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Downes I (Destroyer No. 45)


John Downes born in 1786 in Canton, Mass., served as an acting midshipman from 9 September 1800. He later received an appointment as a passed midshipman on 1 June 1802. He rendered distinguished service during the Tripolitan War in 1804 on board the frigate Congress and was the executive officer for Capt. David Porter on board Essex during the War of 1812 and her action against the British vessels Cherub and Phoebe at Valparaiso, Chile on 28 March 1814. He later commanded the sloop of war Epervier and prepared her for a cruise. He was subsequently transferred to command the frigate Guerriere at Algiers on 6 July 1815 and then to the sloop of war Ontario on 7 October 1815.

Appointed Captain on 5 March 1817, he was placed in command of the ship of the line Independence and the guard ship at the Boston [Mass.] Navy Yard (1817–1818). Downes then served as Commodore of the Pacific Squadron (1818–1821) and the Mediterranean Squadron (1828–1829). Afterward, he returned to command of the Pacific Squadron (1831–1834). His last commands were as commandant of the Boston Navy Yard (1835–1842) and then again (1849–1852). Capt. Downes died at Charlestown, Mass. on 11 August 1854 and was buried at Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Mass.

(Destroyer No. 45: displacement 1,072; length 305'3"; beam 31'2"; draft 9'3"; speed 29 knots; complement 98; armament 4 4-inch, 8 18-inch torpedo tubes; class Cassin)


The first Downes (Destroyer No. 45) was laid down on 27 June 1912 at Camden, N.J, by the New York Shipbuilding Co.; launched on 8 November 1913; sponsored by Mrs. Katherine H. Simons (nee Nazro), great-granddaughter of John Downes; outfitted for service at the Philadelphia Navy Yard; and commissioned on 11 February 1915, Lt. Cmdr. Alfred W. Johnson in command.

Downes running builder's trials, circa 1914. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 92951)
Caption: Downes running builder's trials, circa 1914. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 92951)

Downes was initially assigned to the Sixth Torpedo Group, Torpedo Flotilla, Atlantic Fleet and conducted her shakedown off New York and in the Chesapeake Bay. She then returned to the Philadelphia Navy Yard where she was placed in ordinary (4 October 1915–26 May 1917) for the construction and installation of new machinery by the contractor.

With the declaration of war against Germany on 6 April 1917, Downes was placed into full commission on 26 May 1917, Lt. Cmdr. Allen Buchanan in command. Having been fitted out for distant service, she was assigned to the Destroyer Squadron operating in European Waters. She departed Philadelphia on 10 September for war games with the Atlantic Fleet, off Boston, Mass., Newport, R.I., in the Kennebunk and York rivers, and at sea. She returned to New York on 8 October.

Downes shifted to Sandy Hook, N.J. on 18 October and after a short stay, departed the next day for a war patrol and target practice until 26 October, when she departed the formation to escort Seattle (Armored Cruiser No. 11) until 3 November. The next day, she joined two cruisers and a destroyer. These ships were subsequently joined by three additional destroyers on 6 November enroute to Devonport, England, where they arrived the next day. After a time at the Devonport Dockyard, Downes departed on 15 November 1917 bound for her new duty station, Base Six at Queenstown (Cobh) Ireland. Arriving on the 17th, the destroyer operated from this port throughout her deployment to European waters. She conducted convoy escort duties inbound to British ports, across the channel, and outbound to rendezvous with the ocean escorts. She also patrolled against submarines off the Irish coast, making numerous attacks with no sure results and with other destroyers, she aided distressed ships. There were several incidents of note during this deployment.

Lt. Cmdr. Buchanan, commanding officer of Downes, oversees target practice outside of Queenstown (Base Six) with one of the 4-inch waist guns. The men are dressed comfortably, if rather informally, for duty at sea, with the boots donated to the c...
Caption: Lt. Cmdr. Buchanan, commanding officer of Downes, oversees target practice outside of Queenstown (Base Six) with one of the 4-inch waist guns. The men are dressed comfortably, if rather informally, for duty at sea, with the boots donated to the crew by a Mrs. Tucker of Boston. “Dexterity in handling the controls of unprotected gun mounts and torpedo tubes in the Atlantic weather,” one observer wrote, “seems to have been a matter of adequate clothing, plenty of training and a good amount of determination.” (Naval History and Heritage Command Archives, Ships History-Decommissioned, Box 247, Downes (Destroyer No. 45) file)

On the morning of 19 March 1918, Manley (Destroyer No. 74) was escorting a convoy, when she collided with the British armed merchant cruiser HMS Motagua. A violent explosion, caused by the accidental detonation of the U.S. ship’s depth charges, practically destroying her stern. The blast killed her executive officer, Lt. Cmdr. Richard M. Elliott, Jr., as well as 33 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. HMS Tamarisk edged up to the shattered destroyer and unsuccessfully tried to put a towline on board. Manley remained adrift until British tugs Blazer and Cartmel took her in tow after daylight on 20 March. She reached Queenstown, at dusk the following day with more than 70 feet of her hull awash or completely under water. Downes responded to this incident and protected Manley and the tugs into port. For her actions, the destroyer received commendation from the British Admiralty.

