PLEASE NOTE: Due to a prior commitment, the ship that was going to be posted on Tuesday, April 3rd, will be posted today, April 1. The next ship will be posted on Tuesday, April 10. Thank you.
Figure 1: USS Solar (DE-221) at sea, 15 November 1944. US Navy photo from the Donald T. Ehre Album via Destroyer Escort Historical Museum. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: Wartime photograph of USS Solar (DE-221), date and place unknown. Courtesy Pieter Bakels, Wehl, Holland. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: USS Solar (DE-221) in New York harbor with a barge and harbor tug alongside, 22 July 1944. Photographed from a 300-foot altitude by Naval Air Station New York aircraft. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval Historical Center. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: USS Solar (DE-221) on 30 April 1946 tying up at Leonardo Pier I of the Naval Ammunition Depot at Earle, New Jersey, to discharge ammunition. Courtesy J. D. Reed, Fireman 1C. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 5: On 30 April 1946, USS Solar (DE-221) suffered three explosions in her No. 2 upper handling room while unloading ammunition. Salvage work on Solar began by 1500 hours and her wrecked superstructure was cut off to prevent her from capsizing. Courtesy J. D. Reed, Fireman 1C. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 6: USS Solar (DE-221) following the explosion of her forward magazine while she was at Naval Ammunition Depot, Earle, New Jersey, on 30 April 1946. Note that her forward superstructure has been folded back, crushing her smokestack and other midships fittings. The barrel of one of her forward 3-inch guns is inside her after 3-inch gun tub, with other parts of the ship's forward structure resting nearby. Donation of Dr. Neal Dinowitz, 2007. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 7: 30 April 1946, USS Solar’s number 2 gun was demolished and the bridge, main battery director, and mast were all blown aft and to starboard. Both sides of the ship were torn open. Courtesy J. D. Reed, Fireman 1C. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 8: 30 April 1946, shortly after three explosions blasted USS Solar near her Number 2 upper handling room. Courtesy J. D. Reed, Fireman 1C. Click on photograph for larger image.
Named after Boatswain’s Mate First Class Adolfo Solar (1900-1941) who was killed during the attack on Pearl Harbor while manning one of the guns on the battleship USS Nevada (BB-36), the 1,400-ton USS Solar (DE-221) was a Buckley class destroyer escort and was built at the Philadelphia Navy Yard at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The ship was commissioned on 15 February 1944 and was approximately 306 feet long and 37 feet wide, had a top speed of 24 knots, and had a crew of 213 officers and men. Solar was armed with three 3-inch guns, one twin 40-mm gun, eight 20-mm guns, three 21-inch torpedo tubes, one “Hedgehog” Projector Mk. 10, and depth charges.
After completing her shakedown cruise off the coast of Bermuda, Solar steamed to Casco Bay, Maine, for additional training. On 25 April 1944, Solar left New York and joined Task Group 27.1 to escort a convoy bound for Casablanca, Morocco. The convoy reached Casablanca on 4 May and three days later Solar headed back to the United States, arriving in New York on 16 May. Solar spent the next six months escorting three convoys from the United States to the Mediterranean and back.
On 16 December 1944, Solar began a brief assignment training destroyer and destroyer escort crews. On 2 February 1945, Solar resumed escort duty in the Atlantic and assisted in escorting a convoy to Oran, Algeria. The convoy was attacked and lost two tankers at the entrance to the Straits of Gibraltar. Although Solar assisted the other escorts in the convoy in trying to find the submarines responsible for the attack, they failed to locate them. After reaching Oran, Solar then escorted another convoy back to the United States. After a very brief overhaul in New York City, Solar returned to duty and escorted a convoy to Gibraltar.
While escorting a convoy from Oran back to the United States, Solar received news of the Allied victory in Europe. After returning to the United States, Solar was scheduled for her usual overhaul in New York. However, due to the large volume of ships already in New York at that time, Solar was sent to Boston, Massachusetts, for her overhaul. In the spring of 1945, Solar was assigned to training duty with submarines that were based at New London, Connecticut. On 18 July 1945, the ship was at the Boston Navy Yard preparing for duty in the Pacific. She was going to be used as a radar “picket ship,” but the end of hostilities in the Pacific in mid-August 1945 ended those plans. Solar left Boston on 7 September for two weeks of training exercises at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. After those exercises were completed, Solar went to Miami, Florida, where she became a training group flagship. In late October 1945, Solar visited Baltimore, Maryland, for the Navy Day celebration. On 19 December, the ship was assigned to the Commander, Operational Development Force, for antiaircraft and fighter director practice. At the beginning of 1946, Solar was used as a test ship for sonar equipment.
On 30 April 1946, Solar was docked at Leonardo Pier 1 of the Naval Ammunition Depot at Earle, New Jersey, to offload some ammunition. There were no problems until shortly after 1130 hours, when three explosions tore through the ship near her Number 2 upper ammunition handling rooms. Solar’s Number 2 gun was demolished and the bridge, main battery director, and mast were all blown aft and to starboard. Both sides of the ship were torn open and her deck was a mass of flames. The entire forward end of the ship was nothing but a smashed pile of molten metal. It was amazing that the ship even managed to stay afloat, given the catastrophic damage she sustained. The order to abandon ship came after the second explosion, when what was left of the crew got off of the flaming wreck. But the enormous explosions killed 165 men and wounded 65 others.
Salvage work on Solar began as soon as the flames were out, at around 1500 hours. Her demolished superstructure was cut off to prevent her from capsizing. The wrecked hulk was towed to New York where she was decommissioned on 21 May 1946. USS Solar was then stripped of all usable equipment, towed 100 miles to sea, and sunk on 9 June 1946.
This ship made it through World War II without a scratch, only to be blown to pieces shortly after the end of the war. Accidents like this make it painfully clear that major disasters can occur to naval vessels in peacetime as well as wartime.