Charles Wilson, born in Boston, Mass., sometime in 1836, enlisted in the Navy on 15 October 1861, at Chicago, Ill. Assigned to Carondelet, commanded by Cmdr. Henry Walke-Seaman Wilson served in that gunboat during the operations that captured Forts Henry and Donelson in February 1862. He exhibited conspicuous courage under fire on the night of 4 April 1862 during the flotilla's passage down the Mississippi River past Island No. 10 to New Madrid.
During the passage, Wilson, knee deep in water and exposed to Confederate gunfire, stood on the bow of the gunboat as he took soundings and called out the depths of the river, enabling Carondelet to make the passage safely. His soundings were the only significant guide for the gunboat as she threaded her way through the tortuous channel. Walke's running the gauntlet turned out to be a crucial factor in the Union's capture of Island No. 10 and its later operations to the southward.
Later that year, the gallant sailor also served during the capture of rebel batteries opposite Point Pleasant on 6 April and Confederate positions below Madrid on the 7th. He took part in the naval engagement above Fort Pillow on the 10th, in the Battle of Memphis on 6 June, and in the action with the Confederate ram CSS Arkansas on 15 July. On 24 January 1863 Walke officially commended Wilson "for the distinguished service." Wilson eventually attained the rank of boatswain.
(DD-408: displacement 1,725; length 341'4"; beam 35'6", draft 10'9" (mean); speed 38.5 knots; complement 184; armament 4 5-inch, 4 .50-caliber machine guns, 16 21-inch torpedo tubes, 2 depth charge tracks; class Benham)
Wilson (DD-408) was laid down on 22 March 1937 at Bremerton, Wash., by the Puget Sound Navy Yard; launched on 12 April 1939; sponsored by Mrs. Edward B. Fenner, the wife of Rear Admiral Edward B. Fenner, the Commandant of the Thirteenth Naval District; and commissioned on 5 July 1939, Lt. Cmdr. Russell G. Sturges in command.
After fitting out, the destroyer sailed for San Francisco, Calif., and arrived there on 16 September 1939. Two days later, she shifted to the Mare Island Navy Yard, Vallejo, Calif., where she loaded torpedoes with exercise warheads. She subsequently operated out of Long Beach, Calif., and between San Diego and the Canal Zone before sailing for South American waters. On her shakedown cruise, Wilson visited Guayaquil, Ecuador, and Callao, Peru, and then shifted briefly to Balboa, Canal Zone, en route to Manzanillo Bay, Mexico.
Returning to San Diego on 17 November 1939, Wilson later sailed north to her builders' yard for post-shakedown availability, upkeep, and machinery trials. Wilson returned to San Diego on 11 February 1940 and was assigned to Destroyer Division (DesDiv) 12, Destroyer Squadron (DesRon) 6. She operated locally in waters off the southern California coast until she departed Long Beach on 2 April, bound for the Hawaiian Islands and participation in the last big prewar fleet problem, Fleet Problem XXI.
En route to Hawaii, Wilson planeguarded for Saratoga (CV-3) as a unit of the White Fleet striking force and as part of the antisubmarine screen. She arrived at Lahaina Roads, off the island of Maui, Territory of Hawaii, on 10 April 1940. Wilson subsequently operated in the Hawaiian area with Lexington (CV-2) during another phase of the Fleet Problem which lasted into May 1940. Near the close of the maneuvers, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, alarmed by continuing Japanese aggression in the Far East, ordered the fleet to remain in Hawaiian waters.
Retained in Hawaii with the fleet, Wilson patrolled off Honolulu on 25 and 26 May 1940 before returning to the west coast for a brief overhaul at the Puget Sound Navy Yard. Late in June, she shifted south to San Diego, arriving there on 28 June. She departed that port on 5 July to screen battleship Maryland (BB-46) to Hawaii. Arriving at Pearl Harbor on the 12th, Wilson patrolled off Honolulu and subsequently conducted tactical operations in the Hawaiian operating area into November of 1940.
As part of DesDiv 15, DesRon 8, Wilson departed Pearl Harbor on 2 December 1940 and arrived at San Diego six days later. She remained there until the day after Christmas 1940, when she shifted to the Bethlehem Steel Co. yard at San Pedro, Calif., for an overhaul that lasted into late January of the following year.
Upon completion of her yard period at San Pedro, Wilson sailed for the Hawaiian Islands on 20 January 1941, joining Task Force (TF) 3, based around battleships West Virginia (BB-48) and Tennessee (BB-43), on the morning of the 21st and reached Pearl Harbor on the 27th. For the remainder of her tour in Hawaiian waters, Wilson operated with TF 1.
