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 A Tin Can Sailors
Destroyer History

 USS J. WILLIAM DITTER
(DM-31)

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.

 

From The Tin Can Sailor, April 1999


Copyright 1999 Tin Can Sailors.
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