USS Williamson (DD-244/ AVP-15/ AVD-2)

USS Williamson (DD-244/ AVP-15/ AVD-2) was a Clemson class destroyer that served as seaplane tender in the Aleutians, and was then used to refuel spotter aircraft to support the battleships and cruisers during the later stages of the island hopping campaign.

The Williamson was named after Commander William Price Williamson, a US naval officer who was killed while testing a depth-charge projector in 1918.

The Williamson was laid down by the New York Shipbuilding Company at Camden, New Jersey, on 27 March 1919 and launched on 16 October 1919. She was sponsored by Commander Williamson’s widow. She was commissioned on 29 October 1920.

USS Williamson (DD-244) and USS Hovey (DD-208), Panama Canal, 1930s
USS Williamson (DD-244)
and USS Hovey (DD-208),
Panama Canal, 1930s

The Williamson left New York on 3 January 1921, heading for Europe. She arrived at Brest on 16 February and spent the next three months operating in French and British waters. On 23 May she departed for the eastern Mediterranean, where the Russian Civil War and the Greek-Turkish War were both causing disruption and humanitarian disasters. The Williamson entered the Black Sea and reached at Ineboli on the north coast of Turkey on 22 June. She was based at Constantinople, but during her time also visited Odessa, Novorossick and Theodosia. On 22 June 1922 she arrived at Odessa once again, where she served as the station ship, before departing on 2 July. Six days later she departed for Gibraltar, and after that the United States, arriving at Philadelphia on 27 July.

In September 1922 the Williamson joined the Atlantic Fleet. She took part in the normal mix of summer operations off the US East Coast and winters in the Caribbean, mainly spending her time as part of the Destroyer Squadrons, Scouting Force.

In January-February 1927 she was part of the Special Service Squadron that operated off Nicaragua. Anyone from her who landed in Nicaragua between 15-28 January or 2-18 February 1927 qualified for the Second Nicaraguan Campaign Medal. Later in 1927 she helped train Naval Reserve units. In the spring of 1928 she underwent an overhaul. In May 1930 she operated as a plane guard for USS Lexington (CV-2) in Guantanamo Bay. In March 1932 she spent a short period based at San Diego. On 17 December 1932 she was placed into the rotating reserve at Norfolk. On 1 July 1933 she once again departed for the West Coast, and spent part of the summer operating as the plane guard for USS Saratoga (CV-3). She returned to the east coast in the spring of 1934. In July 1934 she escorted the cruiser USS Houston (CA-30) when President Roosevelt was onboard. On 10 July she was used to transport the Presidential party at Cartagena, Columbia.

On 19 July 1934 she entered Washington Navy Yard to have an early form of sonar installed. She then moved back to the west coast, reaching San Diego in November. She then joined the rotating reserve where she underwent another overhaul. In the summer of 1935 she joined Destroyer Squadron 3. She then visited Alaska, patrolling along the Alaskan coast in July 1935.

USS Williamson (DD-244) in the Culebra Cut, 1932
USS Williamson (DD-244) in the Culebra Cut, 1932

In June 1936 the Williamson took part in Fleet Problem XVII, based around the Panama Canal. She then underwent another overhaul, this time at Norfolk. After visiting the Gulf of Mexico she returned to San Diego on 30 October 1936. In February 1937 she acted as the  plane guard for USS Ranger (CV-4). In April-June 1936 she was part of the Destroyer Force that paid a prolonged visit to Hawaii. She returned to the west coast for the rest of 1937, before coming back to Pearl Harbor for another overhaul in January 1938. This was followed by Fleet Problem XIX, after which she returned to San Diego, arriving on 28 April 1938.

This marked the end of her time as a standard destroyer. On 2 June 1938 she arrived at Philadelphia, where she was converted into a light seaplane tender, becoming AVP-15.  This involved the removal of all of her torpedo gear, two of the 4in guns, the 3in anti-aircraft gun, the depth charge tracks and the two forward boilers. Extra deckhouse space was added forward, a derrick capable of handling 30-ft motor launches was added, and accomodation was added for the personnel of a 12 aircraft strong patrol squadron (a VP squadron in the Navy’s designation system). The ship retained her fore and aft 4in guns and gained four .50in anti-aircraft guns. The modifications were completed on 31 December 1938.

