A HISTORY OF THE USS STEPHEN POTTER DD538 1951-1953
Told by Fred Gaebler DCA on the Re-Commissioning Detail
Those of us in the re-commissioning detail for the USS STEPHEN POTTER DD 538 received orders to report for duty at Long Beach California in March, 1951. We all were sent immediately to San Diego for various training schools while we waited for everyone to report and received various drafts of men to augment the crew. Three of the ten officers in the detail were active USN, the rest were recalled USNR. Six of us in addition to the CO and XO had prior destroyer experience. Enlisted ratios ran about the same.
BENHAM and HALE were paralleled our experience. The Navy was re-commissioning three destroyers a month, one month they went to the PAC fleet, the next to the LANT fleet and so on.
After a few weeks we went back to Long Beach where the POTTER was tied up outboard of the SULLIVANS. We started making tired old craft fit to live on. After five or so years without TLC it needed a lot of work. But when we got through the dust and litter, we found that the steam plant worked, the main engines ran, the guns shot, all in all it was left in good shape.
The gasket rubber on all the doors and hatches, however was cracked and dry, the paint flaked if you hit it, the non‑skid pads on the decks were peeling. We went through soap, rags, oil and grease, paint, gasket rubber and such repair and cleaning items fast. We worked seven days a week, hours were 0700 to taps.
Electric motors failed at an alarming rate for the first six months, but thanks to a great chief and electrical gang, plus all the work we could get out of yards and tenders we kept all pumps, blowers, hoists, mounts, antenna, and capstans going.
THE OLD GAL IS RE-COMMISSIONED
On 24 March 1951 the STEPHEN POTTER was re-commissioned. We went to San Diego for a quick refresher training, spent a short time at Long Beach Shipyard to fix urgent items and in late June left far the east coast via Acapulco and Panama with the Division Commander embarked in company with BENHAM and HALE. The fourth of July was our last day in the Pacific.
We reported to DesLant in Newport, RI and went immediately to the Philadelphia yard where we spent the better part of three months getting modified to then current standards. Back at sea, up to Newport we went before going to Gitmo Bay for a real do: of refresher training. This was before Castro, so we did get a weekend port call in the city of Santiago Cuba.
Back to Newport with daily ops and preparation for sixth deployment.
We were happy to be assigned to a northern Europe "Good trip with the HAROLD J. ELLISON, while the rest of the task force headed for Gibraltar and the Med. We did not question the logic, found out that being good will ambassadors at night and doing s: work all day was a hard way to make a living. The officers and sometimes the enlisted had mandatory parties with the local navy. wherever we were, to go to, we had to let them be good hosts the visitors, in best peace time navy tradition; then standing watches and working to navy standards all day, was hard on the body.
We visited Bristol and Liverpool England, Londonderry North (Ireland, where we went through the British ASW school and exercised at sea with their destroyers and submarines. Amsterdam, Holland and Brest, France completed the trip after which we stopped at Gibraltar prior to reporting to Com SIXTH Fleet in Naples. SIXTH Fleet consisted of a carrier, several cruisers, a dozen to sixteen destroyers, tenders, oilers and other supporting ships besides the usual submarines for support and wargames playmates.
In the SIXTH Fleet we made the usual ports in Italy, Crete, and Turkey in between fleet operations. Showed the flag on the French Riviera at Menton, France near Monte Carlo, where we got publicity for rescuing a local girl who was washed out to sea in a flash flood. While in the Aegean Sea steaming independently we picked up a Soviet sub coming out of the Black Sea who played a game of "lets lose the destroyer" but he found that he couldn't at that one. We tracked him for over a day, reported it and went our way. Most of the exercises in the Med were carrier air ops or ASW games.
On our way west in the Med on the way out to meet our relieving Task Force, we ran into as bad a storm as I had seen anywhere, Pacific Typhoons or Atlantic Hurricanes. The fire hose on the forecastle, which we used to wash off the anchor was laid flat on the deck by wave action. Another can in the screen reported a wrinkle in the main deck forward of mount fifty one. Our expansion joint in the 01 deck just aft of the amidships passageway could not take the working in the seaway and broke, the water breaking over it flooded secondary radio to about three feet, messed up the electronics gear.
This was the storm in which the mushroom ventilator on the fantail failed and a large shot of water crashed into after steering electrical switchboard shorting out the power. We steered by manual power for about two days while the chief electrician and his gang more than earned their pay. In the meantime it was hard to find two men not on their regular watch who were not too sea sick to turn the crank.
Our relieving ships from the states had their problems too. The WASP, a CV, and the HOBSON, a converted 1650 ton can were at flight ops at night darkened ship. The HOBSON got cut in two, sank with all hands, except a handful of men. **** NOTE: THIS COLLISION DOCUMENTED IN NAVAL HISTORY, published by USNI "Flank Speed to Eternity."
Back in Newport after nine months we had tender availability to patch up our wounds, and give the crew a well earned period for leaves, schools and ships work, but not enough. Admiral Dan Gallery, the OTC who captured the German U‑SOS in WWII, was holding school in ASW Hunter Killer tactics for all LANT fleet destroyers. He wrote the book and was working on tactics against the new improved Guppy high speed, 20 knots submerged, conventional submarines and the newly developed nuclear sub, Nautilus. We constantly played games with the submarines out of New London working with aircraft both fixed wing and helicopters.
Captain Batcheler was relieved sometime in the middle of June 1952 by CDR Jack Hammer in Newport. We had constantly seen new faces. In the enlisted ranks most of the recalled reservists had been long gone by now, officers were mostly the same, the captain was the first to be rotated out, most officer reservists had a 24 month recall requirement, but some were finding ways to get out, we now had some young officers fresh out of training just as we had many drafts of men fresh out of boot camp. Captain Hammer had a positive effect on the ship. He was well liked by officers and enlisted alike.
In late fall or early winter, the POTTER was part of a task force entertaining a group of Senators and/or Congressman about 100 moles off the Virginia Capes, showing off the latest jets. The strike was launched, the fly boys played their games and we did our thing and it was time to get the birds back home. POTTER was in Plane guard station 7, 165 R 1000‑1200 yards. The PICKING was in Plane guard station 2, 280 R 1000 yards Speed 25, course was all over the place trying to find enough wind over the deck to land jets.
Needless to say, the carrier TASK FORCE did not want to look bad and not recover the planes, however the wind was so light that the boss, in the name of safety, sent the planes back to the Norfolk area to land, called off the flight ops and about that time the leading screening ships, some 3500 yards ahead of the carrier, went into a fog bank.