Ships of Pearl Harbor: USS Bagley
April 30, 2018
To have a US Navy ship named in one’s honor is a great achievement. One American naval officer had four. Ensign Worth Bagley was killed during the Spanish-American War, in 1898, and the third ship named for him, the destroyer USS Bagley (DD-386), was present at Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7, 1941.
Ensign Bagley was serving aboard the USS Winslow in the waters off Cuba when the Spanish gunboat Antonio Lopez fired on the fleet. In the engagement that followed, Winslow was left immobile and had to be towed out of the range of enemy fire. When it was over, Ensign Bagley had been killed by a shell from the Spanish warship.
For his service, Bagley was honored with four successive ships, the third of which was a Bagley-class destroyer that was first laid down on July 31, 1935. Construction on the destroyer lasted until September 3, 1936, when she was launched into the waters off the Norfolk Naval Shipyard. On June 12, 1937, USS Bagley was commissioned into service under the command of Lieutenant Commander Earl W. Morris.
Bagley spent nearly three years operating in the Atlantic, and was moved to Pearl Harbor in 1940. In December of 1941, she was operating locally out of Pearl Harbor, participating in naval exercises and taking part in operations with the aircraft carriers USS Lexington (CV-2) and Enterprise (CV-6). She took part in more frequent exercises as tensions with Japan continued to build after the implementation of economic sanctions.
Just four days before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Bagley was damaged during an anti-aircraft exercise. She limped back to Pearl Harbor, mooring at the navy yard just in time for the tragic events of that December 7.
Pearl Harbor and Joining the War
As Bagley prepared for morning colors, a fleet of Japanese fighters and bombers flew into Oahu airspace and launched an unexpected attack against the US Pacific Fleet. In response, Bagley’s crew manned their battle stations. Despite a lack of gunnery training, a young radioman named Robert Coles took to the .50 caliber machine gun at forward port and didn’t hesitate to fire on the incoming enemy aircraft. He was credited with hitting two torpedo bombers.
From their vantage point, Bagley’s crew could see dive bombers striking Hickam Field. Even with their attention turned to Hickam, it was impossible to ignore the explosions that erupted from the nearby battleships.
At around 0840, a second wave of warplanes flew into Pearl Harbor, and Bagley’s crew turned their attention on the Aichi D3A “Val” dive bombers that were focused on Ford Island and the nearby dry docks. Six Japanese craft were downed by the USS Bagley before she was ordered to the open sea. She survived the attack without any damage except for that to the crew’s morale.
In the weeks that followed the attack on Pearl Harbor, the USS Bagley was responsible for covering Task Force 14 as it arrived at Pearl Harbor shortly after Christmas. Along with the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga (CV-3), Bagley patrolled the waters west of Oahu, protecting the Hawaiian Islands from a feared Japanese attack as two carrier groups sailed reinforcements to Samoa. During this patrol, Bagley suffered a torpedo strike from the Japanese submarine I-16, though the damage wasn’t enough to sink the destroyer.
Repaired and ready to rejoin the war effort, the USS Bagley joined with Task Force 11 and the USS Lexington for transport cover to Christmas Island, Canton Island, and New Caledonia. On February 20, 1942, Bagley sighted a wave of nine bombers and opened fire. Though a bomber tried to crash into the destroyer’s stern, she escaped unscathed thanks to covering fire from the USS Aylwin (DD-355).
Bagley underwent minor repairs and upkeep before being assigned to Task Force 44 and was ordered to protect convoys approaching Australia. She kept an eye out for Japanese submarines before being assigned to Task Force 62 and participating in the invasion of Guadalcanal, code-named Operation Watchtower.
The first year of war proved incredibly active for the destroyer as she engaged several Japanese convoys, including one located while protecting transports just south of Tulagi. Though she fired on the Japanese ships, her torpedoes were thought to have missed and the cruiser force vanished from sight. With her targets gone, Bagley redirected to the designated rendezvous point to find the USS Astoria (CA-34) heavily damaged from the Battle of Savo Island. Bagley assisted in rescuing 400 survivors and provided a salvage party to try and prevent Astoria from being lost. Unfortunately, the heavy cruiser was too far gone and sank shortly after.
1943: Less Fighting and More Escorting
For the many times she engaged the Japanese in 1942, the second year of the war for Bagley was more about providing escorts. Kicking off the year, she was assigned to Task Force 74 and ordered to escort six landing ships carrying 2,600 Army troops to Woodlark Island. The new arrivals were intended to help bolster forces for operations in New Guinea and the landings were carried out without Japanese interference. From July 9 to August 7, 1943, Bagley escorted an additional three transports to Woodlark without incident.
Later in 1943, she escorted additional convoys to Milne Bay, Finschhafen, Buna, Lae, and Cape Cretin. Toward the end of the year, on December 23, Bagley helped with a transport of 1st Marine Division engineers and artillery to Cape Gloucester.
The Battle of the Philippine Sea and the Battle of Leyte Gulf
Early in 1944, the USS Bagley was placed on stand-by for escort duty, but it was a short-lived order. After undergoing repairs on the US West Coast, the destroyer returned to active duty, overseeing the first landings on Saipan before taking part in the Battle of the Philippine Sea.
Though Bagley did join the effort at the Battle of Leyte Gulf, her role was limited to following retreating vessels that were believed to be decoys carrying only half of their typical complement of craft.
The End of the War and the Fate of the USS Bagley
Japan grew desperate toward the tail end of the war, sending kamikaze craft to attempt to cause damage to the US fleet. At the start of 1945, 12 escort carriers, screened by 19 destroyers (including Bagley), entered Leyte Gulf. It was here that Japan unleashed its kamikaze suicide bombers that targeted ships including the USS Ommaney Bay (CVE-79), USS Columbia (CL-56), USS Stafford (DE-411), and USS Manila Bay (CVE-61).
Bagley remained with the escort carriers before embarking on the amphibious operation that preceded the invasion of Iwo Jima. She suffered minor generator issues before undergoing at-sea repairs. On June 15, 1945, she served in her last combat operation, assisting in air strikes on Okinawa.
For the remainder of the war, the USS Bagley provided escort for merchant ships and transported Rear Admiral Francis E. M. Whiting and his staff to Marcus Island. Though the end of World War II was relatively quiet for Bagley, she ended up earning 12 battle stars for her service. On May 2, 1946, the USS Bagley reported for inactivation at Pearl Harbor, where she was decommissioned on June 13. 1946. On February 25, 1947, she was struck from the Naval Vessel Register and sold for scrap later that year.