Meanwhile, as the German U-boat offensive took an increasingly heavy toll of Allied shipping, the Navy needed to strengthen Adm. Ernest F. King's Atlantic Fleet. As one of the measures taken to achieve this end, Wilson, together with Sterett (DD-407) and Lang (DD-399) and screening Mississippi (BB-41) and Savannah (CL-43), secretly departed the Hawaiian operating area on 19 May 1941, ostensibly for local maneuvers. They transited the Panama Canal on the night of 2 and 3 June and arrived at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, on the 5th.
After a brief in-port period, Wilson steamed on antisubmarine patrol off the entrance to Guantanamo Bay on 9 and 10 June 1941 before heading north with Task Group (TG) 7.1 (Battleship Division 3) and TG 7.4 (DesRon 8) on the llth. Arriving at Philadelphia on 15 June, Wilson later shifted to the Boston Navy Yard before joining the light cruisers Philadelphia (CL-41) and Savannah in TF 27 late in June for Neutrality Patrol duties in the Atlantic. She touched briefly at Bermuda from 8 to 15 July before she returned to the Hampton Roads area on the 17th. She underwent a brief overhaul at the Charleston Navy Yard in late July and early August before joining Lang and Sterett off the Virginia capes on 17 August and heading further north.
Transiting the Cape Cod Canal, the three destroyers arrived at Casco Bay, Maine, on the 19th and conducted exercises there until Wilson and Lang sailed for Bermuda in early September of 1941. From that newly established base, Wilson exercised in antiaircraft gunnery practice in company with Nashville (CL-43) and Lang from 17 to 20 September before making rendezvous at sea with Philadelphia on 3 October and escorting her into the Chesapeake Bay.
On 7 October 1941, Wilson departed the Tidewater area and operated out of Bermuda into the winter of 1941, serving at various times as screen for such ships as Wasp (CV-7), Nashville, and Long Island (AVG-1), the Navy's first escort carrier.
On 3 December 1941, Wilson rendezvoused with Wasp and served as plane guard while that carrier's air group flew refresher training exercises, day and night. The two ships then conducted gunnery drills before returning to Grassy Bay, Bermuda, on the 5th. On 7 December, Wilson lay at anchor in Bermuda waters while, on the other side of the world, Japanese planes attacked the United States Fleet at Pearl Harbor, sinking or damaging 18 warships and plunging the United States inextricably into World War II.
The United States was now at war in both oceans, with Japan in the Pacific and Germany and Italy in the Atlantic and felt that other nations might attempt to take advantage of the momentary American setback. One situation where such a possibility seemed to be especially strong was created by the presence of Vichy French warships at Martinique. To be certain that the naval units there did not sortie and attempt to return to their Vichy consorts, a task force, Wasp and Brooklyn, escorted by Sterett and Wilson, sailed for Martinique. Fortunately, the confrontation between the United States and Vichy France over this matter failed to materialize; and the crisis abated. Wilson soon returned to Bermuda and, except for a brief trip to New York, remained there for the rest of 1941.
Wilson operated between Bermuda and New York into February before entering the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Va., in March 1942 for a brief refit. Adjudged "ready for distant service" by 21 March, Wilson arrived at Casco Bay on the 24th and joined TF 39 as it assembled prior to crossing the Atlantic to reinforce the British Home Fleet.
At 0748 on 26 March 1942, TF 39-Wasp, Washington (BB-56), Wichita (CA-45), Tuscaloosa (CA-37), and eight destroyers (including Wilson) departed Portland harbor, Maine. Wilson and the other destroyers screened the sortie of the heavy warships. At 1033 on the following day, as the task force labored through heavy seas, the "man overboard" alarm sounded in the flagship Washington. A quick check revealed that the task force commander, Rear Adm. John W. Wilcox, Jr., apparently had been washed over the side. TF 39 quickly reversed course, and Wasp launched four Vought SB2U-2 Vindicators to try to spot the missing flag officer from the air. A light snow hampered visibility, particularly for the aviators, but Wilcox' body was spotted floating face down approximately an hour after he had disappeared. However, the gusting winds and heavy seas prevented recovery; and Rear Adm. Robert C. Giffen, in Wichita, assumed command of the task force. One of Wasp's scout planes crashed astern of her, adding additional lives to the toll of death that day.
Met on 3 April 1942 by the British light cruiser HMS Edinburgh, the task force arrived at Scapa Flow the following day. Wilson commenced operations off the northern British Isles almost immediately. She conducted training exercises and served in the screen for the heavy covering force formed to protect convoy runs to northern Russia. Wilson attacked several submarine sound contacts, but she could not claim any conclusive proof of damage to a U-boat.
Wilson got underway from Hvalfjordur, Iceland, for home on 12 May 1942 and, eight days later, was proceeding from New York to Norfolk when she sighted what she thought was an enemy submarine on the surface. The destroyer attempted to ram, but the "enemy" dived quickly, foiling the American warship's attack. Seven depth charges churned the sea. Moments later, a signalman with a long glass reported seeing the "submarine," "rise, roll over and submerge." In all probability, the submarine was nothing more than a whale, for postwar assessment gives no U-boat sinking to Wilson on that day.
