Edsall Class Destroyer Escort
Displacement: 1,253 tons standard; 1,102 tons full load
Length: 306’ oa
Draft: 10' 5' full load
Machinery: 2-shaft Fairbanks Morse diesels, 6,000 bhp
Range: 10,800 nm at 12 knots
Top Speed: 21 knots
Armament: 3 x 3”/50; 2 x 40mm; 8 x 20mm; 3 x 21" torpedo tubes; 2 x depth charge tracks; 8 x depth charge projectors; 1 x hedge hog.
The USS Leopold was named for Robert Lawrence Leopold. He was born 11 November 1916 in Louisville, Kentucky and enlisted in the Naval Reserve 10 July 1940. Following training in the gunnery training ship USS Wyoming (AG-17), he was appointed midshipman 16 September 1940 and commissioned ensign 12 December 1940. Reporting for duty on board the USS Arizona (BB-39) two weeks later, Ensign Leopold served in that battleship until killed in action 7 December 1941, during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
COMMISSIONING AND SHAKEDOWN
The Coast Guard-manned USS Leopold (DE-319) was laid down on 24 March 1943 by Consolidated Steel Corporation in Orange, Texas. The Edsall Class destroyer escort was launched 12 June 1943 and sponsored by Miss Helen S. Leopold, sister of ENS Leopold. Commissioning ceremonies were held on board DE-319 on 18 October 18, 1943 at Orange, Texas and the ship was delivered to the commanding officer, LCDR Kenneth C. Phillips, USCG. After structural firing tests at Galveston she departed for New Orleans. On the 7th of November she proceeded to Great Sound, Bermuda, where shakedown exercises were begun. On December 9th she left for Charleston and eleven days of post-shakedown availability.
After four days of training exercises for officers and her nucleus crew for new destroyer escorts in the Chesapeake Bay area, she stood out of Thimble Shoal Channel on 24 December 1943, as part of Task Force 61, escorting convoy UGS-68 to the Mediterranean. On the 30th the Leopold was directed to go to the rear of the convoy and search for a seaman reported lost overboard from of the convoy ships. It was very dark and fairly rough, so, unless the seaman had on a life jacket with a light, the chances of finding him were slight. After 45 minutes she discontinued the search. The convoy reached the Straits of Gibraltar on January 10th and was turned over to British escorts. The Leopold moored at Casablanca on the 11th. On the 13th she commenced patrolling as anti-submarine screen across the Atlantic side of the Straits of Gibraltar, the Task Force forming a line to prevent U-boats from entering the Mediterranean. On the 15th she moored at Gibraltar and on the l6th proceeded out of the inner harbor to close up the stragglers on west-bound convoy GUS-27. On February 1st a northwesterly gale caused the convoy to scatter and much time was consumed rounding up stragglers. The Leopold arrived at New York on the 4th for ten days availability at the Navy Yard. From the 14th to the 27th of February the Leopold, with other escorts of Escort Division 22, underwent training exercises at Casco Bay, Maine.
SUB IS SPOTTED
On 1 March 1944, the Leopold took her screening station, as part of Escort Division 22, with the 27-ship convoy CU-16. On the 8th she reported an HF/DF intercept which indicated an enemy submarine on the route of the convoy. The route was consequently altered. On the 9th, while south of Iceland, she reported a radar contact at 1950 at 8,000 yards, which placed it seven miles south of the convoy. Assisted by the USS Joyce (DE-317), the Leopold was ordered to intercept. General Quarters was sounded and orders were issued to "fire on sight." A flare was released and gun crew strained to sight the submarine in the lighted area. The U-boat was almost submerged when spotted and the gun crews had to work blind.
FIRST HAND ACCOUNTS
"We hadn't fired more than a few rounds," said Cleveland Parker, Chief Commissary Steward, the highest ranking man rescued, when another sub, lying in wait off our port quarter, threw a torpedo into us." Troy S. Gowers, Seaman 1/c, was at his gun station when the torpedo struck. "When the fish exploded" he said "I was blown right out of my shoes and into a life net a dozen feet away. I crawled back to my station and since the electric power was off, I tried to work the gun manually, but she was jammed. Then came the order to abandon ship. I helped release a life raft on the starboard side and jumped into the water. The water was almost freezing and the wind felt even colder. When I pulled myself aboard the raft there were 18 or 19 of us! When we were finally picked up there were only three or four." A storm was blowing and the waves started to break over the small life raft. Gowers and Joseph N. Ranyss, Seaman I/c crawled around to the men sitting still, trying to keep them awake. "But those that were freezing knew it."
Gowers said "One Boy said 'I'm. dying, I can't hold out any longer' and in a minute he was gone". Finally the Coast Guardsmen left on the raft saw a ship, Joyce, which had dropped behind for rescue work. The Joyce saw them but couldn't stop to pick them up at that moment because a U-boat was firing torpedoes at her. The men on the raft watched in despair as the ship slowly pulled out of sight.
LEOPOLD BREAKS IN HALF
Meanwhile another survivor, W. G. O'Brien, Seaman 1/c, was still aboard the Leopold. He watched the fore part of the ship break away about 3/4 of an hour after the explosion and then had walked to the stern of the vessel where 40 of the ship's crew and officers had congregated. There he heard about one man who had been pinned under a heavy galley range by the explosion. The man had pleaded with an officer to shoot him and, when the officer refused, he begged him to leave a gun by his side so that he could shoot himself. But they freed him from the wreckage and lowered him to a boat. He died before they picked him up.
