The USS Welles (DD-628), a Gleaves-class destroyer, was built by the Seattle-Tacoma Shipbuilding Corp. and launched on September 7, 1942. Her commission date was August 16, 1943, her commanding officer, Lt. Comdr. Doyle M. Coffee.
Action in World War II
After Pacific shakedown, the Welles sailed for Puget Sound, arriving October 26, 1943. Deployed on November 15, she escorted two British carriers bound for San Diego. The Welles continued to New York, arriving on December 4, joining DesDiv 38. On December 28, the Welles and the unit departed for the western Pacific, assigned to screen for New Jersey (BB-62), Iowa (BB-61) joining the unit at Norfolk.
They sailed west, reaching New Guinea on February 5. Attached to the 7th Fleet, she was assigned as convoy escort to LST’s bound for Cape Gloucester. She served as tactical support to the Army during landings at Los Negros Island, taking fire during the operation but sustaining no damaged.
Returning to Buna in March, the Welles was attached to Task Group 77.2 in preparation for assaults on New Guinea. In mid-May, the Welles served as support during landings on Wake Island and Sarmi. She provided tactical support to General MacArthur’s forces at Biak Island, sinking Japanese barges, taking out shore emplacements and repelling air attacks. The campaign lasted until late July.
On August 26, the Welles was attached to the 3rd Fleet at Florida Island and began preparing for attacks at Palau. She provided screening and air support for the carriers through mid-September, then was transferred to antisubmarine duty after which she sailed with TG 77.2 for the invasion at Leyte.
Arriving at Leyte Gulf on October 18, two days prior to landings, the Welles supported minesweepers in the Gulf and launched preparatory shore bombardments. She supported the invasion force, defending troops ashore as well as on the water. The Japanese launched a surface attack which the Welles and the screen of battleships destroyed. Completing her service in Philippine operations, she returned to Ulithi Atoll, joining the Fast Carrier Task Force.
For the rest of the war, the Welles patrolled with the task force. During refit at Leyte in June 1945, she was recalled to the U.S. for overhaul, arriving in Bremerton on July 16.
Reassigned to the east coast on September 29, she sailed for New York, arriving on October 20. The Welles was moved to Charleston S.C. and decommissioned on February 4, 1946, assigned to the Atlantic Reserve Fleet.
The Welles was struck from the Navy Register on February 10, 1968. For service during World War II, the Welles was awarded eight battle stars.
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.