USS Alden (DD-211)

USS Alden (DD-211) was a Clemson class destroyer that survived the early disastrous battles in the Dutch East Indies, and spent most of the rest of the war on escort duties in the Caribbean and Atlantic, along with one spell with a hunter-killer submarine warfare group.

The Alden was named after James Alden, Jr, a US naval officer who took part in several expeditions of exploration, fought in the Mexican War and with the US Navy during the American Civil War. After the war he remained in the Navy, serving as Chief of the Bureau of Navigation then as flag officer in charge of the European Station from 1871-73.

The Alden was laid down by Cramp’s of Philadelphia on 24 October 1918, launched on 14 May 1919 and commissioned on 24 November 1919. After her shakedown cruise she was allocated to the US fleet still operating in European waters, departing from the United States on 5 December 1919. She visitied Constantinople, and then moved on to Samsun, Turkey (half way along the Black Sea coast of Anatolia). In the spring of 1920 she visited the Adriatic, calling in at Spalato (Split), Gravosa and Pola and serving as the station ship at Venice, as well as carrying mail and passengers. She then returned to the Black Sea to help the relief efforts for refuges fleeing the Russian Civil War, before returning to the Adriatic once again. She visited Venice on 12-13 December 1920 and Salonika on 15 December 1920.

The Alden was then transferred to the Asiatic Station, sailing east via the Suez Canal and reaching Manila on 2 February 1921. After some time at the Cavite navy base she departed for Chinese waters, reaching Chefoo (now Yantai) on 22 June 1921. She moved to Shanghai in September, then to Hankow on the Yangtze River in early October, before returing to the Philippines. She spent several months operating in Philippine waters, before returing to China in June 1922. She then visited Yohohama in Japan, before returned to the United States where she was decommissioned on 24 January 1923.

The Alden was recommissioned on 8 May 1930 and joined Destroyer Division 46, Destroyer Squadrons, Battle Fleet (later moving to Destroyer Division 10). She was based at San Diego, and spent most of the next six years engaged in exercises. She took part in six of the US Navy’s major fleet exercises, but missed Fleet Problem XVIII of 1936 as the ships of Destroyer Division 10 were undergoing an overhaul.

On 14 April 1936 the Alden’s sister-ship USS Smith Thompson (DD-212) collided with the Whipple (DD-217) and was written off. The Alden was chosen to replace her on the Asiatic Station and departed for the Far East on 15 July 1936. She reached Chefoo on 20 August 1936, where she joined Destroyer Division 13. She soon settled into the routine of the US Asiatic Fleet, spending the summer based at Chefoo and the winter at Cavite in the Philippines. This routine was the basis of her activities until Pearl Harbor.

In 1937, with Japan and China on the verge of open war, the Soviets encouraged a US fleet to play a good will visit to Vladivostok. The Alden was one of the destroyers chosen to accompmany Admiral E. Yarnell, Commander-in-chief of the Asiatic Fleet and his flagship USS Augusta (CA-31) on the visit. She was also accompanied by the Paul Jones (DD-230), Whipple (DD-217) and Barker (DD-213). The fleet arrived at Vladivostok on 28 July and departed on 1 August, after the first visit to a Soviet port by a US fleet since diplomatic relations between the US and USSR began in 1933. Despite this diplomatic success, the Japanese weren’t discouraged, and open fighting soon broke out at Shanghai. The Alden spent the rest of the summer watching events in China, before returning to the Philippines for the winter as normal. On December she put to sea to help the American Dollar liner SS President Hoover, which had run aground of Formosa. She left port so quickly that her captain had to be flown out on a Grumman JF-2 ‘Duck’ to catch up with her ship! This was a potentially dangerous situation, as the liner was in Japanese waters, and tensions were high after Japanese aircraft sank the US gunboat Panay (PR-5) in the Yangtze River on 12 December (the Alden’s crew actually placed 47 rounds of 4in ammo in the ready racks on 14 December, just in case!), but the US warships received official permission to enter Japanese water and provide aid to the liner.

In June 1938 the Alden’s division visted Haiphong in French Indochina on its way back to Chefoo. After the outbreak of war in Europe in September 1939 the Alden was loaned to the South China Patrol, to guard against any Japanese attempts to take advantage of the situation, staying there until November 1939.

Anyone who served on her between 3-24 July 1937, 3 August-18 November 1937, 18 July-27 September 1938, 30 January-27 February 1939 or 6 June-7 August 1939 qualified for the China Service Medal.

The Alden made her last peace time visit to China in 1940, before Admiral Thomas C. Hart, commander-in-chief of the Asiatic Fleet since 1939, decided to pull his larger warships back to the Philippines, only leaving the South China Patrol and the gunboats on the Yangtze in place. The Alden spent the remaining months of peace for the US Fleet in a mix of training and upkeep at Cavite.

