The USS Wilkes (DD-441) was the third ship named after Admiral Charles Wilkes. She was built at Boston and commissioned April 22, 1941. The Wilkes underwent shakedown off the coast of New England. The ship operated along the East Coast and in the Caribbean until November when she escorted convoy HX-162 to Iceland. She continued escort duties into 1942.
On February 18 she ran aground along with Pollux and Truxtun. While the Wilkes was able to free herself from the beach, the other two ships were lost along with 205 men. The Wilkes suffered no casualties. She returned to Boston to make repairs. Serving as escort for the USS Augusta on April 8, the Wilkes collided with the British oil tanker SS Davila. Again the ship put into Boston for repairs, leaving the yard June 3.
Action in World War II
The destroyer resumed escort duty and on July 17 made a depth charge attack on a U-Boat, sinking it. She continued to operate along the East Coast before joining a convoy bound for North Africa in October. The Wilkes took part in the assault on Fedhala, French Morocco, on November 8. The ship returned to Norfolk on November 30 and then made five voyages to Casablanca and back in 1943.
In January 1944, the Wilkes set out for Pacific duty. After transiting the Panama Canal she escorted the SS Mormacdove to New Guinea. Wilkes then performed escort and fire support duties in the Admiralty Islands. She provided fire support as part of the landings at Wakde Island on May 17 and again at Aitape and Toem, New Guinea. In August, the Wilkes joined Task Force 38, acting as screen for carriers launching air strikes in the Marshall Islands. She accompanied the force to the Philippines in October. The destroyer returned to Puget Sound in December for overhaul.
At the end of January 1945, the Wilkes set out for Pearl Harbor. On March 9 she got underway for Ulithi, continuing on to Guam. For the remainder of the war she performed escort and personnel transport duties. Leaving Jinsen in October she returned, first to Pearl Harbor and then on to Charleston, South Carolina, arriving on December 2.
After the War
The USS Wilkes was decommissioned on March 4, 1946, and placed on reserve. She was stricken from the Naval Register on September 16, 1968, and sold for scrap in 1972. She received 10 battle stars for actions during 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.