ROLLS OVER AND FINALLY SINKS
O'Brien helped pull three men out of the water. One was the commanding officer, CDR Kenneth Phillips, who had been blown off the ship by the explosion. The stern of the Leopold was now setting deeper and deeper into the water. The storm was getting stronger. An officer went below deck and came back with medical whisky and blankets. Then they saw the Joyce and signaled it with a flashlight. "She came within 50 yards of us," O'Brien said "and her skipper hollered through a megaphone 'We're dodging torpedoes. God bless you. We'll be back.' And then they went away. In a little while the stern of the Leopold rolled straight over to the port side and a lot of the men were thrown off. The Captain was one of then and I didn't see him again. The ship stayed like that for about one hour and a half, all the time getting lower in the water. The waves were about 50 feet high and one by one, the men were washed off. I'd see a big wave coming and close my eyes arid hold my breath until the stern raised out of it. In one of these the water didn't go down, and I realized that the stern had finally gone for for good. So I let go and my life jacket carried me to the surface. After a while I saw a life raft and struck out for it."
ONLY 28 SURVIVORS
All of the Leopold's 13 officers and 158 of her complement of 186 enlisted men were lost. There were only 28 survivors, all enlisted men.
The Joyce rescued the 28 survivors later that morning and then sank the Leopold's bow, which was still barely afloat and pointing towards the sky, with gunfire. The Joyce then rejoined the convoy which made the United Kingdom without further incident. Chief Cleveland Parker, in the above account, claimed that another submarine, other than the one Leopold had picked up on radar, was the one that torpedoed her. In fact, Leopold's radar had picked up the U-255 which, as she dived, fired an acoustic torpedo at Leopold, one of the first instances of this new German weapon being used successfully in combat. There was no other U-boat in the area. The U-255 then fired more torpedoes at the Joyce, none of which hit the destroyer escort. The U-255 evaded Joyce's counterattack and returned safely to France.
Click here for a list of the Leopold personnel who were killed in action.
Click here for a list of the survivors.
"USS LEOPOLD (DE-319) LAUNCHING, AT ORANGE, TEXAS, 12 JUNE 1943." Photo No. NH-83204; photographer unknown. Photo provided to the Naval Historical Center courtesy of D. M. McPherson in 1975. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph -- Released.
"SEVEN WHO SURVIVED THE LEOPOLD SINKING: These seven Coast Guardsmen, shown in a hospital somewhere in the British Isles, survived the sinking of the Coast Guard Destroyer Escort LEOPOLD by a German submarine somewhere in the North Atlantic. Only 28 out of a complement of 200 escaped death in the loss of the vessel -- one of the worst sea tragedies of the war. Here, Richard R. Novotny, seaman first class, of Riverside, Long Island, who suffered a back injury, is visited by six of his buddies, all of them survivors. The others are (standing, left to right) Cleveland, E. Parker, Chief Commissary Steward, of Pulaski, Tenn.; W. G. O'Brien, seaman first class, of. . .New York City, N.Y.; Antone Freitas, Jr., seaman second class, of Fall River, Mass.; Joseph A. Burgun, soundman, third class, of Glen Rock, N.J.; (seated) Troy S. Gowens, seaman, first class, of. . .Brooklyn, N.Y.; and Joseph M. Hanysz, seaman, first class, of. . .Detroit, Mich."; no date (late March/early April 1944?); Photo No. 2192; photographer unknown.
"Kenneth Coy Phillips."; no date/photo number; photographer unknown.
A photo of the Leopold's commanding officer, LCDR Kenneth Phillips. This photo appeared in a notice of the sinking of the Leopold that appeared in the April 1944 edition of the Coast Guard Academy Alumni Association's publication The Bulletin (p. 15). Phillips was a graduate of the Academy's class of 1930.
"Richard R. Novotny, age 23. Original photo taken in Cincinnati, 1943." No photo number; photographer unknown.
A photo provided by Seaman First Class Richard Novotny, a Leopold crewman who, although severely injured, survived the sinking, to a Coast Guard public affairs specialist, Scott Epperson, who wrote a biography of Novotny for the Second Coast Guard District's publication River Currents.
See: Scott Epperson, "Survivor of the Leopold: Retired Coast Guardsman Tells of WWII Coast Guard Experience." Second Coast Guard District, St. Louis, MO, River Currents (June, 1994), pp. 19-23.
Leopold (DE-319) was laid down 24 March 1943 by Consolidated Steel Corp., Orange, Tex.; launched 12 June 1943; sponsored by Miss Helen S. Leopold, sister of Ensign Leopold; and commissioned 18 October 19843, Lt. Comdr. Kenneth C. Phillips, USCG, in command.
After shakedown off Bermuda, Coast Guard manned Leopold departed Norfolk 24 December 1943 to escort convoy USG-68 to Casablanca. Arriving 11 January 1944, the destroyer escort made an antisubmarine patrol off the Straits of Gibraltar until sailing 5 days later on an escort passage to the United States.
Departing New York 1 March on her second voyage, Leopold screened convoy CU-16 for the British Isles. While investigating a submarine contact on the eve of 9 March at 57°37' N., 26°30' W., Leopold was struck by an acoustic torpedo fired from U-255. Badly damaged, she was abandoned. Joyce (DE-317) rescued 28 survivors at the close of the action; 171 others were lost through explosion on board or \ drowning after abandoning. Leopold remained afloat until early the next morning, then sank.
Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships, (1969) Vol. 4, p.92.
Scott Epperson, "Survivor of the Leopold: Retired Coast Guardsman Tells of WWII Coast Guard Experience." Second Coast Guard District, St. Louis, MO, River Currents (June, 1994), pp. 19-23.
Scott Price. "Final Voyage." USCG Commandant's Bulletin (April 1994), pp. 19-21.
United States Coast Guard. The Coast Guard At War. V. Transports and Escorts. Vol. 1. Washington: Public Information Division, Historical Section, U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters, May 1, 1949, pp. 122-123.