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Fred Louis Brown - Lone Survivor USS Asheville

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The Story of Fred Louis Brown

Fireman Second Class, United States Navy

Hometown - Fort Wayne, Indiana

Fred Louis Brown - Only Survivor of USS Asheville PG-21

Fred Louis Brown

Fireman Second Class

United States Navy

Service Number 2916833

USS Asheville (PG-21) sunk March 3, 1942 south of Java

Lone survivor of the sinking of the USS Asheville

Died as a POW - CAMP 575 -              
                            Java POW Camps D.X.Y. (Batavia) Java 6-107

Fort Wayne - Allen CountyIndiana

DOD – March 1945

Remains Recovered and returned to Indiana 1947


Father:  Owen W. Brown; 2323 Glenwood Street; Fort Wayne; Indiana

Fred Louis Brown was born to Caucasian parents, Owen W. and Lilly B. Wheeler Brown, 2323 Glenwood Street; Fort Wayne in Allen County Indiana. He was the youngest of six children. Irene was born in 1910, and died in 1994; Harriet M., born 1913, died 2003; Charles J., born 1914, died 2005; twins, Otis (male) and Leota (female) born 1915, he died in 1999, she died 1988; and Sanford E., born 1918 and died 1970. Irene’s married name was DeBolt, Harriet’s was Longardner and Leota’s was Wanas.


My research has not led me to the conclusion that he was drafted into the military or that he enlisted voluntarily. After his enlistment he was stationed in the South Pacific patrolling the Yangtze River in pre-war 1941.


History 1940 to 1945

From the Walter Ashe Collection


In November 1940 the Asheville was ordered from China to the Philippines, as war seemed imminent.  En route her engines were disabled and on 4 November she was towed by her sister ship TULSA and later the minesweeper BITTERN who took her to the Cavite Navy Yard.  On May 24, 1941 the Asheville returned to Hong Kong, B.C.C on June 30 she proceeded to Swatow, China and on July 1, 1941 departed for Amoy, China.  On July 5 Asheville departed Amoy en route to Hong Kong but had engine trouble in a typhoon.  On the 7th cruiser Marblehead took her in tow and headed for Manila.  On the 9th of July the tow was transferred to the NAPA and they reached Cavite Navy Yard on July 11th


When the Japanese took the Philippines, the Asheville and her sister ship Tulsa was ordered to Surabaya, Java.  In a tense voyage of 2000 miles in 12 days and sailing only at night, hiding in little island coves, etc. during the day, these little gunboats escaped the large Japanese Naval and Air force that by the had spread all over the far east. 


Later the Asheville was ordered to Tjilatjap, java and remained there doing escort duty until March 1, 1942 when her participation in the defense of the Dutch East Indies was declared hopeless and she received her last order to proceed to Australia as the Japanese overwhelmingly closed their pincers on the remainder of the once formidable Asiatic Fleet. 


The ships were supposed to rendezvous at a point approximately 500 miles SW of Tjilatjap and the Asheville with her sister ship Tulsa was moving in that direction.  On March 2, 1942 they were spotted by a Japanese shipboard seaplane and decided to split up to lessen the chances of both being caught. The Asheville proceeded on to the rendezvous point as her engines were giving her trouble and could not keep up.  Possibly, she thought, at the rendezvous point, other Asiatic Fleet ships would be there to join up with for safety.  Actually no other ship went to the rendezvous point. The order had been radioed in a simple code due to the man nationalities involved with the Allied Forces, and for that reason the other shop captains feared that the Japanese would pick up the message and await them at that point. That was exactly what happened to the Asheville. On March 3 the Tulsa received the following message 03833 ASHEVILLE ATTACKED 12-33s-111-35-E RRRR. The series R’s indicated that the attacker was a surface raider and neither a submarine nor aircraft. 


Later research revealed that the Japanese ships were: destroyers Arashi (Cdr. Yasumasa Watanabe), Nowake (Cdr. Magotaro Koga) and the cruiser Maya (Capt. Shunsku Nabeshima).  The destroyers attacked with gunfire but the cruiser just stood by.  In 30 minutes the battle was over. The Asheville riddled with exploding shells, her once proud structure torn to shreds, sank beneath the oceans crest. 


After the ship had sunk, one or two of the destroyers came by the survivors in the water and at first called out “if there were any officers in the water”, receiving no reply, one ship threw over a line. Fireman Fred Brown from Ft. Wayne, Indiana grabbed the line and was taken onboard the destroyer. This was presumably to identify the ship they had sunk. Brown was taken to the Japanese prison camp at Makassar, Celebes. The prison was; CAMP 575 - Java POW Camps D.X.Y. (Batavia) Java 6-107.


There he suffered untold hardships, until he died three years later from Pellagra, heart trouble and dysentery. He was returned to the U.S. in 1947 for final burial in his hometown of Ft. Wayne, Indiana


No other members of the crew were rescued and all were machine gunned and left in the shark infested water to drown.


USS Asheville (PG-21).  Gunboat.  1,270 tons; 241 ft; 12 knots; 162 men; 3- 4", 9- 1" guns.
Commissioned in 1920. Served on Yangtze River patrol, with Panay (PR-5) and sister ship Tacloban (PG-22), from 1920 to 1941; then variously in China and Philippines until Ashville was sunk south of Java, Netherlands, East Indies on her way to Australia on March 3, 1942, in a surface action S. of Java.


Indiana sailors on the USS Asheville (PG-21) were:


DeForest Dye, SK3, of Chicago, Illinois but enlisted in the navy at Valparaiso, Indiana

Mother:  Geneva Gordon; 4500 N. Malden Ave Chicago.


Ralph E McCoy, GM3; 750 Webster; Kokomo, Indiana

Parents:  Mr. and Mrs. Marshall McCoy, Kokomo, Indiana


Walter Leland White, MM2C

Parents:  Mr. and Mrs. Cassius Harrison White; RR 3; Princeton, Indiana