Throughout history, various ships have been called upon
to serve as work horses for the navies they served. During the American
Revolution, the British used the famous "74-gunners", while
sailing frigates served the United States Navy as
"maids-of-all-work" through the Civil War. During a good
portion of the Twentieth Century, the work horse of the United States
Navy has been the destroyer. Few destroyers typify that ability better
than the ship named for a fighting destroyer sailor, Rear Admiral
Charles Purcell Cecil.
Charles Purcell Cecil was born on September 4, 1893 in
Louisville, Kentucky. His childhood came during a period of renewed
Congressional interest in maritime affairs and a naval force inspired by
the philosophy of Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan. Upon his graduation from
the Naval Academy with the class of 1916, Cecil entered a navy which,
while not the largest in the world, was one of the most progressive.
Although his service during World War I and the period
between the wars was exemplary, Cecil’s service during World War II
could only be termed inspirational. He commanded DesDiv 5 in the brutal
actions off Santa Cruz, which convinced a Japanese relief force not to
make further attempts at Guadalcanal. As commander of the USS HELENA
(CL-50), he fought in hazardous mining and shore bombardment operations
throughout the Solomons. In the melee in Kula Gulf (July 5-6, 1943),
Cecil participated in an ambush of a Japanese force intent on
reinforcing garrisons on Vila. Although HELENA was lost to the
"long lance" torpedoes of Japanese destroyers, Cecil’s
inspired leadership helped win the cruiser the Navy’s first unit
citation of World War II. By the fall of 1943, Cecil had been awarded
the Navy Cross, a Gold Star in lieu of a second Navy Cross, and a Bronze
Rear Admiral Cecil was killed in a plane crash (July
31, 1944) while traveling between assignments in the Pacific.
USS CHARLES P. CECIL (DD-835), a GEARING class
destroyer, was laid down at the Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine, on
December 2, 1944 and launched on April 22, 1945, upon being christened
by the Admiral’s widow. Like many other GEARINGS during World War II,
DD-835 was not launched "as designed."
Gone were the torpedo tubes which most naval
strategists had considered vital to "tin cans" before World
War II; their top weight replaced by an expanded radar suite. Once
again, destroyers were to be called upon to adapt to a new threat; this
time, Japanese Kamikazes required an "early warning system."
CHARLES P. CECIL would sport a massive tripod main mast for her standard
electronic array, while new air-search, direction-finding equipment, and
a small radome were mounted on the fore. DD-835 was commissioned on June
29, 1945, with Commander W. Outerson in command.
Following an extensive shakedown cruise, USS CHARLES
P. CECIL arrived at her home port, San Diego, but sailed within days on
a warship screen for the atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll, along with
supporting the Allied occupation forces in Japan. A brief return to San
Diego to participate in naval exercises off the West Coast was quickly
followed by another Asian deployment. This time, USS CHARLES P. CECIL
"showed the flag" at nearly two dozen Pacific islands, as well
as in ports in Okinawa, China and Japan. She finally returned to San
Diego in early summer of 1948.
Within a year, DD-835 was reassigned to the Atlantic
Fleet, this time sporting a new designation; DDR-835. On March 18, 1948,
the Navy recognized the growing importance of the "picket
destroyer" by classing the "radar heavy" GEARINGS as
DDR’S. Operating first from Newport, RI, then Norfolk, VA, USS CHARLES
P. CECIL served for the next twelve years with the Atlantic fleet. She
alternated between midshipman cruises at the Naval Academy, deployments
in the Mediterranean, and overhauls. By the summer of 1956, DD-835 had
participated in virtually every NATO naval exercise held in the Atlantic
and the Mediterranean.
In the mid-1950’s, no less than today, the Middle
East was an area of unrest requiring an American naval
"presence." In her deployment with the Sixth Fleet, USS
CHARLES P. CECIL served in the escort, picket, anti-submarine, and plane
guard roles during the Suez crisis of 1956. Once again, DD-835
"rotated" back to the United States.
This time, the USS CHARLES P. CECIL received
"state-of-the-art" electronic and computation equipment to
serve as a test bed for experimental procedures in anti-submarine and
anti-aircraft warfare. For the next three years, DD-835 was once again
on the "cutting edge" of modern naval tactics.
By the 1960’s, the "Cold War" was showing
every indication of heating up. During the Presidency of Dwight D.
Eisenhower, the Central Intelligence Agency began considering ways to
dispose of Fidel Castro. For various complex reasons, the plan developed
into the Bay of Pigs invasion. USS CHARLES P. CECIL’s role in the
abortive attempt is suggested by several sources; she served as an
intelligence-gatherer, decoy, and screen for naval forces shadowing the
The Cuban "issue" next developed into a more
obvious threat to the United States. American reconnaissance flights
uncovered Russian missile installations around the island. President
John F. Kennedy declared a naval "Quarantine", during which
all ships entering Cuban waters were to be stopped and searched; the
Cuban Missile Crisis was on! On the evening of October 29, 1961, CECIL
had completed replenishment at Guantanamo Bay and was cruising 200 miles
off Haiti when a surfaced Russian submarine was identified on radar. The
intruder soon submerged. The sub had apparently been stationed in the
area to count vessels entering Gitmo, and this time had been caught! For
the next thirty-four hours, the Russian tried every trick to shake the
persistent tin can, but without any luck. Finally, the Russian submarine
resurfaced and was escorted out of the area. CECIL had "sunk"
one of the newest classes of Red attack submarine.
