USS Whitehurst Logo by: Pat Stephens, Webmaster, DESA

Short Cruise on a Destroyer Escort

From a 1944 Account by Ernie Pyle


Ernie Pyle, War Correspondent


In the Western now I'm a DE Sailor. Full-fledged one.  Drenched from head to foot with saltwater.  Sleep with a leg crooked around your rack so you don't fall out.   Put wet bread under your dinner tray to keep it from sliding.  Even got my Jesus shoes ordered.

And you don't know what a DE Sailor is?  You don't know the DE Navy.  Better not let one of them hear you say that.  They're 50,000 strong out here and they pride themselves on their rough life at sea.  So better be careful.

A DE, my friends, is a Destroyer Escort.  It's a ship, long and narrow and sleek, along the lines of a Destroyer.  But it's much smaller.*  It's a Baby Destroyer.  It's the American version of a British Corvette.

It is the answer to the problem of colossal amounts of convoying;  amounts so huge that we simply didn't have the time to build full-fledged Destroyers to escort them all.  The DE was the result.  It was a wartime product and it has done valiantly.

They are rough and tumble little ships.  Their after decks are laden with depth charges.  They can turn in half the space of a destroyer.  Their forward guns can seldom be used because waves are breaking over them.  They roll and they plunge.  They buck and they twist.  They shudder and they fall through space.  Their sailors say they should have flight pay and sub pay both...they're in the air half the time and under water half the time.  Their men are accustomed to being wet and think nothing of it.

I came back from the Northern waters on a DE.  When a wave comes over and you get soaked and a sailor laughs ands says, "Now you're a DE Sailor."  It makes you feel kind of proud.  And I did not get seasick.  I'd better have my stomach examined.

My ship formed part of the escort of a tiny convoy returning to a Southern Base Island for more planes and supplies, to be hurried back north to the battle.

We mothered ships that were big and slow.  We were tiny in comparison.  We ran way out ahead and to the side.  We and DEs like us formed the screen, and there was nothing bigger than us in it.  We felt like strutting.

We felt like the little boy of the plains left at home for the first time to protect his mother from Indians...the only man on the place.

A DE carries more than 100 men and a dozen officers.  That's small enough so that those who serve on her know personally almost everybody else.

Sailors always seem proud of their DE.  So proud that they often get in a fight with crews of other DEs if they go ashore together.

At some of our island anchorages, the Navy has setup recreation islands, where men in from the sea can go ashore for a few hours and play ball and drink a few cans of beer.  It's really a pitiful excuse for shore leave; but it's all there can be.

Well, on those recreation islands, they never let the crew of a big carrier go ashore along side the crew of another, for invariably they get into a fight.

It seems they were tied up against another DE at some anchorage.  They let parts of the crew of both ships go ashore to one of those recreation islands.

The usual fight got started over there.  They fought all afternoon on shore.  They fought each other in the small boats as they were coming back.  And when they got back aboard their respective ships, they continued fighting, reaching across the rails to smack each other just like pirates of old.  The boys bowl with laughter when they tell you about it.

And since then, no two DEs of the same Division go ashore together or even tie up to each other.  That certainly could be called "pride in your ship" couldn't it?

I am glad this method of rivalry had been watered down before I came aboard.  For I don't suppose there's anybody in the DE Navy small enough for me to fight with any distinction either to myself or my ship.

Note:  The first destroyers were laid down in the late 1890s. USS Bainbridge DD-1 had a displacement of 420 tons and was 250 feet long. Since then approximately 50 different classes of Destroyers have been built. The latest and largest class of Destroyer built for WWII operation, the Gearing Class, had a loaded weight of approx 3,700 tons and was 390 feet long.  The Buckley Class DE had a loaded weight of 1,740 tons and was 306 feet long.  Ernie Pyle's description of Destroyer Escorts as Baby Destroyers was a comparison to the large destroyers of WWII, i.e.  The Fletcher, Sumner and Gearing classes.  There were in fact, many classes of Destroyers which were smaller than DEs.   max author

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