The Terrible T

by Dave McComb, Destroyer History Trust

Among the first peaceful and last belligerent acts at the end of World War II were two that took place on board the USS Taylor (DD/DDE 468), a destroyer cited “for outstanding heroism in action” during the Solomon Islands campaign.

Named for the Civil War-era officer and, later, Rear Admiral William Rogers Taylor, the Taylor was commissioned at Boston on 28 August 1942, the ninth 2,100 ton FLETCHER-class destroyer and the fifth from the Bath Iron Works. Under Lt. Cdr. Benjamin Katz, she joined DesRon 20 at Portland, Maine, for shakedown and served as flagship beginning on 28 September. After escorting a 42-ship Support Force for the invasion of North Africa, the Taylor detached from her squadron, passed through the Panama Canal on Christmas Eve, and arrived in the South Pacific in time to participate in the anti-air Battle of Rennell Island on 29 January 1943.

Under Admiral Halsey’s command for the next nine months, Taylor operated with both Capt. Frank Mclnerney’s DesRon 21, made up of the Fletcher (DD 445), Radford (DD 446), Jenkins (DD 447), La Vallette (DD 448), Nicholas (DD 449), O’Bannon (DD 450), Chevalier (DD 451), and Strong (DD 467); and Rear Admiral Kelly Turner’s Task Group 31.2, a destroyer striking force of varying composition attached to his “III ‘Phil” Amphibious Force.

Her first offensive mission was with the squadron, on 15 March, was to bombard the Japanese base at Kolombangara Island’s Vila coconut plantation. She next escorted the oiler Kanawha (AO 1) from Espiritu Santo to Tulagi, arriving on 29 March. Sweeping up the “Slot” with ASDM. “Pug” Ainsworth’s Task Force 18 on 4, 5, and 6 April, she stayed behind with the Kanawha as the largest Japanese air raid since Pearl Harbor approached on the 7th. Unable to gain sea room in time to maneuver, the Kanawha sustained five quick hits and was lost. Taylor succeeded and escaped.

On 5 May, Taylor and her task force covered the Radford and the flush-deckers Preble (DM 20), Gamble (DM 15), and Breese (DM 18) in mining Blackett Strait, a dangerous penetration deep into enemy waters that nonetheless came off without a hitch and promptly cost the Japanese three destroyers.

In early July, Taylor was not on hand for the losses of the Strong and Helena (CL 50) at Kula Gulf but, operating with TG 31.2 on 11-12 July, escorted transports there, sinking submarine 1-25 en route home.

The next night, a Japanese searchlight exposed DesRon 21’s five ships in the van, including Taylor, which was third in line, to open the Battle of Kolombangara. None were hit. A torpedo exchange followed in which the New Zealand cruiser Leander was damaged. Taylor and her squadron were, then, detached to chase the Japanese destroyers, thought to be retiring. Faulty assumption!

Instead, the enemy DDS reloaded torpedoes and returned, torpedoing the remaining cruisers Honolulu (CL 48) and St. Louis (CL 49) and sinking the destroyer Gwin (DD 433). After the battle, Taylor directed fighters covering the Gwin’s rescue operations before joining Radford in escorting the Leander home.

More rescue work was waiting. Word arrived that some Helena survivors from the previous week had drifted into enemy-held Vella Lavella. Two nights later, while DesRon 21 operated in the screen, the destroyer striking force under Capt. Thomas Ryan closed that island’s uncharted eastern shore where the plucky Taylor, using radar and leadlines, led the destroyer-transports Waters (APD 8) and Dent (APD 9) inshore to embark 154 Helena shipmates (plus a Japanese prisoner and 16 Chinese).

“Thank you for bringing home so much of our bacon. Well done,” signaled Rear Adm. Theodore Wilkinson, now commanding Ill ‘Phib.

On 23 July, Cdr. Arleigh Burke replaced Capt. Ryan and in just thee days found reason to complement Taylor on “the extremely high standard your ship sets for itself and meets.” Both soon left TG 31.2, however, Taylor to rejoin Squadron 21, and Burke to be relieved by Cdr. Frederick Moosbrugger, who promptly applied Burke’s tactics in a smashing victory at the Battle of Vella Gulf.

Munda was secured on 1 August, and a decision was taken to leapfrog Kolombangara in favor of Vella Lavella! On 15 August, DesDiv 41, including the Nicholas, O’Bannon, Taylor, and Chevalier, all now under Capt. Ryan, covered landings at Barakoma and, over the next two weeks, repeated the 500-mile round trip from Purvis Bay nine times.

“Get underway, and go up the Slot; more later” became a standard order from “More Later” Wilkinson, as they now called him.