Overhauled at the Norfolk Navy Yard from 21 May to 4 June 1942, Wilson sailed for the Pacific on 4 June, transited the Panama Canal on the 9th, and arrived at San Diego 10 days later. She operated locally out of that port for the remainder of the month, serving with Aaron Ward (DD-483) on 23 June as plane guard for Wasp as that carrier's air group broke in new aircraft-Grumman TBF-1 Avengers and Douglas SBD-3 Dauntlesses, off San Clemente and Catalina Islands.
On 1 July 1942, as part of TF 18, Wilson sailed for the South Pacific. While the ship proceeded southwestward, plans were being drawn up for the invasion of Guadalcanal, the key island in the Solomons chain. There, the Japanese were building an airbase that threatened, not only the tenuous Allied hold on the New Caledonia area, but the very lifeline from the United States to Australia and New Zealand as well. After a brief pause at Tongatabu in the Tonga Islands, Wilson set a course for the Koro Islands, where the dress rehearsal of the landings on Guadalcanal took place late in July. At the end of the practice invasion, Operation "Watchtower" was slated to commence on 7 August 1942.
Assigned to the screen and fire support detail, Wilson arrived off the assigned beachhead in the early morning twilight. During the approach, the heavy cruiser Quincy (CA-39), Vincennes (CA-44), and Astoria (CA-34) shelled Japanese positions on Lunga Point pinpointed by previous intelligence estimates. Wilson soon took station in the screening circle to seaward of the transports and, at 0840, followed Ellet (DD-398) to her assigned station as control and salvage vessel off "Beach Red."
Wilson conducted a brief shore bombardment of Beach Red before resuming routine screening for the unloading transports. Since the Japanese on Guadalcanal were taken completely by surprise, the morning went by fairly peacefully. By the evening, a beachhead had been established; and, despite heavy resistance on the islands of Tulagi and Tanambogo, Operation "Watchtower" was well on its way.
Wilson continued screening the transports into the next day. While engaged in that duty, she received orders to taken station for repelling an air attack detected coming down from Rabaul, the Japanese air base on New Britain. At 1155, twin-engined Mitsubishi G4M1 Type 1 Attack Bomber [Betty] carrying torpedoes roared over the ridge of Florida Island, headed for the center of the formation. The planes, flying at altitudes ranging from 50 to 100 feet, made a massed torpedo attack met with heavy gunfire from the transports and their screening ships. Most of the attackers splashed into the glassy sea, slapped down by the barrage. Targets were so numerous and the fire so heavy that Wilson's executive officer subsequently reported, "Because of the great number of bursts all over the targets it was impossible to tell whether this vessel accounted for any."
However, the Japanese had drawn blood from the transports and their escorts, severely damaging the transport George F. Elliot (AP-13) and the destroyer Jarvis (DD-393). The former burned into the night, her fires uncontrollable, and the latter, without means of communication, sailed off to the north of Guadalcanal, and to doom the following day at the hands of a swarm of Japanese aircraft that mistook her for a crippled Achilles-class light cruiser.
Meanwhile, Wilson took Jarvis' place in the screen of the northern force. At 0145 on 9 August 1942, while steaming at 10 knots as antisubmarine screening vessel off the starboard bow of Vincennes, Quincy, and Astoria, the destroyer spotted two starshells on the port quarter blossoming into the squally night. Word soon crackled over the TBS that enemy ships were in the vicinity.
Searchlights on board the cruisers of Vice Adm. Mikawa Gunichi's attacking force were suddenly snapped on and illuminated the three U.S. cruisers. Wilson turned left to bring all guns to bear and opened fire immedately, continuing to turn until her own cruisers fouled the range and momentarily prevented her from keeping up the fire.
Not to be daunted, Wilson's gunners, 12,000 yards from the enemy ships, simply raised the trajectory of their shells and shot over Quincy, Vincennes, and Astoria. Several enemy salvoes burst in the water between Wilson and the nearest "friendly" ships, 1,000 yards on the port beam; by that time, all three American heavy cruisers were "completely enveloped in flames."
Turning soon thereafter, Wilson noted that enemy searchlights were still on and resumed fire from 9,600 yards. A "friendly" destroyer, however, passed between Wilson and the enemy, forcing the former to check fire momentarily. Wilson continued firing at the searchlights until the Japanese ceased fire, satisfied that they had destroyed the enemy force opposing them. All told, the Japanese sank four heavy cruisers that night: Quincy, Vincennes, Astoria, and the Australian HMAS Canberra and damaged one, Chicago (CA-29).
