Destroyer escorts critical during WWII
The following information from James Tolsma of Hastings, a retired electronics technician in the U.S. Navy from 1959 to 1963 who cross-trained in diesel and nuclear submarines, put Robert Lambert's service on a destroyer escort -- and the need for destroyer escorts during World War II – in perspective:
At the time of Bob’s enlistment, the need for destroyer escorts was critical.
Prior to their use, the German Navy was destroying anything on water not of their own military fleet. The reason for this was to completely cut off all supplies to Europe from any enemy of the German military.
So, in an effort to protect the flow of supplies to the Allied Forces from the United States to the forces in the European, Atlantic, and the Pacific theaters, special task groups known as “hunter-killer” units were developed. These were comprised of small aircraft carriers and accompanying destroyer escorts and they began regular voyages overseas to resume transport of much-needed supplies to Allied Forces.
These task groups helped to overcome the menace that German U-boats presented to transatlantic shipping since the outbreak of World War II.
Tolsma says it's important to understand that, prior to the active involvement of the United States in WWII, which happened after Dec. 11, 1941, the war in the Atlantic was primarily fought by the British with large naval vessels and a land-based Air Force. This meant that any aircraft flown from Great Britain attempting to fight the Germans in the Atlantic could only fly a short distance before having to return to land to refuel as the British had no aircraft carriers at their disposal at that time.
This left a vast expanse of the Atlantic for the German U-boats to attack any and all British and American merchant vessels carrying supplies to Europe. So the Germans were able to do catastrophic damage to both the British and American supply chain.
It became overwhelmingly evident, once the United States entered the war, that something had to be done to defeat the German U-boats and resume a vital chain of supplies.
The name of the game was speed, points out Tolsma.
It was recognized that the destroyer escort, being about a third in size smaller than a regular Navy destroyer, was capable of faster speeds than a German U-boat, and could therefore outrun it. This, too, was true of a smaller, faster aircraft carrier or “Jeep carrier” that also could outrun the U-boats. These two types of ships, the destroyer escorts, outfitted with guns on deck and loaded with depth charges or bombs, as well as the smaller, faster Jeep carriers, loaded with aircraft and fuel on board, ended up as perfect weapons to take down the German Navy.
So the Jeep carrier, bound for a specific destination overseas, would head out of port in New York surrounded by about five destroyer escorts.The destroyer escorts, loaded with depth charges, would encircle the carrier and sail around the carrier in specific patterns. The pilots would fly their planes from the aircraft carrier in regular shifts, scanning the nearby waters for periscopes to alert them that a German U-boat was in the area and the party was in danger of being attacked.
If a U-boat was sighted by one of the pilots, its location was forwarded to the destroyer escort which would then chase it down and shower it with depth charges. The U-boat captain’s only options were to attempt to outrun the destroyer escort or dive deep to escape the depth charges.
However, since the destroyer escorts and Jeep carriers were faster, neither of those options was usually favorable for the submarine.