Leopold DE-319.jpg
USS Leopold (DE-319) launching at Orange, Texas on 12 June 1943
United States
Name: USS Leopold
Namesake: Robert Lawrence Leopold
Builder: Consolidated Steel Corporation, Orange, Texas
Laid down: 24 March 1943
Launched: 12 June 1943
Sponsored by: Ms. Helen S. Leopold
Commissioned: 18 October 1943
Fate: Sunk by enemy action on 10 March 1944
General characteristics
Class and type: Edsall-class destroyer escort
  • 1,253 long tons (1,273 t) (standard)
  • 1,590 long tons (1,620 t) (full load)
Length: 306 ft (93 m)
Beam: 36.58 ft (11.15 m)
Draft: 10.42 ft (3.18 m) full load
Installed power: 6,000 shp (4,500 kW)
Speed: 21 kn (24 mph; 39 km/h)
Range: 9,700 nmi (11,200 mi; 18,000 km) at 12 kn (14 mph; 22 km/h)
Complement: 8 officers, 201 enlisted

USS Leopold (DE-319) was an Edsall-class destroyer escort built for the United States Navy during World War II. Named for Ensign Robert Lawrence Leopold (who served aboard the battleship Arizona and was killed during the Attack on Pearl Harbor), she was the only U.S. Naval vessel to bear the name.

Leopold was laid down on 24 March 1943 by the Consolidated Steel Corporation of Orange, Texas; launched on 12 June 1943; sponsored by Ms. Helen S. Leopold, sister of Ensign Leopold; and commissioned on 18 October 1943, Lieutenant Commander Kenneth C. Phillips, U.S. Coast Guard, in command.


After structural firing tests at Galveston, Texas she departed for New Orleans. On 7 November, she proceeded to Great Sound, Bermuda where shakedown exercises were begun. On 9 December, she left for Charleston, South Carolina and 11 days of post-shakedown availability.

After four days of training exercises for officers and her nucleus crew for new destroyer escorts in the Chesapeake Bay area, Leopold stood out of Thimble Shoal Channel on 24 December 1943 as part of Task Force 61 (TF 61), escorting convoy UGS-68 to the Mediterranean. On 30 December, Leopold was directed to go to the rear of the convoy and search for a seaman reported lost overboard from one of the convoy ships. It was very dark and fairly rough, so, unless the seaman had on a life jacket with a light, the chances of finding him were slight. After 45 minutes, she discontinued the search. The convoy reached the Straits of Gibraltar on 10 January and was turned over to British escorts. Leopold moored at Casablanca the next day. On 13 January, she commenced patrolling as anti-submarine screen across the Atlantic side of the Straits of Gibraltar, TF 61 forming a line to prevent U-boats from entering the Mediterranean. On 15 January, she moored at Gibraltar, and the following day, proceeded out of the inner harbor to close up the stragglers on west-bound convoy GUS-27. On 1 February, a northwesterly gale caused the convoy to scatter and much time was consumed rounding up stragglers. Leopold arrived at New York on 4 February for ten days availability at the Navy Yard. From 14–27 February, Leopold — with other escorts of Escort Division 22 (CortDiv 22) — underwent training exercises at Casco Bay, Maine.

Departing New York on 1 March on her second voyage, Leopold took her screening station — as part of CortDiv 22 — with the 27-ship convoy CU-16 bound for the British Isles. On 8 March, she reported an HF/DF intercept which indicated an enemy submarine on the route of the convoy. The route was consequently altered. On 9 March, while south of Iceland, she reported a radar contact at 19:50 at 8,000 yd (7,300 m), which placed it 7 mi (11 km) south of the convoy at 57°37′0″N 26°30′0″W / 57.61667°N 26.50000°W / 57.61667; -26.50000. Assisted by the destroyer escort Joyce (Captained by Lt. Comdr. R. Wilcox, U.S. Coast Guard), Leopold was ordered to intercept. General Quarters was sounded and orders were issued to "fire on sight." A flare was released and gun crew strained to sight the submarine in the lighted area. The U-boat was almost submerged when spotted and the gun crews had to work blind. Leopold was struck by an acoustic torpedo fired from the German submarine U-255. Shortly after the torpedo strike, the crew of Leopold began to abandon ship as she broke in half.

Joyce rescued 28 survivors at the close of the action; 171 others were lost through the explosion on board, drowning, and - most of all - cold water immersion. Leopold's bow remained afloat until early the next morning until sunk as a hazard to navigation by gunfire from Joyce 400 miles south of Iceland.

The book

In 2017 Lyons Press published Never to Return by Randall Peffer and Col. Robert Nersasian. Through the use of extensive interviews with survivors of Leopold, Joyce, and the German submarine U-255, the book tells the story of the battle and the struggles of the 28 men who survived. The book also resolves unanswered questions about why it took Joyce so long to begin rescuing the crew of Leopold from the icy water. Col. Nersasian's brother Sparky was one of the 28 survivors.


  • This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. The entry can be found here.
  • "Leopold". Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. Retrieved 23 March 2007.
  • "USS Leopold (DE-319)". Destroyer Escort Photo Archive. Retrieved 23 March 2007.
  • "USS Leopold (DE-319)". U. S. Coast Guard Historian's Office. Archived from the original on 13 May 2007. Retrieved 23 March 2007.