USS Blakeley (DD-150): Two Ships Became One- A Triumph of Engineering

By Bonner, Kit | Sea Classics, July 1999 | Go to article overview

USS Blakeley (DD-150): Two Ships Became One- A Triumph of Engineering


Bonner, Kit, Sea Classics


With her bow blown off by a U-boat torpedo, in less crucial times the four-stack destroyer BLAKELEY would have been scrapped.

But in 1942 the critical shortage of warships forced the United States Navy to utilize any ship that could be salvaged. In BLAKELEY's case she was astutely mated with her rusty bow of a derelict sisterand returned to the war that nearly scuttled her!

The USS BLAKELEY (DD-150) was one of many World War I assembly line destroyers built to counter the German U-boat threat. As the United States entered the war late, the BLAKELEY, like many of her sisters never saw combat. She was launched on 19 September 1918, and not placed in commission until 8 May 1919, six months after the Armistice. The BLAKELEY was a "four piper or flush decker" a design unique to the US Navy. She displaced 1154 tons, carried a main battery of four 4" 50cal. guns and twelve 21 torpedo tubes in four triple-mounts. She could make 35-plus knots, and was a sight to see at full power. Many still consider service aboard one of these ships as the best training ground for destroyer sailors as they demanded much from their crews and required a high degree of seamanship. Life aboard was harsh but rewarding. Creature comforts were at a premium, and today's sailor lives in more luxurious accommodations than the captain of a four stacker.

MILITARY BUDGET CUTS AND DRAW-DOWNS HAVE A LONG HISTORY

Unfortunately, the Navy faced extreme draw-downs and budget cuts in the immediate period after World War I, and many of these graceful ships practically sailed from launching to mothballs. The BLAKELEY was no exception, and although she was an active unit of the Atlantic Fleet for three years, on 29 June 1922 she went into reserve at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Coincidentally, a sister ship, the USS TAYLOR (DD-94), which had her beginnings at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard on the other side of the United States, was placed out of commission during the same month in Philadelphia. The TAYLOR, or at least part of her, would figure prominently in the future of the BLAKELEY.

The Navy attempted to keep as much of the destroyer force active as funds would permit by using rotating crews and providing minimal upkeep. The ships were used for a number of different tasks such as being part of the "rum runner" enforcement fleet of the Coast Guard. They were also used as remote-control targets and for experimental purposes such as carrying a scout plane. This was short lived. Unfortunately, most found their way into various "red lead row" reserve anchorage's, the most famous being the San Diego Destroyer Base. The BLAKELEY was one of those selected and sealed for a decade-long period of inactivity. For ten years, the BLAKELEY rusted and provided a home for sea birds, but in 1932 and up through 1937 she was active again in the Scouting Fleet. Laid up for a second time in 1937, she emerged again in 1939, and was recommissioned. She joined the fast expanding Neutrality Patrol in the dark uncertain period known as "short of war." Her area of operation was the Caribbean where she escorted troop transports and provided general convoy protection. At the same time, a sister destroyer, the TAYLOR had been

decommissioned and was being used as a training hulk for damage control parties at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. She now held the inglorious designation of Damage Control Hulk No. 40.

THE OLD DESTROYER SURVIVES A GERMAN TORPEDO

On 25 May 1942, the BLAKLEY was steaming just off Martinique when at 0850 she altered course to investigate a sound contact. It was quickly determined that the contact was bogus and probably a school of blackfish. Just as the ship was again settling down on her previous course, a submarine launched torpedo hit her between frames 18 and 24 about four feet below the water line. The impact was so great that the forward 60 feet of the tin can was blown off, and there was immediate and real concern about her survival.

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