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 (

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

11/30/2007, Slater Closed for Season

The Slater is now closed for the season. Every year, for protection from ice, the Slater moves across the Hudson River to it's protected winter berth in Rensselaer. Slater shipmate & Blogger - mechanic for hire details this move in this excellent blog entry.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Tour 11/17/2008, USS Ahrens (DE-575)

This Saturday I gave two tours to small groups of visitors. Both tour groups were very knowledgeable about the USS Slater and Destroyer Escorts. The people in the first group were repeat visitors. They appeared to be very impressed with the progress of the restoration effort since their last visit (approximately five years ago). The Slater's crew is always trying to improve the state of the ship and expand the tour experience. There's also a lot of restoration effort that goes on behind the scenes. Because of accessibility reasons many of these areas are not included on the standard tour. I recommended that they consider the USS Slater's Hard Hat Tour so they could explore areas of the ship that they haven't seen before. Some of the more interesting areas are the Flying Bridge, the Engine Room, and the Motor Room. While these spaces are not open to the public because of accessibility, there have been significant restoration efforts in them.

USS Ahrens (DE-575)

The father of one of the visitors in the second tour group served as a ship's baker on the USS Ahrens (DE-575) in WWII. The USS Ahrens was a member of Destroyer Escort Division 60. One of the big roles that DEs performed was to rescue sailors from stricken ships. The USS Ahrens performed this task on two arduous occasions. The first involved the USS Block Island (CVE-21). And the second involved a collision between a gasoline tanker and a liberty ship in a North Atlantic convoy.

USS Block Island - Final Moments

The USS Block Island (CVE-21) was an escort carrier. In 1944, the Block Island, along with four Destroyer Escorts (including the Ahrens) formed a Hunter-Killer Team (TU 22.11). Hunter-Killer teams would actively search an area for U-Boats. Radio Activity and decoded U-Boat messages (from Bletchley Park) would direct the Hunter Killer team to a region. Since a U-Boat would spend most of the time on the surface, patrol planes from the small carrier would narrow the search. Once a U-Boat was found a pair of Destroyer Escorts would be dispatched to finish the U-Boat. Two DEs would continue to escort the Carrier.

In response to the Hunter-Killer Groups, in 1944 the German U-boat command started to arm U-Boats with Acoustic Homing Torpedoes. They also implemented an offensive strategy to sink the escorts: "......Offense is the best defense...... If the enemy bears down on you, do not blind yourselves by going to great depths, but in the daytime remain at periscope depth and fire. You still have enough time after firing to dive. The same applies at night, first fire, then dive. Offense is the best defense. Act accordingly...... "

On May 29, 1944 the USS Block Island was torpedoed by three torpedoes from U-549. The USS Ahrens and the USS Robert I. Paine (DE 578) assisted the USS Block Island. Two other Destroyer Escorts in the group, the USS Barr (DE-576) and the USS Eugene E. Elmore (DE-686) attacked the U-549. The U-Boat was equipped with the newly developed Acoustic Homing Torpedoes, and managed to cripple the USS Barr. The Ahrens and the Paine were stationary during the rescue, and they would have been an excellent targets. It was probably a race, would the Elmore get U-549 before another DE was hit. This survivor's account details the action: ".....At 2040 Captain Hughes ordered all hands to “Abandon Ship”. By 2100 most men went over the starboard side, either jumping or sliding down knotted 40-ft. Rope ladders. As the ship sank the planes spotted on deck slid into the sea like toys, the TBM’s depth changes exploding deep under the surface. Block Island took her final plunge at 2155. We were equipped with various types of life belts / jackets as well as cork supported rope nets. ........... The USS Ahrens DE 575 stopped engines and drifted to a stop in the Atlantic swells, recovering the Block Islanders from the sea. With Ahrens’ engines now stilled, her sonar almost immediately detected U-549. Ahrens skipper radioed the USS Elmore DE 686 coaching the sister ship to where the German submarine lay. Three projectiles from Elmore’s hedgehogs slammed into the U-549’s hull at 2127. A great, grinding internal explosion audible to the monitoring ships destroyed the U-boat a moment later.

A postscript to this story - it appears that the Ahrens was being stalked by U-549. An Ahrens crew member, Maury Gamache was given credit for spotting U-549. Perhaps his sharp eye saved DE-549 (and many of the Block Island survivors): ".....I normally was assigned to the depth charge and K gun area but while we were picking up survivors I was sent to the 101 gun mount, along with an ensign. While I was there he told me to keep a close look out to the opposite side where the survivor activity was taking place, which I did with an occasional look in that direction. After a while, I think it was just after dusk, I saw a periscope on the left side of the ship and I was so speechless that I tapped him on the shoulder and pointed and he saw the same periscope. He immediately notified the bridge and that is when the Ahrens had to break off the picking up of survivors and make emergency speed to avoid being sunk also. ...."

