The Whole Story

What follows is a brief history of the USS HUGH W. HADLEY, one of WWII’s most distinguished and heroic naval combatants….

USS HUGH W. HADLEY (DD774) was constructed at the Bethlehem Steel Company Shipbuilding Yards at Terminal Island, California, during the first months of 1944. Mrs. Hugh William Hadley acted as sponsor at the launching on July 16. The ship was named in honor of her late husband, Commander Hadley, USN, who had gallantly given his life while serving as commander of a transport division during action against enemy Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands.

This vessel was commissioned on 25 November 1944, and Commander L.C. Chamberlain, USN, assumed command. The nucleus crew of rated enlisted men was believed to be of an exceptionally high standard of excellence, and the roster of former destroyers on which these men had served would include most of the destroyers which had distinguished themselves during World War II.

HADLEY reported to Commander Operational Training Command, Pacific, in San Diego, for shakedown on 23 December 1944.

Training in all phases of anti-submarine warfare, torpedo firing, gunnery, amphibious warfare, engineering, communications, fighter direction, and damage control was supervised by Captain Glenn Roy Hartwig, USN, Commander Destroyer Squadron 66, the squadron to which Hadley was attached. He had shifted his flag to this ship, and remained aboard throughout the shakedown period. On 13 January, Commander Baron Joseph Mullaney, USN, relieved Commander Chamberlain as Commanding Officer. The final inspection took place on 5 February, and the ship was certified “very good”; in all departments. HADLEY was ready for combat.

Statistics Standard Displacement: 2,200 tons Length Overall: 376 feet, 6 inches, Beam: 40 feet, 10 inches, Speed: 35 knots plus, Complement: 343 aboard at commissioning, Armament: 6 x 5 inch/38 caliber dual-purpose guns, 10 21 inch torpedo tubes, plus 40MM and 20MM AA guns.

Following a 14-day post-shakedown availability at the San Diego Naval Repair Base, HADLEY left on 21 February 1945, took screening station on HMS RANEE (CVE 03), and escorted the British carrier to Pearl Harbor. Upon arrival, HADLEY reported to Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet, for further orders. On 7 March she proceeded as the single escort member of Task Unit 12.5.6 in company with the USS SANTEE (CVE 29) enroute to Ulithi.

Under orders of the Commander 5th Fleet, HADLEY left Ulithi on 25 March for Okinawa in company with Task Unit 53.2.2 consisting of many LST’s [Landing Ship Tank] and escorts. The passage was without incident, and at 1650, 31 March Takashiki Jima of the Okinawa group was sighted. The crew stood at General Quarters throughout that night as Japanese planes were reported to be in the vicinity. HADLEY fired for the first time and drew her first blood by shooting down one of the harassing Bettys [Japanese twin-engine bomber]. None of the Unit was damaged, and the LSTs landed their troops on Okinawa Easter morning April 1, 1945. The task unit was dissolved upon arrival, and HADLEY was assigned as an anti-submarine patrol station outside the transport area off Hagushi Beach. Low flying enemy planes again kept her at GQ at night. After fueling at Kerama Retto, she reported to report to Commander Task Group 51.2 on the USS ANCON (AGC4), patrolling in a retirement area east of Okinawa.

During the 4th day of this patrol, Task Group 51.2 was ordered to proceed to Saipan, arriving on 14 April. Enroute, HADLEY had her first experience screening transports with fast and veteran destroyers, and also succeeding in destroying her first mine with machine gun fire. Six days later she was again underway for Okinawa in company with Task Unit 94.19.12, exploding another floating menace along the way.

On 27 April, HADLEY arrived at Okinawa and was returned to the anti-submarine patrol station. The next day she was ordered to join USS R. H. SMITH (DM23), 2 LSMs and 4 LCS(L) on radar picket station. She picked up a Marine pilot from the water after the engine of his F4U Corsair failed and he was forced to ditch. The first 2 days in May were restful, as the Okinawa area was blessed with an overcast sky, making enemy air raids impractical; but blue skies brought the Japs back in force. USS AARON WARD (DM 34), predecessor to the HADLEY at the Terminal Island Shipbuilding Yards, was reported in sinking condition after absorbing 6 suicide plane hits in her unequal match on a picket station to the south of the HADLEY’s position The night of 3-4 May was not pleasant as several enemy raids from the north had the crew again at general quarters continuously during the seemingly endless night.

