Saturday, February 18, 2012

The USS Mason - A WWII Destroyer Escort with an African American Crew

USS Mason, a WWII warship manned by a predominantly black crew that served as a role model for the integration of U.S. Navy ships

USS Mason (DE-529)  Evarts-class destroyer escort USS Mason (DE-529)
Launched November 17, 1943 at Boston Navy Yard's Pier 6. The ship wasn't commissioned until March, 1944.

 "Negro sailors of the U.S.S. Mason (DE 529) commissioned at Boston Navy Yard on 20 Mar. 1944 proudly look over their ship which is the first to have a predominately Negro crew." March 20, 1944. 80-G-218861.

This photograph depicts three African American sailors standing in front of the U. S. S. Mason, on which all the enlisted personnel were African American, at the Boston Navy Yard.

During World War II, racial restriction and segregation were facts of life in the U.S. military. Nevertheless, an overwhelming majority of African Americans participated wholeheartedly in the fight against the Axis powers. Their participation aimed at victory over fascism abroad and also over racism at home.

USS Mason (DE-529), 1944-1947

USS Mason (DE-529), an Evarts-class destroyer escort, was the second ship of the United States Navy to be named Mason, though DE-529 was the only one specifically named for Ensign Newton Henry Mason. The USS Mason was one of two US Navy ships with largely African-American crews in World War II. The other was the USS PC-1264, a submarine chaser.[1] These two ships were manned with African Americans as the result of a letter sent to President Roosevelt by the NAACP in mid-December 1941.

The USS Mason was commanded by Carlton Skinner. Her keel was laid down in the Boston Navy Yard, on 14 October 1943. She was launched on 17 November 1943, sponsored by Mrs. David Mason, the mother of Ensign Mason, and commissioned on 20 March 1944, with Lt. Commander William M. Blackford, USNR, in command.

Following a shakedown cruise off Bermuda, the Mason departed from Charleston, South Carolina, on 14 June, escorting a convoy bound for Europe, arriving at Horta Harbor, Azores, on 6 July. She got underway from Belfast, Northern Ireland, headed for the East Coast on 26 July, arriving at Boston Harbor on 2 August for convoy duty off the harbor through August.

On 2 September, she arrived at New York City to steam on 19 September in the screen for convoy NY.119. The Mason reached Falmouth, Cornwall, with part of the convoy 18 October, and she returned to New York from Plymouth, England, and the Azores on 22 November.

On October 18th, Mason supported Convoy NY-119 in a severe North Atlantic storm. [2] The ship suffered and self-repaired critical structural damage and still rescued ships from the convoy. The crew of Mason was not awarded a letter of commendation until 1994 for meritorious service during this action. [3][4]

Mason joined TF 64 at Norfolk, Virginia, on 17 December. Two days later she sailed in convoy for Europe, passing by Gibraltar on 4 January 1945 to be relieved of escort duties. Continuing to Algeria, she entered Oran on 5 January for the formation of TG 60.11.

The escort ship cleared Oran 7 January. Four days later the Mason made radar contact with a surface target. She rang up full speed with all battle stations manned to attack the presumptive submarine, rammed, and dropped depth charges. Unable to regain contact, the ship returned to the contact point, where searchlight revealed the target—a wooden derelict about 100 by 50 feet. The Mason then steamed to Bermuda for repairs, entering St. George's Harbor on 19 January. Five days later she reached the New York Navy Yard.
On 12 February Mason departed Norfolk in convoy for the Mediterranean Sea, arriving off Gibraltar on 28 February. She cleared Oran 8 March to guard a convoy to Bermuda and Chesapeake Bay before returning to New York 24 March. After sonar exercises off New London, Connecticut, and fighter-director training with naval aircraft from Quonset Point, Rhode Island, she steamed from Norfolk 10 April with another convoy to Europe, leaving the convoy at Gibraltar 28 April. The Mason was two days out of Oran en route to the East Coast when the end of World War II in Europe was announced on the eighth of May.

The Mason arrived at New York on 23 May for operations along the East Coast into July. From 28 July to 18 August she served as a school ship for the Naval Training Center, Miami, Florida. On 20 August she arrived at New London to be outfitted for long-range underwater signal testing in the Bermuda area into September. The Mason departed from Bermuda on 8 September for Charleston, S.C., arriving there two days later.

The Mason was decommissioned on 12 October, was struck from the Naval Vessel Register on 1 November 1945, and was sold and delivered to New Jersey, on 18 March 1947 for scrapping.


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