There are plenty of cases of historical vessel making their way up the Thames River, and today's featured auction item shows one such ship in a New London port: the destroyer that would go on to be the first American warship to sink a U-boat in World War II.
This envelope commemorates the visit of the USS Roper to New London and is postmarked June 19, 1937. It is offered by Michael Hebert, a member of the Universal Ship Cancellation Society. This organization specializes in the collection of naval covers and postmarks from all maritime services.
The Roper was built in Philadelphia, launched in 1918, and commissioned in 1919. The destroyer measured just over 135 feet and was named for Lt. Commander Jesse M. Roper of the ship Petrel. When the Petrel's sail room caught fire in 1901 while it was in the Phillipines during the Spanish-American War, Roper twice went into the burning area - including once to rescue a trapped sailor - and died of suffocation.
The destroyer did not see much action at first, sailing in the Pacific and sitting in a berth for eight years after it was decommissioned just three years after it was commissioned. The destroyer came back to action in 1930 and this naval cover would have been produced shortly after the Roper was reassigned to the Atlantic fleet, sailing from California for the new duties in February of 1937.
The Roper was involved in exercises along the Atlantic seaboard and was assigned to New England patrols in March of 1940. In one October 1940 incident, the destroyer ran aground in the Groton harbor while conducting exercises with submarines.
After the United States joined World War II, the Roper became involved in patrol, escort, and convoy duties. It was on the evening of April 13-14, 1942, that the destroyer, under Lt. Commander H.W. Howe, picked up a vessel on its radar and surprised the surfaced U-85 off the coast of North Carolina. The Roper was able to put a searchlight on the submarine and open fire with its deck guns.
By some accounts, the first encounter sent some 40 German sailors diving for cover into the water and marooned them there as the U-85 submerged. They were killed when the Roper dropped 11 depth charges to ensure the destruction of the submarine.
The destroyer had an active service after that, sailing to numerous parts of the globe and earning four battle stars. The Roper would help land troops in Italy and France in 1944 before she was again ordered to the Pacific. A Japanese kamikaze plane damaged the destroyer on May 25, 1945.
That attack would help ensure that the Roper's work would end with the conclusion of the war. The Navy halted repair work upon Japan's surrender in August of 1945, decommissioned the ship again the next month, and sold it for scrap. The Roper was broken down in 1946.
Herbert says the cover is one of a kind, marked "#1 of one made" on the reverse. The asking price is $3.50 plus $1.50 for shipping. The auction ends at about 10:43 a.m. on Wednesday.