In the wake of the Battle of Savo Island, the Americans regrouped. At 0500, Wilson received directions to picked up survivors. At 0640, five miles to the southeast of Savo Island, she commenced bringing some of the water and oil-soaked cruisermen from Vincennes and Quincy on board. She then began to screen the battered Astoria, drifting three miles to the southeast of Savo, with her number 2 turret, conning tower, and lower bridge afire. She soon brought on board 211 of Astoria's officers and men.
Although knowing fully that an explosion might occur in the cruiser's forward magazines, fires still raged deep within the bowels of the ship, Lt. Cmdr. Walter H. Price, Wilson's commanding officer, unhesitatingly put his ship alongside Astoria's starboard bow "in a most seamanlike manner." Soon, the destroyer began pumping water to fight the fires; a working party assisted the remaining Astoria sailors in attempting to save the ship, a valiant but futile effort. Astoria clung to life until noon, when she finally succumbed to the massive damage inflicted by Mikawa's cruisers.
Relieved by Buchanan (DD-484) at 1135, Wilson cleared Astoria's side and headed for the transport area, where she transferred the survivors she had picked up to the transport Hunter Liggett (AP-27).
The destroyer then got underway for New Caledonia, steaming in the transport screen. However, before she reached Noumea, Wilson was ordered to screen the oiler Cimarron (AO-22). Dewey (DD-349), Monssen (DD-434), Buchanan (DD-484), and Ellet helped her in this mission. After refueling TF 61 at sea, the group put into Efate.
After escorting the oiler Kaskaskia (AO-27) to Noumea, Wilson conducted patrol and escort duties into mid-September and then sailed for Pearl Harbor with TF 11. Mooring alongside the tender Dixie (AD-14) on the 21st, Wilson was found to need a yard overhaul and sailed for the west coast of the United States and entered the Mare Island Navy Yard, Vallejo, Calif.
Back in top trim, the destroyer sailed on 9 December 1942 for the war zone. After stops at Pearl Harbor and Midway, she headed for a point about 500 miles from enemy-held Wake Island. There, she served as radio direction finder ship, guiding and directing Army B-24 Liberator bombers to their target and return. Upon completion of that task, Wilson returned to Midway and, on Christmas Day, got underway for Hawaii, arriving at Pearl Harbor three days later.
Wilson next escorted the escort carrier Copahee (CVE-12) to the New Hebrides, arriving at Espiritu Santo on 17 January 1943 before she pushed on to Guadalcanal, arriving at Lunga Point amidst a Japanese air raid on nearby Henderson Field. After screening transports off Lunga Point, Wilson anchored at Tulagi, but soon thereafter got underway to bombard Japanese positions between the Bonegi River and westward to Cape Esperance.
From Guadalcanal, Wilson shifted to Espiritu Santo once more and, on 5 February 1943, joined a task group consisting of Nashville, Helena (CL-50), Honolulu (CL-48), St. Louis (CL-49), and six other destroyers. After cruising to Noumea, New Caledonia, with that force, Wilson returned to Guadalcanal, where she prepared for the assault on the Japanese-held Russell Islands. During that operation, she acted as a screen and escort ship between Tulagi and the Russells.
Wilson spent much of March 1943 in the Solomons, working near Guadalcanal, Purvis Bay, and Tulagi, screening and patrolling, before she proceeded via Espiritu Santo to Havannah harbor for a tender availability. Later, the destroyer operated with the escort carrier Chenango (CVE-28) as she ferried planes to Guadalcanal; she remained with that ship as plane guard and escort into late April.
For the rest of the summer, Wilson operated out of Guadalcanal, Noumea, Espiritu Santo, and Havannah Harbor, providing cover for convoys going to and from Guadalcanal and conducting training exercises and plane guarding for Chenango. After returning to Guadalcanal with a convoy, Wilson sortied on the evening of 24 July 1943, in company with six other destroyers, and headed for Munda, New Georgia. There, she shelled Japanese positions ashore before she returned to Purvis Bay the following day.
Over the ensuing days, Wilson alternated time at Purvis Bay with patrols off Lunga Point and Kukum beach, Guadalcanal, and escort duty shepherding LST's to Rendova.
While the campaign for the island of Guadalcanal itself had ceased in February, the eviction of the Japanese from the rest of the Solomons continued into the summer. American ships still encountered Japanese counterparts in sharp night engagements; and the latter were finding, much to their chagrin, that the United States Navy was learning how to fight at night.
Early on 10 August 1943, while operating with five other destroyers, Wilson located several Japanese barges. Unfortunately, early gun failures (three of the four main battery guns jammed) limited Wilson's role to that of a spectator as the other ships blasted the barges to pieces.
Her gun casualties repaired, Wilson soon resumed her patrols off Guadalcanal, screening transports unloading troops and supplies. Such duty was comparatively tame compared to what was to come for the destroyer. At the end of August 1943, she commenced operations with TF 38 but broke her training operations with that force with a cruise to Sydney, Australia. She soon returned to the Noumea-Espiritu Santo area and resumed tactical exercises with TF 38. On 19 October, however, Wilson screened a convoy of LSTs and LCIs to Vella Lavella less than two weeks after the Japanese had evacuated that island.