Part of the Block Island Crew in Casablanca

The Ahrens was credited with rescuing 673 sailors from the USS Block Island. The small Destroyer Escort, with it's own crew of 213, had 886 sailors on-board. About a month ago the Slater hosted an open house and had several thousand visitors, but I doubt that 886 were aboard an any given time. I'm pretty sure that a ships baker had his hads full feeding this many sailors. The account from rescued Block Island sailors continues: ".......The next morning, 30 May, Elmore with the damaged Barr under tow, and the two DE’s laden with the CVE survivors, cleared the area for Casablanca, arriving 1 June. The personnel of the two DE’s, did a commendable job of making all hands as comfortable as possible, some giving up bunks for others to catch a few winks. The task of feeding this large number, aboard the Ahrens and the Paine, was without parallel. While we were lined up on the main deck, waiting turns to go below to eat our two meals. Sometimes, from the bridge came the order for some men to shift from one side or to the other to maintain an even keel. The odor of diesel fuel oil was everywhere that we touched. My what a mess! However, we were SAFE. ....."

Other interesting links regarding the USS Block Island & the USS Ahrens:

When ships are packed into convoys of 50 plus ships accidents are bound to happen. The worst ones occur when one of the ships is carrying a highly explosive cargo. On the 13th of October, 1944 the Liberty Ship Howard Gibson and the British gasoline tanker George W. McKnight collided. The USS Holton (DE-703), USS Cronin (DE-704), and the USS Ahrens (DE-575) were involved with the rescue. Once again, Lewis Andrew's excellent book, Tempest, Fire and Foe gives an excellent account on page 58.

This will be my last duty weekend until April 2008. In early December the USS Slater will move to the east bank of the Hudson River to protect the ship from winter ice. It will be closed for tours until she returns to the Albany-side in April. During the winter I'll continue to post to the blog. If anyone has a topic request concerning Destroyer Escorts e-mail me.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Tour 11/11/2007, Depth Charge Magazine

I stood my tour guide watch this week on Sunday, instead of my typical Saturday. I had a little help during a tour from RPI University Midshipman (NROTC). During the last year the NROTC students from RPI have been a great asset.

On one tour I was asked - "How many depth charges were stored on board?". I thought that this would be a relatively easy question to answer, but I was wrong. One week later I still don't have a definitive answer. The Destroyer Escort Sailor's Association noted that - "...A DE carried about 100 depth charges." USS Slater personal told me that they believe that the ship carried enough Depth Charges for 14 patterns. On the USS Slater, a typical pattern uses 12 depth charges (8 from K-Guns, and 2 charges each from 2 Depth Charge Racks). However, it should be noted that not every pattern used 12 charges. Fourteen Patterns of 12 Charges would equal 168 Depth Charges. Since each K-gun has a ready storage rack of 5 charges, and each rack can contain 8 charges, then the total number of charges in on-deck storage is 56. If the 14 patterns (of 12 charges) is correct, then an additional 112 depth charges would have to be stored in the magazine. During the week we checked the dimensions of the depth charge magazine, and determined that mathematically (1), the USS Slater Depth Charge magazine could hold over 300 charges. However, at 300 pounds a piece, it was felt that the weight would cause stability problems. Most likely, the USS Slater carried approximately 168 Depth Charges, but the number could be any number between 100 and 300.

For a good general description of Depth Charge patterns check out:

Historic Navy Ship Association
Gene Slover's Fire Control Page

(1) Details on math - The magazine is 24' x 10' by approx. 5' high. (2,073,600 cubic inches). A Mk. 6 charge is 17" x 28" (6,370 cubic inches). Using those numbers, the magazine could mathematically hold 325 charges.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Tour 11/03/2007, Magazines & Jacks

Another cold October Day but at least it wasn't raining. I noticed that a few visitors were shivering. I gave two tours, and I also had an opportunity to chat briefly with a WWII vet from the USS Bostwick DE-103.

Like the USS Slater, the Bostwick was a cannon class Destroyer Escort. Both ships were very similar in construction. During the war the two ships operated differently. The Slater was often deployed as a convoy escort, while the Bostwick usually served as a member of a hunter-killer team. A WWII U-Boat hunter-killer team was comprised of a small Escort Carrier and a group of Destroyer Escorts. While a convoy seeks to transit the ocean avoiding U-Boats, a hunter-killer team actively hunts them. The Bostwick participated in the sinking of three U-Boats: U-709; U-233; and either U-548 or U-857 or U-879. In the latter case of U-548/U-879, this link which describing the mystery of the U-869, goes into detail regarding difficulties of identifying sunken U-Boats.

