Immediately upon commencement of hostilities with Japan and Germany in December, Morris with orders and other Ships of DesRon Two proceeded to Charleston Navy Yard. There she was equipped with the first fire control radar to be installed on a destroyer. 1 January 1942, Captain Ainsworth was detached and Captain L.K. Swenson, U.S. Navy—later lost with U.S.S. Juneau (CL52)—took charge as senior officer in the squadron. Morris proceeded to the west coast for duty in the Pacific. Arriving in Pearl Harbor the middle of February she rejoined the remainder of her squadron, which had but recently returned from the first raid on the Marshall Islands.
With the need for destroyers so pressing in our depleted task forces, Morris with DesRon Two (Captain C.P. Cecil, U.S. Navy now had temporary command of the squadron) hastily proceeded to the Coral Sea where she joined the task force under Rear Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher in U.S.S. Lexington (CV2). Captain C.N. Hoover, U.S. Navy, relieved Captain Cecil as commander DesRon Two, and in May Morris participated in the first major battle of the Pacific, the Battle of the Coral Sea, where DesRon Two lost its first ship, Sims. Here in her first engagement, Morris won distinction and set the pattern she was to follow in future battles. Having shot down one plane and damaged two others she went alongside the blazing and exploding Lexington to rescue some 500 survivors under extremely hazardous conditions. Commander H.B. Jarrett, U.S. Navy, then commanding officer of the Morris, received the Navy Cross for the outstanding performance of his ship.
Morris returned to Pearl Harbor for repairs to her superstructure which had been damaged while alongside Lexington. In the face of an impending Japanese assault on Midway these were hurriedly completed and Morris and units of DesRon Two, and Yorktown (CV6), proceeded to assist in repulsing enemy forces in that threatened area. During the subsequent action Yorktown was damaged and sunk while DesRon Two suffered its second loss when torpedoes fired at Yorktown struck Hammann, sinking her. Morris again assisted in rescue work, picking up nearly 500 survivors. In addition she destroyed one enemy plane.
After a short refit in Pearl Harbor during which Commander Jarrett was relieved by Commander C. Jackson, U.S. Navy, who in turn was relieved two months later by Commander R.H. Boyer, U.S. Navy. Morris sailed for the South Pacific area to help cover landing operations on Guadalcanal. Commander A.E. True, U.S. Navy, relieved Captain Hoover, U.S. Navy as Commander DesRon Two during this period. On 15 Sept. the following ships were casualties: Wasp (CV7) sunk; North Carolina (BB55) torpedoed; O’Brien torpedoed. DesRon Two suffered her third loss when the damaged O’Brien later broke in two and sank while enroute Pearl Harbor for repairs.
On 5 October, Morris participated in the Buin-Faisi-Tonolai raid. 22 October, Morris was detailed to make an independent sweep through the Gilbert Islands in search of enemy patrol craft reported near Jaluit. On 24 October in the Gilberts area a large armed merchantman was encountered and taken under fire. Before this engagement could be brought to a successful conclusion, however, enemy intelligence messages, intercepted by the task force commander, disclosed the presence of the Morris and directed planes to concentrate in her area. Morris was recalled immediately and although enemy planes did come in the immediate vicinity and were tracked by ship’s radar into close range, Morris avoided discovery by skillful use of rain squalls and cloud cover.
Two days later, on 25 October, after rejoining her original carrier task force and replenishing ammunition at sea, the Battle of Santa Cruz developed. In this engagement Morris destroyed six enemy aircraft to establish a gunnery record among destroyers in the South Pacific theater, having then destroyed a total of eight Japanese planes, and once again she performed valorous services in rescue operations when she came alongside the sinking Hornet (CV8). Although ammunition aboard the damaged carrier was exploding fiercely and she was being subjected to vicious dive bomb attacks by numerous Japanese planes, Morris rescued 550 survivors before leaving the area. Commander Boyer, commanding officer of Morris, received the Navy Cross in recognition of the praiseworthy performance of officers and men on this occasion.