1941

In the autumn of 1941 Admiral Hart decided to move some of his ships to Balikpapan and Tarakan on Borneo, to prevent them from being cut off from their potential Dutch and British allies if the Japanese launched a surprise attack. The cruiser Marblehead (CL-12), the Alden’s destroyer division 57, destroyer division 58 and the support ship Black Hawk were ordered to make the move on 24 November 1941, forming Task Force 5. The official excuse was to be that they were picking up fuel, but they were ordered to ‘have difficulty’ in doing so, so they could remain in port for a ‘protracted period if necessary’. Alden reached Balikpapan on 30 November 1941.

While she was there Sir Tom Phillips, the Commander in Chief of the British Eastern Fleet flew to Manila to try and gai the loan of these destroyers to help screen his capital ships. At first Admiral Hart refused, but after a Japanese convoy was detected in the Gulf of Siam he changed his mind, and ordered Destroyer Division 57 and the Black Hawk to move to Batavia on Java. Soon after they left Balikpapan they were ordered to move to Singapore instead, where they were to join the fleet being built around the battleship HMS Prince of Wales and the battle cruiser HMS Repulse. The US destroyers were too late to help the British. At 0300 on 8 December 1941 news reached them of the start of war against Japan. That evening Admiral Phillips sailed north to try and intercept an invasion convoy heading for northern Malaya. On the morning of 10 December the US destroyers reached Singapore, but that afternoon Japanese aircraft attacked the British fleet. Admiral Phillips sent an urgent signal asking for more destroyers, but by the time the US ships were ready to put to sea both British capital ships and been sunk, the survivors rescued by British and Australian destroyers and the entire action was over. The Alden and her sisters put to see at 1509 and reached the site of the battle, but failed to find any more survivors. The US ships returned to Singapore on 11 December.

After this initial disaster, attention turned to holding on to the ‘Malay Barrier’ - Singapore and the Dutch East Indies - in an attempt to keep the Japanese out of the Indian Ocean and away from Australia. A new multinational command, the ABDA (American-British-Dutch-Australian) Command was forced, with General Wavell at its head. The Alden, along with other available American warships, began to concentrate in Australian waters, ready to try and defend the barrier. The Alden left Singapore on 14 December, arriving at Surabaya on Java on 15 December. She set sail as part of the screen of USS Houston (CA-30) on 20 December, and reached Port Darwin on 28 December, along with an important group of support ships met during the voyage -  the oiler Pecos (AO-6), the submarine tender Otus (AS-20), and the supply ship Gold Star (AG-12),

1942

The first few weeks of 1942 were spent escort troop and supply convoys moving between Australia and the key points in the Malay Barrier. On 20 January 1942 she was escorted the oiler Trinity (AO-13) back to Port Darwin when the Trinity reported a torpedo attack. The Alden carried out a depth charge attack on the possible target, but without success. She then escorted the oiler safely back to port. Later on the same day she was ordered to accompamy the Edsall back to the scene of the attack. The US ships arrived late on the same day, where they found two Australian warships already attacking a possible target. The submarine, I-124, had actually already been sunk, by the Australian corvette HMAS Deloraine, but this wasn’t clear at the time, so the depth charge attacks continued well into 21 January.

On 3 February the Alden left Darwin to escort a convoy heading for Java. She reached Tjilatjap, on the south coast of Java on 10 February. On 12 February she met up with USS Paul Jones and the British auxiliary HMS Ban Hong Liong, and escorted the auxiliary to Koepang on Timor, where thye arrived on 16 February. The Alden then returned to Tjilatjap, arriving on 16 February.

The Japanese were now about to launch their invasion of Java. The Allies scraped together a multinational fleet, commanded by the Dutch Rear Admiral Karel Doorman and built built around the US cruiser Houston, the Dutch cruisers De Ruyter and Java, two Dutch destroyers and five Americna destroyers, in a desperate attempt to intercept the invasion fleet.

The fleet put to sea after dark on 25 February and conducted an unsuccessful sweep along the northern coast of Madura Island, returning to Surabaya early on 26 February. Later on the same day the fleet, reinforced by the cruisers HMAS Perth and HMS Exeter and three British destroyers, put to see once again. Another sweep along the northern coast of Madura found nothing.Early on 27 February the fleet detected Japanese ships coming from Bawean Island. Doorman decided to intercept this force, triggering the disastrous battle of the Java Sea. The Alden was second in the line of destroyers on the disengaged side of the Allied column of cruisers, and for some time was essentially an observer while the battle raged. When the Exeter was damaged and forced out of the line, the Alden helped lay a smoke screen to protect her. As the battle began to turn badly against the Allies, Doorman ordered the US destroyers to launch a torpedo attack. The Alden fired her starboard torpedoes at 1822 and her port torpedoes at 1827, helping to lift the pressure on the Exeter. This allowed the Allied cruisers to break contact with the Japanese fleet. By now the US destroyers had used up all of their torpedoes, and they were sent back to Surabaya, leaving the cruisers alone. Later in the day the four remaining cruisers ran into the Japanese once again, and both the De Ruyter and Java were sunk.

