A Tin Can Sailors Destroyer History
USS ENGLISH DD-696
The Tin Can Sailor, July 1998
USS ENGLISH was named for RADM Robert Henry English, a prominent submariner who had been killed in an aircraft crash while serving as Commander, Submarines, Pacific Fleet, in 1943.
DD-696 was laid down at the Kearney (NJ) facility of Federal Shipbuilding in October, 1943 and launched on February 27, 1944. She was commissioned on May 4, 1944. By September, she was already cruising Hawaiian waters, serving as a plane guard for carriers involved in qualifying pilots for air operations. Freed from the rather mundane duty, ENGLISH was assigned to the powerful carrier Task Force 38 for operations in the western Pacific. She would screen the carriers in strikes at the heart of Japanese air power, lashing out at airfields in Formosa, Luzon, Okinawa, and along the coast of Indochina. She then returned to Ulithi to replenish and to escort USS INDIANAPOLIS (CA- 35) back to operations with a new task force, TF 58. The new group struck even deeper into the Japanese empire in an effort to prevent Japan’s dwindling air forces from supporting Imperial troops in the Philippines.
ENGLISH would protect carrier forces in the final months of the war as the powerful task forces repeatedly struck at the Japanese Home Islands. She escorted the heavily damaged USS FRANKLIN (CV-13) to safety after the carrier had been wounded by a kamikaze attack, then returned to the Okinawa campaign to provide fire support. ENGLISH would also provide assistance to USS BUNKER HILL (CV-17) when the carrier was hit by a suicider. By removing VADM Marc Mitscher and his staff, from the flaming flat top and placing them on a nearby carrier, DD-696 helped to assure that the command structure would remain intact. The destroyer would continue screening carriers through the remaining days of the war.
After a brief tour on occupation duty, ENGLISH set sail for the home, reaching Boston (MA) Navy yard on April 26, 1946. Immediately after the war, ENGLISH served extensively as a Naval Reserve training ship, based first in Boston, then Charleston and New Orleans. She began her first Mediterranean deployment with the Sixth Fleet in September, 1949, returning to her new home port of Norfolk (VA) in January, 1950. For eight months, ENGLISH underwent training off the East Coast and in the Caribbean, while events on the other side of the world spawned another war for the veteran tin can.
As North Korean forces spilled across the 38th Parallel to start the Korean War, dozens of destroyers were ordered to the east. ENGLISH began her deployment in October 1950, serving with Task Force 90. The destroyer alternated between shore bombardment missions, carrier screening, and “interdiction”; an ambiguous term that could apply to the blasting of railroad bridges as well as the examination of sampans. DD- 696 performed all tasks with precision. Her accurate fire helped delay North Korean forces in their attempt to isolate and swallow up the United Nations Tenth Corps at Hungnam, lashing away at targets during the day and illuminating suspicious movements at night with star shells. Thousands of shells were expended in protecting the ever-shrinking perimeter while Tenth Corp troops were successfully withdrawn. She then turned her guns on the port facilities, rendering them useless to the North Koreans.
ENGLISH served in a variety of roles along the Korean coast. Assigned to shell enemy positions deep in North Korea, she accompanied two corvettes of the Royal Thai Navy. A snowstorm swept down from the north, blanketing the area and cutting visibility to zero. One corvette ran aground and, despite almost superhuman efforts, ENGLISH was unable to free her. DD-696 sank the craft with gunfire.
In one of the more unusual events of the war, ENGLISH was assigned to a unit of the Army of the Republic of Korea, becoming, in effect, a floating artillery battery for the infantrymen. She served in the role well, blasting away at forces blocking the ROK drive north, using the coastal roads. She completed her Korean service on blockade duty outside a number of Korean ports and in screening the carriers that continued to pound targets in the North. ENGLISH finally returned to her homeport of Norfolk (VA) in June 1951.
The years that remained to ENGLISH were spent like most of her sisters, shifting between training cruises and Mediterranean deployments. Finally, like the others, she would take her place as a Naval Reserve training vessel.
ENGLISH was severely damaged in a collision with USS WALLACE L. LIND (DD-703) while participating in a fleet exercise on October 31, 1954. Although DD-696 lost fifty feet of her bow, she lost no crewmen. Superior damage control, coupled with outstanding seamanship, brought the wounded destroyer into port under her own power.
When the Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization Program was initiated at the end of Dwight D. Eisenhower’s second term as President, candidate destroyers were surveyed. ENGLAND had been steaming for years without some long-needed repairs. The damage to her bow, while repaired brought to question whether or not she could be rehabilitated. The price tag for repair and modernization was estimated to exceed $13 million dollars. ENGLISH was not included in the FRAM program.
DD-696 remained as a training vessel along the East Coast and at Mayport (FL) into the 1970’s. Plans were afoot that would extend her career beyond all expectations, however.
In July 1970, a deal was struck with the government of Nationalist China on the island of Formosa. The Nationalists would be allowed to purchase ENGLISH for slightly less than a quarter of a million dollars, provided four Chinese vessels then under their control would be deactivated, along with the destroyer escort TAI KANG. The Chinese agreed.
USS ENGLISH was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register on May 15, 1970. The Chinese crew met their new vessel at Orange, Texas, in September 1970. With papers duly signed and the exchange of $225,000 for purchase and an additional $50,000 to prepare her for towing, USS ENGLISH became HUI YANG.
HUI YANG (Ship Number 906) continues to serve the Taiwanese Navy. After a number of rebuildings and modernizations, she provides anti-submarine protection against “mainland” China’s growing submarine fleet. At present, no known plans call for her disposal, although ships of her class are being replaced as more modern warships are placed on the market by the World’s naval powers. Regardless of her final fate, USS ENGLISH’s fifty years of service is remarkable.
DD-696 received four battle stars for her service in World War II and an additional four for Korean service.