At sunrise, HADLEY secured from general quarters; but at 0745 the crew rushed to their battle stations to learn the USS SHEA, 1000 yards on the port quarter, had been hit by a Baka bomb and was burning badly. HADLEY took control of the Combat Air Patrol (CAP) until relieved 2 hours later by a fighter-direction equipped destroyer. When relieved, HADLEY reported to Kerama Retto for logistics, after which she resumed station off Hagushi Beach. On 7 May, HADLEY was directed alongside the USS BROWN (DD 546), a veteran radar picket ship, for transfer of communications equipment from BROWN to make HADLEY a fully equipped fighter-direction ship. The job was completed in record time. BROWN radio technicians were well aware of the significance of the fact that BROWN was one of the few regulars that had survived the picket line.

Radar picket ships were scarce. At 1350, 10 May, HADLEY took station with USS EVANS (DD 552) as support ship. At 0636, 11 May a Jap plane was shot down by the CAP, but it proved to be only the frontrunner of an estimated 150-plane group that was approaching from the North. The CAP of 12 marine F4U Corsairs soon had their hands full and, at 0750, and enemy observation plane was taken under fire and shot down close to HADLEY. At about 0755 the entire CAP was ordered out in different formations to intercept and engage the horde of enemy planes fast closing in. It was learned later that the CAP had destroyed about 40 or 50 planes. HADLEY and EVANS were attacked continuously by numerous enemy aircraft coming in groups of 4 or 6 on each ship. During the early period of the engagement, enemy aircraft were sighted trying to pass the formation headed for Okinawa. These were flying extremely low on both bows and apparently ignoring HADLEY. The ship accounted for 4 of these. From 0830 to 0900 she was attacked by groups of planes coming in on both bows; she shot down 12 of these during this period by firing, at times all guns in various directions. EVANS was about 3 miles to the north fighting off a number of planes by herself, several of which were seen to be destroyed. At 0900 EVANS was hit and put out of action. At one time towards the close of the battle, when friendly planes were closing in to assist, the four support ships were prevented from shooting down two friendlies whom they had taken under fire. For 20 minutes, HADLEY fought off the enemy single-handed. Finally, at 0920, 10 enemy planes which had surrounded HADLEY attacked the ship simultaneously: 4 on the starboard bow under fire by the main battery and machine guns, 4 on the port bow under fire by forward machine guns; and 2 astern under fire from machine guns. All 10 planes were destroyed in a remarkable fight, and each plane was conclusively accounted for. As a result of this attack, HADLEY was (1) hit by a bomb aft, (2) hit by a Baka bomb released from a low-flying Betty, (3) struck by a suicide plane aft, and (4) hit by a suicide plane in the rigging.

HADLEY’s gunners were not the only ones whose ammunition was running low as more and more Jap planes splashed into the sea. Our Marines in their Corsair fighters overhead, radioed that “we are out of ammunition, but we’re not leaving the fight.” One twin-engine Betty was forced into the sea by a Corsair who got above him and rode him down; another Corsair flew through a hail of shells from HADLEY in an attempt to divert a Jap plane from a suicide dive. Twice he forced the Jap out of his dive, but even though the intrepid Marine flew almost into the muzzles of HADLEY’s guns, he was unable to prevent the Jap, riddled from tail to prop, from hitting the ship.

By this time the ship was badly holed with both engine rooms and one fireroom flooding as the ship settled down and listed rapidly. All 5 inch guns were out of action; a fire was raging aft of number two stack; ammunition was exploding; and the entire ship was engulfed in a thick, black smoke. This smoke forced the crew to take shelter, some by jumping over the side, others by crowding forward awaiting orders. The ship was helpless to defend herself and the situation appeared very dark. The Commanding Officer received reports from the Chief Engineer and Damage Control Officer, which indicated that the main spaces were flooded and the ship was rapidly developing into a state which would capsize her. The exploding ammunition and the raging fire were very dangerous. The engineers secured the forward boilers to prevent them from blowing up. The order “prepare to abandon ship” was given and life rafts and life boats were put over the side. A party of about 50 men and officers was organized to make a last fight to save the ship. The remainder of the crew and the wounded were put over into the water.

