The USS Twiggs DD-591, the second naval destroyer named for Major Levi Twiggs, was launched from the Charleston Navy Yard in South Carolina on April 7, 1943. She was commissioned on November 4 with Comdr. John B. Fellows, Jr., in charge. The ship took her shakedown cruise in Bermuda, then worked as a training ship until May of the next year, when she was sent to Pearl Harbor.
Action in World War II
The Twiggs spent much of the summer of 1944 performing drills and escorting convoys between Hawaii and the Philippines. In September, as Allied forces were planning for the attack on Leyte, the ship joined Destroyer Squadron 49 as they were making preparations in the Admiralty Islands. As the landing ships offloaded their troops on the island beginning on October 20, the Twiggs screened for enemy aircraft and was able to rescue a pilot who had launched from the USS Petrof Bay.
Next, the destroyer escorted a task force through the Surigao Strait as they sailed for Luzon in December. A fellow destroyer, the USS Haraden, was hit by a kamikaze plane, and the crew of the Twiggs helped treat injuries and fight fires on the damaged ship. She broke off from the rest of the fleet to escort the Haraden to a towing convoy.
The Twiggs was once again called upon to perform rescue duty when a Japanese plane rammed the aircraft carrier USS Ommaney Bay. The destroyer was able to pick up 211 survivors. She had to dodge more suicide planes and torpedoes when she aided the assault on Lingayen and performed antisubmarine patrols at Manganin Bay. In February of 1945, while performing screening duties in preparation for the battle at Iwo Jima, the Twiggs was nearly hit by a kamikaze plane that crashed into the water on her port side.
Destruction at Okinawa
While providing antiaircraft and antisubmarine support, the Twiggs had already suffered damage during the battle for Okinawa when she returned from repairs to resume fighting on May 17. She continued on until June, when she was assigned radar picket duty in the Senaga Shima area. Late in the evening of June 16, a kamikaze plane dropped a torpedo on the Twiggs and then was able to circle back around and crash into her. She sank inside of an hour.
Though 188 crewmembers were able to be rescued, 152 more went down with the ship, including commanding officer Comdr. George Phillip. The Twiggs’ hulk was salvaged and eventually given to the Ryukyu Islands. Her name was officially struck from the Naval Register on July 11, 1945, and the ship was awarded four battle stars for her service.
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.