On September 17, 1922, U.S. Lt Commander Halsey Powell made the following entry into the diary of the USS Edsall:
“Bodies can be seen daily floating around the harbor. The smell of burning flesh is at all time noticeable.”
The diary as well as the catastrophic events in Smyrna are covered extensively in Don M. Kehn’s book titled, “A Blue Sea of Blood; Deciphering the Mysterious Fate of the USS Edsall.”
Arriving in Constantinople on June 28, the Edsall joined the U.S. Naval Detachment in Turkish waters to protect American lives and interests. Meanwhile, the Near East was in turmoil due to civil strife in Russia and Greece at war with Turkey.
The Edsall did much for international relations by helping nations to alleviate postwar famine in eastern Europe, evacuating refugees, furnishing a center of communications for the Near East and all the while standing by for emergencies.
The Turks had set fire to the port city of Smyrna on September 13. Soldiers lit four fires around the perimeter of the city’s Armenian neighborhood. Thereafter the flames spread and engulfed much of the city, leaving hundreds of thousands of helpless refugees — mainly Greeks — to flee to the waterfront.
Edsall was one of the American destroyers that evacuated several thousands.
On September 14, 1922 the ship took 607 refugees off Litchfield (DD-336) in Smyrna and transported them to Thessaloniki, returning to Smyrna on September 16 to act as flagship for the naval forces there. In October, the Edsall carried refugees again, this time from Smyrna to the nearby island of Lesvos.
Boston University Professor Lou Ureneck thoroughly investigates the history of the Smyrna catastrophe in his 2015 book, titled The Great Fire.
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