From this point on, a truly amazing, courageous, and efficient group of men and officers were utter disregard for their own personal safety approached the explosions and the fire with hoses, and for 15 minutes kept up this work. One officer fought the fire without shoes, on the blistering hot deck. Torpedoes were jettisoned, weights removed from the starboard side, and finally, the fire was extinguished and the list and the flooding controlled. Although the ship was still in an extremely dangerous condition, one fireroom bulkhead held, and the ship was finally towed to the Ie Shima anchorage.

Today, HADLEY proudly displays the 25 Japanese flags painted on her bridge, testifying to the number of enemy planes she destroyed. DD 774 established a record for destroyers in adding 23 of those flags to here scoreboard as the result of a single engagement. 28 of her crew died at their battle stations, 3 died soon after of injuries sustained; 68 others were injured. Not one of these men left his post of duty as the enemy planes came in, even after the ship had been hit and ammunition was running low. Examples of bravery and resourcefulness were continuous throughout the action.

The mission was accomplished. The transports at the Okinawa anchorage were saved from an attack by 156 enemy planes by the action in which HADLEY took such a great part. She bore the brunt of the enemy strength and took everything that they had to throw at her. It was a proud day for destroyer men. Ammunition expended in this 1 hour, 40 minute air battle: 801 rounds of 5″38 8950 rounds of 40MM 5990 rounds of 20MM. After noon on 11 May 1945 the groggy vessel was towed into Ie Shima where she stayed until considered in safe enough condition to be towed to Kerama Retto on 14 May.

There, in floating dry-dock ARD 28, the hard-working USS ZANIAH (AG70) ship repair unit started patching, bracing, and strengthening the battered hull. A patch was secured to the hole in the starboard side where a suicide plane had entered the engineering spaces, carrying delayed action bomb(s), which went through the ship’s bottom, exploded, and broke upward a large portion of the after-keel section of the ship. The early morning hours of 19 June, the crew manned the rail to say goodbye to Captain Mullaney who had been relieved as Commanding Officer by Commander Roy A. Newton, USN.

On 15 July, HADLEY, resting on the keel blocks of floating dry-dock ARD 28, was towed by ATF 150 from Kerama Retto to Buckner Bay off eastern Okinawa. She was undocked 22 days later and again taken alongside ZANIAH, this time in Buckner Bay.

The 6,800 mile voyage at the end of a tow line began on 29 July, when ATA 199 took her in tow and joined a slow convoy enroute to Saipan. The 3rd day underway, heavy seas and violent winds verified radio reports that a 65-mph typhoon was being encountered. On 1 August, the ship rolled as far as 57 degrees to port, but the towline held. The tow continued to Eniwetok, thence to Pearl Harbor where it was learned from Commander Destroyers, Pacific Fleet, that the ship was to be decommissioned upon arrival in the United States. HADLEY and the ever-present ATA 199 left Pearl Harbor on the final leg of this trek on 12 September to arrive at U.S. Naval Shipyard Hunter’s Point, San Francisco, California, on 26 September 1945. During the long, slow tow, taking nearly two months, the towline had been parted nine times.

Thus was the USS HUGH W. HADLEY (DD774) entered on the roster of America’s combatant ships, as another fighting constituent of the United States Navy whose crew would not give up their ship. On 15 December 1945, USS HADLEY was decommissioned. She was sold 2 September 1947 to Walter W. Johnson Co. of San Francisco for scrap.

For the action at Okinawa, several Medals were awarded to various officers and crew members, including Navy Crosses for both the Commanding Officer and the Gunnery Officer and, for all aboard, the USS HADLEY was awarded The Presidential Unit Citation, signed, for the President, by James Forrestal, Secretary of the Navy.