Davis engaged in shaking-down during her first months in commission, during which time the United States entered the Great War, and underwent final trials on 10 April 1917. Only three days later the Secretary of the Navy ordered Division Eight of the Destroyer Force, including Davis, to prepare for distant service. She sailed for New York, clearing the York River on 14 April in company with Wainwright (Destroyer No. 62), Conyngham (Destroyer No. 58), and McDougal (Destroyer No. 54). Wadsworth (Destroyer No. 60) joined en route, and the ships reached New York during the second dog watch on the same date. The following day, Davis began her fitting out, a process that lasted until 22 April. The following day, [23 April] she left New York with McDougal and proceeded to Boston to meet with the remainder of the division including the final ship, Porter (Destroyer No. 54). She arrived and joined the division before it left Boston Harbor on 24 April at 1645. After reaching a point 50 miles east of Cape Cod, Cmdr. Joseph K. Taussig, the division commander in Wadsworth, opened his sealed orders to lead the six destroyers to Queenstown [Cobh], Ireland. Davis and her division would be the first U.S. warships deployed to European waters during World War I.
The destroyers completed their transatlantic voyage on 4 May 1917, and the British destroyer HMS Mary Rose escorted the U.S. destroyers into port at 1245. Cmdr. Taussig met with British Rear Adm. Lewis Bayly, the commanding officer of Queenstown, who asked “When will you be ready to go to sea?” Taussig’s alleged reply, “We are ready now, sir,” entered American naval folklore. While the Americans might have been ready, their ships required work before they engaged in anti-submarine warfare. Over the next few days the American ships were fitted for depth charges.
On 8 May 1917 Davis stood out of Queenstown for her first patrol. Three days later she picked up 22 survivors in two boats from the sailing bark Killarney, that had been sunk without loss of life on 8 May by the German submarine U-21 (Kapitänleutnant Otto Hersing, commanding). Davis disembarked the sailors on 13 May at Queenstown. Later that month, the destroyer was escorting a merchantman when she spotted her first submarine on the horizon 7 miles distant, but her quarry submerged without a trace as she closed.
While Davis was patrolling during the forenoon watch on 17 June 1917, Warrington (Destroyer No. 30) emerged out of a heavy fog half a point off the port bow only 100 yards away. Both warships applied full rudder to avoid each other, but the maneuvers proved too late and a collision ensued, Davis losing a whaleboat and suffering a damaged propeller guard while Warrington received a hole in her port side, damage that compelled her to return to Berehaven, Ireland, for repairs as Davis continued on patrol. Capt. Joel R. P. Pringle, the highest ranking U.S. naval officer at Queenstown, ruled that the often treacherous conditions of patrolling the Western approaches proved responsible for the collision and he did not find either crew at fault. On 23 June, Davis cleared Queenstown on her first convoy mission of the war, and beginning on the 25th she escorted seven troop transports to St. Nazaire along with five other destroyers. The convoy arrived on 28 June without incident.
On the crew’s first Fourth of July overseas, Davis located and rescued survivors from the British steamer Thirlby, sunk two days earlier [2 July 1917] by UC-31 (Kapitänleutnant Otto von Schrader). She landed the survivors and returned to sea, where she assisted 42 more British sailors adrift from the steamship Matador, which had also been sunk by UC-31 on 3 July. On 1 August, she received orders to search for survivors from the British passenger steamer Karina, sunk with the loss of 11 souls by UC-75 (Oberleutnant zur See Johannes Lohs) but after searching she was unable to locate any.
While escorting oilers westbound at the beginning of forenoon watch on 14 August 1917, Davis’ lookouts spotted a presumed torpedo wake and the ship maneuvered hard left to avoid it. The wake passed astern and Davis attempted to locate the assailant unsuccessfully. The attacker disappeared without further harassing the convoy. She stood into the Cammell Laird shipyard in Liverpool, England, and received repairs and alterations in dry dock (2-7 September), and additional work until 13 September. Back at sea, the destroyer sighted a large oil slick on 21 September and dropped a single depth charge. More oil came to the surface and her commanding officer surmised that the attack may have damaged a submerged submarine.
