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Gruntworks Media’s 10 Dumbest Fucking Things the U.S. Military Ever Did – 4) That Time the United States Navy Almost Assassinated A Sitting US President…

Within one day of joining the task force the USS William D. Porter immediately fucked up again by accidentally dropped a live depth charge in the middle of the convoy.

Iron Mike – Gruntworks resident Infantryman who secretly loves the Navy

To those who enjoy Naval History, the story of the Fletcher-Class Destroyer USS William D. Porter (DD 579) is one of mystery, stupidity, and plain old-fashioned bad luck. Commissioned in 1942 the ship completed sea trials and ‘shakedown’ before docking in Norfolk, Virginia in preparation for her first combat tour in the Atlantic in 1943. Immediately as she departed Norfolk, her reputation began. Her first act was as she departed the harbor, she failed to draw up her anchor completely and smashed the deck of one of her sister ships – tearing apart railings, radio masts, and lifeboats costing tens of thousands of dollars in damage – in the process. Ooops. OK, we had a bad start, but we’ll get better once the “pre-game jitters” settle down, right? Wrong. The Porter continued towards her mission area to rendezvous with a naval task force already underway led by one of the newest capital ships in the U.S. Navy: the battleship USS Iowa, and together they were to complete a Top-Secret mission.

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The purpose of the naval task force the Porter was joining in was carrying President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Secretary of State Cordell Hull to the Tehran and Cairo Conferences. Within one day of joining the task force the USS William D. Porter immediately fucked up again by accidentally dropping a live depth charge in the middle of the convoy. The depth charge detonated in the water with no warning to their fellow ships and caused an explosion that sent panic through the convoy. Every ship’s Captain began to bark orders and demand countermeasures as they believed a German U-boat was attacking them, and more importantly: the naval task force escorting the sitting POTUS and his chief cabinet member was about to be engaged in the open ocean by an unseen enemy! The naval task force realized the mistake after a few minutes of sheer dread at the prospect of a Kriegsmarine “Wolf Pack” targeting the maritime convoy carrying two of the top leaders in the US War Effort across the open Atlantic Ocean. I imagine the Porter and her Captain got a massive ‘come-to-Jesus’ counseling after that, but…

The William D. Porter wasn’t done fucking up. Not by a long shot. After the depth-charge incident the Porter participated in an in-route training exercise that involved launching a dummy torpedo. I assume you read the title of this piece and have a general hypothesis of what happened next? Instead of a dummy they loaded a live Mk-14 and fired it into the middle of the convoy; right at the Battleship USS Iowa. Remember, the Iowa just happened to be both the pride of the U.S. Navy… AND carrying the President and Secretary of State on board at the time. Fortunately, the William D. Porter was able to radio the Iowa and the great ship was able to make the incredibly difficult (and extremely necessary) sharp maneuvers to barely dodge the submersible weapon streaking towards them at 31 knots with 643 pounds of high-explosives. Scale up that last ass-chewing by a factor of 1000. One Torpedoman (Seaman Lawton Dawson) was eventually convicted for negligence due to his failure to remove the torpedo primers (meaning they could fire) before the exercise, but President Roosevelt (the one he nearly torpedoed) intervened and saved him from a sentence of ‘hard labor’. Despite the leniency granted to the junior enlisted sailor, the Porter was transferred from Atlantic duty.

The ‘jinxed’ Destroyer (which had done a whole bunch of fucking up over its operational history) would go on to see service in the Pacific and participate in numerous actions until the Battle of Okinawa, where on June 10th, 1945 she would suffer one of the most intriguing fates of any ship – having expended her supply of bad luck already. A Japanese Kamizake plane streaked for her forward section, but was shot down just short of the target. The plane however, continued traveling towards the Porter under water and detonated a large bomb directly under the ship… The Destroyer would sink in under 15 minutes; but by a stroke of absolutely unbelievable luck, not a single American sailor was killed in the attack. DD579 was quite possibly the luckiest unlucky ship in US Navy history that bears the dubious distinction of nearly shooting a battleship out from under the sitting President’s wheelchair.

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1 comment on “Gruntworks Media’s 10 Dumbest Fucking Things the U.S. Military Ever Did – 4) That Time the United States Navy Almost Assassinated A Sitting US President…

  1. Doug Williams

    Reminds me of the story of HMS Thirteen.

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