In the early hours of the 18th, sweeping north of Vella Lavella, they encountered a flotilla of barges and four destroyers off Horaniu. Giving battle, they avoided Japanese torpedoes and, then, pursued the destroyers, but lost track of the barges, most of which escaped destruction. On the 19th, they returned to search for more barges, and, later, covered another minelaying operation off Kolombangara.

So it went until a ten-day tender availability and a well-deserved R&R in Sydney, from which Taylor returned for more barge-bashing in October. On the 7th, Taylor, with the Ralph Talbot (DD 390) and La Vallette, raced to join the Selfridge (DD 357), Chevalier, and O’Bannon during the Battle of Vella Lavella, but arrived too late to engage. Afterward, as the La Vallette scuttled the derelict Chevalier, Taylor took off most of the bowless Selfridge’s crew while the remainder coaxed her home.

“Your habit of getting into winning scraps with the Japs has made history,” signaled Adm. Halsey as the squadron headed home to San Francisco by way of the Tarawa invasion. At Pearl Harbor, Adm. Nimitz added, “Special greetings to the veterans of the Slot. We are proud to have you with us.”

On 1 February 1944, now under Cmdr. Nicholas Frank, Jr., the “Terrible T” departed San Francisco to join the Seventh Fleet supporting General MacArthur’s New Guinea campaign. Attached to Adm. Daniel Barbey’s “VII ‘Phib,” Taylor and her squadron rarely strayed far from the equator until after the Morotai landings in September.

For the invasion of the Philippines in October, Taylor escorted a reinforcement echelon to Leyte Gulf. On 25 October, from their anchorage at San Pedro Bay, she and her sisters observed flashes from the Battle of Surigao Strait, then patrolled as a torpedo attack force off Dinagat Island, a last line of defense during the Battle off Samar the following morning.

Once Leyte was secured, the squadron moved north to support landings in Luzon’s Lingayen Gulf. En route, near Negros Island on 5 January, Taylor rammed and sank a midget submarine, sustaining minor damage to her sonar dome, her only scratch of the war. Taylor then operated from Luzon’s Subic Bay, where her softball team emerged victorious in an intra-squadron league and where she acquired a small mongrel from an ex-Japanese camp that soon answered to the name “Subic.”

On 6 February, Lt. Cdr. Henry deLauréal assumed command. From 13-18 February, the squadron and DesRon 23 alternated serving as bait to draw fire from shore batteries hidden in caves on Corregidor Island and covering minesweeping operations in nearby Mariveles Harbor. On Valentine’s Day, the Fletcher, Radford, La Vallette and Hopewell (DD 681) all paid a price, but not the lucky Taylor, which reprised her bombardment in March and then moved to Zamboanga Cebu, Tarakan, Dutch Borneo. There the Jenkins was mined, leaving only Nicholas, 0’Bannon, and Taylor in the squadron.

Returning to Leyte, these three destroyers departed 8 July to join Task Force 38 until the Japanese ceasefire. Flagship Task Group 30.1, the three escorting the Missouri (BB 63), was formed on 22 August. Five days later, at Sagami Wan outside Tokyo Bay, Taylor became the first Allied ship to anchor in peace (notwithstanding any Missouri claims to contrary). On 29 August, they all moved into Tokyo Bay, where Taylor transported nearly 200 Allied and Japanese war correspondents to the surrender on 2 September.

Taylor was decommissioned in 1946 but was converted in 1950 and recommissioned as an escort destroyer (DDE) on 3 December 1951 under Cmdr. Sheldon Kinney. Deployed to Korea, she first operated with fast carriers. Then, and during a second deployment, she bombarded shore targets and, from 17 September to 6 October 1952, with the Jenkins, “rode shotgun” for minesweepers clearing the harbor at Wonsan. There on 27 September, she and the minesweeper Heron (AMS 18) narrowly escaped hits from shore batteries firing at close range.

After maintenance at Pearl Harbor at the end of that year, Taylor rejoined the Korea blockade in mid-1953 followed by the Taiwan Strait Patrol. Completing her Korean War service without casualties or damage, she began a pattern of deployments to the western Pacific that lasted into 1969. Reclassified DD, she joined in bombardment and other duties off Vietnam when war broke out there in 1965.

Returning to San Diego in 1969, she was retired 2 July and, in a ceremony with the Walker (DD 517), was commissioned in the Italian Navy as Lanciere (D 560). Decommissioned in January 1971, she was subsequently cannibalized to maintain other ex-American destroyers in the Italian navy.

Taylor ‘s overall tour in the Solomon Islands — four bombardments, three surface engagements, three minelaying expeditions, and other operations — earned her a Navy Unit Commendation after World War II. She also earned 15 battle stars during the war, two for Korea, and six for Vietnam.

And Subic? He got in the last bite of World War II — on the ankle of a member of the Japanese press who didn’t depart Taylor quite quickly enough after the surrender.