On 5 November 1943, while planes from Rear Adm. Frederick C. Sherman's task force were raiding the Japanese base at Rabaul, Wilson was back with the carriers and picked up a three-man crew of a ditched Avenger.
Wilson returned to Espiritu Santo following the Rabaul strike but spent only five hours there before leaving again for a return engagement at Rabaul. That strike, again under Rear Adm. Sherman, soon drew an enemy response.
Shortly after noon on 11 November 1943, while TG 50.3 drew near to their objective, "it became apparent that we were in for a battle." A Japanese force estimated at over 70 planes was winging its way toward the carriers and was picked up at a distance of 75 miles. Soon, the initial increment was fighting its way through the carriers' combat air patrol (CAP).
During the five ensuing raids, and a battle that lasted a little under two hours, all of the American ships conducted intense evasive maneuvers. Wilson remained near Bunker Hill (CV-17), steaming consistently at almost 30 knots, and bagged two of the 12 Aichi D3A Type 99 carrier attack bombers [Val] and Nakajima B5N Type 97 carrier attack planes [Kate] shot down by her part of the formation. The American strike at Rabaul, the second within a week, netted one Japanese destroyer, Suzunami, sunk.
Back at Espiritu Santo, Wilson was assigned to TG 50.5 on 14 November 1943. Formed around the carriers Saratoga and Princeton, that group screened the carriers as they launched strikes on the enemy airfields on Nauru Island in the Gilbert Islands. Soon thereafter, TG 50.5 joined two other groups to cover the occupation of Makin and Tarawa Islands in the Gilberts. Wilson operated half-way between Makin and Tarawa, providing antisubmarine and antiaircraft screening protection for the vital flattops. After a return strike on Nauru was cancelled, Wilson retired to Espiritu Santo and Havannah harbor.
On Christmas Day 1943, Wilson stood out of Havannah harbor for exercises in company with the battleships Washington (BB-56) and North Carolina (BB-55). She then put into Noumea for a drydocking and tender availability before she headed for Kwajalein on 25 January 1944 as a part of a strong force that included Bunker Hill, and the small carriers Cowpens (CVL-25), and Monterey (CVL-26), and the fast battleships Iowa (BB-61) and New Jersey (BB-62). Wilson participated in the strikes against Kwajalein, in a carrier support group, performing her vital but unglamorous function of plane guard and screening vessel.
After a brief in-port period of one day, Wilson cleared Majuro headed for Truk, which, according to Wilson's commanding officer, "was to be the toughest 'nut' of the Pacific to crack." But the awesomeness of Truk was overcome by carrier strikes which heavily battered the island. Wilson supported those operations against Truk; and, while the carriers were retiring, they launched raids against Saipan and Tinian, their first operations against the Marshall Islands. After returning to Majuro, Wilson screened TG 50.8 back to Havannah harbor and, while en route, made a sound contact. The destroyer dropped a depth charge pattern but, in the ensuing turbulence created by the explosion of the charges, was unable to regain contact.
After drills and exercises out of Espiritu Santo, Wilson participated in the strikes on Kavieng, New Ireland, as part of TG 36.3 formed around the escort carrier Manila Bay (CVE-61). The task group then proceeded north of the Solomon Islands, to Emirau,where Manila Bay and her escorts covered convoys operating in that area. After that evolution, Wilson returned to Purvis Bay, off Florida Island, where she picked up a convoy and escorted it back to Havannah harbor.
Having performed escort and screening operations almost continuously, Wilson received orders to screen battleships Tennessee (BB-43) and Mississippi (BB- 42) to Pearl Harbor. Departing Efate on 7 April 1944, Wilson arrived at Pearl Harbor nine days later and was soon underway for Puget Sound, reaching there on the 24th. Shifting down to San Francisco six days later, Wilson joined the battleships Maryland (BB-46), Colorado (BB-45), Washington, and California (BB-44), and escorted them to the Hawaiian Islands, reaching Pearl Harbor on 10 May 1944.
Subsequently heading west, via Majuro, and resuming her operations with the fast carrier task force, TF 58, in mid-June 1944, Wilson took part in the strikes on Saipan as part of TG 58.4. While patrolling west of the Marianas on 19 June, Wilson received reports of enemy aircraft closing the formation at a distance of 100 miles. Going to general quarters, the destroyer awaited the onslaught; but, with the exception of one Kate, all of the incoming "bogies" were intercepted and the attacks broken up by the CAP.
