USS WILLIAMS DD-108 Ship History
Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, February 2016
The second Williams (Destroyer No. 108) was laid down on 25 March 1918 at San Francisco, Calif., by the Union Iron Works plant of the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corp.; launched on 4 July 1918; sponsored by Mrs. H. G. Leopold, the wife of Comdr. H. G. Leopold; and commissioned on 1 March 1919 at the Mare Island Navy Yard, Vallejo, Calif., Comdr. Matthias E. Manly in command.
Following shakedown, Williams and Belknap (Destroyer No. 251) departed Newport, R.I., on 5 June 1919, bound for the Azores. Arriving at Ponta Delgada on the llth, Williams proceeded to Gibraltar, where she picked up information pertaining to minefields still extant in the Adriatic, for delivery to the Commander, Naval Forces, Eastern Mediterranean. The destroyer’s brief tour of duty in this area of the world took her to Spalato, Yugoslavia; Gallipoli, in the Dardanelles; and Trieste, Italy, where she operated as part of the American naval forces keeping watch on the tense local situations there in the aftermath of the World War.
After returning to the United States, via Spalato and Gibraltar, and arriving at New York City on 1 August 1919, Williams was eventually assigned to the Pacific Fleet. Classified DD-108 on 17 July 1920, the destroyer operated out of San Diego until decommissioned there on 7 June 1922 and placed in reserve.
The German invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939 began hostilities in Europe, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt immediately declared America’s neutrality. To augment the fleet units already engaged in the Neutrality Patrol hurriedly placed off the eastern seaboard and gulf coast of the United States, the Navy recommissioned 77 destroyers and light minelayers.
Williams was accordingly placed in commission at San Diego on 6 November 1939, Lt. Comdr. Louis N. Miller in command. Following a refit at Mare Island, the destroyer operated in the San Diego area until sailing for Panama on 5 February. Transiting the Panama Canal on the 16th, she lay at Balboa for a brief time. During her stay there, the destroyer “manned the rail” in honor of President Roosevelt, who was then engaged in an informal inspection of the Canal Zone’s defenses. Underway soon thereafter, Williams arrived at the Naval Operating Base (NOB), Key West, Fla., on 27 February.
Over the ensuing months, Williams operated with the Atlantic Squadron of the fleet, conducting neutrality patrols as well as training cruises. While conducting her scheduled operations from Key West, the destroyer took part in short-range battle practices and ship-handling drills, while keeping a weather eye on shipping in her vicinity. In March, she conducted an astronomical survey in the Bahamas.
On 9 April, Williams transported a survey party to Palmetto Island in the British West Indies before shifting to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. After moving back to Key West for a time, Williams departed Florida’s waters on 2 June and arrived at New York on 4 June. She conducted two training cruises for embarked Naval Reserve contingents, which kept her busy into the late summer of 1940. After a final refit at the Boston Navy Yard, she departed Charlestown, Mass., on 18 September, bound for Canadian waters; and reached Halifax, Nova Scotia, two days later.
As one of the 50 flush-deck destroyers transferred to the British under lend-lease-in return for leases on important base sites in the Western Hemisphere, Williams was selected as one of the six units slated for the Royal Canadian Navy. Soon after her arrival at Halifax on 20 September 1940, she got underway for a brief familiarization cruise for the Canadian crewmen. Williams was decommissioned and turned over to the Canadian government on 24 September; her name was subsequently struck from the Navy list on 8 January 1941.
Renamed HMCS St. Clair (1.65), her name commemorating the river which forms the boundary between Michigan and Ontario, the destroyer was fitted out for convoy escort duties and sailed for the British Isles on 30 November, in company with HMCS St. Croix (ex-McCook, DD-152) and HMCS Niagara (ex-Thatcher, DD-162).
Operating with the Clyde Escort force, St. Clair escorted convoys in and out of the heavily travelled “western approaches” to the British Isles in the spring of 1941. Late in May, when the powerful German battleship Bismarck and the heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen slipped through the Denmark Straits, the “flush decker” became involved in the intensive and widespread effort to destroy the German dreadnought. Eventually, a British force located and sank Bismarck on 27 May, but not before the tragic loss of the battle cruiser HMS Hood on 24 May. The search for the elusive German battlewagon brought some of the British units dangerously close to exhaustion of their fuel supplies. Two Tribal-class destroyers, HMS Mashona and HMS Tartar, were located by German long-rang bombers soon after Bismarck had slipped beneath the waves and sunk in devastating attacks. St. Clair, near the battle area, became involved in the action when she, too, came under attack. The old destroyer doggedly put up a good defense, shooting down one, and possibly, a second, enemy plane.
St. Clair subsequently joined the Newfoundland Escort Force after this group’s establishment in June 1941 and operated on convoy escort missions between Newfoundland and Reykjavik, Iceland, through the end of 1941. St. Clair was assigned to the Western Local Escort Force following repairs at St. John, New Brunswick, in early 1942, and operated out of Halifax over the next two years, escorting coastwise convoys until withdrawn from this service in 1943 due to her deteriorating condition.
Operating as a submarine depot ship at Halifax until deemed unfit for further duty “in any capacity” in August 1944, St. Clair was used as a fire-fighting and damage control hulk until 1946. Handed over to the War Assets Corp. for disposal, on 6 October 1946, St. Clair was subsequently broken up for scrap.
Williams (DE-290), a Rudderow-class destroyer escort, was slated to be built at Hingham, Mass., by the Bethlehem-Hirigham Shipyard; but the contract for her was cancelled on 12 March 1944.