Hoel sailed from San Francisco Bay 16 August 1943 for shakedown training in operating areas out of San Diego during which she made seven depth charge runs on an underwater sound contact with unknown results. After returning to Mare Island Navy Yard 17 September for final alterations, she cleared San Francisco 26 October as a part of the screen for a convoy which reached Pearl Harbor 31 October 1943 where Hoel reported to Captain A. G. Cook, Commander of Destroyer Squadron 47, who then shifted his flag to her from Heermann.
Fifth Fleet, which was then preparing to take the Gilbert Islands in Operation Galvanic, assigned Hoel to Admiral Richmond K. Turner’s Northern attack force, TF 52. She joined destroyers Morris, Franks and Hughes and minesweeper Revenge in guarding Air Support Group 52.3 composed of escort carriers Liscome Bay, Coral Sea and Corregidor.
Hoel sortied from Pearl Harbor with her group 10 November and guarded her “baby flattops” as their planes pounded Makin in a dawn pre-invasion attack 20 November 1943. For the next three days torpedo bombers and fighters from Air Support Group 52.3 supported Major General Ralph C. Smith’s 27th Infantry Division as it struggled to take Makin. Thousands of bombs and countless rounds from the guns on these planes smashed Japanese troop concentrations, gun emplacements, and shore installations on the beleaguered island. Before dawn 24 November, a torpedo fired by Japanese submarine I-175 struck Liscome Bay amidships and lookouts on the fantail of Coral Sea spotted the wake of a second torpedo which barely missed their ship. Bluejackets on board Hoel saw smoke and flame rise at least a thousand feet when the torpedo ripped into Liscome Bay and detonated her bomb magazine. Rear Admiral Henry M. Mullinnix, commander of the Air Support Group, Captain Irving D. Wiltsie and 642 officers and men perished with the ill-fated carrier which slipped beneath the surface some 23 minutes later after spewing smoke, flame and red-hot plane parts for miles around. The group’s destroyers rescued 272 survivors. At dusk the following day, Thanksgiving, Japanese planes spotted Rear Admiral Turner’s task force steaming a few miles off Butaritari Island and dropped both float and parachute flares on each side of his ships to light them up as targets for 13 torpedo bombers, which swooped in to attack. However, spirited gunnery and perfectly timed radical simultaneous turns enabled the American vessels to thwart the attackers by escaping without suffering a single hit.
When the escort carriers cleared the area at night 27 November 1943, Hoel joined the screen protecting Abe-mama Group I which was unloading on the island of that name. The next morning the rejoined Rear Admiral Turner’s task force and arrived off Tarawa on 1 December for antisubmarine patrol five miles off the lagoon entrance. Two days later she joined the escort for battleship Tennessee and a group of transports sailing for Pearl Harbor where they arrived on 11 December 1943. Captain A. G. Cook, commander of Destroyer Souadron 47 shifted his flag from Hoel to McCord on 14 December 1943.
Hoel, with fleet units of the Fifth Amphibious Force, began intensive training for the invasion of the Marshall Islands. Departed Pearl Harbor 23 January 1944 with the transport screen of Reserve Force, T.G. 51.1 which steamed east of Kwalalein while Rear Admiral Turner’s Joint Expeditionary Force landed on that atoll on 31 January 1944. Hoel escorted the group’s transports into Kwajalein Lagoon on 2 February, and the following day took station as a radar picket patrol south of Kwajalein, where she also was on call for gunfire support. On 6 February she accompanied Miller (DD 535) on a tour of inspection in the Roi-Namur area for Admiral Nimitz.
When Task Forces 51 and 53 dissolved and their ships reverted to Task Force 51, Hoel was assigned to Fire Support Section 3. TU 51, 17.3 of the Eniwetok Expeditionary Group. In the early morning darkness of 17 February Hoel reentered Eniwetok Lagoon with cruiser Portland to bombard Parry and Japtan Islands. Hoel picked up several aviators from a wrecked scout plane from cruiser Indianapolis and returned them to their ship. That afternoon Hoel’s guns destroyed several small craft on the beach of Parry Island and fired on pillboxes and troop concentrations inland. She then anchored in standby position while the rest of the force bombarded the two islands. The next day Hoel took her turn at providing harassing fire and at night illuminated the beaches and the reef to prevent enemy troop movements. Just before daybreak 19 February she took station off Eniwetok for close fire support of the initial landings. When relieved by destroyer Phelps 21 February, Hoel steamed to a position off the deep entrance to Eniwetok Lagoon for patrol duty which continued until 26 February, when she embarked a fighter-director team from destroyer Hazelwood and assumed duties of standby fighter-director for the Eniwetok area. On 4 March 1944, two days later after the attack and occupation phase of Eniwetok was completed, the fighter-director team was transferred to the attack transport Cambria, freeing Hoel to depart for Majuro for repairs.
Hoel, in company with three other destroyers of DesRon 47, reported to Commander Third Fleet at Purvis Bay, Florida Island, 18 March 1944. The next day she cleared that port to join Task Force 39, but on 20 March she was ordered to change course for Emirau Island, which was then being occupied by marines. On 25 March 1944 destroyers Trathen and Johnston joined Hoel and the rest of DesRon 47 uniting the squadron for the first time.
Hoel then patrolled south and east of Cape Botiangen, New Hanover, where her guns destroyed an enemy warehouse on 26 March 1944, and, the next day, captured documents which contained valuable information from a 40-foot outrigger canoe. That night she made four depth charge runs on an underwater sound contact with unknown results. She returned to Purvis Bay on 8 April 1944 to screen a convoy carrying troops and supplies to Emirau Island.
