U.S.S. Barker (DD-213)
The history of the U.S.S. Barker:
The U.S.S. Barker DD-213 was named after Admiral Albert Barker, who had died only three years before the Barker’s keel was laid at William Cramp and Sons Delaware River shipyard. The Barker went on to be well-decorated, as she and her crew won two battle stars in World War II.
There were interesting contradictions when it came to the history of the U.S.S. Barker. She had been built at one of the Navy’s most trusted contractor yards, William Cramp & Sons. The speed of the Barker’s construction was outstanding and may have been due to a desire to avoid post-World War I government contracts being canceled. The Barker herself had narrowly averted being scrapped with the 1923 Naval Limitations Treaty, which had been seen as a major success for President Harding. As with most vessels of the day, speed was a priority, and construction relied on asbestos throughout the ship. But in the 1940s, William Cramp’s successes in building earlier Navy vessels were not duplicated. For example, the production schedule for submarines was a failure, and it took almost two years for the Yard to produce a sub. Yet the Barker, the product of an earlier age, kept on successfully sailing into the 1930s, and eventually helping the fight against the Axis.
Massive overhauls were also to be very common, as vessels of the early 20th century Clemson-class got older. These overhauls often exposed old asbestos, as well as meaning re-applying new asbestos: to wiring, bulkheads, equipment, and temperature sensitive tools, gaskets, and fittings, and also due to the almost continual worldwide uses of the U.S.S. Barker. Asbestos was a common fix for fire hazards and for insulation against harsh marine conditions. Years later, experts wished there had been more concern about the risks of asbestos.
Repairs and Upgrades
The original adaptability and speed of the U.S.S. Barker, at 314 feet in length but able to do 35 knots, was one reason the vessel was so dependable, from 1919 and through virtually almost every day of WWII. In that time, the Barker watched out for US interests in the Middle East, China (and for two years) off the coast of Nicaragua. Unaware of the risks of asbestos, it was not uncommon for crew members in the tight workers of such vessels to be mere inches away from asbestos during much of the day.
The U.S.S. Barker’s importance to growing US world influence after WWI was reflected in her repair history and upgrades: often replacing asbestos in bulkheads or in engine equipment. She was simply too valuable as a versatile light destroyer to let lay idle. Strikes and sorties against Japanese shipping and strongholds lasted through almost all of 1941. The Barker took a series of near-misses from a Japanese attack, causing extensive buckling to her hull. Desperate repairs forced the fighting Barker back to the American mainland in late 1942. The Barker made it home for a complete overhaul at the Mare Island Naval Yards in the summer of 1942.
The rest of that year saw her performing supply and escort duties in the Caribbean. Barker soon left US territorial waters to perform submarine warfare. After the better part of a year in that duty, Barker then shifted to trans-Atlantic escort duty.
Asbestos Risks On the U.S.S. Barker (DD-213)
Aging battleships such as the U.S.S. Barker played a vital role in Pacific strategy. The flexibility and experience of the Barker aided attacks on Japanese strongholds while delivering desperately needed material to our Allies. But due to the great risks of fire on aging destroyers such as the Barker, literally tons of asbestos were also used. Decks, bulkheads, even asbestos firesuits and electrical wiring were all commonly asbestos-coated.
What to do with an aging vessel such as the Barker was also a problem. Scrapping war vessels, it was later known, meant exposing many of the workers, from crew to civilian employees, to asbestos and asbestos fibers. After leaving the Far East for the last time, the U.S.S. Barker was sent to the Philadelphia Naval Yard. There, after having her equipment stripped, she was sold for scrap to a now unknown private company.