USS Stephen Potter

World War II History

Division of Naval History Ship's Histories Section Navy Department

HISTORY OF THE USS STEPHEN POTTER
Provided by Ty Tyler

Destined to assume a dramatic role with, the fast carrier task force in the, Pacific, the USS STEPHEN POTTER was built by Bethlehem Steel Company, San Francisco, California yard where the keel was laid on 27 October 1941.

The ship was named in honor of Ensign Stephen, Potter; great great grandson of Captain Potter of General George Washington's staff. He served with Naval Aviation Forces in Europe during World War I. Ensign Potter was credited with being the first American Naval Aviator to shoot down a German seaplane. He lost his life on 25 April 1918, during the battle with four German planes over the North Sea. He was born 25 December 1896 In Saginaw, Michigan.

Miss's Sally and Marian Potter, nieces of Ensign Potter, served as sponsors at the launching on 28 April 1943. The ship was commissioned October 1943, with Commander Charles H. Crichton, USN assuming command. After our Pacific offensive began from the Marshall's to the Japanese homeland the war record of the STEPHEN POTTER is practically synonymous with that of the FIFTH and THIRD Fleets. After completing shakedown training she sailed for Pearl Harbor. Thereafter the STEPHEN POTTER became a perennial member of Task Group 58.2 which was providing air support for landings or Kwajalein and Namur in the Marshall group in January 1944.

On 16 February she proceeded with Task Group 58 to conduct carrier operations against Japanese shipping and installations at Truk. That night the task force was subjected to air attack by torpedo planes and during which the USS INTREPID was struck. The POTTER was assigned as escort for the damaged ship, and on the night of the 17th retired from the area.

From 21 to 28 April, the STEPHEN POTTER sailed with Task Force 58 to cover operations in occupying Hollandia in Northern New Guinea, and moved up to Carolinas to make a second attack at truk on the 29th. At 0700 on the 30th contact was made on an emery submarine. For two hours, in coordination with USS MAC DONOUGH, the STEPHEN POTTER searched for and attacked the sub. MAC DONOUGH made two attacks and the STEPHEN POTTER one, after several deep explosions were detected, much oil and debris appeared on the surface. Failure to regain contact indicated complete destruction of the sub.

On 1 May, the STEPHEN POTTER, with units of destroyer Squadron 52 and fast battleships bombarded the island of Ponape in the eastern Carolinas. These bombardments were made without opposition, and any hope that the Japanese may have held for developing a strong airbase on the island was obliterated. Raids were conducted on Marcus and Wake islands from 19 to 23 May 1944. Commander Leonidas H. Pancoast, USN, relieved Commander Crichton as commanding officer on 21 May 1944.

The occupation of the Marianas during June and July of 1944 was next on the POTTER'S schedule. The Task Group sortied from Majuro on 3 June and a week later commenced air strikes against selected objectives. Saipan was first on the list. On 11 June the task force moved out into the Philippine Sea to meet a strong Japanese naval force which now threatened the American naval and ground forces at Saipan. The enemy apparently reasoned that our task force would stick close to the lee of the islands, and launched his planes from 350 miles distant, shuttling between his carriers and Guam refueling and rearming at both ends and attacking our forces coming and going.

From the 11th to the 19th of November, the STEPHEN P0TTER was with the fast Carrier Task Force, which steamed off Luzon, delivering air attacks on a group of enemy transports in Ormoc Bay. All four transports were sent to bottom, as were four of the five escorting destroyers. Raids on the Manila Area as well as both ends of the main island of the Philippine group were also made. The THIRD Fleet then retired to Ulithi for a much-needed rest.

The 15th of December the STEPHEN POTTER was again with the THIRD Fleet mission -- to keep the Japanese aircraft on Luzon from launching attacks against the Mindoro invasion force during three vital days, 14, 15, and 16 December. In the early morning of 14 December 1944, the task force reached its initial launching point. For three days continuous air patrol pinned the Japanese planes to the around. By the evening of the 16th Task Force 38 was ready to lift its "flying carpet" and retire to the eastward to fuel at sea from tanker group.

The fueling operations were interrupted on 17 December, by a typhoon. The storm reached its height the next day. The blind wrath of wind and waves destroyed three ships and claimed 790 victims. The STEPHEN POTTER was able ride out the fury of the storm with only negligible damage to her topside. On 28 December 1944, Commander George R. Muse, USN came aboard as skipper relieving Commander Pancoast.

The STEPHEN POTTER Joined Task Group 38.2 for a high-speed ran to Formosa on 21 January 1945. During the two-day strike, which ensued, 30 Japanese planes were destroyed in the air and 81 more were caught on the ground. Nine freighters, one oiler, four escort vessels, and twenty-eight luggers were sunk. On 5 January 1945; the fleet fueled at sea again and then steamed down Philippines for more strikes on Luzon; 6 to 8 January.

These raids included Formosa on 9 and 10 January. The STEPHEN POTTER Task Group 38.2 then sailed through Bashi Channel. Into the South China Sea for raids on Saigon and French Indo-China on 12 January. Still operation in the China Sea, strikes were made upon Hainan and Hong Kong, China on 16 January. The force steamed out of the China Sea on the 21st, making raids on Formosa then upon Okinawa the following day.