On 3 January 1939 the modified ship departed for Norfolk, where she took on men from Patrol Wing 5. She then moved to the Florida Keys to work with VP 15 on her shakedown cruise. On 21 April she departed for the west coast, arriving at her new base of Seattle in May. She was based there from 26 May to 23 August, before moving to Kodiak, Alaska, to support squadrons VP-41 and VP-42 and their PBY Catalinas.

1939-1941

USS Williamson (DD-244), New York, 1920s
USS Williamson (DD-244), New York, 1920s

On 5 February 1940 the Williamson entered the Puget Sound Navy Yard for an overhaul. On 5 April she departed for Pearl Harbor take part in Fleet Problem XXI, before returning to Seattle on 21 May. On 2 August she was redesignated again, this time as AVD-2 (for seaplane tender – destroyer). She then carried out a series of surveys of the coast between Mexico and the Aleutians. In the summer of 1941 this took her to the Aleutians where she supported Patrol Wing 4 under Rear Admiral John S. McCain in a survey of possible seaplane bases in the Aleutians and the Alaskan coast.

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor the Williamson was undergoing another overhaul at Puget Sound. She was briefly attacked to Destroyer Squadron 82, before in late December she helped escort the damaged battleship USS Maryland (BB-46) into the Puget Sound Navy Yard, arriving on 30 December.

1942

Early in 1942 the Williamson moved to the Aleutians to work with the PBY Catalinas of Patrol Wing 4. She was also used on local escort missions and to carry supplies to Cold Bay, Seattle, Dutch Harbor and Kodiak. She was also used to carry supplies to a series of emergency seaplane bases that could be used by aircraft unable to reach base. She was also used to rescue a number of aircraft that had been unable to reach any of these possible bases. On 20 May she was used to rescue Brigadier General Simon Bolivar Buckner and an inspection party from Kiska, after heavy winds prevented their seaplanes from taking off.

Early in June the war in the Aleutians was transformed when the Japanese occupied Kiska and Attu, part of the wider campaign that ended in disaster at Midway. When the Japanese invaded the Williamson was at Umnak pass, near to the westernmost US military airfield in the Aleutians. She was attacked by two Japanese carrier aircraft, and six men were wounded. The Williamson and Casco (AVP-12) were then used to sent up an advanced base at Chernofski, which was used by a PBY squadron that was used to attack the Japanese on Kiska Island. On 23 June the Kiska departed for Seattle, for a period of repairs.

In August she returned to Dutch Harbor. On 25 August she set out to try and rescue a PBY that had been forced down in rough seas. While attempting to take the aircraft under tow, it was forced against one of her propeller guards. The shock dislodged two of the aircraft’s depth charges, which exploded, wounded sixteen and blowing one man overboard. The ship suffered heavy damage aft, but was saved by hard work, including a period when all hands had to bale her out using a bucket chain. She was shadowed by a Japanese patrol aircraft while slowly returning to Dutch Harbor, but luckily no attack followed.

On her return to Dutch Harbor the Seabees reinforced her hull using I beams from a dismantled hanger. She was then able to return to Seattle at nine knots on her one remaining engine.

1943

The Williamson was finally ready to return to service at the start of 1943. From 3 January into the spring of 1943 she was used as a plane guard and escort for carriers on their shakedown cruise. During this period she worked with the Core (CVE-13), Card (CVE-11), Long Island (CVE-1), Barnes (CVE-20), Nassau (CVE-16), Altamaha (CVE-18), Breton (CVE-23), Copahee (CVE-12), Casablanca (CVE-55), Corregidor (CVE-58), Coral Sea (CVE-66), Tripoli (CVE-64), and Natoma Bay (CVE-62) and rescued fourteen men after crashes.

The Williamson returned to the Aleutians to support the liberation of Kiska and Attu in April and May 1943. On 15 May 1943 she was probably attacked by a submarine, when four torpedo wakes were seen as they missed her.

The Williamson then returned to San Diego, where she was used to help submarines that were undergoing training, before returning to her plane guard duties.

On 1 December 1943 she was reclassified as a destroyer, regaining her original DD-244 designation.

1944

On 24 January 1944 the Williamson departed for Hawaii. She then moved to Espiritu Santo, where she spent a period on escort duties between Guadalcanal and Funafuti in the Ellice Islands.

In April she joined Task Unit 34.6.4 to take part in screening operations around New Guinea.