Upon her return to Purvis Bay 14 April 1944, Hoel reported for duty to Rear Admiral R. W. Hayler, the commander of Cruiser Division 12, who kept her busy with training exercises and convoy duty until 14 August, when she was assigned to the Third Amphibious Force then preparing for the invasion of the Palaus. She joined escort carrier Kitkun Bay at Espiritu Santo on 24 August 1944 for passage to Purvis Bay. On 6 September, they put to sea for the Palau Islands with Rear Admiral W. D. Sample’s escort carrier task force unit to provide air support during the invasion of Peleliu. While continuing to screen the escort carriers, Hoel rescued a pilot and passenger from a plane that had splashed on attempting to take off from Ommaney Bay and transferred them to Marcus Island. On 1 October 1944, Hoel made three depth charge runs on an underwater sound contact with unknown results.
After replenishing at Seeadler Harbor, Manus, Admiralty Islands, Hoel cleared that base with a fire support group 12 October 1944 to join Rear Admiral Thomas L. Sprague’s escort carrier group (Task Group 77.4) in invading the Philippines. Sprague’s force was composed of three units, each comprising a group of escort carriers and a screen of destroyers and destroyer escorts. These units, known by their radio calls as the “Three Taffys,” began operating off Samar on 18 October 1944 to cover the landings on Leyte. Hoel was attached to “Taffy 3” (Escort Carrier Task Unit 77.4.3) commanded by Rear Admiral Clifton A. F. Sprague and comprising four escort carriers guarded by destroyers Hoel, Heermann and Johnston. Before the decisive battle off Samar, Taffy 3 was reinforced by the arrival of Admiral R. A. Oftsie with two more escort carriers and four destroyer escorts, Dennis, John C. Butler, Raymond and Samuel B. Roberts.
Dawn of 25 October 1944 found Taffy 3 steaming northeast of Samar operating as the Northern Air Support Group. “Taffy 2” was in the central position patrolling off the entrance to Leyte Gulf, and “Taffy 1” covered the southern approaches to the Gulf some 130 miles to the southeast of Hoel’s Taffy 3. Admiral T. L. Sprague was under the erroneous impression that Admiral Halsey’s Third Fleet was providing protection to the north and so was taken by surprise when, at 0645, Taffy 3’s lookouts observed antiaircraft fire to the northward and within three minutes were under heavy fire from Kurita’s powerful Center Force of 4 battleships, 6 heavy cruisers, 2 light cruisers, and 11 destroyers.
The only chance for survival of the little group of American “jeep” carriers and “tin cans” lay in fleeing to the south, hoping that aid would arrive before their complete destruction. While the carriers launched all available planes to attack their numerous Japanese adversaries and then formed a rough circle as they turned toward Leyte Gulf, Hoel and her fellow destroyers Johnston and Heermann, worked feverishly to lay down a smoke screen to hide their “baby flattops” from the overwhelmingly superior enemy ships. At 0706, when a providential rain squall helped to hide his carriers, Admiral Clifton Sprague boldly ordered his destroyers to attack the Japanese with torpedoes. Hoel instantly obeyed this order by heading straight for the nearest enemy battleship, Kongo, then 18,000 yards away. When she had closed to 14,000 yards, she opened fire as she continued her race toward the smoking muzzles of Kongo’s 14-inch guns. A hit on her bridge, which knocked out all voice radio communication, did not deflect her from her course toward the enemy until she had launched a half salvo of torpedoes at a range of 9,000. Although Hoel’s “fish” all failed to strike their target, they caused Kongo to lose ground in her pursuit of the carriers by forcing her to turn sharply left and to continue to move away from her quarry until they had run their course. Minutes later Hoel suffered hits which knocked out three of her guns, stopped her port engine, and deprived her of her Mark 37 fire control director, FD radar and bridge steering control. Undaunted, Hoel turned to engage the enemy column of heavy cruisers. When she had closed to within 6,000 yards of the leading crusier, Haguro, the fearless destroyer launched a half-salvo of torpedoes which ran “hot, straight and normal.” This time she was rewarded by the sight of large columns of water, which rose from her target. Although Japanese records deny that these torpedoes hit the cruiser, there is no evidence to indicate any other explanation for the geyser effect observed.
Hoel now found herself crippled and surrounded by enemies. Kongo was only 8,000 yards off her port beam and the heavy cruiser column was some 7,000 yards off her port quarter. During the next hour, the valiant ship rendered her final service by drawing enemy fire to herself and away from the carriers. In the process of fish-tailing and chasing salvos, she demanded the attention of her antagonists by peppering them with her two remaining guns. Finally, at 0830, after withstanding over 40 hits, an 8-inch shell stilled her remaining engine. With her engine room under water, her No. 1 magazine ablaze, and the ship listing heavily to port and settling by the stern, Hoel’s stouthearted captain, Commander Leon S. Kinterberger, reluctantly ordered his crew to “prepare to abandon ship.” The Japanese fire at the doomed ship continued as her surviving officers and men went over the side and only stopped at 0855 when Hoel rolled over and sank in 4,000 fathoms.
Only 86 of Hoel’s complement survived while 253 officers and men died with their ship. Commander Kinterberger described the incomparably courageous devotion to duty of the men of the Hoel in a seaman’s epitaph to the action: “Fully cognizant of the inevitable result of engaging such vastly superior forces, these men performed their assigned duties coolly and efficiently until their ship was shot from under them.”