Wasmuth – Historic Ship of the Past

USS Wasmuth (DD-338)/(DMS-15)

USS Wasmuth DD-338 (original configeration)  Clemson-Class Destroyer

USS Wasmuth (DD-338/MDS-15) was a Clemson-class destroyer built at the Mare Island Navy Yard, Vallejo, California, launched on September 15th, 1920, and commissioned on December 16th, 1921, Cmdr. W.P. Gaddis in command.

Early Service

Laid down at the Mare Island Navy Yard in August 1919, the USS Wasmuth commissioned into US Navy service in December 1921 as the 146th member of the Clemson Class of Destroyers. Entering service with the US Pacific Fleet after her shakedown cruise, the Wasmuth and her crew spent the spring of 1922 engaged in fleet maneuvers and exercises off San Diego before she was called to port and ordered to decommission in June 1922, and decommissioned on July 26th, 1922. A victim of treaty limitations and defense budget cuts following the First World War, after only six months of routine service.

In reserve at San Diego for the next eight years, the Wasmuth’s almost-new condition found her selected for recommissioning on March 11th, 1930, whereupon she rejoined the US Pacific Fleet. Wasmuth operated as a destroyer for the next decade, participating in an intensive slate of tactical exercises and maneuvers being undertaken by the US Navy in the Pacific.

The Wasmuth made her only departure from the Pacific Ocean in 1934 when she joined Destroyer Flotilla 2 in the Caribbean Sea for exercises aimed at defending the Panama Canal.

USS Wasmuth DMS-15 (after conversion, 1942), converted to high-speed minesweeper (DMS)

With global events in a steady march towards war as the late 1930’s wore on, the United States embarked on a building program aimed at upgrading its Destroyer Force, with newer, more heavily armed and far-ranging destroyers. Which saw the Wasmuth and many of her sisters made obsolete in their designed role as Fleet Destroyers.

Nevertheless, the sheer number of older, but still serviceable Clemson Class Destroyers (flush-deckers) saw many of them, including Wasmuth chosen for conversion to other types of vessels which could benefit from their speed and range. Entering the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard in November 1940, the Wasmuth underwent a major overhaul and conversion into a Chandler Class High-Speed Minesweeper, which saw among other things the removal of her torpedo battery and the upgrade and relocation of her four-gun main battery and an antiaircraft battery of .50-caliber machine guns. In place of her torpedoes, the Wasmuth shipped the winches, paravanes and wiring of her new minesweeping gear. Her conversion completed in April of 1941, the Wasmuth put to sea for training and excercises wearing the hull designation DMS-15 to signify her new role in the Fleet.

World War II

Conducting type training and patrols as a member of Mine Division (MineDiv) 4 through the remainder of the year, the Wasmuth and her crew maintained an increasingly tenuous neutrality patrol assignment around the Hawaiian Islands, as relations between the United States and the Empire of Japan deteriorated. Anchored in a nest with her MineDiv 4 sistership in the North Loch of Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7th, 1941, the Wasmuth and her crew entered the Second World War with the rest of the US Pacific Fleet as they came under massive aerial surprise attack. Going to general quarters, gunners on the Wasmuth sent up over 6000 rounds of .50 Cal fire at their attackers during the raid, and were credited with the downing of one Aichi D3A-1 “Val” before their ship was able to get underway and clear the harbor. Spending several nervous days actively patrolling the area around Oahu for anemy contacts, the Wasmuth and her sisters operated around the Hawaiian chain and between Johnston Island and Pearl Harbor conducting patrols and escorting convoys into the spring of 1942.

USS Wasmuth DMS-15 (after conversion, 1942) Stern View

Later Service

After a brief stopover in the mainland US while escorting a convoy back and forth to Hawaii in mid-1942, the Wasmuth stood out of Pearl Harbor for Northern Waters in August 1942, arriving in her new operating area of Alaska where she joined Task Force 8 at Kodiak. Once again assigned to patrol, escort and minesweeping duties, the Wasmuth and her crew operated in their inhospitable new theatre through the fall and into the winter of 1942, supporting US Forces operating across the far-flung Aleutian Islands. After forming up with a Westbound merchant convoy at Dutch Harbor around Christmas Day 1942, the Wasmuth put to sea escorting the force around midday on December 26th, bound for Adak. Less than a day after the convoy set out, the Bering Sea began to lash the force with increasing winds and seas as it passed North of Atka, slowing the entire convoy as it labored through the storm. Forced to take the seas from its Starboard Bow, the entire convoy was rolled and tossed about by the wind-driven waves, with the smaller escorts like the Wasmuth having the hardest time of it.

