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Famouse 50 Destroyers page 2

by William F. MacMillan (USCS #L-3825)
Text taken from the USCS 34th National Convention Program Booklet

Typically, the remaining destroyers escorted convoys, performed minelaying functions, assisted ships in distress, rescued survivors, and attacked enemy submarines, assisted in the capture of one and the sinking of nine. In addition to the six ships initially transferred to Canada, eight more were manned for a time by Canada Crews, five by Norwegian crews and one by a Polish crew. Seven were loaned to the Soviet Union in 1944.

LINCOLN, ex YARNALL, had the distinction of serving under five flags. The service of HMS LEWES, ex CONWAY was unique in that she served on the South Atlantic station, in the Indian Ocean and with the British Pacific Fleet, the only one of the “Townes” to serve in any of these areas. Six of the veteran destroyers were sunk by U-boats and one was lost to a mine.

CAMPBELLTOWN, ex BUCHANAN was expended in the famous raid at St. Nazaire, France. The ship was modified, including the removal of the two after funnels and the addition of clinker screens to the remaining two, so that at a distance she looked remarkably like a German torpedo boat of the MOWE class. All non-essential heavy gear was removed to reduce her draught to 10 feet and her bows were packed with five tons of high explosives. On March 29, 1942, she rammed the outer gate of the Normandie Dock at 20 knots.

With the captain in Custody, the ship exploded, ripped the gate apart, and put out of commission the only dry dock on the Atlantic Coast which could handle the German battleship Tirpitz. HMS CAMPBELLTOWN did more damage to the enemy than any other “Town” destroyer and her crew won more medals than any other crew.

The overall contribution of the “Towns” or “Famous Fifty” as they are known to naval cover collectors, toward winning the Battle of the Atlantic might be summarized by two top-level naval experts, Admiral Stark and British Admiral of the Fleet Sir James Somerville.

A few months after Pearl Harbor, when enemy submarines were doing great damage to Allied shipping close to the east coast, a senior American admiral remarked bitterly to Admiral Stark how useful it would be to have some of the destroyers that had been handed over to the British. Admiral Stark replied, “Those ships have already been fighting for us for more than a year.”

After the war, Summerville stated, “Had there been no American “four stackers” available, and had they not gone into service escorting convoys when they did, the outcome of the struggle against the U-boats, and the subsequent outcome of the European War itself, might have been vastly different.

“The peoples of both America and Britain now realize that the Battle of the Atlantic was one of the most bitterly fought sea campaigns in history. It resulted in the certain destruction by the Allied Naval and Air Forces of 640 U-boats. Against a German strategy committed to ruthless expenditure of men and submarines to achieve its objective, Britain’s destroyer force, weakened by overwork and losses, became increasingly inadequate after Dunkirk.

“The peoples of both America and Britain now realize that the Battle of the Atlantic was one of the most bitterly fought sea campaigns in history. It resulted in the certain destruction by the Allied Naval and Air Forces of 640 U-boats. Against a German strategy committed to ruthless expenditure of men and submarines to achieve its objective, Britain’s destroyer force, weakened by overwork and losses, became increasingly inadequate after Dunkirk.

 

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