The USS Nelson (DD-623) served in the U.S. Navy for less than half a decade during the Second World War, and remained on the Navy list until March 1968. She was named for Rear Admiral Charles Preston Nelson who served in the Spanish-American War and World War I. Nelson was a member of the Gleaves class of naval ships.
Nelson was laid down at Kearny, New Jersey by the Federal Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company in May 1942, launched in September, and commissioned in November with Lieutenant Commander M.M. Riker in command. Carrying a crew of 208, Nelson was 348 feet, four inches long and armed with six one-half inch machine guns, four five-inch anti-aircraft guns, and ten 21-inch torpedo tubes.
Nelson was deployed with the Atlantic Fleet in January 1943 and served as a convoy escort and flagship of Destroyer Squadron 17. During this deployment, Nelson made trips to ports in Bermuda, Spain, Trinidad, Aruba, and Casablanca. The destroyer was then deployed for the invasion of Sicily, during which she served as flagship for Commander Task Force 81 and operated with the central Western Task Force.
During the D-Day assault on France, Nelson patrolled to the east of the troop transports and occasionally fired on enemy aircraft. Following a convoy mission to North Africa, Nelson returned to the battle zone and conducted anti-submarine patrols off Gela and Scoglitti, Sicily. Nelson sailed to New York in August and spent the winter conducting escort duty in the North Atlantic. By May 1944, Nelson operated in England in preparation for the Normandy invasion.
Nelson provided a defense against submarines and E-boats during the invasion. She was struck by a torpedo, which blew off the stern and a gun, and her crew was transferred to Maloy. Nelson was repaired at Londonderry, Northern Ireland and commenced patrol duty in the Atlantic in November. The destroyer was then assigned to plane guard duty for Card in April and May. Following a tour of the western Pacific after Japan surrendered, Nelson was placed in reserve at Charleston, South Carolina in May 1946 and sold for scrap in July 1969.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Nelson (DD-623)
Most crewmen stationed or doing repairs on Nelson were exposed to asbestos. Workers in shipyards that repaired naval vessels had similar or greater exposure. Battle damage to ships increased the asbestos risk to crew, as compartments containing asbestos could be damaged, releasing hazardous asbestos dust. The torpedo strike that took Nelson’s stern was likely to have sent clouds of asbestos fibers billowing into the air.
Engineers, firefighters, and machinists usually suffered the highest on-board exposure. Asbestos disease is found most often in those with sustained, high levels of exposure to the mineral. Service in the U.S. Navy during this time is a known risk factor for mesothelioma and other asbestos ailments. As a result, Navy veterans often have legal options available to them after being diagnosed with an asbestos-related condition.Sources
Haze Gray & Underway. Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. DD-623.
NavSource Naval History. USS Nelson (DD-623).