USS Jenks (DE-665)
First Destroyer Escort Built In Pittsburgh
On September 13, 1943, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette published a photo of the very first destroyer escort vessel to be launched in the Ohio River by Pittsburgh's Dravo Corporation as it slid down the skidway at the Neville Island shipyard.
The ship, named in honor of Lieutenant Henry Pease Jenks, of White Plains NY, who was killed in action in the Solomons on November 13, 1942, is about 300 feet long, weighs 1400 tons and is termed "the hardest hitting ship of its size afloat." Mrs. Maurice L. Jenks, mother of Lieutenant Jenks, christened the vessel.
During the ceremonies, the navy presented the corporation with a three-starred Army-Navy flag for excellence in production. The USS Jenks (DE-665) was one of three destroyer escort ships built and launched at Dravo's Neville Island shipyard during the war. Also produced at this Pittsburgh shipyard during the war were 150 LST's (Landing Ship Tank), each weighing 1625 tons, fifteen PC sub chasers and four minesweepers.
Along with the notoriety of being the first destroyer escort built and launched in Pittsburgh, the USS Jenks would go on to make history during her wartime service as part of the Naval Task Group that captured the German submarine U-505 and delivered the prize boat intact to Bermuda for examination.
The USS Jenks (DE-665), a Buckley-class destroyer escort, sailed down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to New Orleans, Louisiana, where she was commissioned on January 19, 1944, with Lieutenant Commander J. F. Way in command. Following shakedown training out of Bermuda in February, the ship moved to the all-important Atlantic convoy lanes to act as an escort ship during the great buildup of men and supplies in Europe.
She arrived at New York on April 21 after one such voyage to the United Kingdom. Following training exercises, the Jenks steamed to Norfolk, Virginia on May 10 and joined escort carrier USS Guadalcanal (CVE-60) and her hunter-killer group, Task Group 22.3, under Captain Daniel V. Gallery. The ships sortied May 15 bound for the Atlantic shipping lanes in search of German U-boats.
After two weeks of searching, the group was headed toward Casablanca when, on June 4, it detected U-505 and closed in for the attack. An accurate depth charge attack by USS Chatelain (DE-149) brought the submarine to the surface, where her crew abandoned ship.
Immediately, a well-planned boarding action commenced and, despite the danger from damage and German booby traps, salvage parties succeeded in saving the submarine. USS Jenks picked up survivors from the stricken sub, and her boat went alongside to take off valuable bridge publications. Through skillful damage control work the captured submarine, a major intelligence find, was brought safely, and secretly, to Bermuda.
USS Jenks returned from this history-making cruise on June 16 and arrived at New London, Connecticut on June 28 to serve as a training ship. She remained on this duty for a month until departing Norfolk on July 31 with another convoy to the Mediterranean.
In the months that followed the ship made four escort voyages to African ports, helping to protect the vital flow of allied supplies and men. Between assignments she engaged in training out of Casco Bay, Maine.
After returning from her final convoy mission on May 19, 1945, she was sent to Boston. The ship underwent much-needed voyage repairs at the Boston Navy Yard and then sailed to Miami, Florida, arriving on June 8, to serve as a school ship for the Naval Training Center.
The USS Jenks continued peacetime operations in the Carribbean until arriving at Green Cove Springs, Florida, on May 2, 1946. She was decommissioned on June 26 and entered the Atlantic Reserve Fleet.
On February 1, 1966 the history-making USS Jenks, the Dravo Corporation's first and most famous Pittsburgh-built destroyer escort, was struck from the Navy List and scrapped. During her service during World War II, the Jenks received two battle stars in addition to a Presidential Unit Citation for taking part in the capture of U-505.
As for the U-505, after the war it was purchased by the people of Chicago for $250,000 and moved to the Chicago Museum of Science and Industry, where it was mounted for display. In 1989 it was designated as a National Historic Landmark because it was the first enemy ship captured on the high seas by the United States since the War of 1812. The 700 ton boat was moved to a new exhibit hall in 2004, where it remains to this day.
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