This was not the CECIL’s final brush with the
Soviets. Another source mentions an incident during NATO exercises in
the North Atlantic when CECIL’s data gathering placed her near the
center of a Russian task group. Both sides went to general quarters,
readied armament, and exchanged menacing looks, but fortunately, cool
heads prevented an "incident" and war was averted. CECIL’s
"close encounters" were frequent in the sixties.
Along with her sisters, USS CHARLES P. CECIL, for all
of her refits, was feeling her age. Destroyers, perhaps more than any
vessel, face harsh duty. The appellation "tin can" also refers
to her "slender build." At fifteen, DD-835 was considered
"old". The Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations, faced with
the approaching obsolescence of many of the Navy’s war-built
"cans", took a controversial step. The initial rebuilding of
the remaining GEARING, SUMNER, and some FLETCHER vessels began at the
end of the 1950’s under the Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization
program, called FRAM.
FRAM was predicated on a number a realities. Soviet
submarine developments during the post World War II period meant that
destroyers had to engage aggressors at a much greater distance to
adequately protect task group carriers. Improvements in anti-submarine
technology made the proposed tactics possible, DD-835’s operations had
proven that. The problem was one of escalating costs for new vessels,
while a large, aging destroyer fleet seemed durable enough for a
"few more years" of deployment.
USS CHARLES P. CECIL was scheduled for a FRAM I
modernization in New York. At an estimated cost of $11 million, DD-835
received a redesigned superstructure, featuring lighter weight materials
to compensate for the added weight of her new weaponry. A new, broader
bridge overlooked two triple Mk. 32 anti-submarine torpedo tubes capable
of shooting Mk.44 acoustic homing torpedoes. A new ASROC launcher, with
the capacity of delivering either rocket-assisted anti-submarine
torpedoes or nuclear depth charges to targets more than 10,000 yards
away, was installed between her stacks. A hanger for a DASH remotely
controlled helicopter, along with a "flight deck", was added
to the after deck house, By May 1964, CECIL was back in commission.
Like many of her sisters during the period from
1969-1972, DD-835 cruised the waters of the Western Pacific. CECIL’s
tours off Vietnam involved gunfire support missions, several of which
were reported to be so protracted that deck plates and hatches buckled,
and the landing of reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering units
"behind enemy lines", if that term is accurate in a conflict
notorious for having no formal lines. "Spook" operations and
the launching of photographic drones kept the crew busy when they
weren’t "blasting Charlie."
By the early 1970’s, twenty-four ships of the
CHARLES F. ADAMS class of DDG were already operational, along with the
older DUCATUR, COONTZ, and FORREST SHERMANS. Fast frigates of the OLIVER
HAZARD PERRY, KNOX, BROKE, and GARCIA classes were on the planning
boards or in the water. FRAMed "cans" like CECIL were no
longer "first line" equipment.
Once again, DD-835 took up her role as a "school
ship." In July 1973, USS CHARLES P. CECIL was assigned to the Naval
Reserve Training program, where she served at Newport, Norfolk, Groton
and a number of other stations. As usual, CECIL’s crew scored high
marks in steaming and fighting. The two Navy "E’s" she had
earned in the 1950’s were joined by numerous commendations. After
exercises off Andros Island in 1975, her crew was rewarded with five
days liberty in Nassau. A modern American attack submarine had been no
better at eluding CECIL than the Russians had ten years before. This
time, the commander of the Atlantic Cruiser-Destroyer Force had been
aboard CECIL to witness the exercises.
DD-835 was stricken from Navy lists in October 1979.
By the time of her decommissioning ceremony the Naval Submarine Base,
Groton, Connecticut on 1 October, 1979, she had participated in thirteen
Mediterranean cruises, two Middle Eastern tours, two tours off Vietnam,
and numerous NATO and Second Fleet operations in the Western Atlantic.
In 1980, USS CHARLES P. CECIL was sold to the Greek government. As of
this writing, DD-835, now the Helenic Navy’s APOSTOLIS (D 216)
continues to serve, FORTY-FIVE YEARS after her launch!
Much has been written about the FRAM program. Hundreds
of billions of dollars were spent on 131 ships; FRAM I ship conversions
were expected to have their service lives for at least eight to ten
years, while FRAM II vessels were expected to last for at least five
years. In fact, the program was highly successful. While the DASH
program proved to be a failure, the ships themselves were remarkably
durable. More than fourteen years elapsed between the completion of USS
CHARLES P. CECIL’s FRAM rebuilding and her release from service with
USS CHARLES P. CECIL, launched too late to serve in
the war for which she was designed, valiantly served the US fleet
through thirty-five years of cold wars, crises, and threats. Her
periodic "face lifts", modernization, and rebuilding had
up-dated her technology, but it was her highly dedicated and
professional crew that gave life and longevity to DD-835.
TIN CAN SAILORS wishes to thank Kelly L. Combs, Louis
W. Hey, Robert Armstrong, Leroy Timmons, Stephen Anderson, Donald
Walker, Ray Raposo, Pon Constantineau and Charles Miller for their
information and assistance in researching this ship dedication.