While escorting a convoy at 1225 on 18 November 1917, Cushing (Destroyer No. 55) sighted a submarine. Davis laid smoke as the convoy changed course to avoid the assailant. The escort commander ordered Davis patrol the spot of the sighting after the convoy passed. Three hours later she spotted an oil slick and dropped a depth charge on its origin. The crew did not notice any results. The destroyer dropped another charge on a second slick on the following day, but the weapon failed to function. On 2 December Davis sighted a submarine on her port beam distant approximately 5,000 yards. She turned hard left full rudder at emergency speed but the submarine submerged only one minute into the destroyer’s charge. Likely with this encounter in mind, eleven days later Davis wasted little time and opened fire at a submerging submarine at 10,000 yards, landing a shell 1,000 yards short before the enemy disappeared beneath the surface. She then searched the vicinity unsuccessfully for the enemy for 15 minutes before returning to the convoy, deploying a smoke screen on her way.
Davis rang in the New Year 1918 with a periscope sighting close aboard three points on the starboard bow 250 yards away. She closed and dropped a depth charge, but the weapon failed to explode and the destroyer lingered in the vicinity for an hour without another sighting. Three days later, she sighted an oil slick on the port beam and turned to investigate, but a lookout immediately reported a periscope sighting on the starboard beam. The officer of the deck gave the periscope sighting precedence, but by the time Davis swung around to close, the enemy had disappeared without a trace.
Lookouts on board Davis spotted a wake 25 yards ahead of the ship on 18 January 1918. The crew initially took the wake to be a submarine until its source broached the surface 75 yards on the starboard bow and was revealed as a torpedo at the end of its run. Davis attempted to locate the attacker but the dark overcast night made her task impossible. She did, however, come across a broken lifeboat containing four survivors from the British steamer Ethelinda, sunk on 29 January 1918 by UC-31 (Kapitänleutnant Kurt Siewert) but a search for further survivors among the wreckage proved unsuccessful.
From 29 January to 11 February 1918, Davis underwent further alterations at the Cammell Laird yard at Liverpool but suffered minor damage on 12 February escorting the troop transport Leviathan (Id. No. 1326). While Leviathan proved able to keep up high speed despite rough seas, her diminutive destroyer escorts were pounded by the conditions while attempting to keep pace. On 17 February, while returning to Queenstown from an escort mission to Belfast, Ireland, however, she located two boats filled with 22 survivors from the Queenstown-bound British steamer Pinewood sunk earlier that day by U-86 (Oberleutnant zur See Helmut Patzig).
At 1609 on 24 February 1918, Davis was steaming back to Queenstown in company with Trippe (Destroyer No. 33) and Paulding (Destroyer No. 22) after handing off a convoy to French patrol vessels when she sighted a submarine moving at 10 knots on the port bow 1,500 yards away. As she approached the submarine, she saw the vessel’s conning tower exposed, and the boat seemed unable to dive due to a heavy swell. Davis opened fire with Paulding before the target submerged, and the charging warship continued pursuit and dropped two depth charges. The submarine partially surfaced after the depth charges exploded. Davis dropped another depth charge close to the submarine as Trippe and Paulding opened fire. The Americans continued firing until the submarine crew poured from the hatch waving their hands. On closer inspection, the crew was holding up a British National ensign and L-2 was spotted on the side of her conning tower. The vessel confirmed all suspicions when it signaled “We are English,” to her assailants. Fortunately, the barrage caused no casualties, but had damaged the submarine’s superstructure. Davis escorted L-2 to Berehaven while the smaller vessels headed for Queenstown. After reviewing the incident, British submariners marveled how the U.S. destroyermen had “made a most remarkably efficient attack.”
Davis dropped a depth charge on 5 March 1918 on an oil slick after fellow escorts engaged a submarine earlier in the day. Later in the same month, the destroyer dropped depth charges on two consecutive days on 26 March and 27 March 1918. The first barrage was dropped for counter mining purposes and the second in reaction to a suspicious oil slick. She depth-charged other slicks on 29 April, 2 May, 5 May and 6 May again without results.
