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O'Brien II (Destroyer No. 51)

1915–1935

Jeremiah O’Brien-- born at Kittery, Mass. [Maine] in 1744-- was the eldest son of Morris and Mary O'Brien. His family moved to Scarborough, Mass. [Maine] and settled in Machias, Mass. [Maine] in the 1760s to engage in lumbering.

Reports of the battles of Lexington and Concord reached Machias in early May 1775. Benjamin Foster rallied Machias residents at Job Burnham's tavern and erected a liberty pole. Machias merchant captain Ichabod Jones sailed his ships Unity and Polly to Boston, Mass., with a cargo of lumber and purchased food for sale in Machias. British troops encouraged Jones to deliver another cargo of lumber for construction of their barracks in Boston. Vice Adm. Samuel Graves, RN, ordered HMS Margaretta, under the command of James Moore, to accompany Jones' ships to discourage interference from Machias rebels. When the ships reached Machias on 2 June 1775, James Moore ordered the liberty pole removed; and Machias townspeople refused to load the lumber. Foster plotted to capture the British officers when they attended church on 11 June, but the British avoided capture and retreated downriver on board Margaretta. On 12 June, Foster pursued Margaretta in the packet boat Falmouth. After Falmouth ran aground, O'Brien, with his brothers Gideon, John, William, Dennis and Joseph, seized Unity.

Under O’Brien’s command, thirty-one townsmen sailed on board Unity armed with guns, swords, axes, and pitch forks and captured Margaretta in an hour-long battle after she had threatened to bombard the town. John O'Brien boarded Margaretta as the two ships closed, but was forced to jump overboard by the British crew. After rescuing John, Unity again closed with Margaretta until their rigging became entangled. Unity was bombarded by grenades from the British ship, but Margaretta surrendered after James Moore was mortally wounded.

This battle is often considered the first time British colors were struck to those of the United States, even though the Continental Navy did not exist at the time. O’Brien received the thanks of the Massachusetts Provincial Congress at Watertown, Mass. on 26 June 1775. Later, on 23 August, O’Brien was appointed commander of the armed schooner Diligent and Benjamin Foster commanding officer of the sloop Machias Liberty. The United States Merchant Marine also claims Unity as its member and this incident as their beginning. O'Brien received the first captain's commission in the Massachusetts State Navy in 1775. He was also labelled a “pirate” by Lt. John Graves, RN, in a letter to Vice Adm. Graves dated 3 October 1775. With the establishment of the Continental Navy on 13 October, John Adams wrote James Warren expressing support for O’Brien’s appointment to service in the Continental Navy. To this inquiry Warren responded on 15 November, that he believed that O’Brien had received a commission in Continental service.

Later, in his life, President James Madison appointed O’Brien as the federal collector of customs for Machias in 1811, and he held the position until his death in 1818.

II  

(Destroyer No. 51): displacement 1,171 (full load); length 305'3"; beam 30'6"; draft 9'6"; speed 29 knots; complement 98; armament 4 4-inch, 8 21-inch torpedo tubes; class O’Brien)

The second O’Brien (Destroyer No. 51) was laid down on 8 September 1913 at Philadelphia, Pa., by William Cramp & Sons Ship & Engine Building Co.; launched on 20 July 1914; sponsored by Marcia Bradbury Campbell, great-great granddaughter of Capt. Gideon O’Brien; and commissioned at the Philadelphia Navy Yard on 22 May 1915, Lt. Cmdr. Charles E. Courtney in command.


On her trials, O’Brien makes 29.41 knots during 1914. Note at this point her main battery has not yet been fitted. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 44571)
Caption: On her trials, O’Brien makes 29.41 knots during 1914. Note at this point her main battery has not yet been fitted. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 44571)

O’Brien conducted her shakedown cruise between Newport, R. I., and Hampton Roads, Va. In fleet exercises off New York in November 1915, she collided with Drayton (Destroyer No. 23) in a minor incident that carried away part of Drayton’s topmast and wireless gear. In December, she was assigned to the Fifth Division, Torpedo Flotilla, Atlantic Fleet. During the winter of 1916, she operated with the fleet in the annual training exercises in Cuban waters. Afterward, she operated with the fleet along the east coast.

At 5:30 a.m. on 8 October 1916, wireless reports came in of a German submarine stopping ships near the Lightship Nantucket, off the eastern end of Long Island. After an SOS from the British steamer West Point was received about 12:30 p.m., Rear Adm. Albert Gleaves ordered O’Brien and other destroyers at Newport to attend to survivors. The U.S. destroyers arrived on the scene about 5:00 p.m. when U-53 (Kapitänleutnant Hans Rose, commanding) was in the process of stopping the Holland-America Line cargo ship Blommersdijk. Shortly afterward, U-53 stopped the British passenger ship Stephano. As Rose had done with three other ships his boat had sunk earlier in the day, he gave passengers and crew aboard Blommersdijk and Stephano adequate time to abandon ship before sinking the pair. All told, the destroyer flotilla rescued 226 survivors from U-53’s five victims.