Downes, while escorting a convoy on 15 August 1918, observed the British airship SSZ-51 descending from the sky and in need of assistance. When the airship touched down on the water, the destroyer rescued her entire crew. Securing SS Z.51, Downes towed the airship into Holyhead, Wales. The ship again received commendation from the Admiralty for her response.

Downes was scouting off the west coast of Ireland on 7 October 1918 in a heavy gale when a sea broke on the stern, spreading the depth charge racks and dislodging a number of depth charges. In response, Boatswain Karl V. Kyrklund together with GM1c John P. Conway, GM3c Frederick J. McDonald, GM2c Charlie C. Poole, and BWM1c Stephen S. Trask, undertook the hazardous task of securing the depth charges as the seas were breaking four to five feet high over the stern. Despite injuries, Kyrklund and the men secured the depth charges and the ship rode out the storm. For their heroism, Kyrklund received the Distinguished Service Medal, and McDonald, Poole, Trask, and Conway received the Navy Cross.

The Admiralty and the Navy Department agreed to a plan on 10 October 1918, to protect troop convoys when it was reported that German battlecruisers had broken out into the Atlantic. With two troop convoys en route to France, on 14 October 1918, Rear Adm. Thomas S. Rodgers ordered Battleship Division Six, Utah (Battleship No. 31), Nevada (Battleship No. 36), and Oklahoma (Battleship No. 37), with a screen of seven destroyers, Downes, Conyngham (Destroyer No. 58), Terry (Destroyer No. 25), Stevens (Destroyer No. 86), Sampson (Destroyer No. 63), Allen (Destroyer No. 66), and Beale (Destroyer No. 40), to depart Berehaven, Ireland, and rendezvous with the convoys. The battleships and escorting destroyers made contact with both inbound convoys, respectively, and in each instance escorted them into the danger zone. Once through, the battleships detached from each and allowed the destroyers to escort them into port. Despite reports to the contrary, the German ships never sortied and the transports were never in danger from surface raiders. This was the only sortie by Battleship Division Six to protect troop convoys. Within weeks, on 11 November 1918, the Armistice went into effect effectively ending hostilities.

Downes, departing Queenstown on 5 December 1918, joined Destroyer Flotillas A and B enroute to Brest, France. They arrived the next day and Downes moored in the inner harbor. The destroyer, on 12 December, met and escorted the troop transport George Washington (Id. No. 3018) with President Woodrow Wilson embarked. Taking station, joined by nine battleships, Downes passed in review. Later that day, she stood out in column with the other destroyers bound for a return to Queenstown and arrived the next day.

The day after Christmas, Downes set a course for the United States via the Azores and arrived at the Navy Yard at Norfolk, Va. on 18 January 1919. She immediately underwent an availability for the installation of a new battery and to repair a propeller blade.

With her maintenance completed, Downes departed Norfolk bound for winter maneuvers and arrived at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba on 20 January 1919. While in Caribbean waters, Downes conducted exercises at Bridgetown, Barbados, British West Indies (22–31 March). Afterward, she returned to Guantanamo from whence she departed on 9 April and returned to New York on the 14th. While at New York, she rejoined Division One, Squadron One of the Destroyer Force’s Flotilla Two. Initially intended to participate in support of the trans-Atlantic flight with the other destroyers of her unit, a mechanical breakdown precluded that duty. She departed New York on 1 May and headed to Norfolk where she underwent overhaul. With her maintenance completed, she was placed in ordinary at the Norfolk Naval Station on 31 May 1919. As part of a Navy-wide administrative change, Downes was re-designated DD-45 on 17 June 1920.

Returned to full commission, she sailed for summer maneuvers at Newport, R.I. on 12 May 1921, arriving two days later. She participated in summer maneuvers and afterward, remained in the North River (10–20 September). Departing Newport on 10 October and arrived at Charleston, S.C. on 22 October. She lay at Charleston, S.C until 20 March 1922, when she got underway for the Philadelphia Navy Yard. Arriving on 24 March, Downes was placed out of commission there on 6 June 1922 and laid up.

Downes, at left, and Benham (DD-49) at the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Va., 5 March 1921. (Photographed by Crosby, 324 First Street, Portsmouth, Va.; Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 104056)
Caption: Downes, at left, and Benham (DD-49) at the Norfolk Navy Yard, Portsmouth, Va., 5 March 1921. (Photographed by Crosby, 324 First Street, Portsmouth, Va.; Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 104056)

Downes was transferred to the Treasury Department at the Philadelphia Navy Yard for service with the Coast Guard on 28 April 1924. She was one of thirty-one destroyers that formed the Coast Guard Destroyer Force, established to enforce the 18th Amendment (Prohibition) and interdict the illegal importation of alcohol. The ship underwent a period of reconditioning which included rehabilitating the berthing spaces, the installation of new guns in the main battery, and the removal of her torpedo tubes and anti-submarine warfare weapons. Additionally, the destroyers were by far the largest and most sophisticated vessels ever operated by the Coast Guard and trained crewmen were nearly non-existent. As a result, Congress subsequently authorized hundreds of new enlisted billets. It was these inexperienced recruits that generally made up the destroyer crews. Capable of well over 25 knots, seemingly an advantage in the interdicting of rumrunners, Downes and her fellow destroyers were easily outmaneuvered by smaller vessels. Their mission, therefore, was to picket the larger supply ships ("mother ships") on Rum Row and prevent them from off-loading their illicit cargo onto the smaller, speedier contact boats that ran the liquor into shore. Downes retained her name, but was re-designated CG-4 and commissioned in the Coast Guard on 14 October, Lt. Cmdr. George E. Wilcox, USCG in command.