The destroyer survived a dangerous encounter when a torpedo passed directly under the bridge on 10 May 1918 from 2 points forward on the starboard beam half way through the mid watch. Davis circled the vicinity but was unable to locate the U-boat. The next day she formed part of the convoy escorting the British troop transport Olympic (a sister of the ill-fated Titanic) from Queenstown. Early on 12 May 1918, crew on Davis witnessed Olympic firing her forward guns and then spotted several signal rockets arcing into the sky. Davis rushed to the scene, but upon arrival soon discovered that it was in fact Olympic’s assailant that was in need of assistance. The huge British vessel had sliced submerged U-103 (Kapitänleutnant Claus Rücker) with a massive propeller, forcing the German to surface and leaving her in sinking condition. Davis arrived to see the submarine’s deck crowded with her crew, imploring the Americans: “please pick us up.” Davis obliged and took on board four officers (including Rucker, who by that point had sunk 80 ships and damaged three), and 31 men as prisoners and set course for Queenstown. While en route, the destroyer dropped two depth charges on a promising slick, bringing more oil to the surface. At 1730 Davis deposited her prisoners with British intelligence upon arrival in her home port.
Davis dropped six depth charges on a perceived periscope wake on 20 May 1918 and six altogether on 24 May on two separate oil slicks. She dropped two more on a slick the following day without results and four more on 27 May for the same reason. The British admiralty reviewed the success of the attacks on 20 and 27 May attacks, and ruled that there were submarines in the vicinity of the attack but they continued operating after the reported depth charge without apparent damage.
On 13 June 1918 Davis dropped a barrage of 18 depth charges and noticed that a wooden buoy attached to a manila line surfaced. She laid two barrages on 29 June, the first on a phosphorescent wake during first watch and another following a barrage laid by a fellow escort toward the end of afternoon watch. Again the admiralty ruled that the attacks did not likely cause any damage to an enemy submarine.
While flying the broad pennant of convoy commander, Davis noticed a small open boat on the starboard bow and heard shouts emanating from the craft. At 0442 she picked up the boat’s occupants; the six crewmembers of the two-masted British schooner Katherine Allan, shelled by an enemy submarine one day earlier. The destroyer disembarked the survivors at Dunmore, Ireland, before returning to Queenstown for further escort duty. Later that month Davis saw a suspicious sail through the dark at 0256. Knowing U-boats often disguised themselves as fishing vessels, Davis charged, but the sail disappeared. She dropped two depth charges and patrolled for approximately 15 minutes before moving on with the convoy. Three days later, she was part of a “hunting group” of destroyers that fanned out across the western approaches as some used listening devices that purportedly could help locate subs under water. Rear Adm. Bayly ordered the destroyer commanders to form a scouting line and “stop, look, and listen” for submarines at varying intervals. Davis dropped a pair of depth charges on the 26th and 28th on oil slicks but the listening devices did not play any role.
The real test of the hunting group came on 29 July 1918 when Davis located a submarine in the old-fashioned way, through a lookout’s binoculars, and she closed on the spot but was unable to locate the submarine upon arrival. Two U.S. flush-decked destroyers equipped with listening devices rushed to the scene and applied their state-of-the art hydrophones in the search, but achieved results no better than Davis. Cmdr. William V. Tomb, her commanding officer, acknowledging that he missed an opportunity to drop barrages on the estimated location of the submarine in order to follow the order to “stop, look, and listen.” The hunting group steamed back to Queenstown empty-handed on 31 July. After arriving at Queenstown, the destroyer steamed to Cammell-Laird yard for refit from 3 August to 17 August.
On the night of 10 October 1918, Davis was escorting mercantile convoy HH-71 when through the dark she spotted lights broad off the starboard bow moving aft. The OOD realized with a shock that the lights were dim and much closer than he originally anticipated and they belonged to one vessel crossing the bow close aboard. The officer ordered hard left rudder and then full astern. The maneuvers were, however, not enough, and the British destroyer HMS Hardy swept across Davis’ starboard bow, inflicting significant damage, the latter arriving in Queenstown the following day and received repairs there that lasted until 6 November. On November 7 she stood out for her final convoy mission, escorting the British troop transport Aquitania, returning to her home port on 9 November. Two days later, on 11 November, the Armistice stilled the guns of the World War.
