USS Rowan was a Benham class destroyer that served in the Pacific in 1940-41 before joining the Atlantic Neutrality Patrol in May 1941. 1942 started with a spell of convoy escort duty, followed by a spell with the British Home Fleet on the Russian convoy route. In October-November she escorted one of the invasion convoys across the Atlantic and then took part in Operation Torch. From then to May 1943 she escorted convoys across the Altantic, before in July she supported the invasion of Sicily. In September she supported the landings at Salerno, where early on 11 September she was hit by a torpedo and sank with the loss of 202 men.
The Rowan was named after Stephen C. Rowan, who served in the US Navy during the Mexican War and the American Civil War, retiring with the rank of Vice Admiral.
The Rowan was laid down at the Norfolk Navy Yard on 25 June 1937, launched on 5 May 1938 when she was sponsored by Rowan’s great-granddaughter Elizabeth, and commissioned on 23 September 1939.
After her shakedown cruiser she was allocated to the Pacific Fleet, and departed for her new base at San Diego on 17 May 1940.
On 25 June she left San Diego as part of a group that included the Enterprise, Anderson, Hammann (DD-412), Mustin (DD-413), Sterett (DD-407), Hopkins (DD-248) and Rowan. They reached Pearl Harbor on 2 July.
In the spring of 1941 the Rowan and her division (Hammann, Mustin and Anderson) were sent to San Francisco for overhauls. On 29 May the Rowan and her division left San Francisco to return to Pearl Harbor, but on the following day they were ordered to head into the Atlantic instead to help implement the expanded scope of the Neutrality Patrols. They passed through the Panama Canal on 8-9 June and made their way to New York.
The Rowan was assigned to the Neutrality Patrol and spent the summer and early autumn of 1941 operating in a wide area, from Newfoundland in the north to the Caribbean.
On 19 June the Rowan and Anderson left New York to join up with the Tuscaloosa (CA-37) and Wasp (CV-7). The combined force then carried out a neutrality patrol that took them as far as the Cape Verde Islands and ended at Burmuda on 4 July 1941.
On 10-13 October she was part TG 14.3 (built around Yorktown (CV-5), New Mexico (BB-40) and Quincy (CA-39) as it moved from Argenta to Casco Bay, Maine. The Rowan suffered damage in bad weather on the way.
On 10 November she departed from Halifax as part of the escort for Convoy WS-12X, which was carrying British reinforcements for the Near and Far East. She was at sea when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and reached Capetown on 9 December 1941.
In January 1942 she returned to the US east coast, and began a spell on escort duty in the North Atlantic and Caribbean.
On 30 April she left Halifax to escort a convoy to the mid-ocean rendezvous point, where the Royal Navy took over the escort. However after reaching this point she was detached from the escort group and instead made her way to Hvalfjordur on Iceland, where on 11 May she joined Task Force 99. This force was operating with the British Home Fleet from Iceland and Scapa Flow, protecting the convoys heading to Russia.
In mid-May the Rowan moved to Seydisfjordur, from where she joined TF 99 as it took up a blocking position to the east of the routes of convoys PQ-16 and QP-12 to protect against any German surface raiders.
On 29 May the Rowan reached Scapa Flow, remaining there until 12 June when she departed for Iceland to carry out the same duty for convoys PQ-17 and QP-13. This time things didn’t go well. On 27 June the 33 merchant ships in PQ-17 left Iceland. On 1 July the Rowan left port with the cruiser force, which was to block against German surface threats. On 2 July the Rowan joined the close escort for the convoy, which had already lost two ships to accidents. An air attack just after the Rowan joined the convoy was repulsed, and the weather on 3 July protected the convoy. However on 4 July the Luftwaffe got through and sank three more ships. Worse was to come – the Tirpitz was believed to have left port in Norway, and so the convoy was ordered to scatter to prevent it being destroyed by the battleship’s heavy guns. However the Tirpitz had already turned back by the time the order was given, and it left the merchant ships exposed to U-boat and air attack. Only 11 of the merchant ships reached Russia.
