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U.S.S. Neosho at Coral Sea
U.S.S. Sims (DD-409)
afternoon of May 6, 1942, as the American and Japanese fleets searched for each
other in the Coral Sea, Admiral Jack Fletcher ordered the vital oiler U.S.S. Neosho
to stay in a safe rendezvous area well behind the U.S. fleet. Fletcher ordered
the destroyer, U.S.S. Sims, to protect the vulnerable and
important oiler as the rest of the fleet steamed ahead.
At about 7:30 the next
morning, May 7, a Japanese scout plane
discovered the two ships, mistaking the Sims for a
cruiser and the flat-topped Neosho for an aircraft carrier. During
the next five hours, 62 Japanese dive bombers attacked the two ships. During the
fierce attack, the Sims valiantly
defended the Neosho but was struck amidships by several bombs, split in
half, and sunk shortly after noon with the loss of 237 men.
Crewmen on the Neosho, which itself was under
attack, watched in horror as the Sims quickly sunk. As the
bow of the Sims was submerging under the choppy seas, the forward
five-inch gun of the Sims let loose with one final shot, even as
the waves were engulfing it, a last, valiant effort by the doomed gun
crew. Only 15 Sims crewmen survived
the sinking, all of whom piled into a whaleboat and
headed for the Neosho, which was badly damaged during the attack
but, with its nearly empty tanks, remained afloat. Two of these 15
would later die aboard the Neosho, meaning that only 13 men aboard
the Sims survived the attack.
Bill Leu, a fireman on the lightly-armed Neosho, always admired the Sims, the little ship that
bravely defended his oiler. Whenever Bill started to talk about the Sims,
his eyes would mist up as he thought about the brave men on the Sims who
defiantly battled the Japanese dive-bombers until the Sims sank beneath
description of the U.S.S. Sims at
According to this website, a seaman on the U.S.S. Sims named Bill Vessia was the man
responsible for rescuing the few survivors of the Sims attack. Regardless of who performed the heroics, the Sims fought valiantly and
its loss was a blow to the American goal of thwarting the Japanese invasion of
New Guinea and Australia.
As events would reveal, May 7, 1942, would be the low point
for the Allied forces in the Pacific theatre. Not only did the
Japanese sink the destroyer Sims and badly damage the oiler
Neosho that day in the Coral Sea, but several thousand miles away,
they ousted the Allies from Burma, cutting off the vital supply link to
China known as the Burma Road. With the American fleet crippled at
Pearl Harbor exactly six months earlier, the outlook for the Allies that
day was indeed bleak. The next day, May 8, the Japanese were turned
back during the climactic battle in the Coral Sea and their fortune would
continue to ebb until the end of the war.
Interestingly, prior to the Japanese attack on the U.S.S. Sims and
Neosho in the Coral Sea, the destroyer U.S.S. Russell (DD-414) and
not the Sims had been assigned to escort the Neosho. As
shown on my map, the
Russell had escorted the Neosho during the first few days of the
Coral Sea engagement, until May 3. A website reader and World War II
veteran sent me an e-mail in December 2011 and explained an interesting twist of
I enjoyed reading your well written story about your uncle Bill Leu.
I was Medical Officer of USS Russell DD414, a destroyer. In early
May 1942, Russell was part of Task Force 17 in the Coral Sea.
Russell was assigned to escort Neosho and did so until 3 May, when a
faulty fuel feed pump forced her to leave the Neosho screen and
return to the main Task Force.
Russell's place was assigned to the Sims. The faulty pump turned out
to be Sims' misfortune and Russell's luck. I came aboard Russell
after the Battle of Coral Sea but I learned the story from my
I'm writing a history of Russell. Perhaps some day it will be
Barry Friedman, M.D.
I've listed the names of the Sims survivors on my
and Casualties page. Here are some photos of that brave ship,
the U.S.S. Sims, along with a brief history.
