The USS Welles (DD-628) was commissioned by the U.S. Navy during World War II, and was awarded eight battle stars for her wartime service. She was named for Gideon Welles who was appointed as the Navy’s Chief of the Bureau of Provisions and Clothing, and served as Secretary of the Navy under President Andrew Johnson. Welles was laid down as a Gleaves-class destroyer.
Welles was laid down at Seattle, Washington by the Seattle-Tacoma Shipbuilding Corporation in September 1941, launched in September 1942, and commissioned in August 1943 with Lieutenant Commander Doyle M. Coffee in command. Carrying a crew of 208, Welles was 348 feet, four inches long and armed with ten 21-inch torpedo tubes, six one-half inch machine guns, four five-inch anti-aircraft guns.
Welles trained on the west coast and arrived at New York in December 1943 and, after being ordered to Boston, was deployed to the Pacific as an escort for New Jersey. In January 1944, Welles arrived in the Ellice Islands en-route to New Guinea, and provided gunfire support for troops during the invasion of Los Negros Island. Following this service, Welles commenced anti-submarine duties in the area. Welles also participated in the assault on Hollandia and Humboldt Bay, as well as Biak Island in June. She then served as a screen for logistics convoys off the coast of New Guinea.
In August, Welles joined the 3rd Fleet in the Solomon Islands and operated during the assault on Peleliu in mid-September with aircraft carriers. She also provided anti-submarine patrols there, and then moved on to the Philippines with Task Group 77.2. Welles participated in pre-invasion bombardment activities and then conducted fire support and shore bombardment for troops during the invasion of the Philippines at Leyte in October.
Welles was then assigned to service with aircraft carriers during strikes on Japan, and supported the invasions of Luzon, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa until returning to the United States for overhaul in late June 1945. In July, the destroyer arrived at Bremerton, Washington and was stationed there until late September, and was decommissioned at Charleston, South Carolina in February 1946. Welles was struck from the Navy list in March 1968 and sold for scrap in July 1969.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Welles (DD-628)
Because asbestos material was such an excellent insulator, it could be found wrapped around the steam pipes that ran throughout Welles and also in engineering section equipment. Boilers, power plants, and engines all relied on asbestos insulation and fireproofing to shield sailors from the enormous heat those systems put out. Asbestos was also packed into pumps and valves. Every sailor that served on Welles had some exposure risk.
Asbestos dust promotes tumor formation in the mesothelium and may cause mesothelioma. Many veteran sailors have been diagnosed with this aggressive cancer, and the link between service on the ships of this era and asbestos exposure is well established. As a result of that connection, Navy veterans with mesothelioma can often claim compensation for their injury from the companies that manufactured the asbestos products used on their ship.Sources
Haze Gray & Underway. Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. DD-628.
NavSource Naval History. USS Welles (DD-628).