USS Ross: The Destroyer that Survived 2 Mine Hits

There are many amazing stories out there about ships and the events of World War II show no paucity of incredible circumstances. Some ships are incredibly lucky while others are incredibly unlucky. In the case of the Fletcher-class destroyer, USS Ross, she’s probably a little of both due to having the dubious honor of surviving two mine hits in quick succession.

USS Ross as she appeared on 27 June 1945 off Mare Island Naval Shipyard, California.

USS Ross – Fletcher-class destroyer (DD-563)

Commissioned on 21 February 1944, Ross spent her early career supporting the invasion of Saipan in June of 1944 (Operation Forager) and the invasion of Peleliu in September (Operation Statemate II). She departed Manus Island in the Admiralties on 12 October 1944, bound for the Philippines, and arrived off Dinagat Island five days later to provide cover for the upcoming U.S. amphibious landings at Leyte Gulf.1

Leyte Gulf, Philippines

Leyte Gulf has two main approaches from the Philippine Sea, as well as an approach from Surigao Strait to the south and San Juanico Strait to the north. At the southern entrance of Leyte Gulf from the Philippine Sea is Dinagat Island. On the northern side are the main island of Samar and the smaller islands of Homonhon, Suluan, and Calicoan. From 17 – 18 October, elements of the U.S. Army’s 6th Ranger Infantry Battalion landed on Suluan, Dinagat, and Homonhon Islands to secure them.2

While the entrances to the gulf had been secured, ships were still waiting for minesweepers to clear a channel for them. At some point, Admiral Jesse Oldendorf received an erroneous report from Commander Wayne Loud (leading the minesweeping and hydrographic group) that the channel between Dinagat and Homonhon had been completely swept with no mines to be found. Adm. Oldendorf subsequently passed this information on to the 7th fleet commander, Admiral Kinkaid. However, at 0637 on 18 October, Adm. Oldendorf received a further report from Cmdr. Loud that one-fifth of the aforementioned channel was covered with mines and that 26 moored mines had already been swept up, with many floaters still seen in the gulf. Wanting to inspect the area himself, Adm. Oldendorf ordered three minesweepers ahead while he lead his column aboard his flagship, USS Louisville, into Leyte Gulf at 0900. It would take them until 1100 to fully traverse the swept channel where they passed close to Homonhon Island. Anxious to get intelligence about the Southern Landing Area, ships bombarded the Dulag beaches from 1400 – 1735 while Underwater Demolition Teams (UDTs) went further ahead to check for underwater obstacles and mines near the beach. The Japanese opened up with a variety of machine guns, mortars, and 75mm guns from the dense foliage, only managing to lightly damage the USS Gainsborough and sink one landing craft. The UDTs reported that no underwater obstacles or mines were to be found near the beaches. Due to having swept a number of mines already, Adm. Oldendorf brought the rest of his fire support ships into Leyte Gulf for the night.3

Location: 8 miles south of Homonhon Island, Philippines (Leyte Gulf), 19 October 1944

Google Earth image of Leyte Gulf with the approximate location of USS Ross mining. (According to Google Earth, the marker is 8 nm from the SW shoreline of Homonhon Island which puts it roughly halfway in the channel towards Dinagat Island. However, other maps, such as the one in Morison, place the marker slightly further north.)

On 19 October, USS Ross was acting as cover for minecraft and other support vessels that were preparing a channel for the arriving U.S. invasion force the following day. While transiting through an area some eight miles south of Homonhon Island, she struck a mine at 0135.4 The mine exploded on her port side just under the forward engine room and fireroom. A mere twenty minutes after this first hit, she struck a second mine at 0155 which detonated around her aft engine room. She was now listing 14 degrees to port. Having lost all power, the crew jettisoned whatever topweight they could (including her torpedoes and depth charges) so the ship wouldn’t capsize.5 Presumably, neither detonation broke her keel which is usually fatal for a warship. Being that it was still dark out and in the early morning, it’s unlikely that the crew of the Ross would’ve seen the mines even if they were on or close to the surface. Since they were in a channel that was previously swept for mines, the crew may have assumed that the area was safe to transit. Obviously, Ross hit two that were missed.

Technical drawing of a typical Fletcher-class destroyer. The first mine detonated around compartments #30 (fwd. engine room) and #33 (fwd. fireroom). The second mine stuck her around compartment #23 (aft engine room).

The fleet tug Chickasaw (ATF-83) and the salvage vessel Preserver (ARS-8) closed to render assistance. At 0315, the worst of the wounded, her medical officer, and the ship’s funds were transferred to the Chickasaw. The Chickasaw took her under tow back to an anchorage off Montoconan Island where she was deemed to be so damaged as to be out of the fight. In total, she lost 3 men killed, 20 missing, and 9 wounded.6

Unfortunately, her troubles weren’t over because at 1204 Japanese aircraft attacked the anchorage, and shell fragments wounded 2 more of her crew. Later that afternoon she was towed to an anchorage south of Mariquitdaquit Island, but the air attacks continued. Ross was eventually moved to the Northern Transport Area anchorage on the 23rd and then to San Pedro Bay to the auxiliary repair dock, ARD-19, on the 24th. Ross was again damaged four days later when a Nakajima Ki-44 crashed into ARD-19 which started a gasoline fire at the bottom of the dock. While the fire was being put out, another Japanese fighter strafed the dock, but AA fire from the Ross, the dock, and LST-556 managed to shoot down the plane.7

Repair work on Ross slowed due to the damage sustained by the dock, but Ross was under tow again on 13 December 1944 for Humboldt Bay, California. Once there, she was repaired enough to be moved to Mare Island Navy Yard on 2 March 1945. With repairs complete, Ross proceeded to San Diego by the end of June and then to Pearl Harbor in July. She arrived at Ulithi in the Carolines on 14 August 1945 the day before the war ended.8

Post-War

Ross would ultimately earn 5 battle stars for her service in WWII. She was decommissioned on 4 June 1946 and retained in the Reserve Fleet at San Diego, only to be reactivated in 1951 and continue service until deactivated and placed in Reserve again on 10 August 1959. Ross was decommissioned for the last time on 6 November 1959, stricken from the Navy list on 1 December 1974, and ultimately sunk as a target on 11 February 1978.9 When it was all over, she earned her place in history as the only U.S. Navy destroyer (at least in the Pacific Theater) to survive two mine hits in near succession.

Notes

1. Mark Evans, “Ross I (DD-563).” DANFS, U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command, August 31, 2015. https://www.history.navy.mil/research/histories/ship-histories/danfs/r/ross.html. From the online Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Hereafter referred to as DANFS.

2. Samuel Eliot Morison, History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, Volume XII, Leyte, June 1944 – January 1945. (Boston, MA: Little, Brown, 1975), 119-22.

3. Morison, 122 – 123.

4. Morison, 123.

5. DANFS

6. DANFS

7. DANFS

8. DANFS

9. DANFS

Bibliography

Evans, Mark. “Ross I (DD-563).” DANFS, U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command, August 31, 2015. https://www.history.navy.mil/research/histories/ship-histories/danfs/r/ross.html.

Morison, Samuel Eliot. History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, Volume XII, Leyte, June 1944 – January 1945. . Boston, MA: Little, Brown, 1963.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s