New York Fact-O-Gram #5

USS TurnerThis is the story of the USS Turner (vessel designation DD-648), a World War II-era United States Navy destroyer. The Turner was nearly 350 feet long, weighed about 1600 tons, and she was armed with torpedoes, depth charges, and a plethora of guns. The Turner was a newly launched warship when it entered WWII in June 1943. Less than a year later, her flaming hulk would sink to the bottom of New York Harbor. How the ship came to meet such a fate in a place far removed from enemy fire remains a point of debate among many.

During her brief time in service, the Turner and her crew protected American lives by taking actions against Nazi submarines, and it is likely they sent one enemy sub to the bottom. The Turner also escorted ships through hostile waters, and in her final duty, she escorted a convoy away from the theater of war and into New York Harbor. The date was January 3rd, 1944. That’s when all Hell broke loose.

Some believed it was a torpedo, but others claimed it was an ammunition fire. Regardless of the cause, devastating explosions rocked the Turner as she was anchored in the harbor, blasting through the main deck in jets of fire and sending it airborne, destroying the ship’s command center, communications systems, and engine room. The ship’s commander died, as did several other officers and even more of the crew. The flaming hulk of the USS Turner quickly capsized and sank, leaving just the tip of her bow above water for some time, then the entire ship slipped beneath the waves, taking exactly half the men aboard—138 souls out of a complement of 276—to the bottom with her.

Efforts were made over the years to raise or remove the wreck of the Turner, with one notable effort resulting in the detachment of the bow from the ship and raising it above water only to have it sink again when the lifting apparatus failed. Other efforts were made after vessels collided with the sunken warship, prompting the Government to remove those parts of the Turner that posed an unseen hazard to navigation.

Some portions of the Turner still rest at the bottom of New York Harbor. As for the men who served aboard her, many remain unaccounted for. In my opinion, if any of the missing men are thought to be trapped in the Turner’s sunken remains, then its location should be a “No Diving” zone—but it isn’t. As of this writing, it is perfectly legal to dive on the debris of the USS Turner. I can only hope divers treat the site as a memorial for our honored dead, not a treasure trove.

All the best,
-Keith V.


Image Attribution:

  • By United States Navy [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons




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