USS Somers (DD-381)

USS Somers (DD-381) was the name ship of the Somers class of destroyers, and served in the Atlantic from 1939 onwards, at first with the Neutrality Patrol and then on patrol duty in the south Atlantic, as well as supporting the Normandy invasion and the invasion of the south of France in 1944, where she sank two small German vessels in one of the few battles between US and German surface vessels.

The Somers was named after Richard Somers, an officer in the US Navy who was killed in 1804 when his bomb ketch exploded prematurely during an attack on Tripoli.

USS Somers (DD-381), Charleston Navy Yard, 1942 USS Somers (DD-381), Charleston Navy Yard, 1942

The Somers was laid down at the Federal Shipbuilding yard at Kearny, New Jersey on 27 June 1935, launched on 13 March 1937 and commissioned on 1 December 1937. After a shakedown cruise that took to the Gulf of Mexico and South America she joined the Atlantic Fleet.

In the autumn of 1939 the Somers joined the Neutrality Patrol, and spent the next two years operating in the western Atlantic.

The Somers must have moved to the Pacific for the fleet problem of 1941, as on 20 April 1941 she departed from Pearl Harbor as part of the escort of the Yorktown (with Warrington (DD-383) and Jouett (DD-396)), heading east to Bermuda, where they arrived on 12 May. The Yorktown then joined the neutrality patrol, carrying out four patrols that covered some 17,642 miles.

On 4 November 1941 the Somers and Omaha (CL-4) were at sea as TG 3.6 when the British oiler Olwen reported sighting a German surface raider. Vice Admiral Algernon U. Willis, the British Commander-in-Chief in the South Atlantic, sent the heavy cruiser HMS Dorsetshire and armed merchant cruiser HMS Canton to search for the possible raider and ordered more ships to leave Freetown. The Somers and Omaha, which were to the north-west of the reported position, were to support the British ships (despite America still not officially being in the war). No sign of the supposed raider was found. The Somers and Omaha were also used to try and hunt for survivors from what was believed to have been an attack on the Olwen (although she actually survived until 1947, and after the incident was over reported that she had been fired on by a surfaced submarine).  

The search wasn’t entirely fruitless. Once it was over the Somers and Omaha set course for Recife, but early on 6 November they spotted a merchant ship. As they got closer they could see it was flying US colours and was carrying the name Willmotto of Philadelphia, but as the US ships got closer it began to take evasive action. The Omaha’s lookouts reported that many of the deck crew were ‘uniquely un-American in appearance’, although it isn’t clear what they meant by that. The Omaha sent a motor boat with a boarding party, but as they arrived their raised the ‘Fox Mike’ flags indicating she was sinkin and required assistance. Two explosions were heard as the boarding party was climbing on board, and many of the crew were attempting to take to the lifeboats. However the Americans forced the German crew back on board, and began to try and save her. The Willmotto was actually the blockade runner Odenwald, carrying 6,223 tons of cargo including 3,857 tons of rubber, and 103 truck tires. With the help of a diesel engine expert from the Somers the boarding party was able to stop the Odenwald from sinking. The three ships then steamed to Port of Spain, Trinidad, to avoid any problems with the Brazilian government. From there she went to San Juan, Puerto Rico, where she was disposed of.

After the war her German owners sued the US government on the grounds that their ship had been seized while the US and Germany were at peace. The court agreed that this was indeed the case, so the Odenwald couldn’t count as a prize of war, but that because she was sinking the operation counted as salvage, and the US government was allowed to keep the profits. Each men in the boarding party was rewarded $3,000 as a result!

1942

Throughout 1942 and 1943 the Somers was based in the South Atlantic, normally operating between Brazil and Trinidad. Her roles included general patrols and convoy escort, and the search for German blockade runners. 

On 16 July 1942 the Somers, Omaha (CL-4) and Juneau (CL-52) were sent to reinforce Convoy AS-4, which had just been attacked by U-161 to the north east of the Bahamas. They found the convoy on 18 July, and escorted it to Pernambuco, Brazil, arriving on 28 July. On 30 July they formed part of the escort for the convoy as it began its return trip. On 5 August their convoy joined up with the British convoy WS-21P, and the Juneau and Somers left the escort to head towards the Cape Verde Islands where they carried out exercises and sweeps of the area. On 12 August they were sent to St. Paul’s Rocks to look for any sign of German activity, and then steamed on towards Fernando de Noronha, Brazil.

On 8 November the Somers, Cincinnati (CL-6) and Milwaukee (CL-5) left Recife to search for blockade runners. On 21 November the Cincinnati detected an unidentified merchant ship, and the Somers was sent to investigate. The merchant ship identified herself as the Norwegian SS Skjilbred, but didn’t give any more details. The merchant ship attempted to escape into a rain squall, but the Somers kept track of her, and at 0651 smoke and flames were seen to be pouring from her while her crew were lowing boats. The Somers sent a boarding party, but before they could reach her there were three massive explosions and the shop began to sink. The boarding party briefly went on board and was able to find evidence that she was actually the blockade runner Anneliese Essberger, but then had to abandon ship. The blockade runner sank at 0711. Sixty two survivors were picked up by the Milwaukee.