On 7 May 1944 she reported to Rear Admiral R. L. Conolly, commander of Group 3, 5th Amphibious Force, at Purvis Bay in the Solomon Islands. She was given new refueling gear that was designed to work with the scout planes allocated to battleships and cruisers. The idea was that they would be able to land close to the destroyer, refuel and resume their spotting duties, a much quicker procedure than being recovered by their parent ship. The Williamson’s gear was suitable for use with the Vought OS2U Kingfisher and Curtis SOC Seagull. After the tests were over, the Williamson moved to Kwajalein to join the fleet operating in the Marianas Islands.

On 10 June the Williamson departed for Saipan, arriving on 14 June, where she carried out the first test of the underway refueling system. Her work increased the amount of time that the spotters were able to work with their ships during the bombardment and support phase of the invasion of Saipan. On 16 June she moved to Guam where she repeated the exercise. She briefly returned to Saipan to join the main fleet during the battle of the Philippine Sea. On 17 June she had the rare chance to rescue a Japanese merchant seaman, who had been in the sea for two days.

In July the Williamson carried out the same refueling duties during the invasion of Guam. On one occasion she actually came under fire from a Japanese shore battery and had to move further out to sea. She was then used as the terminal vessel for mail and passenger seaplanes coming to Guam from Eniwetock.

On 16 August she left Guam to help escort a convoy to Pearl Harbor. After another overhaul she was used as a plane guard and carrier escort for Carrier Division 11, working with Ranger (CV-4), Saratoga(CV-3), Bataan (CVL-29), Corregidor (CVE-58), and Makassar Strait(CVE-91). During this period she rescued seven men.

1945

On 10 January 1945 the Williamson was allocated to the 5th Fleet and departed from Pearl Harbor heading back to the combat zone. She took part in rehearsals for the invasion of Iwo Jima that were carried out at Saipan and Tinian, and then formed part of the task force during the invasion itself. Once again she was used to refuel spotter aircraft during the bombardment of Iwo Jima, rescued the crews of two carrier aircraft, rescued a drifting LCM and provided assistance to a damaged LCI. She also protected a damaged PBM Mariner that was carrying a party from the press. She also had to transfer one of her crew to the Nevada (BB-36) to have an emergency appendectomy carried out.

At the end of February the Williamson escorted a convoy of damaged landing craft back to Saipan. She then continued on to Ulithi to join the forces preparing to attack Okinawa. The Williamson joined Fire Support Group 1 off Okinawa, operating as a refueling ship and as part of the anti-submarine screen. On 28 March she rescued a fighter pilot who had been forced to ditch nearby. After the invasion of 1 April she operated from the Seaplane Base unit at Kerama Retto and was used to refuel a range of aircraft as well as providing aviation fuel to larger ships.

She remained there for three weeks before moving back to Guam. Once again she acted as a plane guard and escort for carriers in training, this time working with the Hoggatt Bay (CVE-75), Nehenta Bay (CVE-74), White Plains(CVE-66), Manila Bay (CVE-61), Velio, Gulf (CVE-111), Makin Island (CVE-93), Makassar Strait, and Casablanca. She rescued three men, suggesting that the number of accidents was slowly being reduced.

The Williamson was still operating as a plane guard when the war came to an end. She returned to the United States, and was decommissioned on 8 November 1945. She was struck off on 19 December 1945 and sold for scrap on 17 October 1946.

Williamson earned four battle stars for her World War II service, for Attu, Guam, Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

Displacement (standard)

1,190t

Displacement (loaded)

1,308t

Top Speed

35kts
35.51kts at 24,890shp at 1,107t on trial (Preble)

Engine

2-shaft Westinghouse geared tubines
4 boilers
27,000shp (design)

Range

2,500nm at 20kts (design)

Length

314ft 4in

Width

30ft 10.5in

Armaments

Four 4in/ 50 guns
One 3in/23 AA gun
Twelve 21in torpedoes in four triple mountings
Two depth charge tracks
One Y-Gun depth charge projector

Crew complement

114

Launched

16 October 1919

Commissioned

19 October 1920

Sold for scrap

30 October 1946

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.
cover cover cover

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (9 October 2019), USS Williamson (DD-244/ AVP-15/ AVD-2) , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_USS_Williamson_DD244_AVP15_AVD2.html

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