Gwin completed shakedown training 20 April 1941 and underwent final alterations in the Boston Navy Yard. Attached to Destroyer Squadron 11, she then served as flagship of Destroyer Division (DesDiv 22) with Meredith, Grayson and Monssen, which was assigned to conduct neutrality patrols in the Caribbean Sea and, from 28 September 1941, in the North Atlantic.
In January 1942, while operating into the Denmark Strait from Hvalfjordur, Iceland, Gwin rescued survivors when Treasury-class Coast Guard Cutter USS Alexander Hamilton was torpedoed off Reykjavik.
When the division returned to Boston and then Norfolk, it formed the screen for Hornet‘s Task Force 18 with cruisers Vincennes and Nashville and oiler Cimarron. For Gwin, there ensued three months of long-distance steaming. Clearing Norfolk for the Panama Canal with six transports on 4 March, the task force made San Diego and San Francisco. On 3 April with Lt. Col. “Jimmy” Doolittle’s 16 B-25 bombers embarked in Hornet, it stood out for Japan, rendezvoused off Midway with Admiral Halsey’s Enterprise task force, and launched its bombers 18 April from a position about 600 miles east of Tokyo, then retired to Pearl Harbor. On 30 April 1942, it sortied for the South Pacific as events unfolded leading to the Battle of the Coral Sea, but did not arrive in time to take part.
Returning to Pearl Harbor 21 May for two days, Gwin departed for Midway with Marine reinforcements in anticipation of impending battle there. Returning again for two days on 1 June, she raced to join Battle of Midway but arrived only on 5 June after enemy surface forces had retired but in time to send a salvage party on board disabled Yorktown in an attempt to save her. After a submarine sank Hammann alongside her and Yorktown herself sank on 7 June. Gwin transported 102 survivors of the two ships back to Pearl Harbor, arriving 10 June.
Gwin next departed Pearl Harbor 15 July 1942 to support the Guadalcanal landings, 7 August. In the following months Gwin operated independently of her division, convoying supply and troop reinforcements between Nouméa, Espiritu Santo and Guadalcanal and patrolling the “Slot” with cruiser-destroyer task forces. After Meredith and ex-minesweeper Vireo were overwhelmed in this area by planes from Zuikaku on 15 October, a PBY finally spotted their drifting survivors three days later and led Gwin, Grayson and fleet tug Seminole to their position, where they rescued 97.
On 13 November, the same date that Monssen was torpedoed during the opening action of the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, Gwin was attached to RAdm. Lee’s Task Force with Walke, Benham, Preston and battleships Washington and South Dakota, which steamed to intercept another approaching enemy force. In the ensuing finale of the Battle of Guadalcanal, while Walke and Preston were torpedoed and sunk and Benham heavily damaged, Gwin engaged cruiser Nagara and four destroyers. She sustained a shell hit in her engine room and another on her fantail but no underwater damage as Washington steamed on and routed the enemy. After the battle, Gwin escorted Benham toward Espiritu Santo but took aboard her crew and scuttled her with with gunfire when she foundered. Landing her survivors at Nouméa on 20 November, Gwin continued on to the West Coast via Hawaii, arriving at Mare Island for overhaul on 19 December.
On 7 April 1943, Gwin returned to the Southwest Pacific and, with Grayson, was attached to DesRon 12 in escort duty. On 30 June, she participated in the Rendova landings, five miles across Blanche Channel from the Munda airstrip on New Georgia Island. Immediately after the first wave of troops hit Rendova Beach, Munda Island shore batteries opened fire on the four destroyers patrolling Blanche Channel. straddling Gwin with the first salvo and hitting her with the second, killing three men, wounding seven and stopped her after engine. The half-dozen enemy shore batteries were soon silenced as Gwin laid down an effective heavy smoke screen to protect the unloading transports. When aerial raiders appeared, her gunners shot down three. Rendova Island was soon in American possession. It served as an important motor torpedo boat base to harass Japanese barge lines and a base for air support in the Solomons.
Gwin escorted a reinforcement echelon from Guadalcanal to Rendova, then raced out into the Slot 7 July to rescue 87 survivors of cruiser Helena, lost in the Battle of Kula Gulf. She then joined a cruiser-destroyer task force under Rear Admiral Walden L. Ainsworth to head off a formidable “Tokyo Express” headed through the Solomon Islands to land troops at Vila. The battle was joined past midnight of 12–13 July and Japanese cruiser Jintsu quickly slid to the bottom, the victim of smothering gunfire and torpedo hits. But four Japanese destroyers, waiting for a calculated moment when Ainsworth’s formation would turn, launched 31 torpedoes at the American formation. His flagship Honolulu, cruiser St. Louis and Gwin, maneuvering to bring their main batteries to bear on the enemy, turned right into the path of the deadly “long lance” torpedoes. Both cruisers received damaging hits but survived. Gwin was not so fortunate. She received a torpedo hit amidships in her engine room and exploded in a burning white heat a terrible sight. Destroyer Ralph Talbot took off Gwin’s crew after their heroic damage control efforts failed and she had to be scuttled. Two officers and 59 men perished with the gallant destroyer, casualties of the Battle of Kolombangara.
Gwin earned five service stars.
Source: Naval History & Heritage Command Photographic Section and DANFS