Backyard Sheds

WWII historical gem in our backyard


By Melanie Lekocevic

Capital Region Independent Media

Volunteer Charles Starks, from the USS Slater Museum, conducting a historical program at the RCS Community Library. Melanie Lekocevic/Capital Region Independent Media

RAVENA — There is a historical gem just minutes from Ravena that can bring the experiences of American sailors to life — the USS Slater, docked in Albany.

The RCS Community Library recently held a program to share the background and restoration of the destroyer escort, which made five roundtrips between the U.S., England and Wales in the latter half of the war.

For those who want to experience the USS Slater for themselves, the library offers passes for two adults and two children to visit the escort free of charge to all library card holders.

During the program at the library, USS Slater volunteer Charles Starks shared the background of the ship and the restoration efforts that started in the 1990s. Starks conducts the hour to hour-and-a-half tours of the ship.

“I try to show people what it was like to live and work and fight on board a ship that size,” Starks said.

Destroyer escorts were used between 1943 and 1945 to escort convoys of merchant ships across the Atlantic Ocean, bringing supplies to America’s allies.

“In World War II, the Germans were planning on using their submarines, called U-boats, to cut off supplies to England,” Starks explained. “They realized they couldn’t cross the English Channel in the face of the Royal Navy, so they decided they would starve the English out.”

So, the Germans began attacking merchant ships to cut off their supplies, to both the military and civilians.

“The British responded by putting all the merchant ships into convoys, so there were big groups of convoys, which are easier to defend, and they were all in one place if they were found, but the Atlantic is a big ocean and it was hard to find these convoys,” Starks said.

Ships like the USS Slater were sent to escort the merchant ships so supplies could safely make their way across the ocean, beginning in January 1943.

Before that, the Germans were actually winning the war and sinking ships faster than the Allies could rebuild them. By the spring of 1943, Allied technology advanced and that represented a pivotal shift in the war, Starks said.

“From the spring of ’43, the Germans started losing and we started sinking U-boats faster than they could replace them, and that was really the turning point of the war,” he said. “Eventually, the Germans pulled most of their U-boats out of the Atlantic because they were suffering too many losses, and they never recovered.”

Throughout the war, the U.S. built 563 destroyer escorts similar to the USS Slater.

One of the unique features of the destroyer escort was its “dazzle camouflage,” which was painted on the outside of the ship.

“It’s designed to throw off the calculations of the U-boat captain,” Starks said. “He is looking through a very small optical view to try to aim a torpedo. The torpedo will take one, two, maybe more minutes to get to its target. In order to accurately aim that torpedo, that U-boat captain has to be able to correctly estimate the target’s force, range and speed to get the torpedo to arrive at the same place. The theory was that by breaking up the outline of the ship, it was going to make it more likely for him to miscalculate one of those factors.”

During its five roundtrips between the U.S., England and Wales, the USS Slater never lost a merchant ship.

After the war, the ship remained at sea performing occupation duties, and was then held in storage between 1946 and 1951. After that, it was given to the Greek Navy.

“This was part of the Truman Doctrine, where we let other countries have our equipment to help rebuild their militaries, which had been decimated during World War II,” Starks said.

The USS Slater was renamed Aetos, the Greek word for “eagle,” and served with the Greek Navy for 40 years, becoming their flagship vessel.

The ship was decommissioned in 1991 and was slated to be scrapped, but it was selected for restoration by the Destroyer Escort Sailor’s Association and made the return trip back to the States.

Restoration and maintenance is an ongoing project.

“We have a very dedicated group of maintenance and restoration people who do that work, and are fantastic at what they do,” Starks said.

The USS Slater Museum offers tours from April through November, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Free passes are available at the RCS Community Library, 95 Main St., Ravena.

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