Downes arrived on 21 October, at her permanent duty station at New London, Conn., and three days later, 24 October, she was assigned to Division Four, Destroyer Force under Cmdr. William H. Munter, USCG. Between 24 October and 31 December, Downes seized five illegal rumrunners, including the sloop Edith Louise, the schooner J. Duffy, the motorboat K-13645, the launch, Petrolla 10, and the speedboat Warbug. On 4 February 1928, she reported to the U.S. Coast Guard Academy at New London as a practice ship. On 21 December, she was again assigned to active duty stationed at New London.

Downes, as CG-4, at New London, no date (US Coast Guard Historian’s Office).
Caption: Downes, as CG-4, at New London, no date (US Coast Guard Historian’s Office).

Downes resumed patrolling on 5 January 1929. On 14 April she left New London bound for Charleston, S.C. for the conduct of target practice for Gunnery Year 1928-1929. She arrived on 20 April and during this competition, she stood third overall of the 24 destroyers that fired. Her outstanding performance in the Short-Range Battle Practice placed her second, but that was offset by a middling standing of eighteenth in the Long-Range Battle Practice. Downes returned to New London on 18 May and shortly thereafter, returned to her routine of interdiction patrolling operations.

Downes departed New London on 18 April 1930. Bound for St. Petersburg, Fla., for the conduct of target practice for Gunnery Year 1929–1930, she arrived on 22 April. Unlike her noteworthy achievement the preceding year, Downes shot miserably. She stood last among the nineteen destroyers participating in the competition, firing 19th and 18th, respectively in the Short-Range and Long-Range battle practices. After conducting target practice, Downes left St. Petersburg and headed to New London, where she arrived on 26 May.

On 1 June 1930, Downes transferred to Division Two, Destroyer Force at New York. Her grueling anti-smuggling interdiction duties off the Eastern seaboard, however, wore on her and over time she, along with many of her fellow former-Navy destroyers, had become unfit for service. The ship was ordered to the Philadelphia Navy Yard on 23 October and, upon her arrival on 27 October, she was assigned to the control of the Coast Guard representative at the yard. The Coast Guard decommissioned Downes on 18 November, and returned her to the Navy at the Philadelphia Navy Yard on 22 May 1931.

Downes’ name was dropped on 1 July 1933 to allow for it to be used for a newer Mahan-class destroyer. She was stricken from the Navy list on 5 July 1934 and sold to Michael Flynn, Inc., Brooklyn, N.Y. on 22 August 1934 for scrapping in accordance with the London Naval Treaty for the Reduction of Naval Armament.

Commanding Officers Date Assumed Command
Lt. Cmdr. Alfred W. Johnson 11 February 1915
Lt. Cary W. Magruder    19 July 1915
Lt. (j.g.) Harold R. Keller 15 March 1916
Ens. William W. Meek 13 July 1916
Lt. (j.g.) Elmer K. Niles 16 August 1916
Lt. (j.g.) Lee P. Warren 30 August 1916
Lt. (j.g.) Charles T. Blackburn 5 December 1916
Lt. (j.g.) Joseph F. Crowell    2 January 1917
Lt. Francis Cogswell 24 March 1917
Lt. Cmdr. Allen Buchanan 2 June 1917
Cmdr. Alexander Sharp 21 July 1918
Lt. Cmdr. Scott D. McCaughey 30 April 1919
Lt. (j.g.) Robert G. Waldron 1 June 1919
Ens. Richard G. Berger 28 June 1919
Lt. James D. Murray Jr. 9 August 1919
Lt. Ross F. Collins 7 November 1919
Ens. Ralph L. Lovejoy 18 May 1920
Ens. Edward C. Campbell 7 October 1920
Lt. Lester G. Bock, USNRF 7 June 1921
Lt. Cmdr. Thomas S. McCloy 29 August 1921
Lt. Cmdr. George E. Wilcox, USCG 24 October 1924
Lt. Cmdr. Clarence H. Dench, USCG 12 November 1925
Cmdr. Fred A. Nichols, USCG 12 June 1926
Lt. Joseph S. Rosenthal, USCG 3 September 1926
Lt. Cmdr. Roger C. Heimer, USCG 15 July 1928
Lt. Cmdr. Edward H. Smith, USCG 3 January 1929

Christopher B. Havern Sr.

24 October 2017

Published: Wed Oct 25 13:12:36 EDT 2017