U.S.S. Cogswell DD-651 (Destroyer, Fletcher-Class)
The History of the U.S.S. Cogswell. Nickname, “Broadside”
The Cogswell was actually named after two people: a rear Admiral (James Kelsey) and a courageous WWI Captain (Francis). Admiral Cogswell was born in 1847, and for his “conspicuous bravery” in the Spanish-American war won promotion to Commodore. Admiral Cogswell’s son, Francis Cogswell was to win the Navy Cross, with pioneering leadership on two separate US destroyers. The U.S.S. Cogswell and her crew served as heroically as did her familial namesakes, in very similar ways, repeatedly acting to screen dozens of sister ships. Eventually, the Cogswell and crew earned an impressive nine battle stars.
Owing to the durability of the Fletcher-class to which U.S.S. Cogswell belonged and with extensive repairs (with asbestos in widespread use), the U.S.S. Cogswell, in the 1950s, became an important part of the American response to Chinese aggression in Korea and then again (very briefly) in Viet Nam.
The Bath Iron Works laid the Cogswell’s keel in the summer of 1943, as the great Pacific battles were shortly to come. The Admirals’ daughter and the Captain’s widow both christened the U.S.S. Cogswell when she launched in June 1943. The Cogswell followed the specs of Fletcher-class destroyers made at the Bath Iron Works. As was common at the time, these destroyers commonly used great amounts of asbestos in heat-sensitive areas.
Decades later, the risks of asbestos became more obvious, both in the construction and operation of vessels such as the U.S.S. Cogswell. Experts noted Bath Iron Works work and purchase records might prove work conditions at similar shipyards were often hazardous, in part because of asbestos. In rushing to meet the Japanese threat, crew and yard workers were too often unwarned and unprotected from asbestos.
Repairs and Upgrades
Early post-war duties were far from safe, and emergencies often led to temporary repairs using exposed asbestos. Unexploded mines, for example, were a plague to Allied vessels operating around Japan, and explosions were all too common. While the Cogswell worked with others to clear mines, several of the Cogswell’s sister ships suffered explosions. Owing to the prevalence of asbestos in so many US Naval shipyards and vessels, emergency repairs often placed repair crews at risk. First, by making repairs when large amounts of asbestos were exposed. Second, repairs at sea to damaged ship structure and machinery also often meant dealing with asbestos. This was one reason Naval machinists mates were, over the years, disproportionately sickened by wartime asbestos exposure on vessels.
As the many investigations regarding asbestos use proved, safety systems to protect against fire meant asbestos was possibly inhaled, in almost all areas of naval vessels such as the Cogswell.
Though the frantic pace of WWII shipbuilding such as at Bath Iron Works slowed down, the fiscal pressures after WWII made surviving vessels such as the Fletcher-class Cogswell even more valuable. This is why the Cogswell was recommissioned in 1951. But renovations, including miles of new cables coated in asbestos, may have added to asbestos risks. In fact, asbestos use on US Navy ships actually increased after WWII. Only in the 1970s did concerns about asbestos lead to comprehensive, mandatory improvements for crews and yard workers who dealt with asbestos.
Asbestos Risks On the U.S.S. Cogswell (DD-651)
Special concerns about fire meant asbestos was heavily used throughout vulnerable areas of the Cogswell. Some crew members on similar destroyers later testified about sleeping “inches away” from asbestos. By the time changes in asbestos policy were fully implemented, the Cogswell had fallen victim to 1960s massive changes in US Naval policy. In October 1969, she was fully decommissioned.
The fate of the U.S.S. Cogswell, though not unusual, also tells a somewhat sad story for many of America’s historic Fletcher-class vessels. The Cogswell was finally decommissioned in 1969, in order to be sent to the Turkish government. The vessel was cannibalized for parts and equipment, and then fully broken into pieces for scrap by the Turkish government in 1980.