Upon the re-forming of Task Force 58 under Admiral Mitscher, the Stephen POTTER as a unit of Task Group 58.2, participated in the first Fast Carrier attack to be launched upon Tokyo and Tokyo Bay Area on 16 and 17 February. Under cover of a weather front of low gray clouds and light rain the force sped toward Tokyo. Admiral Mitscher's air groups were launched at dawn on February 1945, 120 miles from their target areas. Attacks against enemy airpower were pressed into the very heart of the Japanese homeland far into the next day. In the two-day relentless attack the Japanese lost 416 planes in the air and 354 more on the ground and one escort carrier. Following these raids the STEPHEN POTTER assisted in covering the invasion of Iwo Jima on 20 -21 February 1945.

The force then regrouped for a second attack against Tokyo. Returning to the immediate area of the Japanese Empire, the STEPHEN POTTER, with Task Group 58.2, participated in the attacks delivered upon Honshu, Kyushu and Kobe on 18 and 19 March 1945. Sneak enemy air attacks were made upon our Task Group as operated off the southern tip of Kyushu and the Inland Sea. The raiders would put the sun at their backs, line up patches of clouds for cover, wait until the air over the carriers was filled with their own planes as a strike was being launched or recovered, then come tearing in through the clouds. Most of them wound up in the sea, but one got through to plant two bombs on the deck of the USS Franklin. Only heroic damage control action kept the blazing ship afloat.

While retiring from the area on 20 and 21 March, the group received repeated dive-bombing attacks. During the afternoon of the 20th, the STEPHEN POTTER scored direct hits with 5-inch and automatic weapons on one such plane, which crashed 500 yards off the starboard beam. The following afternoon while the Task Group was under air attack. A twin-engine "Frances" was taken under fire by the STEPHEN Potter, and the surrounding ships as it closed the formation. The plane had begun to smoke as it approached the STEPHEN POTTER from abeam. In a shallow glide, the plane passed overhead, releasing a bomb which exploded in the water 300 yards off the STEPHEN POTTER'S port quarter, then crashed in the forward part of the formation. The STEPHEN POTTER was credited with an assist in the destruction of this plane. From 22 to 25 March 1945, the STEPHEN POTTER with other units of Destroyer Squadron 52 escorted the badly damaged FRANKLIN back to port.

The STEPHEN POTTER rejoined Task Force 58 on 8 April, operating in the area off Okinawa with the Fast Carrier Group furnishing air support for the landings on that island. The force was under frequent attack by enemy suicide bombing planes from the 8th to the 14th. On the night of the 14th, as Group 58.2 was supporting the retirement of damaged light units of another task group, a small group of enemy planes closed the formation. A lone plane crossed the formation without any apparent damage from the firing ships. As the plane moved down the starboard hand of the STEPHEN POTTER, other units of formation ceased firing, and the target was taken under fire in full radar control by the STEPHEN POTTER as it opened out from the group. After expending 14 rounds of 5-inch ammunition, the plane erupted in flames at approximately 7,000 yards on the starboard quarter.

The destroyer shifted to Task Group 58.3, from 15 April to 12 May 1945 as it continued to provide air support for the Okinawa Operation. The last Kamikaze attack came early in the morning of 11 May. Carrier planes shot down 69 of them, but without warning two single-engined planes dove out of the clouds into the USS BUNKER HILL. Shortly afterwards the STEPHEN POTTER opened upon a Jap "Judy" closing the ship from the starboard beam. The plane crashed into the area approximately 1,500 yards from the ship. With the USS AULT and the USS THE SULLIVANS, the STEPHEN POTTER dropped out of the formation to assist the rescue of personnel forced to abandon the burning carrier. For four hours she combed the area, rescuing a total of 100 enlisted men and 7 officers, many of whom were severely wounded and burned.

That rain upset Admiral Mitscher's patience and he decided to go after the Kamikaze nests again and destroy them at their source. Task Groups 58.1 58.2 got underway at noon on 12 May on a course that would put them off Kyushu by sunrise the next morning. The Task Group underwent frequent attacks by enemy aircraft. On the morning of 14 May, the STEPHEN POTTER combined its fire with two other ships to knock down two single-engined planes over the formation. During the two-day Kyushu strike, 71 enemy planes were knocked out of the air. From 17 until 29 May 1945, the STEPHEN POTTER continued to operate with task Group 38.3 providing air support in the Okinawa area. During that time the group was alerted for enemy air sorties, but no attacks were pressed home.

On 29 May, in company with her Task Group, the ship departed the Okinawa area, enroute to leyte Gulf, Philippine islands, arriving on, 1 June. While undergoing tender repair, the STEPHEN POTTER and other ships of Destroyer Squadron 52 received orders to proceed to the United States for Navy yard overhaul. Three days later she was underway, and after a short stop at Pearl Harbor, the ship passed under the Golden Gate Bridge on 9 July and the following day, moored at Mare Island Navy Yard. It was 3 August 1945 before the Stephen POTTER was underway again. The fighting was over and she had played a large part in paving the way to victory.

Commander Charles H. Crichton, USN, was awarded the Legion of Merit, Commander Leonidas W. Pancoast, USN, and Commander Edwin F. Gunderson, USNR, and Lieutenant (jg) Malcolm S. Peters, USNR, were awarded the Bronze Star Medal.