Cecil Dedication Article
Tin Can Sailor - April 1990
USS CHARLES P. CECIL (DD 835)
Throughout history, various ships have been called upon to serve as work horses for the navies they served. During the American Revolution, the British used the famous "74-gunners", while sailing frigates served the United States Navy as "maids-of-all-work" through the Civil War. During a good portion of the Twentieth Century, the work horse of the United States Navy has been the destroyer. Few destroyers typify that ability better than the ship named for a fighting destroyer sailor, Rear Admiral Charles Purcell Cecil.
Charles Purcell Cecil was born on September 4, 1893 in Louisville, Kentucky. His childhood came during a period of renewed Congressional interest in maritime affairs and a naval force inspired by the philosophy of Admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan. Upon his graduation from the Naval Academy , with the class of 1916, Cecil entered a navy which, while not the largest in the world, was one of the most progressive.
Although his service during World War I and the period between wars was exemplary, Cecil's service during World War II could only be termed inspirational. He commanded DesDiv 5 in the brutal actions off Santa Cruz which convinced a Japanese relief force not to make any further attempts at Guadalcanal. As commander of the USS HELENA (CL50), he fought in a hazardous mining and shore bombardment operations throughout the Solomons. In the melee in Kula Gulf (July 5-6, 1943), Cecil participated in an ambush of a Japanese force intent on reinforcing garrisons on Villa. Although Helena was lost to the "long lance" torpedoes of Japanese destroyers, Cecil's inspired leadership helped win the cruiser the Navy's first unit citation of World War II. By the fall of 1943, Cecil had been awarded the Navy Cross, a Gold Star in lieu of a second Navy Cross and Bronze Star.
Rear Admiral Cecil was killed in a plane crash (July 31, 1944) while traveling between assignments in the Pacific.
USS Charles P. Cecil (DD 835), a GEARING class destroyer, was laid down at the Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine, on December 2, 1944 and launched on April 22, 1945, upon being christened by the Admiral's widow. Like many other GEARINGS during World War II, DD 835 was not launched "as designed."
Gone were the torpedoe tubes which most naval strategists had considered vital to "tin cans" before World War II; their top weight replaced by an expanded radar suite. Once again destroyers were to be called again to adapt to a new threat; this time, Japanese Kamikazes required an "early warning system." CHARLES P. CECIL would sport a massive tripod mast for her standard electronic array, while new air-search, direction-finding equipment, and a small radome were mounted on the fore. DD 835 was commissioned on June 29,1945 with Commander W. Outerson in command.
Following an extensive shakedown cruise, USS CHARLES P. CECIL arrived at her home port, San Diego, but sailed within days on a warship screen for the atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll, along with supporting the Allied occupation forces in Japan. A brief return to San Diego to participate in naval exercises off the the West Coast was quickly followed by another Asian deployment. This time, USS CHARLES P. CECIL "showed the flag" at nearly two dozen Pacific Islands as well as ports in Okinawa, China, and Japan. She finally returned to San Diego in early Summer of 1948.
Within a year, DD 835 was reassigned to the Atlantic Fleet, this time sporting a new designation; DDR 835. On March 18, 1948, the Navy recognized the growing importance of the "picket destroyer" by classing the "radar heavy" GEARINGS as DDR's. Operating first from Newport, R.I., then Norfolk, VA, USS CHARLES P. CECIL served the next twelve years with the Atlantic fleet. She alternated between midshipman cruises at the Naval Academy, deployments in the Mediterranean, and overhauls. By Summer of 1956, DD 835 had participated in virtually every NATO naval excercise held in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean.
In the mid-1950's, no less than today, the Middle East was an area of unrest requiring American Naval "presence". In her deployment with the Sixth Fleet, USS CHARLES P. CECIL served in the escort, picket, anti-submarine, and plane guard roles during the Suez crisis of 1956. Once again, DD 835 "rotated" back to the United States.
This time, the USS CHARLES P. CECIL received "state-of-the-art" electronic and computation equipment to serve as a test bed for experimental procedures in anti-submarine and anti-aircraft warfare. For the next three years, DD 835 was once again on the "cutting edge" of modern naval tactics.
By the 1960's, the "Cold War" was showing every indication of heating up. During the Presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower, the Central Intelligence Agency began considering ways to dispose of Fidel Castro. For various complex reasons, the plan developed into the Bay of Pigs invasion. USS CHARLES P. CECIL's role in the abortive attempt is suggested by several sources; she served as an intelligence-gatherer, decoy, and screen for naval forces shadowing the attack.
The Cuban "issue" next developed into a more obvious threat to the United States. American reconnaissance flights uncovered Russian missile installations around the island. President John F. Kennedy declared a naval "Quarantine", during which all ships entering Cuban waters were to be stopped and searched; the Cuban Missile Crisis was on! On the evening of October 29, 1961, CECIL had completed replenishment at Guantanamo Bay and was cruising 200 miles off Haiti when a surfaced Russian submarine was identified on radar. The sub had apparently been stationed in the area to count vessels entering Gitmo, and this time had been caught! For the next thirty-four hours, the Russian tried every trick to shake the persistent tin can, but without any luck. Finally, the Russian submarine resurfaced and was escorted out of the area. CECIL had "sunk" one of the newest class of Red attack submarine.