In February 1917, during the annual target practices conducted during training exercises around Cuba, one of O’Brien’s 4-inch gun crews hit a target at 5,000 yards eight times in eight attempts,  a feat which earned the crew and the ship recognition in The Independent, a weekly news magazine published in Boston. Soon thereafter, after returning from winter maneuvers in Cuban waters in March 1917, O’Brien lay in the York River when the U.S. declared war on Germany on 6 April and entered the World War. As a result, she mobilized for war in accordance with the Navy Department’s confidential mobilization plan of 21 March. Over the next few weeks, she operated in the vicinity of the York River conducting mine sweeping and other tactical exercises. On 30 April, she got underway in company with Wilkes (Destroyer No. 67) escorting the French warship Amiral Aube to New York. They arrived the next day.

On 1 May, the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations organized destroyer forces for distant service by designating Destroyer Division Seven as Rowan (Destroyer No. 64), flagship, Ericsson (Destroyer No. 56) , Winslow (Destroyer No. 53) , Jacob Jones (Destroyer No. 61), Cassin (Destroyer No. 43), and Tucker (Destroyer No. 57); Destroyer Division Six as Cushing (Destroyer No. 55), flagship, O’Brien, Cummings (Destroyer No. 44), Benham (Destroyer No. 49), Nicholson (Destroyer No. 52), and Sampson (Destroyer No. 63). Division Seven was ordered to be ready and assembled at Boston for sea duty by 5 May, and Division Six assembled at New York for sea duty by 10 May. After fitting out at the New York Navy Yard, Brooklyn, N.Y., O’Brien got underway on 15 May 1917 with the division and the French armored cruiser Amiral Aube and Lorraine. Arriving at Halifax, Nova Scotia, the next day, she joined the other units of Division Six, which stood out to sea the next day, en route to Ireland. Upon arrival at Queenstown [Cobh] on 24 May, O'Brien moored alongside Benham and reported in to Vice Adm. Sir Lewis Bayly, RN, Commander-in-Chief, Queenstown. She was to serve under the command of the British, patrolling off the Irish coast and meeting eastbound convoys to escort them through the war zone. She also responded to distress calls and rescued survivors. O’Brien cleared Queenstown for her first patrol on 29 May. On 7 June, while zigzagging on patrol, she came upon the British merchantman Cranmore, en route from Baltimore, Md., to Manchester, England, which had been torpedoed by U-66 (Kapitänleutnant Thorwald von Bothmer). Joined by Sampson, the destroyers escorted her eastward until relieved by HMS Camellia, who escorted her into the River Shannon in Ireland.

O’Brien was convoying the British steamer Elysia, 12 miles south of Ballycotton Light at 4:21 p.m. on 16 June 1917, when the destroyer sighted a periscope about 800 yards broad on the starboard beam. O’Brien increased speed to 20 knots and altered course accordingly, the submarine obviously sighting her adversary because she dove immediately. Lt. Cmdr. Blakely, her commanding officer, ordered the course held steady, his patience being rewarded a short time later by the sight of a periscope dead ahead, 100 yards away and headed in the opposite direction.

Soon after the ‘scope disappeared for the second time after only a brief exposure, a lookout in O’Brien’s foretop called out from his station, that he saw “the bulk of the submarine…passing aft close on our starboard side.”  To the sailor aloft, it appeared as if the destroyer was about to ram the U-boat. The lookout continued to watch the submarine as it gradually disappeared at a point abaft O’Brien’s after deckhouse, at which the destroyer released a depth charge “within the prescribed limit where serious damage results from the explosion.” As O’Brien, given “a very severe shaking” by the detonation of her depth charge, circled the spot where her attack had occurred, those of her crew topside could see no evidence of the submarine’s presence. The destroyer continued circling for a few minutes longer, then resumed her position ahead of Elysia and continued the voyage. Later, O’Brien turned the escort of Elysia over to Walke (Destroyer No. 34). There was some initial belief that O’Brien destroyed the U-boat, after adjudication by the Admiralty, however, that claim was denied.