On one of the tours I was asked about ammunition magazines, and how many 3" rounds the USS Slater held (it's approximately 750 3" rounds). For safety reasons a Destroyer Escort's magazines are on the lowest deck. The USS Slater has a virtual tour that includes a layout of all ship compartments. The 2nd Platform layout details the magazines (they're are detailed in red). A magazine is basically a small, unvented room with storage racks and a heavy duty sprinkler system. There's also a thermometer. At least once a day a gunner's mate will visit every magazine and ammunition ready storage space and log temperature readings. Sparking is a danger. Electric bulbs are sealed in a special globes. When I worked in magazines, I used a special set of tools that were made of a non-sparking copper alloy.

Magazine safety is a big issue. After WWII one Destroyer Escort, the USS Solar DE-221,was destroyed by an accidental magazine explosion.

On another tour I was asked about the little flag on the front (called the bow) of the USS Slater. This little flag is called a Jack, and it flies from a staff (called a jack staff). I was specifically asked, if it was a modern Jack, or a WWII era Jack? The correct answer is that the Slater's Jack is WWII Era (one with 48 stars). In the recent edition of Slater Signals, Tim Rizzuto (Executive Director) goes into detail about obtaining WWII era flags and Jacks for the USS Slater.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Tour 10/27/2007, Hospital Corpsman

It was a cold and rainy October day. Not just a drizzle, it was coming down in buckets. Accordingly it wasn't very busy. I gave one tour to a small family group. Their son was a marine on active duty and their daughter was in the process of joining the US Navy as a Hospital Corpsman. Instead of focusing the tour on the Slater's equipment, and the historical context I tried to discuss Navy Life in general. Unfortunately as a Gunner's Mate who left active duty over 35 years ago, my knowledge was somewhat dated. To compensate, I introduced the visitors to as many navy vets as possible to give them a broad perspective on Navy life. Luckily, the Capital District Chief Petty Officers Association was on board with a birthday cake (celebrating the 10 anniversary of the Slater's arrival in Albany NY). They also had an opportunity to meet Rear Admiral Paul Czesak. We have one regular volunteer who's still on active duty at Navy Nuclear Power School in Malta NY (aka Mechanic For Hire) unfortunately he wasn't on board that day.

Because of the rain I kept the tour below decks (indoor) as much as possible. And, I tried to focus on hospital corpsman related items. During the course of the tour we encountered an uniform with a 1st class rating badge with a red Geneva Cross instead of the Winged Caduceus (which is used today). In 1948, the Navy changed the names and insignia of the Hospital Corps. They also changed the rating name from Pharmacist Mate to Hospital Corpsman.

I know that the Navy places VERY BIG emphasis on technical competence. I did a little research relative to the technical knowledge required for a Corpsman. Here's a few links:

Hospital Corpsman Basic Training Course (check drop down boxes on top of page for links to reference materials)

Integrated Publishing - Corpsman Manuals

While it isn't included on a regular tour I made it a point to visit the USS Slater sick bay. Since it's off the guided tour I didn't have any good historical background material. A little Google search afterward found this interesting story by the USS Slater's Museum curator, Pat Perrella. It concerns the USS Atherton (DE-169), a Destroyer Escort that had the distinction of sinking the last U Boat during WWII (U-853).

".......Ironically, while U-853 was under deadly attack, with ATHERTON rocking amidst the tremendous noise and force of the exploding ordnance, a life-saving drama was taking place below deck in ATHERTON’S “Sick Bay” and photographs bear witness to the unprecedented event. A German POW was being tenderly attended by Jewish Lt. Maurice Vitsky (Dr.) USN, Surgery, following an emergency appendectomy. Pvt.1/c Franz Krones, German Army POW #31G668894, had been transferred by breeches buoy to ATHERTON from M/V 2-1 on 20 April 1945, while the convoy (GUS-84) was forming near Gibraltar in the Mediterranean. Krones was critically ill with a ruptured appendix and Dr. Vitsky, as Division Medical Officer aboard ATHERTON, operated immediately with the assistance of 20-year-old Pharmacist’s Mate 3rd Class, Thomas J. Ciaccio. The prisoner was helpless and desperately ill. Dr. Vitsky and Phm. Ciaccio compassionately nursed their patient throughout the Atlantic voyage and U-853 attack to drain his infection, administer penicillin and provide whatever nourishment he could sustain. Capt. Iselin was also concerned for his charge and frequently took time to inquire about the status of the patient. The ATHERTON crew never forgot Krones and always wondered about his fate after he was transferred to a military hospital when DE-169 finally reached Boston. ...."

More about this story and an interesting postscript is available at this link.