Several hours of heavy rolls and blue water crashing over her deck and superstructure began to take their toll on the Wasmuth’s topside fittings, and with her entire complement ordered below decks for safety there was likely no notice that the heavy seas were wrenching the gates of her stern-mounted depth charge racks loose. Shortly before midday on December 27th one of the gates failed and allowed two of the armed ready charges to roll off the rack and into the sea, where they began their descent to their set detonation depth. With the speed of the convoy barely enough to make headway against the swell, the Wasmuth was essentially still on top of the two depth charges when they went off, sending a shockwave to the surface with lifted the Stern of the 1,215 ton ship clear out of the water before it came crashing back down with enough force to wrench her entire fantail free of the ship. With her watertight doors secured and the ship in essentially battle-ready condition due to the severity of the storm, the Wasmuth was likely spared rapid flooding and sinking from the massive damage sustained by the ship, however with no rudders and damaged propellers and shafts she was no longer controllable and at the mercy of the storm. Fortunately for her crew, the ship turned bow-into the wind and swell which allowed damage control parties aboard her to set up her emergency pumps and secure any areas where she was taking on water.

Fate

For three hours the Wasmuth’s crew fought to save their vessel in a full gale in the Bering Sea, however it became clear the pumps were not holding out against the inrushing water. All non-essential crew were ordered off the foundering Wasmuth and were transferred by highline to the US Navy Tanker USS Ramapo (AO-12), which in itself was an incredibly dangerous undertaking. Roughly three and a half hours after the explosion of her depth charges, the Wasmuth’s Stern was completely submerged and allowing water to enter her internals through deck fittings and portholes. With the ship in imminent danger of rolling or sinking in the Gale, Wasmuth’s Captain passed the order abandon ship and was the last man pulled off the stricken ship onto the Ramapo. After musters revealed that her entire crew and two passengers were safely aboard the Ramapo, the tanker departed the area and left the Wasmuth to her fate.

The following morning the still-floating Wasmuth was sighted by a patrolling aircraft with her decks awash and only her bow superstructure and portions of her midship still above the surface. When a midday patrol was conducted in the same area, only an oil slick remained on the surface, indicating the Wasmuth had lost her battle with the sea in this general area on December 29th, 1942.

For her actions in the Second World War, USS Wasmuth received one battle star.

About Wasmuth

While I have the last name Griffin, from my father, his mother’s maiden name was Wasmuth. The ship was named after Henry Wasmuth, a 19th century ancestor on her side of the family.

Henry Wasmuth – was a United States Marine during the American Civil War. Born in Germany in 1840, but later a naturalized American citizen – enlisted in the United States Marine Corps on June 11th, 1861. Ultimately attached to the Marine detachment of the sidewheeler Powhatan, Wasmuth took part in the assault on Fort Fisher, N.C., on January 21st, 1865.

During the battle, Ensign Robley D. Evans, AKA: “Fighting Bob” Evans fell wounded from a Confederate sharpshooter’s bullet. Private Wasmuth picked up the seriously wounded young officer and carried him to a place of comparative safety – a shell hole on the beach. The private stayed with the future admiral, ignoring the latter’s urgings to take cover, until a sharpshooter’s bullet pierced Wasmuth’s neck, cutting the jugular vein. Within a few minutes, Wasmuth dropped in the edge of the surf and died. He died at the age of 24 or 25 years old. Evans later wrote: “He was an honor to his uniform”.

Rear Admiral Robley D. Evans

According to http://4mermarine.com/USMC/CWMarines.html and several other webpages, Henry Wasmuth held the rank of Corporal (2 chevrons), which is the rank above private (one chevron). There were many Corporals on the front lines, during the Civil War.