Vice Adm. Bayly nominated Lt. Cmdr. Charles A. Blakely, commanding officer of O’Brien for the Distinguished Service Order and Ens. Henry N. Fallon for the Distinguished Service Cross. Blakely received the U.S. Navy Distinguished Service Medal for his actions. Nearly three hours later, the British destroyer HMS Jessamine reported a large patch of oil in approximately the same position. The following morning, Cushing also reported and confirmed Jessamine’s report. Vice Adm. Bayly, evaluating the encounter later, praised O’Brien’s being “very skillfully handled” and deserving of recognition. He felt that “serious damage to the submarine was very probable.” Despite that optimistic assessment, however, subsequent investigation revealed that U-61 (Kapitänleutnant Victor Dieckmann), the submarine in question, continued to operate and completed her cruise.

On 23 June 1917, the destroyers Cushing, Jacob Jones, Conyngham (Destroyer No. 58), Nicholson (Destroyer No. 52), and O’Brien sortied out of Queenstown and rendezvoused with Group 1, now composed of Seattle (Armored Cruiser No. 11), DeKalb (Id. No. 3010), Wilkes, Terry (Destroyer No. 25), Roe (Destroyer No. 24), USAT Tenadores, USAT Saratoga, USAT Havana, and USAT Pastores and proceeded to escort the ships to France.


O’Brien buries her bow in white water during a storm south of Ireland while on escort duty in December 1917 in this dramatic painting by Burnell Poole, 1925. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 1048)
Caption: O’Brien buries her bow in white water during a storm south of Ireland while on escort duty in December 1917 in this dramatic painting by Burnell Poole, 1925. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 1048)

O’Brien, in company with Allen (Destroyer No. 66) and Jarvis (Destroyer No. 38) was escorting three mail ships, Belgic, Baltic, and Megantic to Liverpool, England, on 14 September 1917. After Allen and Jarvis separated with Baltic and Megantic, O’Brien continued with Belgic on her port beam. At 6:25 a.m., a lookout on the destroyer spotted a U-boat which quickly submerged. Maneuvering to the spot of the submergence, O’Brien dropped a depth charge with no apparent damage. The submarine was initially believed to have been U-88 (Kapitänleutnant Walter Schwieger, whose U-20 had sunk the British steamship Lusitania on 7 May 1915), but that was not possible as she was sunk after striking a mine on 5 September. It was more likely U-43 (Kapitänleutnant Waldemar Bender) which sank the British Q-ship HMS Glenfoyle (which was also known as Stonecrop and Winona). Ens. Fallon, credited for having saved Belgic from being torpedoed, received the Navy Cross for his actions as the officer of the watch during the engagement.

The destroyer stood in to Brest, in company with Jarvis, Rowan (Destroyer No. 64), Patterson (Destroyer No. 36), McDougal (Destroyer No. 54), and Paulding (Destroyer No. 22), on 26 November 1917. Two days later, she was underway again, this time in company with McDougal, Patterson, Paulding, Jarvis, Rowan, and Monaghan (Destroyer No. 32), escorting the transports Agamemnon (Id. No. 3004) and Mount Vernon (Id. No. 4508) westward. She returned to Queenstown with the division on 30 November. Having stood out of Queenstown on 14 December, the destroyer was on patrol on 15 December, when she was joined by Wilkes (Destroyer No. 67) and Parker (Destroyer No. 48). In the afternoon, around 4:00 p.m., the destroyers responded to an explosion about two miles distant. Proceeding at full speed with the crew at general quarters, she saw a periscope about 1,000 yards distant, the submarine UB-65 (Kapitänleutnant Martin Schelle) disappeared immediately. On arrival at the site, there was no opportunity to drop a depth charge and O’Brien continued patrolling. A few minutes later a periscope wake was observed 500 yards distant. The ship turned to engage the submarine and when over the spot of her submergence, she dropped a depth charge which failed to explode. Having been again joined by the other destroyers, O’Brien picked up 5 officers and 76 crewmen from HMS Arbutus which still remained afloat. While Wilkes and Parker remained with the British vessel, O’Brien ran the survivors into Milford Haven, Wales, and having done so, returned to the position of Arbutus and patrolled in the vicinity of the ship. She returned to Queenstown the next day.

O’Brien entered the Cammell Laird Yard at Liverpool on 17 March 1918 and remained there through 28 March undergoing maintenance. She departed the yard on 29 March and steamed back to Queenstown where she arrived on 30 March having escorted a convoy en route.

O’Brien, while escorting Convoy H.J.D. 4, at 6:10 p.m. on 7 May 1918, sighted a periscope and feather wake two points off her port bow, 600 yards distant. Sounding general quarters and moving to full speed ahead, she sounded the general submarine warning to the convoy and maneuvered to engage. At a point 100 yards short of the position of diving, the first depth charge was dropped and ten seconds later both depth charge throwers were discharged, followed by another depth charge drop. She continued to maneuver and in the process deployed a total of 17 depth charges. The ship circled left and came up astern of the convoy and dropped an additional four charges on an oil patch prompting larger quantities of oil to rise to the surface. She also fired her bow gun near the patch, but that target turned out to be a rope fender. Despite the deployment of the ordnance and the presence of considerable amounts of oil, there was no positive proof of a sinking. Five days later, on 12 May, O’Brien, along with Davis (Destroyer No. 65), attacked an oil slick with depth charges after sounding the submarine alarm with no positive result.

