Willie D’s Bad Luck

Conflict: World War II

The Willie D (foreground) off the coast of Alaska, 1944

The Willie D (foreground) off the coast of Alaska, 1944

The USS William D. Porter, nicknamed the Willie D, became infamous not long after its launch for some embarrassing, yet humorous in hindsight, accidents that befell the ship during World War II.

In November of 1943, the destroyer—though crewed with young and inexperienced sailors and officers—was chosen to accompany the USS Iowa on its secret mission to deliver President Roosevelt, the secretary of state, and other important officials to the Teheran Conference. Things got off to a bad start for the Willie D, as when it was pulling out of port, it accidentally scraped a neighboring ship with its anchor, damaging the other ship’s railing, life rafts, and other equipment. The next day, an improperly secured depth charged rolled off the Willie D’s deck and exploded. While no ships were damaged, all the surrounding ships were on high alert for German U-boats until it was discovered that it was the Willie D that was at fault. Not long after, a huge rogue wave inundated the Willie D, knocking out power and washing a man overboard.

The Willie D’s luck only got worse after that. The next day, November 14th, President Roosevelt, over on the Iowa, wanted that ship to show off its anti-aircraft capabilities, so the ship released some balloons and began firing. Around the same time, the Willie D began doing torpedo drills. Unfortunately, the Willie D had a live torpedo in one of its tubes, so when that tube was fired—with the Iowa as its intended “target”—everyone onboard was aghast to hear a torpedo actually launching. Since radio silence was being maintained, the Willie D tried to use light signals to communicate to the Iowa that a live torpedo was headed straight for them—and the president. But the young and flustered signalman sent two wrong messages—one that there was a torpedo but it was heading away from the other ship, and one that said the Willie D was heading backwards.

Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill Meeting IN Teheran, Iran 1943

Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill Meeting in Teheran, Iran 1943 — two weeks after the torpedo incident with the Willy D.

Finally, the Willie D decided to break radio silence and alerted the Iowa. The ship was able to speed up and make a hard turn, and the torpedo safely exploded in the ship’s wake. After the debacle, the Willie D was ordered to Bermuda, where US Marines arrested the whole crew until everything could be sorted out, and it was eventually verified that the whole thing was an accident.

Report of the torpedo incident from the USS Iowa’s war diary

Report of the torpedo incident from the USS Iowa’s war diary

But the bad luck wasn’t quite over for the Willie D yet. After the torpedo incident, the ship was sent to Alaska, and things were going well for it there, until one day about a year later, a drunk crew member decided it would be a good idea to fire one of the big guns—and the shell landed right in the base commander’s front yard while he was hosting a party.

Even the sinking of the Willie D, in June 1945, was a stroke of bad luck. While patrolling in the Pacific, the Willie D became the target of a kamikaze attack. The ship managed to evade the plane, which crashed seemingly harmlessly into the ocean. Unfortunately for the Willie D, the plane’s trajectory carried it under the destroyer, and when the plane exploded, it lifted the ship right out of the water. The ship began sinking, the abandon ship order was given, and then for once the Willie D had some luck—all the crew managed to get off and no lives were lost.

The Willie D’s crew being offloaded as it sinks

The Willie D’s crew being offloaded as it sinks

Read more about the exploits of the Willie D here or here. Or look through the Willie D’s or USS Iowa‘s War Diary on Fold3.