The USS J. William Ditter (DD-751) served in the U.S. Navy for less than a year during the Second World War. She was named for Congressman John William Ditter who served on the House Committee on Appropriations. J. William Ditter was laid down as an Allen M. Sumner class destroyer.
J. William Ditter was laid down at Staten Island, New York by the Bethlehem Steel Corporation in January 1944, launched in July, and commissioned in October with Commander R. R. Sampson in command. Carrying a crew of 336, J. William Ditter had a range of 3,300 nautical miles at 20 knots and was armed with eleven 20-millimeter anti-aircraft guns, six five-inch anti-aircraft guns, twelve 40-millimeter anti-aircraft guns, and ten 21-inch torpedo tubes. She was 376 feet, six inches long, with a displacement of 3,218 tons, and had a cruising speed of 36.5 knots.
J. William Ditter was assigned to shakedown training off Bermuda and then departed from Norfolk, Virginia in January 1945 to Pearl Harbor, where she arrived in mid-February. The destroyer then sailed for Eniwetok and Ulithi before moving on to Okinawa in March for the massive amphibious assault there. During this deployment, J. William Ditter conducted minesweeping operations and engaged in combat with enemy submarines and suicide boats. J. William Ditter helped sweep channels of mines and lay marker buoys following the initial landing, and was then assigned as a convoy escort.
In mid-April, J. William Ditter began serving radar picket duty, during which she shot down many enemy planes. The destroyer sailed for Kerama Retto at the end of the month, but returned to picket duty soon after, and then a massive kamikaze attack ensued in June. After downing five planes, J. William Ditter was struck by two others, cutting power and causing many casualties. She was then towed to Kerama Retto the next day and soon sailed home to San Diego, and then to New York where the destroyer arrived in July. J. William Ditter was decommissioned in September 1945, struck from the Navy list in October, and broken up for scrap in July 1946.
Asbestos Risk on the USS J. William Ditter (DD-751)
J. William Ditter employed ACMs (asbestos-containing materials) as insulation for its boilers and engines, and around steam pipes running throughout the ship. Asbestos was also added to paints and cements used aboard the destroyers of this era. No area of J. William Ditter was completely free of asbestos contamination, and nearly every sailor suffered at least some exposure while on board. Asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma and other serious illnesses.
The two planes that struck Ditter caused significant damage to the ship and increased the asbestos risk to her crew. When asbestos products are damaged, they become friable. Such materials release tiny asbestos fibers into the air, where crewmen in the area can easily inhale them. Sailors assigned to damage control and fire brigades on this ship suffered greater-than-normal asbestos exposure. It is believed that higher levels of exposure increase a person’s chance of developing asbestos disease.Sources
Haze Gray & Underway. Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. DD-751.
(http://www.hazegray.org/danfs/destroy/dd751txt.htm) Retrieved 14 February 2011.
NavSource Naval History. USS J. William Ditter (DD-751).
(http://www.navsource.org/archives/05/751.htm) Retrieved 14 February 2011.