...you felt like you were really living...you'd turn into the wind and get a little bit of spray in your face and, you'd taste the salt...you'd feel those propellers turning...and you could feel the power in that thing...
Heath Haggerty, Gunner's Mate 1944-1945
Built for speed and capability, USS Cassin Young engaged in seven Pacific battles in World War II, survived two Kamikaze hits, and served another full decade beyond her expected lifetime. Built in 1943 in San Pedro, California, she is one of 175 Fletcher-class destroyers built during World War II. Here in Charlestown, this navy yard built dozens of similar ships during the war. In the 1950s, Cassin Young and many other destroyers received regular repairs and modernization in Charlestown.
Maintained by the National Park Service and an army of dedicated park volunteers, Cassin Young remains to this day as a testament to the crews who sailed her, and the men and women who built and maintained her.
Greyhound of the Seas
The first destroyers were designed at the beginning of the twentieth century to counter a small, but feared, ship - the torpedo boat. The destroyer, which also carried the newly invented torpedo, was developed to protect capital ships from torpedo boat attacks. Bainbridge, the first American destroyer, was commissioned in 1902. She displaced 400 tons, was 250 feet in length, mounted two three-inch guns and two torpedoes. As the new destroyers grew in size and carried more torpedoes, they replaced torpedo boats and assumed the role of torpedo attack ships.
In World War II, destroyers were truly all-purpose ships, ready to fight off attacks from the air, the surface and under the surface. They handled a variety of duties such as picket ship, escorting larger ships and convoys, shore bombardment, rescuing pilots who were forced down at sea and even acting as mailman for the fleet. The 2,050-ton Fletcher-Class destroyer was considered one of the best destroyers of the period. One hundred seventy-five of these ships were built between March 1941 and February 1945. Being 376 feet, 6 inches, in length meant that they could carry five five-inch dual-purpose guns, ten torpedoes, depth charges and antiaircraft guns. Their ability to refuel at sea enabled them to carry less fuel yet operate effectively in the vastness of the Pacific. Fletcher-Class destroyers incorporated the lessons learned from earlier destroyer construction along with ongoing combat operation.
Destroyers are still the workhorse ships in the modern navies of the world. Although they now carry guided missiles and are twice as large as Cassin Young, the destroyer is still an important and versatile type of combat vessel.
The Ship in the 1940s
USS Cassin Young was built by Bethlehem Steel Corporation at San Pedro, California and commissioned on December 31, 1943. Assigned to the Central Pacific, Cassin Young first experienced combat in April 1944, attacking Japanese strongholds in the Caroline Islands. In June, the ship escorted American amphibious forces that invaded the islands of Saipan, Tinian and Guam. In August, the ship was reassigned to Task Group (TG) 38.3, which included several aircraft carriers. For the remainder of the Pacific war, Cassin Young would be in the forefront of the naval offensive against the Japanese.
Between October 23 and October 27, 1944, TG 38.3 and Cassin Young participated in several actions that were part of the Battle for Leyte Gulf. She rescued over 120 men from carrier Princeton when that ship sank on October 24 and participated in the Battle of Cape Engano the next day when four Japanese carriers were sunk by the American carriers that Cassin Young was helping to escort. During the remainder of 1944, the ship continued to escort the carriers of TG 38.3 as they provided air cover to American troops engaged in the liberation of the Philippines. Cassin Young also experienced the new Japanese suicide tactic of the kamikaze aircraft for the first time.
In January 1945, TG 38.3 went to sea for attacks against the island of Formosa, Indochina (Vietnam) and southern China. American ships had proved that they could penetrate deep within enemy waters and the stage was set for the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa. During February and March, Cassin Young supported Marine operations on Iwo Jima and helped "soften up" Okinawa for the upcoming assault on that island. In preparation for the Okinawa operation, Cassin Young was reassigned to Task Force 54, the gunfire and covering force for the entire invasion fleet.
April 1, 1945, was D-day at Okinawa. After escorting assault craft to the beaches and providing shore bombardment, Cassin Young took up the duties of radar picket ship, possibly the most hazardous duty performed by any warship during World War II. The picket's role was to provide early warning of impending air attacks to the main fleet. The ships assigned to the fifteen picket stations bore the brunt of over fifteen hundred kamikaze attacks in the weeks and months ahead. Radar Picket (RP) Stations 1,2, and 3 faced the worst of these attacks. On April 6 the Japanese launched the first of ten massed attacks, sending 355 kamikazes and 341 bombers towards Okinawa. Cassin Young was on duty at RP Station 3. The ship downed three "bogeys" (enemy planes) and picked up survivors from the destroyers assigned to RP Stations 1 and 2 (both were hit and sunk by kamikazes).
Cassin Young was then assigned to RP Station 1 where, on April 12, the ship came under massive attack. Six kamikazes were shot down, but one hit the mast and exploded fifty feet above the ship. One sailor was killed and 59 were wounded. After repairs, Cassin Young returned to Okinawa in July for further duty. Only individual kamikaze attacks were now occurring as the Japanese hoarded 10,000 aircraft to throw against the U.S. fleet in the upcoming invasion of Japan.
Cassin Young's most severe test came just sixteen days before Japan surrendered. At 3:26 a.m. on July 30, a single kamikaze crashed the starboard side of the main deck near the forward smoke stack. There was a tremendous explosion amidships and the ship lay dead in the water. The crew contained the damage, restored power in one engine and got the ship underway within twenty minutes. Casualties were 22 men dead and 45 wounded. Cassin Young was the last ship hit by kamikazes in the vicinity of Okinawa. For her determined service and gallantry on the Okinawa radar picket line she was awarded the Navy Unit Commendation. After returning to California, the ship was repaired, decommissioned on May 28, 1946, and placed in the reserve or "mothball" fleet.
The Ship in the 1950s
With the outbreak of the Korean Conflict, many destroyers were recalled to service. Cassin Young was recommissioned on September 7, 1951, and initially served in Atlantic and Mediterranean waters. In 1952, Cassin Young underwent a major overhaul at the Charlestown Facility, Boston Naval Shipyard, beginning her association with this navy yard.
In 1954, as part of an around-the-world cruise, the ship carried out patrols in Korean waters. From 1955-1959, Cassin Young performed routine duties in Atlantic and Caribbean waters with four Mediterranean deployments. During those years, the ship returned to the Boston Naval Shipyard five more times for overhauls to keep ahead of unavoidable problem: old age. But Cassin Young could still perform well, which she proved in 1959 when the ship was awarded the Battle Efficiency "E" for overall excellent performances in all exercises that year. On April 29, 1960, Cassin Young was again decommissioned and mothballed at Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Virginia.
The Ship Today
USS Cassin Young now has a new mission. Maintained and staffed by National Park Service staff and volunteers, Cassin Young is an example of the type of ship built, repaired, and modernized in the Charlestown Navy Yard. Although built in California, fourteen Fletcher-Class destroyers just like her were produced at this yard.
Last updated: November 3, 2020