Recently people have been joining me on my Sunday Walks in Downtown Albany. Typically, I walk in Albany when I'm scheduled as a tour guide on the USS Slater. A slide show and a map are detailed at this blog entry. I plan on walking on Memorial Day, Monday, May 27. You can contact me at:

More on the USS SLATER (

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Destroyer Escorts & Vietnam

This weekend, while giving a tour of the USS Slater, I was asked about the role that Destroyer Escorts (DEs) had during the Vietnam War. This question underlines a few of the reasons for this blog. Many times during a tour I've was presented with a question that I couldn't do justice within the time limits allowed. During the typical tour you have a diverse mix of ages and interests. On a busy day tour groups can become queued (stacked) if too much time is spent at a single tour station. Because of these constraints it's important to keep answers terse.

During the tour I gave the quick answer to the question “What role did Destroyer Escorts have during the Vietnam War?”: Off the cost of South Vietnam Destroyer Escorts provided Naval Gunfire Support, and participated with Operation Market Time. Operation Market Time was the inspection of coastal vessels like trawlers and junks for contraband. The Destroyer Escorts fitted with advanced radar (DERs) were especially well suited for Operation Market Time. In WWII a few Destroyer Escorts were specialized for a high speed transport role (called APDs). During the Vietnam War these ships supported UDT, Seal Teams and Marine Units. In the mid-1960 new classes of Destroyer Escorts were built. These modern ships operated in the coastal areas near North Vietnam. These operations included PIRAZ, SAR and Yankee Station escort. Piraz was the modern evolution of Radar Picket duty. SAR was pilot rescue. Yankee Station was the operating station in the Tonkin Gulf for Aircraft Carriers.

Sometime I offer to provide additional details once a tour is over. However, by using a blog to fill out an answer, you can keep the tour moving and use the resources of the world-wide web to provide in depth answers. Rather than go into detail on the Naval Mission during the Vietnam War, I can provide a link to the US Navy History Center's detail account: By Sea, Air and Land. I can also link to specific ships that are representative of the DE's Vietnam Missions. The USS Whipple (DE-1062), a modern (post WWII) Knox-Class Destroyer Escort was deployed to the coast of Vietnam in 1972. It's duties included Piraz, C-SAR and Yankee Station Escort. The USS Haverfield (DE-393), a WWII-era Edsall-class, Destroyer Escort, was retrofitted with additional radar equipment and re-designated as a Destroyer Escort Radar Pickett (DER). Off the coast of Vietnam this ship's primary role was with the Market Time Operation. The USS Weiss (APD-135) was a support ship for UDT and Seal Teams. Regarding Naval Gunfire Support (NGFS), the National Archives maintains a database of NGFS missions off of Vietnam. A search for DE related ships will return over 3,000 missions.

The term Littoral referrers to coastal waters. Since WWII DEs, because of their lower draft, were often deployed in these waters. Based in part on these experiences of the US Navy is constructing a modern ship the Littoral Combat ship. In large part, the DE mission in Vietnam was similar to the roles outlined for the Littoral Combat Ship.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Docent? What's a Docent?

Wikipedia has an entry on Docents: .....Museum docents are are educators, trained to further the public's understanding of the cultural and historical collections of the institution. In many cases, docents, in addition to their prescribed function as guides, also conduct research utilizing the institution's facilities. They are normally volunteers.

A Destroyer Escort (like the USS Slater) is a small ship that was mass produced during WWII (ultimately 573 were built). Because it's a small ship a visitor could get a quick walk-through tour in 20 minutes. If we geared the Slater Experience as a quick walk-through tour we would have to restrict the route for safety reasons. We would also have to secure (hide or cover in plexiglass) numerous artifacts that were used on the ship.

The USS Slater is representative of hundreds of similar Escort-type ships. Quick walk-through tours would focus on hardware, and (by and large) deprive the visitor of experience relating to these ships, and the thousands of sailors who served on them.

The USS Slater Tour Guide Manual explains this in more detail:

.....The primary mission of the Destroyer Escort Historical Museum is to utilize the SLATER as an education platform to teach our youth and visitors about the contributions of the destroyer escorts in World War II and the postwar Navy, and to keep alive the history spirit and technology of these vessels and the men and women who built and manned them.

To accomplish this we collect, maintain, display and interpret artifacts and documents relating to the role of the destroyer escorts in the United States Navy during World War II and the postwar years. The primary emphasis is the authentic restoration and display of the destroyer escort USS SLATER DE766 in her 1945 configuration with all the equipment and artifacts she would have carried at that time.

Visitors to the USS SLATER come to learn what life was like aboard a Destroyer Escort during World War II. Our restorers have been devoting their time and talents to restore the ship, and have done a remarkable job to make the ship what it is today. But that work is meaningless without a core of equally dedicated and knowledgeable tour guides to interpret the SLATER to the public. It is you who interact with the public that have the greatest influence on our reputation and the greatest responsibility for fulfilling our educational mission. To put the best possible impression of the SLATER to the public we ask that you present yourselves in a professional manner at all times, be conscious of the attention span of the members of your group, and ask you to present a sharp appearance so that our visitors, civic leaders and members of the media recognize us as a first class team. We want our visitors to step back in time and get the flavor of what Navy life was on a destroyer escort sixty years ago. You are the key part of that experience. ....

Sunday, August 26, 2007

What is a DE?

DE refers to type of Naval Ship - the Destroyer Escort. The design is based basically scaled down Destroyer of the 1940s that was optimized for North Atlantic Convoy Duty. More information is available on the USS Slater Web Site and on the Wikipedia Entry for Destroyer Escorts.

Traditionally, in navy slang a Destroyer is referred to as a tin-can. Earlier this year I gave a tour that included a Destroyer sailor who served in WWII who referred to the Destroyer Escort in navy slang as a half-can. This is accurate in a simplistic sense.The Destroyer Type was originally called a Torpedo Boat Destroyer, and it was always characterized by high-speed and practically no armor (no armor -> tin-can slang). A full scale destroyer in early WWII had steam turbine power plant with approximately 60,000 horsepower, and a top speed of 38 knots. The cost was approximately 6-7 million. The DE design is based on British experience with specialized convoy escorts that were developed to deal specifcally with the U-Boat menace (Corvettes and Hunt Class Frigates). Since merchant ships of the day rarely exceeded 15 knots, and convoys (which could only move as fast as the slowest ship in the convoy) typically moved at 5-10 knots, the high speed capability was largely wasted. By designing a ship to match the U-Boat surface speed of 21 knots, the construction cost could be trimmed in half (to 3 1/2 Million). The savings came largely by using a smaller power plant, instead of 60,000 HP the USS Slater has four 1,500 HP diesel engines.