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USS Rowan (DD-405)

USS Rowan (DD-405) was a Benham-class destroyer with the U.S. Navy. She was one of four naval vessels named in honor of Vice Admiral Stephen C. Rowan, who served during the Mexican-American and American Civil wars.


Rowan was laid down by the Norfolk Navy Yard in Portsmouth, Virginia on June 25, 1937. Launched on May 5, 1938, she was sponsored by Miss Elizabeth H. Rowan, who was the namesake’s great granddaughter. Lieutenant Commader B.R. Harrison, Jr. took command of Rowan on September 23, 1939.

Naval History

Following shakedown, Rowan reported for duty in the Pacific. In the spring of 1941, she participated in the Neutrality Patrol providing protection to transatlantic convoys.

Rowan sailed into Cape Town two days following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In January, she returned to the east coast as she resumed convoy duty in the Caribbean and the North Atlantic. Rowan continued to conduct escort and patrol duties for the next several months. While conducting convoy escort duties off Iceland, Rowan assisted with the rescue of HMS Fury. While conducting the mission, Rowan shot down one of the attackers.

After completing an overhaul in the United States, Rowan resumed convoy escort duty before training and conducting patrols out of Virginia and Maine. In October, Rowan joined in the invasion of North Africa known as Operation Torch.

On November 7, Rowan screened transports off Fedhala before patrolling off Casablanca. Rowan then participated in action against the ships that attempted to intercept the invasion. From December 1942 through April 1943, Rowan escorted convoys to Casablanca. On her second escort trip, five merchantmen were lost to the enemy over a period of four days.

In September 1943, Rowan served as a screen for the Southern Attack Force. On the night of the 10th, she was escorting empty ships from Oran from Paestum when she was attacked by German E-boats. Rowan managed to chase the vessels away before rejoining her convoy. Within minutes, new contact was made and Rowan was forced to change course in order to avoid the torpedoes. Nonetheless, she was hit by a torpedo and sank in less than a minute. 202 of the 273 crewmembers and officers who were on board were lost from the attack. Those whose bodies were not found were listed as missing in action for one year and one day before being officially considered dead on September 12, 1944.

Rowan earned five battle stars for her service during World War II.

Asbestos Risk on the USS Rowan (DD-405)

Nearly every compartment of Rowan was contaminated with asbestos fibers. Because asbestos was such an excellent insulating material, it was used most heavily around steam pipes and around the equipment in the power plant and engines. However, even areas that had no heat-related industrial function contained asbestos, as the substance was widely used in cement, glues, mortar, seals and valves. All of Rowan’s crew were likely to have some exposure to the dangerous mineral, which is known to contribute to the development of mesothelioma.

Damaged asbestos insulation is particularly dangerous, as it can release tiny, individual fibers into the surrounding air. Rowan spent much of her five years afloat engaged in combat duties. Crewmen handling damage control and firefighting often had the greatest total exposure and the highest chance of becoming ill. While many of her crew went down with the ship, those that survived may have had significant asbestos exposure during their service.



Rowan. Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Department of the Navy – Naval Historical Center.

Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance Blog


January 11, 2017
Jillian McKee

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