On the following day, 20 June, the carriers of TF 58 again launched air strikes against Guam and Rota. Detached along with Sterett and Lang (DD-399), Wilson conducted a shipping sweep and heckling mission against those islands, providing the ships the opportunity to "get close enough to see what the beach looked like, plus a little target practice on some sampans and shore bombardment on gun emplacements east of Agana, on the south coast of Guam." Wilson later participated in similar missions in the Palaus before she received orders on 4 August 1944 sending her, via Pearl Harbor, to the west coast of the United States. The destroyer reached the Puget Sound Navy Yard, Bremerton, on the 20th.
Wilson underwent availability at the Todd-Pacific shipyard, Seattle, Wash., through the end of the summer. Shifting down to Alameda, Calif., soon thereafter, she rendezvoused with Yorktown (CV-10) and set out for Pearl Harbor on 13 October. The destroyer subsequently exercised intensively in the Hawaiian operating area for a month before she proceeded, in company with sistership Sterett, to the Admiralties. En route, the ships picked up a sound contact and dropped a full shallow pattern. They observed air bubbles near the dropping point but saw no other evidence of having made a successful attack. After Wilson and her consort systematically searched the area but could not regain contact, they proceeded on to Manus.
There, Wilson steamed to Leyte and, on Christmas Day, headed toward a rendezvous point in Surigao Strait to meet a convoy and escort it to San Pedro Bay. On 27 December 1944, Wilson got underway as one of nine destroyers assigned to a resupply echelon escorting a convoy from Leyte Gulf to Mangarin Bay, Mindoro, and back.
Expecting suicide attacks from any of the many airfields within striking distance, Wilson set her course southward, bound for the Mindanao Sea. The convoy was a large and important one: 23 LSTs, 3 Liberty ships, a Liberty-type tanker, five Army inter-island steamers, 23 LCIs, a motor torpedo boat tender, 30 motor torpedo [PT] boats, two seaplane tenders (AVPs); a converted LST serving as a PT boat tender, Orestes (AGP-10), and 3 "coast boats."
The first intimation of trouble came at 0310 on the 28th, when Stevens (DD-479) reported a bogey at 11 miles and closing. Wilson went to general quarters soon after receiving that report and prepared for action. However, by 0352, the enemy planes, probably "snoopers," had disappeared from the radar screens. About sunrise, which came at 0659, Wilson received reports that the bad weather over Leyte had prevented a CAP.
The resulting lack of fighter cover would be felt strongly later that morning. On the other hand, the dawn revealed only scattered clouds over the convoy, and visibility was excellent.
Then, at 1013, came the tocsin, "many bogies reported bearing 033, 22 miles." Soon the sky became dotted with flak bursts as the escorts and the ships in the convoy opened up as the enemy planes closed. The first Japanese aircraft came from the starboard quarter and soon was set afire by antiaircraft fire before it crashed into the Liberty ship William Sharon at 1021. A minute later, another attacker crashed into the Liberty John Burke. The latter blew up in a thunderclap; and "an enormous white cloud covering an area of several thousand yards" came only seconds after a tremendous flash had occurred. John Burke literally disintegrated.
By 1030, the raid was over as quickly as it had begun. Wilson altered course at high speed, racing to get to the crippled William Sharon, "whose superstructure was by now a raging inferno." At 1043, after passing through the LCI group, the destroyer came alongside the blazing Liberty ship and played her hoses on the fire that was consuming the merchantman's superstructure. Then a report of bogies prompted her to clear the side of the burning Liberty. Although the raid did not develop, the destroyer's leaving William Sharon's side allowed a lifeboat full of men to escape being crushed between the destroyer and the cargo ship.
Wilson circled to port, came back alongside William Sharon at 1053, and soon began taking her survivors on board for treatment of wounds and burns. But no sooner had she settled into carrying out that urgent business than the receipt of a "flash red" again forced her to clear the side of the stricken ship. All fire fighters and their hoses and survivors were recalled to the destroyer, and she stood back toward the convoy to prepare to fight off the expected attack.
That raid did not materialize, either, so Wilson resumed her fire-fighting chores. At 1205, just as the fire fighters had reboarded the Liberty ship, ammunition in ready service boxes on board the blazing vessel began to explode forcing the destroyer to withdraw again. Returning once more at 1237, Wilson skillfully remained alongside until the fires were out, that not until 1340, more than an hour later.
Then, with William Sharon's survivors embarked, Wilson left the ship as a derelict, drifting southeast at a speed of two and one-half knots. While en route to rejoin the convoy, the destroyer sank a damaged LCM with 40-millimeter fire. Wilson resumed her position in the screen at 1630, just as a Nakajima Ki.43 Type 1 Fighter Hayabusa [Oscar] circled the formation and flew away.
The convoy was not yet out of the figurative woods. At 1836, Pringle (DD-477) reported a bogey 34 miles away and closing. Seven minutes later, the ships began firing. Wilson bent on flank speed and put her rudder over hard left to unmask her starboard antiaircraft battery. The ship's action report succinctly summed up the ensuing situation, "The picture at this point was moving too fast for an accurate analysis."