Sims (DD-409), 1939-1942
The first Sims (DD-409)
was laid down on 15 July 1937 by Bath Iron Works Corp., Bath, Maine, launched on
8 April 1939- sponsored by Mrs. William S. Sims and commissioned on 1 August
1939, Lt. Comdr. W. A. Griswold in command.
training in the Caribbean and post shakedown availability in the Boston Navy
Yard Sims joined the Atlantic Squadron at Norfolk on 2 August 1940. The
destroyer operated with the Neutrality Patrol in Caribbean and South Atlantic
waters. In November and December 1940, Sims patrolled off Martinique. On 28 May
1941, the ship arrived at Newport, R.I., and began operating from there. She
sailed for Iceland on 28 July with an American task force. In August, the
destroyer patrolled the approaches to Iceland. In September and October, the
ship made two lengthy North Atlantic patrols. Sims had been attached to
Destroyer Squadron (DesRon) 2 since she began making Neutrality Patrols.
With the outbreak of
war on 7 December DesRon 2 became part of a task force ( Task Force 17) formed
around Yorktown (CV-5). The task force sortied from Norfolk on 16 December 1941
for San Diego. From there, it sailed as part of a convoy taking marines to
Samoa, arriving on 23 January 1942.
At the time, it was
believed that the Japanese would attack Samoa to sever Allied communications
with Australia. To thwart such a move, a carrier raid against Japanese bases in
the Marshall Islands was planned. The Yorktown task force was to strike the
islands of Mili, Jaluit, and Makin, while another force centered around
Enterprise (CV-6) was to hit Kwajalein, Wotje, and Maloelap.
Task Force 17 departed
Samoa on 25 January with Sims in the screen. At 1105 on the 28th, she sighted an
enemy bomber. At 1114, a stick of four bombs fell approximately 1,500 yards
astern, straddling the wake of the destroyer. The next day, the two carrier
forces and a bombardment group attacked the islands and with drew.
Sims, with TF 17,
sailed from Pearl Harbor on 16 February to attack Wake Island. Shortly after
departing, their sailing orders were changed; and they proceeded to the Canton
Island area. Canton is a small island on the Honolulu-New Caledonia air route,
and it was thought to be endangered by the Japanese.
By early March, the
Japanese had occupied Lae and Salamaua on the north coast of New Guinea. To
cheek this drive, a carrier strike was launched on 10 March from Lexington
(CV-2) and Yorktown. Sims remained near Rossel Island in the Louisiades with a
force of cruisers and destroyers to protect the carriers from enemy surface
ships. Sims next operated in the New Caledonia-Tonga Islands area.
In late April, a
Japanese task force was assembled to win control of the Coral Sea area and
thereby isolate Australia. This consisted of a covering group to protect landing
forces on Tulagi and Port Moresby and a striking force to eliminate Allied
shipping in the Coral Sea. The light carrier, Shoho, was attached to the
covering force, and the big new carriers, Shokaku and Zuikaku, were the striking
force under command of Admiral Takagi. The American ships were divided into task
forces centered around Lexington and Yorktown, Sims was ordered to escort oiler,
Neosho (AO23). The task force refueled on 5 and 6 May and then detached Neosho
and Sims to continue to the next fueling point.
On the morning of 7
May, a search plane from the Japanese striking force sighted the oiler and
destroyer and reported them to Admiral Takagi as a carrier and a cruiser. Takagi
ordered an all-out attack. At 0930 15 high level bombers attacked the two ships
but did no damage. At 1038, 10 attacked the destroyer, but skillful maneuvering
evaded the nine bombs that were dropped. A third attack against the two ships by
36 dive bombers was devastating. Neosho was soon a blazing wreck as the result
of seven direct hits and one plane that dived into her.
Sims was attacked from
all directions. The destroyer defended herself as best she could. Three
500-pound bombs hit the destroyer. Two exploded in the engine room; and, within
minutes, the ship buckled amidships and began to sink, stern first. As Sims slid
beneath the waves, there was a tremendous explosion that raised what was left of
the ship almost 15 feet out of the water. Chief R. J. Dicken, in a damaged
whaleboat, picked up 14 other survivors. They remained with Neosho, still afloat
despite severe damage, until they were rescued by Henley (DD-391) on 11 May.
Sims was struck from the Navy list on 24 June 1942.
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