J. William Ditter was a
congressman from Pennsylvania from 1932 to his death in an airplane
crash in 1943. He was a staunch advocate of a strong navy and was
vitally interested in its welfare. When the DD-751 was launched on 4
July 1944, she was named in honor of the congressman. She was
reclassified DM-31 on 19 July and was commissioned at the New York Navy
Yard 28 October 1944. Following shakedown and training, the new
minelayer steamed out of Norfolk on 13 January 1945 headed for the
Pacific as a unit of Division 9, Mine Squadron 3.
The U.S. Navy's
island-hopping push toward Japan's homeland reached its climax as the
DITTER steamed toward Okinawa. She arrived off the Japanese-held island
on 25 March 1945. During minesweeping operations the next day, the
ship's crew skillfully maneuvered her out of the path of a torpedo
launched by an enemy submarine. On 29 March, the immediate threat was
again from the sea, this time a pair of suicide boats. Robbed of their
surprise in the encounter off the coast of Okinawa, the two suicide
boats attempted to evade the deadly fire laid down by the DITTER's gun
crews but could not escape destruction. By the day of the invasion,
which turned out to be the largest amphibious assault of the Pacific
war, the DITTER and her sister ships had swept and marked the cleared
channels with buoys, contributing greatly to the success of the first
landings on 1 April. Later that day, the ship began escort duty,
protecting transports leaving the island at night.
In the early morning
hours of 2 April, the DITTER's gun crews got their first taste of real
action. When several enemy aircraft attacked the convoy she was
escorting, her gunners shot down two bombers within one minute and
assisted in destroying a third plane. On 12 April, the DITTER joined the
radar picket line searching the skies for enemy raiders. Almost
immediately, she came under heavy air attack. Thanks to the DITTER and
other radar picket ships, their advance warning prepared forces ashore
for incoming enemy planes. This was not good for the radar picket
forces, who became the targets of relentless attacks. The so-called
non-combatant DMs were almost constantly in the thick of battle. The
next day, her gun crews brought down a twin-engine bomber. Thereafter,
she was frequently under kamikaze attack. On 28 April, she narrowly
escaped damage when a suicide plane missed her by a scant thirty feet.
By the end of May, the DITTER had destroyed nine hostile planes and
assisted in the destruction of five others.
The "Fighting J.
Willy," as her crew affectionately called her, was patrolling southeast
of Nakagusuku Wan with the HARRY F. BAUER (DM-26) and the ELLYSON
(DD-454) on 6 June 1945. At 1713, the DITTER and BAUER were attacked by
a group of about eight kamikazes. Her gun crews downed three of the
planes as they dove out of the overcast skies. The wing of a fourth
glanced off her No. 2 stack before crashing into the sea. According to
historian Samuel Eliot Morison, nine minutes later, another struck her
hull on the port side just below the main deck level. The plane tore a
seven by fifty-foot hole in her side causing serious flooding in her
after fire room and forward engine room. The galley was temporarily out
of commission. The ship lost all power and her casualties were heavy --
ten men killed; twenty-seven wounded. Battling fire and water, her
damage control team made temporary repairs and kept her afloat until the
tug UTE reached the DITTER and towed her to Kerama Retto the next day.
The BAUER, which was also hit, escorted her. The successful enemy
strikes on to these two minelayers left only five of the original twelve
in Squadron 3 undamaged.
Eventually, the ship was patched up and she steamed out of Kerama Retto
on her long voyage home. The J. WILLIAM DITTER reached New York on 12
July 1945 and was decommissioned there on 28 September 1945. She was
scrapped in July 1946.