With almost 20 Japanese planes darting in and diving to the attack, the destroyermen or the sailors on the ships being escorted had little time for analysis either but kept busy fighting off the Japanese planes. When the last Japanese planes had disappeared, four or five of the enemy had been downed in the melee at the cost of one LST sunk.
During the next day, Wilson and her consorts came under attack four more times but escaped without damage. Nor did the tempo of attacks decrease on the 29th, almost continuous raids kept Wilson at general quarters for most of the day, and she "assisted materially" in splashing two planes that day, one a victim of her 20-millimeter battery.
Arriving at Mangarin Bay on the 30th, the convoy anchored; but Wilson and the other ships of the screen maintained patrol stations, circling as necessary. Meanwhile, bogies closing from the northwest came into radar range, and the escorts commenced firing. Wilson came right, unmasking her port battery, and 5-inch shells from her guns scored hits on a Yokosuka P1Y Bomber Ginga [Frances] that blew up off the port side of the formation. Gansevoort (DD-608) and other ships in the forward part of the screen shared the kill.
Another Frances approached from the port quarter. Observed at 0708, the plane circled right and crossed from port to starboard, just ahead of Wilson, in an attempt to dive on the convoy. After the destroyer's 5-inch guns had hurled 12 rounds at the intruder, it passed across to the starboard side of the ship. One of the ship's 20-millimeter guns emptied an entire magazine into the Frances, and it splashed soon thereafter. Such proximity to enemy planes resulted in some confused shooting. In the heat of a confused engagement, often there was little time to check fire when a "friendly" ship or plane ventured too close; and shrapnel bursts near Wilson injured one man.
When the attack abated, Wilson transferred the wounded survivors from William Sharon to an LCM for further transportation to LST-734. Resuming her patrol station off Mangarin Bay two hours later, steaming between Philip (DD-498) and Gansevoort, Wilson went to general quarters at 1540 when Gansevoort reported a bogey in the vicinity. Soon thereafter, Wilson's spotters saw a "Mitsubishi A6M5 Type 0 Carrier Fighter [Zeke] apparently damaged by the heavy antiaircraft barrage laid down by nearby ships, go into a steep dive and level off a few feet above the wavetops, boring in on Gansevoort.
While the destroyermen in Wilson watched, helplessly, the suicider crashed Gansevoort's port beam between number 2 funnel and the 40-millimeter gun mounts. Although Wilson had been out of gun range to aid in her defense, the destroyer sped to Gansevoort's assistance at 25 knots.
As Wilson approached, she slowed to avoid running down any of the many men seen swimming in the water, survivors from the stricken destroyer that was now suffering a raging fire amidships. As their ship neared the blazing "tin can," Wilson's men threw lifejackets and rafts over the side to help the struggling men. Although the approach was hampered by Gansevoort's rigged-out 26-foot motor whaleboat, Wilson came alongside the starboard side and played 14 hoses on the fire while Philips came alongside the port bow of the damaged ship. Meanwhile, the whaleboat was lowered to Wilson's deck and cut loose. At 1640, a little less than three-quarters of an hour after Wilson had reached Gansevoort, bogies were reported in the area; and a "flash red" sounded. By that time, all fires on Gansevoort had been extinguished, so Wilson got underway and circled at high speed in the vicinity and later jettisoned Gansevoort's motor whaleboat before she took station, at 1840, in the antiaircraft screen for the reformed convoy.
The day's activities were still far from over for the battle-hardened destroyer. At 2120, Pringle reported a bogey in the vicinity. Wilson went to general quarters, and, at 2135, opened fire in full radar control. She shot well, her first salvo hit the target. Philip, too, joined in, adding her bit to splash the intruder on the port quarter of the group.
After the eventful convoy run had been completed, Wilson reentered Leyte Gulf on 1 January 1945. She sortied on the 4th with nine other destroyers, bound for Lingayen Gulf, escorting several patrol craft, transports, an LST flotilla, and an LSM and LOT group. Five days later, Wilson and her consorts reached Lingayen Gulf; and she proceeded to her fire support sector to bombard her prescribed area. During her ensuing period on station, Wilson experienced several air attacks but escaped without damage as she continued her shore bombardment duties.
Later that day, 9 January, Wilson began shepherding many unloaded ships on their voyage toward Leyte.
While en route, the convoy experienced a surprise air attack when a single Japanese plane darted out of the clouds and dropped a bomb near Wickes (DD-528), fortunately only a near miss.
After fueling and rearming at Leyte, Wilson proceeded toward Morotai and then back to Leyte. She next returned to Lingayen Gulf, screening a convoy. "Fast on the trigger" on 24 January, Wilson's gunners blasted a bogey out of the sky before any of the other ships in the formation had a chance to open fire.
