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From the Office of Naval Records and History, Ships' Histories Section, Navy Department

 

 
    Three German mines, exploding in rapid succession, literally blew the USS Rich (DE 695) to pieces while the vessel was screening heavy fire support ships during D-Day of the Normandy invasion.

    The first mine jolted decks and superstructure and sent the crew reeling. The second one split 50 feet of the stern section from the ship. The third blasted all that remained, hurling steel sections and men alike 50 feet in the air.

    Steaming in the vanguard of a powerful echelon of American ships, the RICH got underway from Plymouth, England, on June 5, 1944, and by dawn of next day was leading the USS NEVADA (BB 36) into the Normandy Channel, which had been swept of mines. As the NEVADA was guided into bombardment position, the RICH remained on patrol, cruising back and forth, while the battleship sent destructive salvos into the beach. A few shells from enemy shore batteries were coming over, none very close.

    On June 7, the USS MERDITH (DD 726), a new destroyer, struck a mine close by the RICH and was enveloped in a mass of flames. At this point the RICH had to make decision whether to go alongside the burning ship or remain on station. The RICH elected to protect the heavy fire support ships by laying down a smoke screen. A Destroyer Escort, steamed in to rescue the MERDITH'S personnel.

    That evening the commanding officer of the RICH went down to the wardroom, leaving the bridge for the first time since leaving Plymouth. He stopped to shave. The lather on his face had scarcely set before a message came ordering the ship to speed to the aid of the USS GLENNON (DD 840).

    Steaming with all engines ahead full, the RICH soon arrived in the area and was requested to fall into the wake of two minesweepers. The sweepers led the destroyer to the GLENNON which was listing but was not in need of immediate assistance.

    The GLENNON asked the RICH to stand by and keep watch for drifting mines and enemy planes. The RICH dropped her whaleboat and maneuvered in the area at a slow speed. At 9:20 AM, a heavy explosion shook the ship as a mine detonated about 50 yards to starboard. Light and power were temporarily lost, sound-powered telephones went dead and three depth charges with arbors attached were blown from their projectors into the water but, luckily, did not go off.

    Three minutes elapsed before the second explosion was heard, this one coming aft and directly under the ship. Bridge personnel were thrown from their feet and, upon recovering, saw about 50 feet of the vessel's stern floating away on its own course. Several crewmen were carried away aboard the severed stern section.

    Two minutes more had passed when the third and final blast occurred. This one made the destruction complete. The flying bridge vanished in hundreds of pieces and the foremast crashed down across the debris. Witnesses reported that all personnel appeared to be dead or unconscious; many were thrown clear of the ship. The bow began to sag forward.

    Several men recovered sufficiently to assist in lifting the wounded into whale boats and life rafts. British tugs, Coast Guard patrol craft, stood in to offer assistance. The ship started its final plunge 15 minutes after the third explosion. Men who had been working to remove personnel, stepped from the doomed ship with the last injured man just as the deck went under.

    Personnel casualties were heavy, the force of explosions having killed men in the water as well as on board ship. It is believed that not more than two or three men who were forward of the mast survived. A radar technician, standing by to destroy radar gear and publications at the word of "abandon ship", was buried beneath a mound of charts and damaged radar gear.

    According to the ship's commanding officer, Lieutenant Commander Edward A. Michel, Jr., USN, who wrote his report from a hospital bed, 27 men were known dead, 62 missing and 73 wounded. Fifty-four other injured men recovered sufficiently to return to duty.

    The story of the RICH began in the summer of 1943 when the vessel was constructed at Bay city, Michigan, by Defoe Shipbuilding Company. Commissioning took place on October 1; the ship was sponsored by Mrs. Marjarie E. Rich, widow of the namesake, Lieutenant (Junior Grade) Ralph McMaster Rich, USNR, who was awarded the Navy Cross for heroic action while piloting a plane of the famed Torpedo Squadron Six in the Battle of Midway.

    A green crew took the ship on its shakedown cruise to Bermuda, but their indoctrination was hastened by extremely rough weather enroute. Following a period of post-shakedown repairs, the RICH escorted a transport to Argentia, Newfoundland, for its first assignment.

    Further convoy duty took the RICH to Panama, but by the beginning of 1944 the Destroyer Escort seemed destined for regular North Atlantic convoy duty. All the trips were from New York to Northern Ireland where the vessel laid over in Londonderry to wait for the convoys to unload and then return to the States, with them. This routine continued through the winter and spring.

    On May 10, 1944, the RICH left on what appeared to be the usual run to the United Kingdom. Upon arrival off North Ireland, the vessel was, as in the past, sent to Londonderry to await the trip back. But, the convoy sailed on the return trip without the RICH; she was diverted to take part in the invasion.
A member of the "long hull" destroy escort class, the RICH had turbo-electric drive and was equipped with three-inch guns. Other characteristics were: length: 306 feet; beam: 37 feet, full load displacement, 1,800 tons.

 

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