they found nothing, the ships returned to the convoy for the remainder of the voyage.

Of UGS-40's defense, Comdr. Sowell had high praise for the men and ships of the convoy's screen; and he was especially complimentary in judging Walter S. Brown's performance. "It is believed," he wrote, "that her performance, when coordinated with the other forces present, broke up the enemy's attack, disrupted his plans, and resulted in no Allied losses; whereas, the enemy suffered a heavy loss of planes."

For the remainder of the war in Europe, Walter S. Brown continued to escort convoys on round trips from the east coast of the United States to North African ports. Then, in the summer of 1945, she operated briefly in training exercises with submarines off the northeast coast of the United States. Decommissioned at the New York Naval Shipyard on 4 October 1945, Walter S. Brown was struck from the Navy list on 24 October 1945. Her scrapping by the New York Naval Shipyard was completed by 12 July 1946.

Walter S. Brown received one battle star for her World War II service.

Published: Fri Apr 15 08:20:00 EDT 2016