A Tin Can Sailors Destroyer History
USS TOLMAN DD-740
The Tin Can Sailor, April 1999
Commander Charles E. Tolman was commanding officer of the De HAVEN (DD-469) during operations in the Solomons in February 1943. Under attack by eight dive bombers, the ship’s gunners splashed three before a bomb struck the destroyer’s navigating bridge. It brought the ship to a stop and killed Commander Tolman. Two more hits sent Tolman’s ship to the bottom within two minutes.
Laid down as DD-740, the TOLMAN was reclassified as destroyer minelayer DM-28 on 19 July 1944. She was launched on 13 August and commissioned 27 October 1944 as a unit of Division 8, Mine Squadron 3. She headed for the Pacific on 13 January 1945, stopping at San Diego, before escorting the BIRMINGHAM (CL-62) to Pearl Harbor. It was then on to Eniwetok and Ulithi. On 19 March, she left Ulithi to cover the minesweepers clearing the approaches to the beaches of Okinawa.
Just after midnight on 28 March, the TOLMAN took on eight Japanese torpedo boats that closed rapidly to a distance of 4,000 yards. Her gun crews opened up with 5-inch and 40-mm gunfire. As torpedoes sped in the TOLMAN’s direction, her captain called for an increase in speed to 34 knots. The Black Gang delivered, and the ship successfully evaded the threat. The TOLMAN sank two of the boats and the rest laid down a smoke screen for cover. Using radar-control fire and star shells to track the remaining torpedo boats, the TOLMAN’s 5-inch gun crews opened up on them. Observers saw the last boat slow, apparently in trouble, and then with five-inch shells exploding all around, it sank without a trace. The DM had made a clean sweep of the torpedo boats.
Continuing on to her assigned duty, the TOLMAN joined minesweeping operations off Okinawa, warning other vessels away from dangerous waters and toward the freshly swept paths. At 1013 on the 28th, the TOLMAN was 500 yards from the SKYLARK (AM-63) when she hit a mine. Two patrol craft sped in to pick up the survivors, and the TOLMAN maneuvered in to pass a tow line to the stricken ship. She was just thirty yards away when the SKYLARK hit a second mine. The blast threw many more men into the sea, and the minesweeper began to settle in the water. The TOLMAN backed down to avoid the mine field and put her boats over to help the survivors. A raging fire on board and a diesel oil surface fire added to the mine hazard in making rescue a dangerous business. Working with the PC-1228 and PC-1179, the TOLMAN’s crew rescued 105 of the SKYLARK’s crew. The DM’s efficient rescue work helped keep SKYLARK’s losses to only the seven crewmen killed by the explosions and thirty-five wounded.
The next day, the TOLMAN was in the thick of heavy air attacks. She made radar contact with three Bettys. When they had closed to 8,000 yards, the gun crews on the TOLMAN’s 5-inch batteries began firing in radar control. One Betty lost altitude, winged over, and crashed into the sea. Five-inch shells chased the remaining two and one of them exploded in mid-air. The third disappeared.
More trouble arrived at 0610 when three Vals were taken under fire by the BARTON (DD-722) and the WILEY (DM-29) who brought down two of three raiders. The third began its suicide dive, coming in on the TOLMAN’s port bow from 11,000 yards. The three destroyers opened up with 5-inch and 40-mm fire. Apparently in trouble, the plane turned away at 3,000 yards, but a 40-mm shell caught its gas tank causing the plane to plummet trailing a stream of flames. With the skies clear for the moment, the WILEY was left to cover the sweep units and the TOLMAN retired to Kerama Retto to transfer the survivors of the SKYLARK to other ships. By nightfall, the TOLMAN and the HALL (DD-583) were shelling the Yonton and Kadena airfields on Okinawa.
On 2 April, the TOLMAN joined the screen for Transport Division 7. At 1835, twenty-five minutes after taking up her station with the convoy, three Bettys attacked. One fell to the barrage of the screening ships, but another crashed into the bridge of the GOODHUE (APA-127), and the third crashed close aboard another transport. More enemy planes followed and they, too, were taken under fire. At least two fired on by the TOLMAN’s guns were splashed, but in the melee, it was impossible to tell who could claim the hits.
The TOLMAN was headed for the Hagushi beaches to provide fire support at 0343 on 19 April when she shuddered to a halt, aground on Nagunna Reef. Efforts to back down were fruitless. Attempts to lighten the ship by unloading ammo and letting go the anchors also failed. First her third platform decks were flooded, followed by the ice machine room and the bilge of the engine and fire rooms. With rising seas, the surf was breaking over her fantail causing fears that the ship would break up. Finally on the 25th, a pair of tugs pulled her free of the reef and the salvage ship CLAMP (ARS-33) towed her to Kerama Retto for repairs.
By 28 June, she was at sea again, screening a convoy bound for Saipan, Pearl Harbor, and home. Stateside on 20 July, she underwent extensive repairs, remaining in San Pedro until 8 November 1945. On that day, she steamed out of San Pedro headed west, arriving in the Far East in early December. From December 1945 to February 1946, she operated out of Sasebo and then moved on to Pusan, Korea to continue the postwar clean-up of mines. She returned to San Francisco on 27 May. The TOLMAN remained in San Francisco until 20 January 1947 when she steamed to San Diego to be placed out of commission in reserve as part of the San Diego Group, Pacific Reserve Fleet on 29 January 1947. Redesignated MMD-28 in January 1969, she was finally stricken from the navy’s list on 1 December 1970.
In September 1984, Tim Rizzuto, Curator of the KIDD (DD-661) discovered the TOLMAN at the Pacific Missile Test Center at Point Mugu, California, “the last port for many fine Tin Cans.” With little time to spare before the destroyer minelayer was moved to the inactive ships facility at Mare Island, Rizzuto arranged to salvage some of her original gear for the restoration of the KIDD. Ultimately, he and his crew had just two days to cut, pry, and manhandle the equipment off the ship. Their list included four “K” guns; four roller loader dollies and release gear for depth charge racks; thirty 5-inch/38 caliber powder cans; forty Blue-Grey Kapok life jackets; a RAK-RAL radio receiver combination; a 5-inch mount open ring sight; ring sights from the MK 51 directors; MK 14 gun sights; the drive chain for the lathe; spare circuit breakers; life raft racks; 36-inch carbon-arc searchlight; a MK12/12 fire control radar antenna; and a one-foot section of the mine rails that made the DMs unique.
Given the time and hands available, Rizzuto took as much as he could and, in a sense, the TOLMAN lives on in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, not as the memorial she could have been, but as a part of the restored KIDD. She spent her remaining years at Mare Island, then on 25 January 1997 was loaded with a high-powered explosive test charge and towed sixty-one miles off shore. At 1520, the charge was detonated and the ship’s stern plunged underwater. Eight minutes later, she slipped beneath the surface to her final resting place 12,000 feet below.