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 A Tin Can Sailors
Destroyer History

 USS AULT
(DD-698)

USS AULT was named for LCDR William Bowen Ault, air group commander for USS LEXINGTON (CV-2). LCDR Ault was lost while returning from a successful air strike against the Imperial Japanese Navy's aircraft carrier, IJN SHOKAKU during the battle of the Coral Sea (May 7-8, 1942).

USS AULT was laid down at the Kearny yard of Federal Shipbuilding on November 15, 1943 and launched the following March. She was commissioned two months later.

Following a shakedown cruise in the Caribbean, DD-698 was transferred to the Pacific to begin preparation for combat. She arrived at Pearl Harbor on September 29, beginning three months of intensive training in Hawaiian waters. On Christmas Day, 1944, DD-698, along with her sisters of DESRON 62, joined the fast carrier strike group Task Group 38.2.

The first role assigned to TG 38.2 was a complex one. Not only were the carriers to attack targets on the Philippine islands of Luzon, but they were also tasked with interrupting the flow of enemy replacement aircraft from bases far to the north. Through the construction of a complex system of bases, the Japanese were able to provide air support to their forces in the Philippines. Japanese aircraft would be brought down from Formosa or from the coast of Indochina for the purpose. TG 38.2 was assigned to interrupt that flow.

Well into enemy waters, AULT, along with USS WALDRON (DD-699), USS CHARLES S. SPERRY (DD-697), and USS JOHN W. WEEKS (DD-701), swept into the South China Sea ahead of Task Force 38. For nearly two weeks, the powerful task force attacked enemy targets in China and southeast Asia. Faced with heavy weather and the constant threat of enemy attack, AULT safely escorted her carriers without loss to herself or her charges.

During the late winter and early spring of 1945, USS AULT found herself providing air defense for Task Force 58 carriers pummeling Iwo Jima and enemy airfields in the Okinawa area. The risk was great. Japanese air forces staged strike after strike against the task group. For two months, DD-698 was in almost continuous action facing kamikaze attacks aimed at the carriers. On March 20, AULT splashed her first two enemy aircraft. It was an experience DD-698s crew would repeat frequently.

As American forces approached Okinawa, Japanese resistance became even more fanatical. Swarms of suicide attackers massed around the carriers. AULT's crew endured two months of almost constant combat, destroying half a dozen enemy planes and assisting in rescuing survivors from the badly wounded USS BUNKER HILL (CY-17). It was July before DD-698 reached the relative serenity of San Pedro Bay in the Philippines. The destroyer had been at sea continuously for eighty days.

Less than a month later, AULT was back in combat, joining in the final sweeps off the coast of Japan. By August 15, the Japanese government announced its willingness to capitulate, and AULT steamed along the coast, continuing to protect the carriers against maverick kamikaze pilots who had yet to accept the inevitable. The destroyer was ultimately given the honor of anchoring near USS MISSOURI (BB-63) to witness the formal Japanese surrender on September 2, 1945.

AULT returned to the United States in January 1946, after serving in a variety of roles in Japanese waters. Briefly, she visited West Coast ports before another long voyage through the Panama Canal to Boston. The destroyer would receive much-needed repairs at Boston Navy Yard; a complete overhaul that would require almost a year.

In the years between the end of World War II and the beginning of conflicts against the Communists in Asia, AULT's career was like that of so many ALLEN M. SUMNER class destroyers. Training exercises with Naval Reservists and plane guard duties alternated with Mediterranean deployments with the Sixth Fleet. By 1950, the decision had been made to deactivate DD-698.

AULT would remain only briefly with the Inactive Reserve Fleet in Charleston. Less than six months later, AULT was back in commission. The Korean War had broken out and DD-698 was needed. The Soviet Navy was expected to increase its presence in the Atlantic while the U.S. Navy was engaged far across the Pacific. AULT and many others were reactivated to forestall that attempt. She would serve effectively in that thankless role through 1953.

With the end of the Korean War, the show of force was appropriate to demonstrate American might to the emerging Communist threat. AULT, along with her sister ships of DESDIV 222 began an around-the-world cruise, meeting the Seventh Fleet at Yokosuka, Japan. Her Pacific service was not without incident.

On December 22, 1953, while participating in anti-submarine exercises with a Seventh Fleet carrier group, AULT collided with USS HAYNSWORTH (DD-700). With a considerable portion of her bow missing, AULT required a tow to Yokosuka for repairs. Her cruise was interrupted for almost three months. Her ultimate return to the States renewed the cycle of training and cruising.

The Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization Program (FRAM) meant a new lease on operational life for AULT. The FRAM II "rehabilitation" the destroyer experienced at the Boston Navy Yard from June 1962 through February 1963, extended her service life well beyond the predicted five years. The familiar round of training exercise followed her reconstruction.

AULT was needed in the rapidly degenerating situation off Vietnam and she transferred to the Pacific in 1967. For six months, with brief visits to Sasebo, Japan, Subic Bay in the Philippines, and Hong Kong, AULT became a gunslinger. Providing on-call fire support to operations ashore put DD-698 in great demand. The duty was continuous. During the day, spotters ashore and overhead called down AULT's fire on Vietcong positions, then the destroyer provided illumination at night. In one three-week period, when the destroyer was the only available fire support ship along several hundred miles of coast, USS AULT expended more than 6,000 rounds of 5-inch ammunition against shore targets. Sometimes, those targets fired back.

Operating close to the coast in Operation Seadragon, AULT came under the fire of powerful shore batteries north of Dong Hoi. Fortunately, North Vietnamese targeting was poor and DD-698 was up to her usual high level of proficiency. The destroyer extracted herself, suffering no damage or casualties. The same could not be said of the enemy.

AULT's return to the States in 1967 marked a revival of her round of training and cruising. The pressures of operation for almost thirty years had begun to tell, however. A survey, conducted in 1972, suggested that DD-698's "capabilities are not up to fleet standards" and that additional reconstruction would be prohibitively expensive. The decision was made to scrap AULT.

DD- 698 was decommissioned for the last time on July 16, 1973 and deleted from the Navy List in September. She was sold for scrapping to the Boston Metals Company, Baltimore (MD) and she was dismantled in the months that followed.

USS AULT earned five battle stars for her service in World War II and an additional two for her service off Vietnam.

 

From The Tin Can Sailor, July 1998


Copyright 1998 Tin Can Sailors.
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