The Alden reached Surabaya at 0210 on 28 February. She took on fuel, before that night Destroyer Division 58 was given permission to attempt to break out of the Japanese trap and escape to Australia. They got past the defensive minefields around Surabaya an hour before midnight, and then sailed into the Bali Strait. At around 2am on 29 February the four US destroyers ran into four Japanese destroyers from the Bali Attack Unit (Hatsukaru, Nenohi, Wakaba, and Hatsushimo). A short gunnery duel followed, before the US ships laid smoke and escaped at full speed. This was their last brush with the Japanese, and the Alden reached Fremantle on 4 March 1942.

Although the Alden remained in service for the rest of the war, her most dramatic moments were already behind her. She served under the Commander, Australia-New Zealand Area from 28 March until late May 1942, operating in the South-west Pacific. She then departed for Pearl Harbor, arriving on 7 June. She then moved to the US, where she underwent an overhaul at Mare Island.

On 11 August 1942 the Alden began a period of eight months of convoy escort duties on the route between San Francisco and Hawaii, a route that was actually rather safer than was believed at the time. 

Reporting to Commander, Australia-New Zealand area, on 28 March 1942, Alden operated in the waters of the Southwest Pacific until sailing for Pearl Harbor, reaching her destination on 7 June en route to the west coast of the United States. Following an overhaul at the Mare Island Navy Yard, Alden commenced convoy escort duty between San Francisco and Hawaiian waters on 11 August 1942. Over the next eight months, Alden carried out this prosaic, but highly important, task until she departed Mare Island on 9 April 1943 for the Caribbean.

1943

This duty lasted into the spring on 1943. The Alden then moved to the Caribbean, arriving at her new base at Trinidad on 25 April. She spent two months escorting convoys between Trinidad and Guantanamo Bay, before moving north to New York for repairs, arriving on 28 June.

In the second half of July the Alden escorted a convoy from the US to Moroccoa, reaching Casablanca on 28 July. Shen then returned to the US via Gibraltar, and went into the drydock at Charleston on 27 August for a brief overhaul.

On 7 September she departed for Port-of-Spain, Trinidad, from where she continued on to Brazil, reaching Recife on 8 October. Her return trip lasted from 4-14 November. From 26 November-1 December she escorted the transport George Washington from Trinidad to Key West. She ended the year at Norfolk, Virginia.

1944

The one break in the Alden’s escort duties came early in 1944, when she was allocated to the hunter-killer group built around the escort carrier USS Guadalcanal (CVE-60). The group set sail on 5 January 1944, heading for North Africa. On 16 February two Grumman Avengers from the Guadalcanal caught two U-boats on the surface near the Azores. They were able to sink U-544, ironically while she was attempting to transfer radar detection gear to U-129, to protect against air attack. The group reached Casablanca on 26 January, and made the return voyage in the first half of February.

On 13 March the Alden set sail as part of the secort for convoy UGS-36, made up of 72 merchant ship and 18 tank landing ships. One possible U-boat attack was foiled on 31 March, and early on 1 April the Alden helped fight off an attack by twenty-two German aircraft. The convoy reached Bizerte on 3 April. The Alden returned to the US between 12 April and 1 May.

In June the Alden was used for local escort duty around Norfolk, and also helped screen the new battleship USS Wisconsin (BB-64). She then escorted the oiler Elokomin (AO-55) on a series of voyages that took her as far at Guantanamo Bay and Bermuda. Next she escorted the Chicopee (AO-34) to Bermuda and the Adair (APA-91) and Mount Hood (AE-11) to the Canal Zone. She then replaced the USS John D Edwards as a submarine training ship in the Panama area, performing this duty into November 1944. She then returned to Norfolk.

1945

On 31 January 1945 the Alden was damaged in a collision with the fast transport USS Hayter (APD-80). The repairs kept her out of action for most of February. On 1 March she joined the escort of Convoy UGF-21, heading for the Mediterreanean. She then returned to the US with convoy GUF-21. After that she escorted the oiler Mattaponi (AO-41) between Bermuda and Guantanamo and the Chiwawa (AO-68) between Guantanao and Bermuda.

From 2-13 June she was assigned as the plane guard for the Guadalcanal, which was then being used by pilots gaining their carrier qualifications at NAS Pensacola.

This ended her active career. On 15 July 1945 the Alden was decommissioned at Philadelphia, and on 30 November 1945 she was sold for scrap.

Alden was awarded three battle stars for her World War II, for Asiatic Fleet Operations (8 December 1941-4 March 1942), the battle of the Java Sea, and escorting Convoy UGS-36 on 1 April 1944.

U.S. Destroyers: An Illustrated Design History, Norman Friedmann . The standard history of the development of American destroyers, from the earliest torpedo boat destroyers to the post-war fleet, and covering the massive classes of destroyers built for both World Wars. Gives the reader a good understanding of the debates that surrounded each class of destroyer and led to their individual features.
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (13 November 2018), USS Alden (DD-211) , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_USS_Alden_DD211.html

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