The USS Somers (DD 381) was launched by the Federal Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company in Kearny, New Jersey, on March 13, 1937. Miss Marie Somers and Miss Suzanne Somers sponsored the ship’s commission at New York Navy Yard on December 1. Commander James E. Maher took command of the Somers on the maiden voyage February 11, 1938; the tour took her crew along the Gulf of Mexico down the eastern coast of South America during peace time operations with the Atlantic Fleet. The Somers was sent to join the Neutrality Patrol on the western Atlantic on September 5, 1939, by President Roosevelt.
Action in World War II
On November 6, 1941, the Somers and USS Omaha met a ship between South America and Africa; the Omaha dispatched a motor whale-boat to investigate. The ship was labeled the Wilmotto and soon ran up the Fox Mike international flag, indicating the ship was in trouble. Before the boarding party reached the ship, the boarding party noted the ship was actually the German blockade runner Odenwald. The watertight doors were open with only one generator running, the crew suspected Germans may have been trying to scuttle it. The Somers and the Omaha were able to save the Odenwald, bringing it back to San Juan, P. R, for disposal.
The Somers continued its tour along the South Atlantic between Brazil and Trinidad, escorting convoys and patrolling shores. On November 21, 1942, the Somers encountered a second German blockade runner. The unidentified ship called out as the Norwegian merchant SS Skjibred; however the crew of USS Somers soon discovered that this was the German merchantman Anneliese Essberger. Before the ship could be taken by USS Somers, explosions rocked the ship, boats were launched and the ship sank at 0711.
The destroyer continued to patrol the South Atlantic throughout 1943, escorting convoys and guarding against German boats. On New Year’s Day 1944, the Somers fired on and sank a German blockade runner. While her crew hoped for an active role in the Normandy invasion, she instead continued to escort convoys – a less exciting but no less important duty. While patrolling the southern coast of France, she sank two more German ships. For the rest of the year and into 1945, she operated in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic.
After the War
On August 4, 1945, after many other tours, the USS Somers ported at Charleston harbor for overhaul until September 11, when the ship reported to the Commandant of the 6th Naval District. The USS Somers’ final decommission date was October 28, 1945, and she was struck from the register and sold in 1947.
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.