Robley Dunglison Evans  (AKA: “Fighting Bob Evens”)

Henry Wasmuth

Second Battle of Fort Fisher

Great White Fleet

Namesake

USS Wasmuth (DD-338) was named for him.

Construction of the USS Wasmuth

California Governor W. D. Stephens speaks at the keel laying of the USS Wasmuth on 12 August 1919 at Mare Island Naval Yard. Honorary keel layers were Miss E. V. Avison and Miss G. E. Bean (riveters), Miss M. G. Young (holder on), and Miss J. M. Kramer & Miss E. Barton (rivet passers). All the keel layers were draftsmen at Mare Island Navy Yard.

Photo of California Governor W. D. Stephens at the keel laying of the USS Wasmuth at Mare Island Navy Yard 12 August 1919.

Workmen are seen placing the keel of USS Wasmuth on 12 August 1919 at Mare Island Navy Yard immediately after the launching of USS Litchfield from the same building ways.

Bow view of the USS Trever and USS Wasmuth on the building ways at Mare Island Navy Yard on 2 August 1920.

Bow view of the USS Trever and USS Wasmuth on the building ways at Mare Island Navy Yard on 2 August 1920.

Miss Gertrude E. Bennet (Sponsor) is shown christening the USS Wasmuth on 16 Sept 1920 at Mare Island Navy Yard.

At sea circa 1930. Photo from the collection of the Vallejo Naval and Historical Museum.

Circa 1921-1922.

Balboa Harbor, Panama Canal Zone. Aerial photograph taken 23 April 1934, with U.S. Fleet cruisers and destroyers moored together. Ships present include (left to right in lower left): USS Elliot (DD-146); USS Roper (DD-147); USS Hale (DD-133); USS Dorsey (DD-117); USS Lea (DD-118); USS Rathburne (DD-113); USS Talbot (DD-114); USS Waters (DD-115); USS Dent (DD-116); USS Aaron Ward (DD-132); USS Buchanan (DD-131); USS Crowninshield (DD-134); USS Preble (DD-345); and USS William B. Preston (DD-344). (left to right in center): USS Yarnall (DD-143); USS Sands (DD-243); USS Lawrence (DD-250); (unidentified destroyer); USS Detroit (CL-8), Flagship, Destroyers Battle Force; USS Fox (DD-234); USS Greer (DD-145); USS Barney (DD-149); USS Tarbell (DD-142); and USS Chicago (CA-29), Flagship, Cruisers Scouting Force. (left to right across the top): USS Southard (DD-207); USS Chandler (DD-206); USS Farenholt (DD-332); USS Perry (DD-340); USS Wasmuth (DD-338); USS Trever (DD-339); USS Melville (AD-2); USS Truxtun (DD-229); USS McCormick (DD-223); USS MacLeish (DD-220); USS Simpson (DD-221); USS Hovey (DD-208); USS Long (DD-209); USS Litchfield (DD-336); USS Tracy (DD-214); USS Dahlgren (DD-187); USS Medusa (AR-1); USS Raleigh (CL-7), Flagship, Destroyers Scouting Force; USS Pruitt (DD-347); and USS J. Fred Talbott (DD-156); USS Dallas (DD-199); (four unidentified destroyers); and USS Indianapolis (CA-35), Flagship, Cruisers Scouting Force. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives.

Wreck of USS WASMUTH

USS WASMUTH was a Clemson-class destroyer, and a total of 156 destroyers of this class were constructed. One of her sister ships, the USS CORRY DD-334, was another destroyer of the Clemson-class, and her current condition, is an indicator, as to the current condition of the wreck of the USS WASMUTH DMS-15 (FKA DD-338). Research as to her location turned up the following:

Wreck of USS CORRY
Longitude & Latitude for USS CORRY (DD-334): 38°10′0.47″N 122°17′14.87″W

Wreck of USS CORRY DD-334   ACME Mapper 2.0 – 7.5 km NxNW of Vallejo CA

Accessing satellite imagery, using the Longitude and Latitude (information that pertains to the location of USS CORRY DD-334), results in obtaining this high-resolution satellite image of the USS CORRY (DD-334).

