USS Belknap DD-251 was the first U.S. ship to carry that name. A Clemson-class destroyer with a displacement of 1,215 tons, she was built at Bethlehem Shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts, and commissioned April 28, 1919.
After shakedown, the Belknap was assigned to U.S. Naval Forces in the eastern Mediterranean. Several months later she returned to the U.S., serving with the Atlantic Fleet’s Division 28. She was placed in the Reserve Fleet at Charleston, South Carolina in 1920. Later, she moved to Philadelphia Navy Yard and was decommissioned on June 18, 1922.
Action in World War II
Converted to a seaplane tender in 1940, she was reclassified AVD-8. The Belknap was recommissioned on November 22 of that year and assigned to Hamilton, Bermuda, as a unit of Patrol Wing 5. She returned to Newport, Rhode Island in early 1941. During the summer of 1941, she made three deployments to Newfoundland and Iceland, remaining in Reykjavik, Iceland from September 1941 through May 1942. She then underwent an extensive overhaul at Charleston Navy Yard.
Following overhaul she patrolled Caribbean waters from August 1942 until January 1943. In February, she began a year of duty with hunter-killer groups in the Atlantic, sailing with carriers USS Bogue, USS Croatan and USS Cole. For her service with USS Bogue, she was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation. Belknap was then reclassified DD-251 on November 14, 1943. From February to June 1944, Belknap was assigned to convoy duty, operating in East Coast waters as well as the Gulf of Mexico.
Belknap underwent yet another conversion in June 1944, this time to a high-speed transport. She was reclassified APD-34 and sent to the Pacific Theater, arriving in September. During the Leyte invasion in October, she operated as a screen ship. On January 11, while providing bombardment and beach reconnaissance for the landings at Lingayen Gulf, Luzon, she was struck by a kamikaze.
The plane tore into her number two stack. 38 men were lost and 49 were wounded. Emergency repairs were made at Lingayen. Then, on January 18, she was towed to Manu in the Admiralty Island by the USS Hidatsa. After undergoing temporary repairs, she steamed to Philadelphia Navy Yard where she was decommissioned on August 4, 1945. Three months later she was sold for scrapping.
The USS Belknap received three battle stars and a Presidential Unit Citation for her service in World War II.
Asbestos in Navy Ships
Although an essential component of the naval fleet, especially during World War II, naval destroyers also pose a lasting health risk to soldiers serving on them. Unfortunately, products containing asbestos were common, especially on older ships, because of the material’s high resistance to heat and fire. Despite its value as an insulator, asbestos fiber intake can lead to several serious health consequences, including mesothelioma, a devastating cancer without cure. Current and former military personnel who came into contact with these ships should seek immediate medical attention in order to detect possible health consequences associated with asbestos exposure.