Soon after reporting for duty in Lingayen Gulf, Wilson received a fire support sector and, at 1123, commenced firing. She ceased at 1136, "target destroyed," obtaining results after the fourth salvo. For the remainder of the day, the destroyer continued her vital job of supporting the troops ashore and expended a total of 108 rounds of 5-inch ammunition. Shore spotters reported that she scored many hits on her targets.
Escorting a slow convoy back to Leyte, Wilson departed Lingayen Gulf on 31 January, delivered her charges at San Pedro Bay, and headed on to Hollandia, Dutch New Guinea. She sailed thence to Manus and Port Purvis in the Solomons.
On 21 March, Wilson arrived back at Ulithi in the screen of the Northern Attack Force, earmarked for participation in the next operation, the Ryukyus. After completing logistic preparations, Wilson headed for Okinawa and reached a point off the southwest part of the island at 0100 on Easter Sunday, 1 April 1945, D-day for the operation. Greeted by a closing bogey upon arrival, Wilson promptly opened fire and forced the plane to turn away and retire.
At 0422, while making a second sweep through the transport area off Hagushi beach, Wilson picked up a second bogey at a range of 14,000 yards and immediately opened fire. The enemy aircraft came relentlessly closer, seemingly oblivious to the antiaircraft fire sent up in his path. Finally, the barrage took effect; and the plane crashed some 1,500 yards off Wilson's starboard beam.
Over the ensuing days, Wilson manned various screening stations near the unloading transports. On 4 March, she received orders to proceed to Guam in company with three other destroyers. En route, however, that directive was changed, and Wilson instead received orders to rendezvous with a convoy and escort it back to Okinawa.
Wilson subsequently reached the southern end of Kerama Retto on 16 April and was patrolling as the convoy entered "Wiseman's Cove" when she sighted two planes flying in loose echelon formation at medium altitude off the starboard quarter. Wilson immediately increased speed to 20 knots and took the lead plane under fire.
While the gunfire did not knock that plane down, its companion executed a wingover and headed toward Wilson in a shallow glide. Wilson increased speed again, this time to 25 knots, and put over full left rudder to keep her guns unmasked. Meanwhile, the main and secondary batteries kept up a punishing fire, blackening the sky with puffs of antiaircraft. Soon the 5-inch and 40-millimeter fire took effect, and the plane hit the water about 75 yards off the starboard quarter.
The enemy, however, was not dead yet. The plane bounced off the water and came toward Wilson, the propeller striking and lodging into the 40-millimeter gun tub. The plane itself then spun around and passed between 5-inch guns number 3 and 4, and splashed into the sea on the port side, taking with it "a few incidentals such as mooring reels and loose gear." A 250-kilogram bomb carried by the plane passed through the skin of the ship just above the waterline on the starboard side and finally came to rest in an after living compartment. Only the booster charge exploded causing some internal damage to the ship: shrapnel penetrated into adjacent fuel tanks, rupturing the tank bulkheads and the main lead to group three magazines, resulting in minor fires and the flooding of those magazines. Tragically, five men, whose station was in the group three magazine, were killed by drowning and burns as a result of the rupture of the sprinkling system. Three other men were blown overboard at the time the plane hit; and two of them received serious injuries. Fortunately, the ship had been in a turn when she was hit; so she continued on around and managed to pick up her men after completing the circle, bringing them on board for medical treatment. .
In "Wiseman's Cove," Wilson underwent repairs (the unexploded bomb being removed in the process) and thereafter remained in operation in the Okinawa area until June. During that time, she performed screening duties for the transports and shore bombardment on targets ranging from Naha to the southern tip of Okinawa. Finally departing Okinawa on 12 June, the destroyer arrived at Pearl Harbor on the 26th, after calls en route at Ulithi and Eniwetok.
Subsequently based at Saipan, Wilson performed screening for convoys, patrolling, and coordinating air-sea rescues. She remained engaged in that duty through the cessation of hostilities in mid-August, when Japan capitulated.
In the autumn of 1945, Wilson operated at Iwo Jima and Hagushi before shifting to China waters in late October. Subsequently, the veteran destroyer returned to the west coast of the United States, reaching San Diego in late December 1945.
Although initially slated to be decommissioned in the Altantic, Wilson was later earmarked for use in the atomic tests at Bikini Atoll, reaching there on 31 May 1946. Used as a target during those tests, Wilson was decommissioned on 29 August 1946 and apparently remained afloat, at Kwajalein, over the next year and one-half.
Late in February 1948, she was authorized for destruction by scuttling. She was sunk in deep water off Kwajalein on 8 March 1948, and her name was stricken from the Navy Register on 5 April 1948.
Wilson received 11 battle stars for her service during World War II.
Robert J. Cressman
Updated, 11 July 2022