The USS Witek was a Gearing-class destroyer in service with the U.S. Navy from April 1946 until July 1969. She was named in honor of a U.S. Marine who was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for valor during the Battle of Guam in 1944.
Work began on the Witek in July 1945 at the Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine. The completed vessel was commissioned at the Boston Naval Shipyard in April of the following year. Gearing-class destroyers were essentially a modification of the basic Fletcher-class design, which remained in service for over 65 years. Several feet longer and a few feet wider in the beam, Witek had larger fuel tanks, giving her a greater range. Displacement when fully loaded was over 3500 tons. Witek's propulsion was provided by a pair of Westinghouse geared steam turbines and four Babcock & Wilcox boilers. Her peacetime crew compliment consisted of 11 officers and 325 seamen.
After her shakedown trials in the Caribbean, Witek was designated for "experimental development work" in antisubmarine warfare. Some of this was classified and the rest was nearly so; little has been published about the vessel's specific missions.
During most of her career, she was based out of East Coast ports, though she spent some time based in San Diego in 1948 while testing captured German Naval technology. Beyond this, she operated primarily in the western Atlantic, with occasional voyages to the Caribbean. Between test operations, the vessel and her crew participated in antisubmarine warfare exercises with carrier groups that included Leyte, Antietam and Randolph.
In 1948, Witek was fitted with electronic gear and sonar equipment confiscated from the German Kriegsmarine after World War II. This involved removal of her twin 5-inch gun mount at the Boston Navy Yard in the late 1940s. The captured equipment was later taken out in 1950 and replaced with an antisubmarine mortar at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard.
In July of 1958, Witek went into Drydock No. 4 of the Boston Naval Shipyard for the installation of an experimental fuel system and extensive refits. The work kept Witek in drydock for most of the rest of the year.
After decommissioning, Witek was laid up at the Inactive Ship Facility in Norfolk from September 1968 until she was towed out to sea and scuttled in a firing exercise the following July.
Asbestos Risk on the USS Witek (DD-848)
Asbestos risk aboard ships of Witek’s era was very high. Turbines and boilers created intense heat, and asbestos materials were used to insulate those systems. It was also deployed in many compartments as fireproofing. After decades of use, medical researchers realized that asbestos was exceptionally dangerous. By the late 1970’s, asbestos use had fallen out of favor.
The risk on Witek was greatest for those sailors that interacted with asbestos materials as part of their regular duties. There is no safe level of asbestos exposure, though. Any member of Witek’s crew might have been injured by the asbestos on board. If you or a loved one were diagnosed with mesothelioma after serving in the Navy, you can likely obtain compensation from the companies that made the asbestos products on your ship.Sources
Destroyer History Foundation. "Gearing Class"
http://destroyerhistory.org/sumnergearingclass.asp?class=GearingClass). Retrieved 22 February 2011.
Mooney, James. Dictionary of American Fighting Ships. (Washington DC; Department of the Navy, 1991).