O’Brien received commendation from the Admiralty for her part in the rescue of the crew from the British merchantman Vandalia sunk by U-96 (Kapitänleutnant Heinrich Jeẞ) on 9 June 1918. Later, O’Brien was transferred to U.S. Naval Forces in French Waters based at Brest. While en route to her new assignment on 7 July, O’Brien rescued the captain and eleven survivors of the Norwegian steamer Victoria II, sunk by UC-71 (Kapitänleutnant Reinhold Saltzwedel) the previous day. The destroyers O’Brien, Porter, Ericsson, Nicholson, and Cassin arrived in Brest and reported for escort duty. On 15 July, the harbor tug Concord (Id. No. 773) rammed O’Brien in Brest harbor, damaging the latter, and prompting the convening of a board of investigation on 18 July. The resulting damage required the destroyer to moor alongside Prometheus (Repair Ship No. 2) for repairs. Afterward, she returned to her patrol duties, attacking an oil slick with a depth charge barrage on 2 September. This attack was the last of the nine occasions that O’Brien reported having dropped depth charges on targets that she believed to be enemy U-boats. Subsequent to the attack, in preparation for the flying of kite balloons, O’Brien’s masts, along with those of Winslow, Benham, and Nicholson were ordered to be shortened on 11 September.


Photographed from the troop transport Pocahontas (Id. No. 3044), O’Brien stands in to port during 1918. Note the dazzle camouflage worn by the destroyer, with her identification number painted on her hull beneath the bridge, and by the transport following her. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 82973)
Caption: Photographed from the troop transport Pocahontas (Id. No. 3044), O’Brien stands in to port during 1918. Note the dazzle camouflage worn by the destroyer, with her identification number painted on her hull beneath the bridge, and by the transport following her. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 82973)

After the Armistice of 11 November 1918, O’Brien transported mail and passengers between Brest, France, and Plymouth, England. She departed Brest on 21 December, in company with Porter, Cushing (Destroyer No. 55), Wainwright (Destroyer No. 62), Benham (Destroyer No. 49), Ericsson (Destroyer No. 56), and Fairfax (Destroyer No. 93). She returned to New York via the Azores (24 December), on 8 January 1919 and immediately entered the New York Navy Yard for general overhaul. Upon the completion of her overhaul, she was ordered to report to Commander, Destroyer Force, at New York. She was then assigned to recruiting duty along with Winslow. On 21 February 1920, she was re-assigned to the Naval Torpedo Station at Newport, R.I. Placed in reduced commission, she was to engage in experimental torpedo and mine work. O’Brien was redesignated (DD-51) on 17 July 1920 as part of a Navy-wide administrative re-organization. On 6 January 1921, O’Brien was placed in reserve status and later decommissioned at the Philadelphia Navy Yard on 9 June 1922.

Stricken from the Navy list on 8 March 1935 in accordance with the terms of the London Treaty, O’Brien was scrapped at the Philadelphia Navy Yard and her materials sold on 23 April 1935.

Commanding Officers Dates of Command
Lt. Cmdr. Charles E. Courtney 22 May 1915 - 24 December 1916
Lt. (j.g.) George M. Lowry 24 December 1916 - 30 December 1916
Lt. Cmdr. Charles A. Blakely 30 December 1916 - 21 January 1918
Cmdr. Martin K. Metcalf 21 January 1918 - 1 August 1918
Lt. Cmdr. Nelson H. Goss 1 August 1918 - 7 August 1918
Cmdr. Martin K. Metcalf 7 August 1918 - 19 August 1918
Cmdr. Nelson H. Goss 19 August 1918 - 29 October 1918
Lt. Cmdr. Walter F. Lafrenz 29 October 1918 - 11 August 1919
Lt. Evan G. Hanson 11 August 1919 - 1 January 1921
Lt. Charles G. Moore 1 January 1921 - 13 June 1921
Ens. Andrew M. Parks 13 June 1921 - 7 July 1921
Lt. Charles G. Moore 7 July 1921 - 9 June 1922

 

Christopher B. Havern Sr., Robert J. Cressman, and Paul J. Marcello; Commanding Officers List compiled by Thomas Biggs

21 September 2017

Published: Fri Sep 22 06:41:14 EDT 2017