Needless to say, in each of these wholesale rescues the addition of over 500 men to the destroyer’s normal complement created a problem in management that had to be solved if the ship was to carry out her primary function as a fighting unit in enemy water. All rescued personnel were obliged to remain off topside so that the added weight would not endanger the safety of the ship. Her galley was steadily operating 24 hours a day, feeding men every minute of the hour. Officers and men of ship’s company unstintingly gave away their clothes to the wet and scantily clad surviving men. It seems safe to say that the turnover in wearing apparel was greater aboard Morris than any other ship operating or thereafter to operate in the Pacific. Morris was sent to Espiritu Santo for repairs to her superstructure damaged in the latest rescue operations, and immediately upon completion of these repairs operated with U.S.S. Enterprise (CV6), the only remaining carrier in the Pacific Fleet for the next few months. During this period Captain H.R. Holcomb, U.S. Navy, relieved Commander True as Commander DesRon Two. Morris supported operations in Guadalcanal and for eight weeks was engaged in escorting supply units to the Russell Islands. Finally Morris was relieved by Aaron Ward, which was dive bombed by 32 Japanese planes and sunk the following day.
In May, Morris, now under the command of Commander E.S. Burns, U.S. Navy, was assigned duty in the North Pacific. There she took part in the capture and occupation of Attu Island where she supported landing operations, and later in the occupation of Kiska.
Following the Kiska operation Morris was sent to Navy Yard, Mare Island, where she underwent her first overhaul since commissioning, having steamed over 300,000 miles. After seven weeks in the Navy Yard her availability was shortened to permit her to take part in the coming Central Pacific Campaign, which was to mark this country’s first great step westward. Commander F.T. Williamson, U.S. Navy, relieved Commander Burns and Captain E.A. Solomon, U.S. Navy, relieved Captain Holcomb as Commander DesRon Two. In November 1943, Morris attached to the Air Support Group under Rear Admiral H.M. Mullinnix, U.S. Navy, escorted Liscome Bay, Coral Sea and Corregidor (carriers CVE class) in the Gilbert Islands operation.
In this operation the Liscome Bay exploded and sank with heavy casualties. Morris rescued close to 200 men (many of these seriously wounded), thus bringing her total of rescued survivors to 1,750, not counting the many separate rescues of downed airmen in all carrier operations in which she had been engaged. Not many enemy planes were encountered but Morris brought down a snooper one night by the use of full radar control.
When the Gilbert operations had been brought to a successful conclusion Morris was returned to the West Coast where Commander G.L. Caswell, U.S. Navy, relieved Commander Williamson and Morris, with other units of the Fifth Fleet, spent two weeks in rehearsals for the next campaign in the Central Pacific.
In the Marshall Islands operations Morris, with four cruisers and five other destroyers, was detached from the main body and proceeded to Wotje. On 30 January 1944, D-1 day, Morris led this column of warships in their bombardment mission against the enemy stronghold. Anderson (DD 411) suffered the only casualty of this phase of the operation when she was struck by a six-inch shell from shore batteries. At the same time Morris was straddled by shells from ashore but immediately neutralized four six-inch guns of this battery by rapid fore fire, and escaped damage.
In the afternoon this bombardment group proceeded to Kwajalein atoll where it rendezvoused with the close fire support group off Namur. There Morris was credited with wiping out a Japanese ground force which was counter-attacking our troops from an adjacent island. To perform this task Morris closed the beach to a range under 2,000 yards and delivered rapid, accurate salvo fire, accomplishing her mission in short order.
For the remainder of the campaign Morris escorted light carriers Sangamon, Chenango, Santee and Suwannee to Eniwetok and later to Pearl Harbor.
Her next action against the enemy took place in April 1944, in the southwest Pacific, where she was attached to the covering force for the landing at Hollandia, New Guinea.
Now assigned to the Seventh Fleet she took part in all the landings on western New Guinea. The months of May and June found her rendering fire support for the Toem-Wadke-Sarmi areas, followed closely by the Biak Island operation.
After a brief period of inaction she was next engaged in the Noemfoor Island operations and only several days later participated in the Palau, Yap, Ulithi raid where she escorted carriers for the last time. Within this same week she was back in New Guinea engaged in the Cape Sansapor operation, where she was attached to the covering force.
More than a month passed before the next move was made against the enemy in this theater, but on 15 September, Morris escorted ships up the coast to Morotai Island and rendered close fire support in this operation. Commanding the Morris was Commander R.V. Wheeler, Jr., U.S. Navy, who relieved Commander G.L. Caswell. Captain J.H. Wellings, U.S. Navy, was now commander DesRon Two.
