USS Smith (DD-378) was a Mahan-class destroyer in the US Navy during World War II. She was one of two naval vessels to be named in honor of Lieutenant Joseph B. Smith, who was killed in action while aboard the USS Congress when it was sunk by CSS Virginia during the Civil War.
Smith was laid down by Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Mare Island, California on October 27, 1934. Launched on February 20, 1936, she was sponsored by Mrs. Yancey S. Williams. Commander H.L. Grosskopf took command of Smith on September 19, 1936.
Following the outbreak of World War II, Smith was attached to Destroyer Squadron 5, which is where she served until 1942. In this capacity, Smith performed escort duty until she was assigned to Task Force 1 and underwent extensive training along the West Coast. She then engaged in training exercises and war patrols in San Francisco before ultimately returning to Pearl Harbor in mid-August and being assigned to Task Force 16.
On October 26, Smith was operating northwest of the New Hebrides Islands when she was attacked by a formation of 20 torpedo planes. Smith suffered numerous casualties after a Japanese torpedo plane crashed into her resulting in a secondary explosion. Ultimately, 57 of her men were either killed or missing following the attack while another 12 were wounded. Smith also suffered extensive damage, including loss of steering control. Nonetheless, she maintained her position and continued firing on enemy planes, an action for which she was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation.
During much of 1943, Smith was engaged in screening, patrols and other exercises. On August 23, she joined other destroyers in bombarding Finschafen, New Guinea. She then returned to the Huon Gulf area of New Guinea, where she engaged in submarine patrols and antiaircraft defense until September 18. Two days later, she once again participated in the bombardment of Finschafen before returning to Holnicote Bay for resupply.
While serving as part of the Saidor Attack Force on January 1, 1944, Smith was rammed by Hutchins (DD-476) and was forced to return to Milne Bay for repairs. Following repairs, Smith participated in the bombardment of Hyane Harbor. She continued to serve in other routine wartime efforts until December 11, at which time her fleet was attacked by enemy planes in Leyte Gulf. Smith managed to shoot down four enemy planes during the attack as she continued to resupply operations.
On January 6, 1945, Smith provided support to amphibious landings in Lingayen Gulf in Luzon. After Kitkun Bay (CVE-71) was seriously damaged by a kamikaze, Smith took on more than 200 survivors.
Smith was decommissioned on June 28, 1946. She was struck from the Navy list on February 25, 1947 and was sold the following August. Smith earned six battle stars for her service during World War II.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Smith (DD-378)
Installing asbestos insulation in the construction of oceangoing ships was ordered by law in the US in the 1930s, after a deadly fire on the SS Morro Castle resulted in great loss of life. Vessels like Smith deployed asbestos-containing materials extensively in boilers and engine rooms, and for fireproofing in all sections of the ship. If asbestos insulation is worn or damaged it becomes friable, which means that individual fibers can break off and escape into the surrounding air, allowing them to be breathed in by sailors and shipfitters, potentially leading to the development of mesothelioma.
Presently, medical science has not developed a mesothelioma cure, however, there are palliative approaches which help to lengthen survival time and improve patient comfort, such as mesothelioma radiation therapy. Because malignant mesothelioma is a relatively rare disease, not many facilities or physicians are able to deliver the highest quality mesothelioma treatment.
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Smith. Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Department of the Navy – Naval Historical Center.
http://www.history.navy.mil/danfs/s14/smith-ii.htm Retrieved 1 January 2011.