U.S.S. Chevalier DD-451 (Destroyer, Fletcher-Class)
The History of the U.S.S. Chevalier
The bravery of American Naval crews is associated with the story of the Chevalier. The U.S.S. Chevalier was named for Godfrey Chevalier, who was an early and important air combat pilot (“Naval Aviator”) in the US Navy. Chevalier was part of the pioneering efforts to use shipboard catapults. Ironically, the use of asbestos represented a lack of innovation, and was to prove an under-reported danger in many future vessels. Chevalier died in 1922 as a result of an air crash. In the same tradition, the U.S.S. Chevalier, and her crew fought bravely, helping to begin the process of defeating Japan’s navy. By the end of her less than two years of service, the Chevalier and her crew had won three battle stars.
The Chevalier DD-451 became part of a desperate American attempt to recover from the devastation at Pearl. One result was the frequent ignoring of vessel construction safety…such as whether or not to use asbestos throughout a vessel such as the U.S.S. Chevalier. The Chevalier was launched as one of 175 Fletcher-class destroyers.
The U.S.S. Chevalier was constructed at the famous Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine. Chevalier’s widow christened the destroyer at launch. The Chevalier went into action just three months after her commission and quick shakedown cruises.
Repairs and Upgrades
Between laying mines and assisting with landing operations, the U.S.S. Chevalier provided the dangerous work of screening other vessels. With a crew complement of 273, many of the urgent repairs on vessels such as the U.S.S. Chevalier were accomplished by a highly talented crew. While many asbestos injuries were to engineer’s mates and pipefitters, other crew members were also put at risk, on Navy vessels such as the U.S.S. Chevalier. In the event of a particular emergency, any crewmember might be exposed to damaged and exposed asbestos.
Following one heavy action, a sister ship (the U.S.S. Strong) was severely crippled and began to sink. The Chevalier deliberately rammed into the Strong, with the purpose of letting crew members from the doomed U.S.S. Strong quickly climb onboard the Chevalier. The brilliant maneuver was successful and the Chevalier’s quick action saved 241 crewmembers. As a result, the Chevalier continued on, with a 10’ tear in her bow, but still afloat. Decades later, experts found evidence of how these periods of at-sea repair could have exposed workers to dangerously exposed and damaged asbestos.
Two months later, as the final battle for the Solomons heated up, the U.S.S. Chevalier was part of a four-group US task force. Discovering nine Japanese destroyers, the task force attacked, despite being outnumbered more than two to one. With 54 of her crew killed, the Chevalier was crippled and sinking…yet she still fought on, torpedoing an enemy destroyer and apparently sinking her.
Asbestos Risks On the U.S.S. Chevalier (DD-451)
The U.S.S. Chevalier became a famous part of Bath Shipbuilding history. Only after several decades were many of these symptoms finally conceded by the Navy and shipyards. Unfortunately, even small amounts of asbestos exposure could carry high risks of many diseases. Later lawsuits were to show asbestos was a dangerous risk to thousands of crew members and workers. Sometimes, diseases and illnesses even being possibly linked to “second hand” asbestos, which had been carried on a yard worker’s gear.
As American naval planners in 1939 looked at a potential world war, they began to work with limited resources to build a band of navy steel around America. The Fletcher-class of destroyers, including the U.S.S. Chevalier, were criticized as lacking sufficient reliability. The result was a massive redesign of the 1939 class. Unfortunately, the urgency of the times also seemed to excuse the extensive, and dangerous, use of asbestos in constructing and maintaining vessels such as the immortal U.S.S. Chevalier.