The USS Buck (DD-420) served in the U.S. Navy for three years during the Second World War. She was named for James Buck, who served with the U.S. Navy during the Civil War. Buck was built as a Sims-class destroyer.
Buck was laid down in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at the Philadelphia Navy Yard in April 1938. She was launched in May 1939 and commissioned in May 1940, with Lieutenant Commander H.C. Robison at the helm. Buck carried a crew of 192 and had a cruising speed of 35 knots. She was armed with five five-inch anti-aircraft guns, four half-inch machine guns, and eight 21-inch torpedo tubes.
At the beginning of 1941, Buck served briefly with the Pacific Fleet before returning to the Atlantic to run convoy duty between the US and Iceland. She remained on convoy duty after the US officially entered World War II late in 1941, traveling to Northern Ireland, North Africa, Iceland, Newfoundland, and the Caribbean.
In August 1942, Buck was completing one of these convoys in a dense fog when she was struck on the starboard side by another US vessel. The impact was devastating, breaking Buck’s keel and triggering the loss of a propeller. Seven crew members were killed. As the ship sagged in the water, the entire fantail section was cut free to sink in order to limit direct damage to the ship’s hull. A few days later, Buck was towed back to Boston for a period of repairs.
In June 1943, Buck was assigned to duty in North Africa. She patrolled off the coasts of Tunisia and Algeria, then participated in the invasion of Sicily. In August, Buck successfully sank an Italian submarine between Sicily and Algeria. She took on 45 prisoners from the sub’s crew.
Buck then escorted a convoy to the US before returning to the Mediterranean in September 1943 to support the invasion and occupation of Italy. On October 9, Buck was patrolling off the coast of Salerno when she was hit by a torpedo (some accounts report two torpedoes). The damage was catastrophic, and the ship was abandoned within just a few short minutes before she quickly sank. Only 97 men survived, with another 150 lost at sea.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Buck (DD-420)
Most crewmen stationed or doing repairs on Buck were likely exposed to asbestos-containing materials to one degree or another. Inhalation or swallowing of asbestos is strongly linked to the development of pleural and peritoneal mesothelioma. Asbestos-containing material that was damaged by enemy action was particularly dangerous as it was "friable", which means the individual fibers were separated and entered the air.
Some crewmen risked a higher level of asbestos exposure, most particularly those crewmen working in the engineering sections of the ship responsible for maintaining and repairing machinery. The engine and power rooms of Buck deployed asbestos extensively as insulation for pipes, to cover boilers, and to cover parts of the ship's motors or turbines. Even non-engineering sections contained asbestos, as steam conduits wrapped in asbestos-based insulation ran into nearly every section of the ship.
Sailors who regularly worked with asbestos-based insulation over months or years of service have a much higher risk of developing mesothelioma than sailors who had a low level of exposure over the same time period, or a high level of exposure in a short amount of time. Exposure to asbestos fibers causes a number of very serious or life-threatening illnesses, the most serious being mesothelioma, an asbestos cancer.Sources
Haze Gray & Underway. Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. DD-420.
NavSource Naval History, USS Buck (DD-420).