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 A Tin Can Sailors
Destroyer History

 USS AARON WARD
(DM-34)

Named for Aaron Ward, who distinguished himself at the Battle of Santiago during the Spanish-American War and served as the Supervisor of New York Harbor until he retired in 1913, the DM-34 was the third ship to bear the admiral's name. Launched as the DD-773 on 5 May 1944, she was reclassified DM-34 on 19 July. The WARD was commissioned 28 October 1944 as a unit of Division 9, Mine Squadron 3.

She arrived at Pearl Harbor on 15 February 1945. With a month of additional training behind her, she entered the lagoon at Ulithi on 16 March to prepare for the invasion of Okinawa. On the 19th, she put to sea bound for the Ryukyus. The mine force arrived late on 22 March and the next day began sweeping operations off Kerama Retto. While supporting minesweeping operations around Kerama Retto and Okinawa, the WARD's gun crews shot down three enemy aircraft.

Finally, on the day of the initial landings, the DM moved in to screen the heavy warships covering the troops ashore. She continued that duty until 4 April when she left Okinawan waters for minor repairs at Guam. Returning to take up picket duty in the Kerama Retto area, the WARD's gun crews shot down two enemy planes and drove off countless others. She was in port at Kerama Retto for provisions and fuel when a kamikaze scored a hit on the PINKNEY (APH-2). Her crew helped fight the fire blazing aboard the stricken transport and, in the process of bringing the fire under control, rescued twelve survivors.

Back at sea on 30 April, the DM took up her position on radar picket station. She fought off several air attacks before foul weather closed in, keeping enemy raids at a minimum for the next three days. By the afternoon of 3 May, however, the weather began to clear. At 1822, general quarters sounded. The WARD's radar had picked up bogies at twenty-seven miles distance. Two of the planes broke out of the formation and made a run on the WARD. Her gunners opened fire on the first and began scoring hits when he'd closed the range to 4,000 yards. That was when the pilot began his suicide dive. His calculations were off and trailing smoke, the plane plunged into the water 100 yards off the ship's starboard quarter. The impact carried the plane's engine, propeller, and part of one wing into the DM's after deck house, but with little damage and no casualties.

The WARD's crew had no time to cheer because the second of the kamikazes was right behind the first. Her gunners destroyed the plane at a distance of 1,200 yards. At that point, a Zeke appeared off the WARD's stern. Struck repeatedly by antiaircraft fire, the plane continued on its deadly course. Just before plowing into the ship's superstructure, the pilot released his bomb, which penetrated her hull below the water line and exploded in the after engine room. The ensuing explosion flooded the after engine and fire rooms, ruptured fuel tanks, set the leaking oil ablaze, and severed steering control connections to the bridge. The rudder jammed at hard left, and the WARD turned in a tight circle while slowing to about twenty knots. Meanwhile the plane itself had spread destruction around the after deck house, killing and injuring many of the ship's crew. Her Number 3, five-inch mount lost power but continued under local control.

For the next twenty minutes, the ship's air defense kept the enemy at a safe distance while her damage control parties worked feverishly to put out the fires, repair what damage they could, jettison ammunition in danger of exploding, and attend to the wounded. The ship still could not maneuver properly and was particularly vulnerable when she and the other ships on station number ten came under furious attack at about 1859. Nearby, the LITTLE (DD-803) was sent to the bottom by five kamikaze hits, and a suicide plane also sank the LSMR-195. The WARD, herself, was the target of two enemy planes. Her gunners splashed one and exploded the other in the air with a direct hit. Almost immediately thereafter, two Vals dove on the crippled ship. One began his run on the WARD, apparently aiming for the bridge. Heavy fire from her guns forced the plane to veer toward the after portion of the ship. As he passed over the signal bridge, the attacker carried away halyards and antennae assemblies, smashed into the stack, and then hit the water just off the starboard side.

With not a second to spare, the WARD's gunners had to swing quickly to face another attacker coming in just forward of the ship's port beam. Continuing through a rain of antiaircraft fire, the attacking pilot released a bomb just before he crashed into the WARD's main deck. The bomb exploded in the forward fire room causing the ship to lose propulsion. Now unable to maneuver at all, she lay in the path of a fifth enemy plane. The raider came out of the smoke and crashed into her deck house bulkhead starting fires and injuring and killing many more crewmen. It was now forty minutes after the attack began, and the action hadn't ended for the WARD and her crew.

At about 1921, another suicide plane dove in on the ship's port quarter crashing into her superstructure. Burning gasoline engulfed the deck in flames, and the ship's 40-mm ammunition began exploding. Still more men died or were wounded. By now, the ship was ablaze, dead in the water, her superstructure deck demolished. Her damage control crews fought valiantly to contain the fire and flooding, but the WARD was beginning to settle in the water. And the enemy had not yet finished with her.

A final bomb-laden attacker made a high-speed, low-level approach and crashed into the base of the DM's number two stack. The explosion blew the plane, the stack, searchlight, and two 20-mm gun mounts into the air. The debris was strewn across the deck aft of stack Number 1. Lying low in the water, the WARD was listing eight degrees to starboard, her main deck just five inches above the water. With the help of two LCSs, her crew, joined by gunners and sailors from the Black Gang who no longer had stations to tend, fought through the night in the midst of flames and exploding ammunition to save their ship. Damage control parties bravely wet down the magazines by hand, knowing that the ammunition could explode at any minute. The ship's doctor and a handful of corpsmen treated fifty-five major and twenty lesser injuries during the night. Finally at 2106, the SHANNON (DM-25) took the WARD in tow. In "fifty-two minutes of hell," forty-five of her crew were either killed, missing, or died of wounds and forty-nine others were wounded. According to one later report, the WARD had been the victim of "one of the most intense and carefully coordinated mass suicide attacks on record." She arrived at Kerama Retto on 4 May and was greeted by a message from Admiral Nimitz. "We all admire a ship that can't be licked," read the message. "Congratulations on your magnificent performance."

After six weeks of repairs, and with one engine to power her, the WARD headed for home on 11 June. Her fighting days had come to an end, and the ship limped eastward, arriving in New York in mid-August 1945. The AARON WARD was decommissioned on 28 September 1945 and was stricken from the navy's lists 11 October 1945. She was finally sold for scrap on 1 July 1946.

 

From The Tin Can Sailor, April 1999


Copyright 1999 Tin Can Sailors.
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