When the order to scatter was given, the Rowan and the other escorts were sent to join the cruisers, ready to take part in a possible surface action. She returned to Iceland on 7 July, and on 13 July her destroyer division (DesDiv 16) was ordered back to the United States, leaving on the following day.
She underwent an overhaul at Boston, which was over by mid-August. On 12 August she helped escort the submarine tender Albemarle (AV-5) from Narragansett Bay to Norfolk arriving on 13 August On 14 August she moved to Delaware Bay. On 15 August the Rowan formed part of the escort for the South Dakota (BB-57) as she set off for the Pacific, but within a few hours the South Dakota had suffered an engine failure. Repairs were carried out in Chesapeake Bay, and the voyage resumed on the following day. They reached the Panama Canal on 20 August. The destroyers were then released to join up with a convoy.
On 4 September the Corry, Rowan and Mayrant put to sea to escort Transport Division 6 from Colon, Panama, to Norfolk, arriving on 11 September. She then spent the rest of September training and carrying out patrols from Norfolk and Portland.
In October the Rowan joined Task Force 34, ready to take part in Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa.
Her convoy departed in late October, and arrived off Fedhala late on 7 November. Until 9 November she screened the transports. On 10 November she patrolled off Casablanca, and took part in an action against Vichy French ships which came out to attack the invasion fleet. On 11 November she returned to the transport area, and on 12 November she departed for the United States.
The Rowan then escorted two reinforcement and resupply convoys to Casablanca. The second of these, UGS-6, lost five merchant ships to a wolfpack attack in attacks from 13-17 March.
In May the Rowan crossed the Atlantic once again, and at the end of the month she joined TF 80, based at Mers-el-Kebir in Algeria. For most of June she escorted convoys along the North African coast and carried out anti-submarine patrols.
The Allied invasion of Sicily began on 10 July. The Rowan arrived four days later, on 14 July, as part of the escort for a reinforcement convoy. Until 20 July she patrolled off Gela, and she then moved to the north coast to carry out patrols and escort duties around Palermo. On 26 July she bombarded German positions between Cefalu and Stefano di Camastra
On 30 July she fired on the 71st Panzer Grenadier Regiment, which was holding up the 45th Division. On 2 August she fired on enemy positions between San Stafano and Coronia. On the night of 2-3 August she joined a force that bombarded the coastal road and an enemy strong point near San Agata. On 5 August she bombarded positions between San Agata and Cape Orlando. On 6 August she bombarded positions in support of a failed attempt to cross the Furiano River. On 8 August she was part of the naval force that supported an amphibious landing in the German rear near Cape Orlando, which helped break a deadlock around San Fratello. On 11 August she supported another amphibious landing east of Cape Orlando. On 14 August she bombarded enemy artillery, transport and aircraft near Milazzo. On 16 August she was part of the screen during an amphibious landing, but this time the main forces advanced too fast, and the landing had to be made behind American lines. Messina fell on the following day, ending the Sicilian campaign.
After the end of the Scilian campaign the Rowan returned to North Africa when she joined the forces gathering to take part in the landings at Salerno.
She entered the Gulf of Salerno as part of the sceen of the Southern Attack Force on 9 September. On 9-10 September she screened the transports and freighters off Paestum, before late on 10 September departing for Oran, escorting the empty transport ships back.
Shortly after midnight on the night of 10-11 September the Rowan sighted what she believed was a torpedo wake, and turned to pursue the E-boat that had fired the torpedo. She lost it and returned to the convoy. However within five minutes a new contact was made, within 3,000 yards of her. She changed course to avoid torpedoes and put her stern towards the E-boat, but when it was still 2,000 yards away the Rowan was hit by a torpedo. Her magazine exploded and she sank within a minute, and 202 of her 273 men were killed. Her survivors were rescued by the Bristol (DD-453)
Rowan (DD-405) earned five battle stars during World War II, for the Russian Convoys, escorting Convoy UGS-6, North Africa, Sicily and Salerno