The USS Uhlmann (DD-687) served in the U.S. Navy for nearly three decades throughout the mid-20th century. She was named for Ensign Robert W. Uhlmann who was killed in action during the Japanese raid on Pearl Harbor. Uhlmann was a member of the Fletcher class of destroyers.
Uhlmann was laid down at Staten Island, New York by the Bethlehem Steel Corporation in March 1943, launched in July, and commissioned in November at the Brooklyn Navy Yard with Commander Selden G. Hooper in command. Carrying a crew of 273, Uhlmann was armed with ten 21-inch torpedo tubes, five 5-inch anti-aircraft guns, four 20-millimeter anti-aircraft guns, and four 1.1 inch anti-aircraft guns.
Uhlmann escorted Wasp to Trinidad in January 1944 and arrived on the west coast in February, before sailing to Hawaii. The destroyer then participated in naval exercise at Pearl Harbor, during which a collision with Benham damaged her hull. Uhlmann underwent extensive repairs in California and returned to Pearl Harbor in August to resume torpedo and anti-submarine training. In September, Uhlmann sailed for the Admiralty Islands, but was diverted to the western Carolines, where she was struck by three destroyers during a typhoon.
Uhlmann underwent repairs at Ulithi and joined Task Force 38 for strikes on the Ryukys, Okinawa, and Formosa where she finally engaged in combat with the enemy. Operations in the Philippines soon followed, and Uhlmann provided anti-submarine protection for the aircraft carriers at Leyte and during the strikes on Luzon. Uhlmann participated in the strikes on Tokyo, the assaults on Iwo Jima in February, the Japanese homeland, and off Okinawa in April.
Uhlmann battled the enemy until the war ended, and conducted passenger, mail, and freight runs during the occupation of Japan. Decommissioned in June 1946, Uhlmann was assigned to Commandant, 11th Naval District in November and trained reserves until being reactivated in May 1950. Uhlmann was deployed to Korean waters in mid-1951 and following overhaul at San Diego in 1952, reported for duty off Korea once again. Additional deployments to the Far East included support for American interests off China in 1958 and service during the Vietnam War in the 1960s. Uhlmann operated as a training ship at Tacoma, Washington beginning in October 1969, was decommissioned and struck from the Navy list in July 1972, and sold for scrap in 1974.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Uhlmann (DD-687)
Since asbestos was used in hundreds of applications, the dangerous fibers were found nearly everywhere aboard naval ships. The engineering and power plant aboard Uhlmann deployed asbestos extensively to insulate pipes, to line boilers, and to fireproof and protect the ship's turbines. Pumps and valves used asbestos packing, and many gaskets were made with asbestos fibers.
Exposure to asbestos is the primary risk factor for mesothelioma cancer. The collision that damaged Uhlmann’s hull may have increased the asbestos risk to her crew, as torn or waterlogged asbestos insulation becomes friable. Fibers from friable asbestos products easily shake loose, swirling into clouds of nearly invisible asbestos dust. As the dangers of asbestos exposure were not well understood until the 1970s, sailors on Uhlmann had little to no protection against breathing asbestos-contaminated air.Sources
Haze Gray & Underway. Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. DD-687.
NavSource Naval History. USS Uhlmann (DD-687).