US Destroyers in WWI


USS Wilkes enroute to Europe, June 1917



This article does not attempt to cover the complete history of the US destroyers in WWI, but focuses on the destroyers that appear on postcards from my collection.


World War One broke out between Britain and Germany in August 1914. Tensions between the United States and Germany became more strained as the war progressed. In early 1917 it was decided that US Rear Admiral W.S. Sims (President of the Naval War College) would be sent to England to consult secretly with the British Admiralty. He and his aide, in civilian clothes, set sail on board the American liner New York for Liverpool on March 31, 1917. On April 6, 1917, while they were still at sea, the United States declared war on Germany. Three days later while still at sea the New York hit a mine. This did not sink the ship, and the ship arrived on time in Liverpool, England.


New York in drydock showing mine damage



On meeting the British Admiralty it was recommended that destroyers and light surface craft be sent to Queenstown, Ireland to help protect commerce near the coast of Great Britain and France. The US government decided to send these six destroyers first:



The six arrived at Queenstown, Ireland. The Queenstown Command was setup to cover all the western approaches of Ireland, the Irish Sea, St. Georges Channel, Bristol Channel, and entrance to the English Channel.


Between May 1917 and November 1918, there were 92 U.S. ships in the Queenstown Command:


2 destroyer tenders (Melville and Dixie)

47 destroyers

1 submarine tender

7 submarines

1 mystery or Q ship (Santee)

30 subchasers

1 minelayer

3 tugs


The destroyers had three specific missions: destroy enemy submarines protect and escort merchantmen, and to save the crews and passengers of torpedoed ships.


The stern of a US destroyer, showing the depth charge launchers and rails.



An example of a typical deployment of a US destroyer is the USS Cummings. She sailed for Queenstown on May 15, 1917 and arrived May 26. She made contact with German submarines 14 times. She served on anti-submarine patrols and escort duty off the coast of France. The USS Cummings left the coast of France on December 15, 1918 .


The troop transport Leviatian (left) and the USS Cummings (right) during WWI.


The officers of the USS Cummings with and without their hats, September 1918.


The officers of the USS Cummings, c. Febuary 1, 1918.


There seem to be a large number of accidents that occurred with the US destroyers operating out of Queenstown. Some of the resulting damages appear to show up on postcards from the period.


The USS Benham collided with the HMS Zinnia August 21,1917. The September 1989 magazine issue of Sea Classics captions the picture on the below right as the Benham after collision with the destroyer Jarvis in July 1918, but I think the postcard shows the destroyer after the collision with the Zinnia in 1917.


USS Benham damaged



On October 16. 1917, the USS Cassin sighted the German submarine U-61 about 20 miles south of Mind Head. Ireland. At 1330, Cassin was struck in her port side, aft, by a torpedo. One man was killed, nine wounded, her rudder was blown off and stern extensively damaged. She began to circle. This did not prevent her from firing four rounds at the submarine when she spotted its conning tower at 1430. The submarine, thus discouraged from further attack, submerged and was not contacted again. Through the night, an American and two British destroyers guarded Cassin, and in the morning, HMS Snowdrop took Cassin in tow for Queenstown. After repairs there and at Newport, England, Cassin returned to escort duty on 2 July 1918.


The USS Cassin in port after being hit by a torpedo.



The USS Manley was damaged by an accident cased by onboard depth charges. On March 19, 1918, while Manley escorted a convoy, a violent explosion, caused by the accidental detonation of her depth charges practically destroyed her stern, killing her executive officer, Lt. Comdr. Richard M. Elliott, Jr., and 88 enlisted men. Fragments pierced two 50-gallon drums of gasoline and two tanks containing 100 gallons of alcohol. The leaking fluids caught fire as they ran along the deck and enveloped the ship in flames, which were not extinguished until late that night.


The USS Manley in harbor after the explosion. Center postcard is mislabeled.



The USS Stockton collided with SS Slieve Bloom near South Sark Light on March 30, 1918. The destroyer had to put into Liverpool for repairs and the merchantman sank.


USS Stockton



On April 25, 1918 a friendly ship rammed the USS Stewart near Brest, France. The postcard below shows what I believe to be from this collision, not by a torpedo listed in the caption on the postcard. An excellent history of the ship can be found at:


USS Stewart in drydock.



The USS Jarvis also served out of Queenstown. Based on my research so far, the USS Jarvis and USS Benham collided in foggy conditions on July 27, 1918.


Different views of the damaged USS Jarvis.



On October 9, 1918 the British liner Aquitania was under escort in the English Channel and the USS Shaw was part of her escort. The Shaw experienced an unfortunate jam of her rudder into the path of the liner. The resulting collision sliced off the bow of the Shaw. The Shaw made it to Portsmouth, England for repairs. She remained there under repair until May 29, 1919 when she sailed for the United States.


USS Shaw damaged after the collision.



The USS Paulding seems to have received some damage to her bow during her service in WWI. I have no information concerning this damage shown below.


“USS Paulding with her bow smashed.”



Just like the USS Paulding, it appears the USS Alywin received damage to her bow. I have no information about this damage, except for the caption of one postcard saying she was rammed.


USS Alywin with bow damage.



The USS Wilkes had her bow badly damaged in a collision with a French patrol craft in a dense fog off Brest. She made it into Davenport for repairs and resumed her duties shortly thereafter.


The US destroyers were successful in sinking one German submarine, the U58. The USS Fanning sank the U58 on November 17, 1917.


Stern of the USS Fanning.


The US lost one destroyer to a German submarine, the USS Jacob Jones. On December 6, 1917 as she steamed independently in the vicinity of the Isles of Scilly, her watch sighted a torpedo wake about a thousand yards distant. The destroyer tried to maneuver to escape but the torpedo struck her starboard side, rupturing her fuel tank. The crew worked courageously to save the ship but as the stern sank, her depth charges exploded. Realizing the situation hopeless, Comdr. Bagley reluctantly ordered the ship abandoned. Eight minutes after being torpedoed, Jacob Jones sank with 64 men still on board. The 38 survivors huddled together on rafts and boats in frigid Atlantic waters off the southwest coast of England. Two of her crew were taken prisoner by the attacking submarine commanded by Kapitan Hans Rose. Amazingly Rose radioed the American base at Queenstown the approximate location and drift of the survivors. Throughout the night of 6 to 7 December British sloop-of-war Camellia and British liner Catalina conducted rescue operations. By 0830 the following morning HMS Insolent picked up the last survivors of Jacob Jones.


USS Jacob Jones


USS Jacob Jones crew after being rescued.


Some other US destroyers serving in WWI (click on ship name or postcard link to see postcard):



The US destroyers in WWI played an important role in operations against Germany. It is an overlooked US contribution to the war effort. The postcards from WWI give an excellent visual record of the US navy. I look forward to discovering new postcard views of US destroyers in WWI.