After being decommissioned, at the Mare Island Navy Yard, USS CORRY DD-334 was stripped and sold for salvage on October 18th, 1930 in accordance with the terms of the London Treaty for the limitation of naval armament. The partially dismantled USS Corry’s remains, consisting of most of her hull and a small portion of her superstructure, were sold. Taken about a mile from the Mare Island Navy Yard, she sunk in shallow water in the Napa River, about a mile from the Mare Island Navy Yard, she was later abandoned at that location.

The USS CORRY DD-334 has been partially submerged, for approximately 5 decades.
Most, if not all of the wreck, is now composed of rust. The ship is partially flooded, and areas of the ships outer skin have curroded away. This is the process, in which a wreck is or has converted into an iron ore deposit.

USS WASMUTH DMS-15 (FKA D-338) had been sunk in deep water near Alaska, since 1942, and the damage that sunk her, broke off part of the aft section. She broke in two pieces, and the primary portion of the ship stayed afloat, much longer than the aft, which sunk when it broke off. The aft section that broke off, could be miles apart from the wreckage of the main ship. The USS WASMUTH DMS-15 (DD-338) has been on the ocean surface, in deep water (high tonnage per square inch) for nearly 70 years. The metal would be half as thick as when it sank in 1942, and would be all rust.

The decay rate, the process of rusting, to become an iron ore deposit, would be much more rapid for USS WASMUTH, as it sunk in deep water, while the USS CURRY (D-334) was only partially sunk, in shallow water. The outer skin of USS WASMUTH would now be gone. What is viewable would be severely rusted-out.

Update:

The anchor from U.S.S. Wasmuth had been recovered by the US Navy at some point in the past, and is on display at M.I.T., although I don’t know when it was recovered. But it appears to be in great shape.

Anchor from U.S.S. Wasmuth is at M.I.T.

U.S.S. Wasmuth Dedication Plaque at M.I.T.

Clemson-Class Destroyer

The Clemson-class was a series of 156 destroyers which served with the United States Navy from after World War I through World War II.

Rear Admiral Robley Dunglison Evans,

the Great White Fleet

and the

USS Wisconsin (battleship #8)

Rear Admiral Robley D. Evans, (1901).

USS Wisconsin, Fourth Divisional Flagship, Great White Fleet (1901).

The Great White Fleet was the popular nickname for the United States Navy battle fleet that completed a circumnavigation of the globe from December 16th, 1907 to February 22, 1909 by order of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt. It consisted of 16 battleships divided into two squadrons, along with various escorts. Roosevelt sought to demonstrate growing American military power and blue-water navy capability.

There is a lot of historic information, and since it is another subject matter, that pertains to the historic importance of the Great White Fleet, and Rear Admiral Rodley D. Evans role in that historical event.  As previously mentioned, Henry Wasmuth (an ancester of mine), was born in Germany, naturalized as a U.S. citizen,  joined the Marine Corps in 1861, saved the life of then Ensign Rodley D. Evans (nicknamed “Fighting Bob Evans”) during the Civil War during the Assault on Fort Fisher, at the cost of the life of Henry Wasmuth,  Henry Wasmuth was shot in the jugular vein, by a confederate sharpshooter.

For more information regarding the Great White Fleet, click on the link below:

Great White Fleet

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4 Responses to “Wasmuth – Historic Ship of the Past”

  1. Lily Says:

    My grandfather was telling us the story of how this ship sank today. He was on board! It was amazing.

  2. Ron Summers Says:

    Is your grandfather still alive? I would like to talk with him. My father was on the Wasmuth the morning of the attack at Pearl Harbor until it sank off the Aleutian Islands. His name was Ralph Summers.

  3. Keith Zimmer Says:

    My dad was on the Wasmuth as well during the attack on Pearl Harbor and when it sank. He was the Chief Water Tender. He passed away in 2002. Many sights have confirmed the accuracy of his stories. I couldn’t imagine what he had the opportunity to live through. Glad he made it 5 boys and a ton of grand kids later.

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