Following the cessation of hostilities, Davis continued escorting convoys to and from Europe. On 12 December 1918, she helped escort the troop transport George Washington (Id. No. 3018), with President Woodrow Wilson embarked, into Brest to proceed on to the Paris Peace Conference, then, in company with other fleet units, passed in review before the Chief Executive. Davis left European waters for her new station at New York on 26 December 1918, and arrived on 7 January 1919 after touching at the Azores and Bermuda en route.
From May until August 1919, Davis operated with Division 4, Flotilla 8, of the Atlantic Fleet Destroyer Force, between Newport and Annapolis. She was being towed in July 1919 through the North River in New York City when a tug struck her, causing slight damage. One month later, the Navy placed Davis in reserve.
On 25 March 1926 the Navy transferred Davis at the Philadelphia Navy Yard to the Treasury Department for service with the U.S. Coast Guard. The destroyer retained her name, but her hull number was re-designated CG-21. Assigned to service with the Coast Guard’s Destroyer Force, she was to interdict the illegal importation of alcohol in the enforcement of the 18th Amendment (Prohibition). Capable of well over 25 knots, seemingly an advantage in the interdiction of rumrunners, she was easily outmaneuvered by smaller vessels. As a result, the destroyer picketed the larger supply ships ("mother ships") on Rum Row in order to prevent them from off-loading their illicit cargo onto the smaller, speedier contact boats that ran the liquor into shore.
Ordered to be homeported at New London, Conn., she underwent trials based from Philadelphia before departing for her duty station on 2 September. Arriving the next day, she was commissioned at New London on 4 September 1926, Lt. Cmdr. Raymond J. Mauerman, USCG in command.
While Davis was underway on patrol on 7 September 1927, she collided with the British-flagged speedboat One Seventy Four. The boat appeared to be making an attempt to force the destroyer to alter her course. As they were at moderate speeds, however, there was no visible damage to either vessel.
On 7 January 1928, the Coast Guard reorganized Division One of the Destroyer Force. Now constituting three sections based from New London, Davis was placed into Section 3 along with Tucker (CG-23). Later that month, on 28 January, while on patrol off Fort Lauderdale, Fla, Davis seized two motor boats and arrested four prisoners for violation of the Volstead Act. The destroyer continued to operate in Southern waters in the following months. She was patrolling between Gun Cay and Bimini in heavy seas, 30-31 March, until relieved by Trippe (CG-20) on 2 April. She then proceeded to Charleston [S.C.] Navy Yard. After a time in port, she returned to patrolling the waters between Florida and the Bahamas (12-17 April). When she returned to Charleston, she had to be towed into port as she had defective steering gear that required repairs.
On 10 November 1928, the British steamship Vestris, flying the house flag of the Lampert & Holt Line and with 326 souls on board (128 passengers and 198 crew), sailed from Hoboken, N.J., bound for South America. The following day, a severe storm battered the ship and she began to list dangerously, with the vessel’s condition worsening markedly by 12 November. Ultimately, at 2:00 p.m. that afternoon, the ship foundered and sank. The death toll eventually amounted to 111 (68 passengers, 43 crew), including all 13 of the children and 25 of the 33 women passengers. Davis participated in the search and rescue operations in the wake of Vestris’ tragic loss (12-15 November).
During the competition for Gunnery Year 1928-1929, Davis stood third among the 24 destroyers competing. Interestingly, the destroyer placed second in the Short-Range Battle Practice, but a disappointing 18th in the Long-Range Battle Practice. Her performance the following year, Gunnery Year 1929-1930, fell off markedly as she rated only 14th among the nineteen ships in the competition. On 21 October 1930, Davis turned over the flag for the division to Tucker and proceeded to the Charleston Navy Yard. Arriving the next day, she underwent overhaul. Upon completion of that period of maintenance, she returned to her routine patrolling duties. Davis departed New London in company with Wilkes (CG-25) on 4 December 1930, and they arrived the next day, along with Conyngham (CG-2), at the Washington Navy Yard.