With the Japanese isolated in the whole of western New Guinea and our own forces strategically placed, there was no further need of her services in that theater. Throughout the entire campaign, the stifling heat of New Guinea, the scarcity of normal supplies and provisions, and the lack of ordinary recreation facilities had combined to make that assignment an unpleasant one. The strategy had unquestionably been brilliantly conceived for a tremendous territory was captured and numbers enemy forces rendered harmless by the use of a handful of ships and very little air power. No major opposition was ever encountered, yet each operation was embarked upon with the uneasy feeling that such good fortune could last no longer. Had the Japanese chosen to do so, it is probable that any one of these landings on New Guinea could have been disrupted by one medium-sized attacking naval force.
On 21 October, Morris, with other units of her squadron, arrived at Leyte having escorted the transports which were carrying the first reinforcement group to that area. While off the entrance to Leyte Gulf this task group was subjected to a vigorous torpedo plane attack, which was successfully driven off. For several days the force experienced the new air tactics of the Japanese which were later to be known as Kamikaze Raids. Throughout the next month Morris was busily engaged in escorting troops and supply echelons to and from Leyte. In the Luzon operation, Morris was assigned as screening and fire support ship in the Attack group. For 18 days she patrolled, bombarded and fought off enemy suicide plane attacks in Lingayen Gulf.
This was the most rigorous period experienced up to that time. Air alerts soon became normal occurrences and the ship was at general quarters both day and night for most of the month. Due to the innovation of suicide surface craft, anchoring at night was unsafe. In daytime danger was expected not only from the sky but from beneath every floating piece of debris in the gulf.
On one occasion early in the campaign, Morris got underway several moments before sunrise. A few moments later ships anchored in berths not more than 300 yards from where Morris had been were attacked and seriously damaged by small suicide attack boats.
Morris, always on call for fire support missions, was frequently called upon day and night, without letup, to deliver such support. At the end of this campaign the equivalent service rounds of the five-inch battery totaled nearly 3,000 rounds per gun.
After the Lingayen Gulf landings, Morris was detached from the Seventh Fleet and incorporated into the Fifth Fleet. For the most part of February and March she rehearsed for the coming operations at Okinawa.
In the latter part of March, Captain J.H. Wellings was relieved by Captain J.B. McLean, U.S. Navy, and on 1 April Morris attached to the northern attack force of the Fifth Fleet, arriving at Okinawa where she was assigned to a patrol sector outside the unloading areas.
For the next six days she occupied various sectors as patrol and picket ships encountered numerous air attacks and suicide attempts. Finally on 6 April Morris, for the first time in her crowded and active career, was hit. Near the end of that day, she was struck by a Kamikaze, one of many who were sent down to prepare the way for the Japanese naval force consisting of the battleship Yamato, light cruiser Yahagi and eight destroyers which were then setting out from home waters.
Over a hundred rounds of five-inch shells were fired in a minute and a half of the attack, but the plane, although set on fire, could not be stopped, and crashed into Morris exploding the torpedo or large bomb it had been carrying. For the next two hours intense fires raged throughout the forward part of the ship, fed by gasoline from the crashed plane and powder exploding in Morris’ magazines and handling rooms. With the assistance of U.S.S. Daniel T. Griffin (APD38) and U.S.S Richard P. Leary (DD664), her fires were finally subdued. As a result of this action two officers and twenty-two men were killed; two officers and forty-two men wounded. Many of the dead were not recovered from parts of the ship for weeks afterward, due to flooding of compartments. Recommendations were made for recognition of numerous acts of heroism but it was by the over-all spirit and work of every man aboard that the Morris was saved.
That portion of the bow between frames 27 and 48 had been completely demolished except for the keel. Flooding from the sea and fire hoses had brought the bow down to a draft of 18'3". A large piece of plating protruding on the starboard side created a noticeable drag. Nevertheless only by using a 2/3 ahead on starboard and 1/3 ahead on port with left standard rudder was the ship able to maintain a steady course.
The speed was necessarily slow as the bow was in danger of breaking off. Seven hours later Morris arrived safely in Kerama Retto, where she spent 51 days undergoing temporary repairs to place her in readiness for the return voyage to the west coast. Enemy air attacks, both suicide, diving and bombing, were made daily and nightly in the crowded anchorage where four anchored ships were further damaged. In the latter part of May Morris left Kerama Retto and proceeded to the west coast where work was at once commenced in Hunters Point Naval Dry Docks to prepare her for further action against the enemy.
The final collapse of Japan found the Morris being hastily repaired, but the final surrender changed further work on her. Work was stopped and she was finally decommissioned there after doing a major part in defeating the axis powers.
Source: Harry Bosworth, president, USS Morris Association.