USS BENSON DD-421 Ship History
The Tin Can Sailor, July 1997
USS BENSON was launched at Bethlehem Ship Building’s Quincy, Massachusetts, yard on November 15, 1939, the leader of one of the largest destroyer classes ever built in peacetime.
The new destroyer was named for ADM William Shepherd Benson, whose career spanned more than forty years of active service. I n 1915, ADM Benson was appointed the nation’s first Chief of Naval Operations and it was the Admiral who coordinated American maritime operations during World War I. The Navy’s choice of a name for the new class would prove to be unusually appropriate. Like their namesake, BENSONs would play a prominent role in a “Great War.”
Following her commissioning in July 1940, USS BENSON was assigned to the Atlantic Fleet, where she passed much of the year in training exercises. The efforts would prove valuable in the near future.
By the spring of 1941, war had spread through Europe and Asia and the Roosevelt Administration was attempting to protect the Western Hemisphere with a neutrality zone. Dozens of destroyers were assigned to secure the convoy routes between North America and Iceland, the eastern “outpost” near the neutrality zone boundary. BENSON would complete six convoy runs between Newfoundland and Iceland prior to March 1942.
Few were surprised when the unofficial conflict which had seen the loss of so many men in the name of neutrality degenerated into a full-scale shooting war. Experienced anti-submarine forces were in short supply and BENSON was immediately assigned to convoy merchant vessels through to the British Isles and, later, to North Africa in preparation for invasion.
Casco Bay, Maine was used as a convenient rendezvous for naval forces north of Boston. Scores of vessels crowded the approaches to the anchorage, and in the predawn hours of October 19, 1942, the inevitable happened. USS MASSACHUSETTS (BB-59), accompanied by several escorts, was sailing north after extensive firing exercises. Returning from an arduous convoy assignment, USS BENSON ran afoul of the battleship’s escort, USS TRIPPE (DD-403). Both ships were extensively damaged. Four crewmen were killed and three others were injured aboard TRIPPE. Both ships spent weeks in New York for repair. BENSON would return to convoy duty in support of the invasions of Europe scheduled for 1943-1944.
After the Allied invasion of North Africa provided a base in the summer and fall of 1942, Hitler’s Europe could be attacked from any number of directions. Winston Churchill, the British Prime Minister, believed Italy to be the “soft underbelly,” so the next step called for an assault on the Italian “boot.”
DD-421 was assigned to forces in the Mediterranean in July 1943. The Allies planned to land on Sicily, off the “toe” of the Italian “boot” in Operation HUSKY. American destroyers would serve as convoy escorts, fire support vessels for the landing force, and as anti-air protection for the vulnerable transports. BENSON nearly met her end off the town of Gela on Sicily’s south coast.
German and Italian forces had no intention of relinquishing Sicily without a fight. German torpedo boats, called E- Boats, scoured the coast for targets, while entire Luftwaffe squadrons attacked the landing area in support of some of the strongest tank units available to the Axis. The attack on the evening of July 11, 1943 began with a flight of Axis bombers dropping flares astern of the destroyer. Every ship in the area opened up, and BENSON became the target of considerable “friendly fire,” but the worst was yet to come. Heinkel HE-111 medium bombers dropped their entire load of bombs along the destroyer’s starboard side, fortunately missing the vessel, but spraying DD-421 with fragments that wounded LCDR R. J. Woodaman and eighteen crewmen. Junkers JU-87 STUKA dive-bombers then attempted to finish off the ship. After an aerial battle that lasted more than an hour, the destroyers in the area were ordered to lay a smoke screen. The remaining aircraft fled.
BENSON moved north with Operation AVALANCHE, the invasion of the mainland at Salerno. Once again, DD-421 faced a bewildering variety of enemies. Nazi artillerymen blasted away at invaders with 88-mm. anti-tank guns; Luftwaffe bombers swept across the anchorage; even submarines and robot bombs were a threat. BENSON came through it all.
Hitler ordered additional undersea forces into the Mediterranean to harass Allied shipping and DD-421 was once again detailed to anti-submarine forces. For the next two months, BENSON alternated between convoy duty and anti-submarine sweeps. Finally, the destroyer returned to New York for a much needed refit.
DD-421 returned to the Mediterranean just in time to support landings in Southern France. Fire support missions required BENSON’s expertise along the coast of France and Italy throughout the summer and fall of 1944. A final return to the United States for an overhaul ended with one more convoy assignment to the British Isles.
By the spring of 1945, Axis forces had been pushed out of France and veteran destroyers were needed in the Pacific. BENSON arrived in time to screen carrier forces making final attacks on Wake Island. She then resumed her old duty, convoy work, this time between Ulithi, Okinawa, and the Philippines. The destroyer would serve with DESRON 50 at the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay, September 2, 1945.
Following the end of hostilities, BENSON was ordered to the Charleston Navy Yard for deactivation. The destroyer remained out of commission and in reserve until February 26, 1954, when she was transferred to the Nationalist Chinese Navy. She served as LO YANG with Taiwanese forces for the next twenty-one years, ultimately being scrapped in 1975.