1943

1943 started with a break from her normal routine. On 5 January she and the Memphis (CL-13) left Racife, Brazil and crossed the Atlantic to Bathurst, Gambia, where the Memphis served as President Roosevelt’s flagship during the Casablanca Conference and the Somers as her screen and escort. The Somers was at Bathurst from 10-27 January 1943. She then moved to Dakar, which had fallen into Allied hands after Operation Torch had triggered the German occupation of Vichy France. She then joined the task force that was escorting the French battleship Richelieu and cruiser Montcalm from Dakar to the United States for a refit. The group left Dakar on 30 January 1943. On 8 February the Somers and Montcalm were detached and sent to Philadelpia, arriving on 11 February. This was followed by two weeks of availability at the Charleston Navy Yard, before the Somers returned to her South Atlantic patrol duties with Task Force 41.

During the rest of 1943 she was based at Trinidad, from where she continued to hunt for blockade runners as well as escorting convoys from the Caribbean to Bahia and Recife in Brazil.

1944

On 1 January 1944 the Somers was sailing independently when she was sent to intercept a ship that was being followed by patrol aircraft. She caught up with her target late on 2 January, and after it became clear it was an enemy ship opened fire. The very first salvo hit, and the crew quickly abandoned ship. As the Somers continued to fire, scuttling charges detonated on the ship, which sank. On the following day the Somers was able to rescue 17 officers and 116 men from the ship, which turned out to be the German blockade runner Westerland.

In mid-February the Somers moved to Charleston for a six week overhaul, followed by training at Casco Bay, Maine, ready to prepare for the Normandy landings. On 14 May she joined a convoy heading for Plymouth, England, arriving on 25 May. The Somers didn’t take a direct part in the D-Day landings but instead was used to escort convoys across the Channel as well as screening coastal operations.

On 12 July the Somers left Plymouth heading for North Africa, and arrived at Mers-el-Kebir on 21 July. She joined Task Force 86 at Naples on 31 July, and on 12 August set sail for the Sitka assault area, off the Iles d’Hyeres, east of Toulon, to support the invasion of the South of France. Once again she was used for screening and patrol duties.

This routine was interrupted on 15 August when two ships were detected on her radar. The Somers issued a challenge, which went unanswered, but at first they stayed out of range. However at about 0440 the two ships moved towards the assault area. After they ignored a second challenge the Somers opened fire. The two ships were the sloop SG21 and corvette UJ6081. The SG21 Bernd von Arnim was a 643 ton French Chamois class minesweeping sloop laid down as Amiral Senes, but completed by the Germans and used as an anti-submarine and patrol vessel. UJ6081 was a 660 ton Italian Gabbiano class corvette that had served as the Camoscio before being taken over by the Germans after the Italian surrender in 1943.

The Somer almost immediately hit UJ6081 setting her on fire. A series of ammo explosions soon left her in a sinking condition. By this point UJ6081 was attempting to escape to the south-east, but the Somers was able to keep up with her and kept up a heavy fire on her. By 0518 the UJ6081 slowed down and began to circle to the right. The Somers fired four more salvoes, which left her crippled but afloat. At daylight she then picked up survivors and was even able to send a boarding party onto her, which salvaged her ensign and some charts before she sank.

For the next two days the Somers was used on fire support missions, targeting German strong points south of the Ile de Port Cross. She spent the next week in the Sitka area before moving to a new position seven miles off the caost to the east of Marseille. She then replaced the Rodman (DD-456) as the fire support ship for minesweepers operating around Port de Bouc. On 22 August she was involved in a half hour gunnery duel with German shore batteries, suffering several shrapnel hits during the action.

As the invasion forces moved away from the coast the need for naval support faded. The Somers spent a month visiting ports along the south coast of France as well as Corsica and Oran. On 28 September she departed from Oran heading for New York, where she arrived on 8 October. A month long overhaul in the Brooklyn Navy Yard followed.

On 23 November she joined the escort for an east bound convoy heading for Britain.

1945

Over the next few months the Somers made four trips across the Atlantic on escort duty. She returned to the United States at the end of the fourth trip on 12 May 1945, and spent the rest of the war operating along the east coast of the United States. In July she took part in a midshipman cruiser to the Caribbean.

On 4 August the Somers arrived at Charleston for an overhaul, but the end of the war in the Pacific meant that she was no longer needed. On 28 October she was decommissioned, and on 16 May 1947 sold for scrap.

Somers (DD-381) earned two battle stars during World War II, for the Normandy landings and the invasion of the south of France.

Displacement (standard)

1,850t (design)

Displacement (loaded)

2,130t (design)
2,766.6 (Sampson)

Top Speed

37.5kts (design)
38.56kts at 53,271shp at 2,179t on trial (Sampson)

Engine

2-shaft General Electric turbines
4 boilers
52,000shp design

Range

7,500nm at 15kts (design)
10,540nm at 15kts at 2,143t on trial (Sampson)
7,020nm at 12kts at 2,750t wartime
4,250nm at 20kts at 2,750t

Armour - belt

 

 - deck

 

Length

381ft 6in

Width

36ft 10in

Armaments

Eight 5in/38 SP guns in twin mounts
Twelve 12in torpedos in three quad mounts
Eight 1.1in AA guns in four twin mounts
Four 0.5in AA guns
Two depth charge tracks

Crew complement

 

Laid Down

27 June 1935

Launched

13 March 1937

Commissioned

1 December 1937

Sold for scrap

16 May 1947

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 (26 May 2022), USS Somers (DD-381), http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/weapons_USS_Somers_DD381.html

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