Davis later shifted to Savannah, Ga., where she arrived on 15 March 1931. From there, she moved into the Florida East Coast Patrol Area which she entered on 17 March en route to St. Petersburg, Fla, for gunnery practice. During the gunnery competition for 1930-1931, Davis repeated her disappointing performance from the previous year, finishing 11th of thirteen destroyers competing. On 29 April, the recently commissioned Herndon (CG-17) relieved Davis as the flagship of the Commander, Patrol Force, Destroyer Force and the latter, proceeded to New London where she arrived later that day and moored at the State Pier.
Operating from New London on 8 June 1931 in conjunction with the units of the Destroyer Force and other Coast Guard patrol assets, Davis was assigned to Patrol Area Baker Two. While underway on 11 June she encountered the drifting British-flagged oil screw vessel Shubenacadia, out of St. John’s, Newfoundland, about 60 miles south of Martha’s Vineyard, Mass. The boat was being picketed by the 125-foot Coast Guard patrol boat Marion. While Davis continued her patrol, Marion was to continue her surveillance of the Newfoundlander. During the early evening, Davis approached and Shubenacadia got underway at nine knots. The two Coast Guard vessels continued to trail her. With dusk, the suspicious vessel doused her lights, emitted large clouds of smoke from her exhausts, and began circling to avoid the searchlights in an attempt to escape. Unable to get away, she stopped and turned on her lights. Then, just as suddenly, doused the lights and attempted to get away in a cloud of smoke. Increasing speed, Davis and Marion and kept the rumrunner within range of their searchlights. Shubenacadia attempted a number of evasive maneuvers but could not shake her pursuers. Soon the destroyer Welborn C. Wood (CG-19), picketing another rumrunner, moved into the area and put her searchlight onto Shubenacadia. The Newfoundlander continued to maneuver frantically, in a desperate attempt to evade a boarding, Shubenacadia attempted to cross ahead of Davis and in doing so rammed the destroyer’s starboard side abreast the No. 1 waist gun at 0330 on the 12th. The rumrunner was shattered and began to sink. Her crew abandoned ship and Marion pulled them aboard. The collision opened bulkhead seams in Davis’ forward oil tank, causing it to leak into the forward berthing deck. As Shubenacadia sank large liquor-filled kegs floated away. These were subsequently broken up by Marion’s crew as hazards to navigation. Having cleaned up the oil, Davis received permission to proceed to New London, where she returned with Marion in mid-afternoon on the 12th.
On 9 February 1932, Davis was temporarily at St. Petersburg for target practice for Gunnery Year 1931-1932. As in preceding years, her poor performance in a single battle practice undermined her overall standing and she finished 8th of thirteen in the competition. Afterward, Davis returned to New London on 20 February to resume her patrol duties. On 24 March 1932, Davis received orders to proceed to the Boston Navy Yard upon completion of her patrol. When the patrol ended on 29 March, she proceeded to Boston for authorized repairs to her boilers. Upon completion of her yard work, she returned to New London and resumed patrolling the waters off New England.
Davis arrived at New London on 12 November 1932 for an in port period. While there, she received orders to proceed to the Boston Navy Yard. Departing New London on 18 December, she underwent repairs to her propeller and a damaged porthole. The destroyer departed Boston and returned to New London on 22 December and then continued to perform her regular patrol schedule.
The airship Akron (ZRS-4) crashed in a thunderstorm off the coast of New Jersey on 4 April 1933, killing 73 of the 76 crewmen and passengers on board, those who perished including Rear Adm. William A. Moffett, Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics. Davis was later dispatched on 17 April to search for the wreckage by dragging the waters where the airship went down. She continued into the next day until relieved at 2000 and then returned to New London, arriving in the morning on the 19th.
Davis’ grueling anti-smuggling interdiction duties off the Eastern seaboard wore on her and over time she, along with many of her fellow former-Navy destroyers, had become unfit for service. She returned to New London from her last patrol on 13 May 1933. Ordered to the Philadelphia Navy Yard, she arrived on 27 May 1933.
Davis was decommissioned there on 5 June 1933 and returned to the Navy on 30 June. On 5 July 1934, Davis was stricken from the Navy Register, in compliance to limits placed on destroyer tonnage by the 1930 London Naval Conference. She was later sold to Michael Flynn, Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y. on 22 August 1934 for scrapping.