This was not the CECIL's final brush with the Soviets. Another source mentions an incident during NATO exercises in the North Atlantic when CECIL's data gathering placed her near the center of a Russian task group. Both sides went to general quarters, readied arnament, and exchanged menacing looks, but fortunately cool heads prevented an "incident" and war was averted. CECIL's "close encounters" were frequent in the sixties.
Along with her sisters, USS CHARLES P. CECIL, for all her refits, was feeling her age. Destroyers, perhaps more than any other vessel, face harsh duty. The appelation "tin can" also refers to her "slender build." At fifteen, DD 835 was considered "old". The Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations, faced with the approaching obsolescence of many of the Navy's war-built "cans" , took a controversial step. The initial rebuilding of the GEARING, SUMNER, an some FLETCHER vessels began at the end of the 1950's under the Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization program called FRAM.
FRAM was predicated on a number of realities. Soviet submarine developments during the post World War II period meant that destroyers had to engage aggressors at a much greater distance to adequately protect task group carriers. Improvements in anti-submarine technology made the proposed tactics possible, DD 835's operations had proven that. The problem was one of escalating costs for the new vessels, while a large, aging destroyer fleet seemed durable enough for a "few more years" of deployment.
USS CHARLES P. CECIL was scheduled for a FRAM I modernization in New York. At an estimated cost of $11 million, DD 835 received a redesigned superstructure, fearuting lighter weight materials to compensate for the added weight of her new weaponry. A new, broader bridge overlooked two triple Mk. 32 anti-submarine torpedos. A new ASROC launcher, with the capacity of delivering either rocket-assisted anti-submarine torpedoes or nuclear depth charges to targets 10,000 yards away, was installed between her stacks. A hanger for a DASH remotely controlled helicopter, along with a "flight deck", was added to the after deck house. By May, 1964, CECIL was back in commission.
Like many of her sisters during the period from 1969-1972, DD 835 cruised the waters in the Western Pacific. CECIL's tours off Vietnam involved gunfire support missions, several of which were so protracted that deck plates and hatches buckled, and the landing of reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering units "behind enemy lines", if that term is accurate in a conflict notorious for having no formal lines. "Spook" operations and the launching of photographic drones kept the crew busy when they weren't "blasting Charlie."
By the early 1970's, twenty-four ships of the CHARLES F. ADAMS class of DDG were already operational, along with the older DECATUR, COONTZ, and FORREST SHERMANS. Fast frigates of the OLIVER HAZARD PERRY, KNOX, BROOKE, and GAECIA classes wee on the planning boards or in the water. FRAMed "cans" like CECIL were no longer "first line" equipment.
Once again, DD 835 took up her role as "school ship." in July, 1973, USS CHARLES P. CECIL was assigned to the Naval Reserve Training program, where she served at Newport, Norfolk, Groton and a number of other stations. As usual, CECIL's crew scored high marks in steaming and fighting. The two Navy "E's" she had earned in the 1950's were joined by numerous commendations. After exercises off Andros Island in 1975, her crew was rewarded with five days liberty in Nassau. A modern American attack submarine had been no better at eluding CECIL than the Russians had ten years before. This time the commander of the Atlantic Cruiser-Destroyer Force had been aboard the CECIL to witness the exercises.
DD 835 was stricken from Navy lists in October, 1979. By the time of her decommissioning ceremony the Naval Submarine Base, Groton, Connecticut on 1 October 1979, she had participated in thirteen Mediterranean cruises, two Middle Eastern tours, two tours off Vietnam, and numerous NATO and Second Fleet operations in the Western Atlantic. In 1980, USS CHARLES P. CECIL was sold to the Greek government. As of this writing, DD 835, now the Helenic Navy's APOSTOLIS (D 216) continues to serve, FORTY-FIVE YEARS after her launch!
Much has been written about the FRAM program. Hundreds of billions of dollars were spent on 131 ships; FRAM I ship conversions were expected to have their service lives for at least eight to ten years, while FRAM II vessels weere expected to last for at least five years. In fact the program was highly successful. While the DASH program proved to be a failure, the ships themselves were remarkably durable. More than fourteen years elapsed between the completion of USS CHARLES P. CECIL's FRAM rebuilding and her release from service with the NAVY.
USS CHARLES P. CECIL, launched too late to serve in the war for which she was designed, valiantly served the US fleet through thirty-five years of cold wars, crises, and threats. her periodic "facelifts", modernization, and rebuilding had updated her technology, but it was her highly dedicated and professional crew that gave life and longevity to DD 835.
© Copyright 1990 Tin Can Sailors - All Rights Reserved
TIN CAN SAILORS wishes to thank Kelly L. Combs, Louis W. Hey, Robert Armstrong, Leroy Timmons, Stephen Anderson, Donald Walker, Ray Raposo, Don Constantineau and Charles Miller for their information and assistance in researching this ship dedication.