While 273 flush-deckers were built,
there never were 273 in commission at one time: three were lost in 1921 (below), so when the final trio commissioned in August 1922, the total reached only 270.
FLUSH DECKERS IN COMMISSION, 1920–1939
The number of active destroyers had already peaked at 268 in June 1921. Along the way, in 1919–20, Waters decommissioned for five months and then returned to service. Also, in August 1920, fourteen hulls were converted as fast minelayers.
The flush-deck fleet was reduced by three destroyers in 1921:
- On 26 February off Balboa, Panama Canal Zone, Woolsey was run down and cut in half by SS Steel Inventor.
- On 1 December in heavy fog, DeLong ran aground and was wrecked at Half Moon Bay, California, south of San Francisco.
- On the 16th off New Jersey, Graham was damaged beyond repair in collision with SS Panama.
Salvaged, both the latter ships decommissioned the following March.
For just over a year beginning in April 1921, the number of active flush-deckers stabilized at more than 260. Already in July, however, decommissionings began with Dickerson
. These proceeded slowly at first; then increased precipitously in July, August and September of the following year.
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By April 1923, there were 152 ships on “red lead row.” With the total number of flush-deckers remaining constant at 270, the number of ships in commission dropped accordingly—from 261 in May 1922 to to 138 in July—then stabilized at 118 (six of which were minelayers).
ON STATION AROUND THE WORLD
Meanwhile, flush deckers made their way to many regions around the world:
- To the eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea, where they were confronted with widespread humanitarian calamities: the evacuation in 1920 of nearly 150,000 White Russian refugees from the Crimea to Constantinople; the escorting of grain ships during 18 months in 1921 and 22 in an effort to relieve the great Russian potato famine; and the evacuation of 200,000 ethnic Greeks and Armenians to Greece at the close of the Greco-Turkish war.
- To Asia, where they supported American interests in China and in 1923 provided relief for an earthquake that decimated Tokyo, Japan.
THE POINT PEDERNALES DISASTER
On the evening of 8 September 1923, the US Navy experienced its most celebrated peacetime loss when seven ships of Destroyer Squadron 11—Delphy
, S. P. Lee
r and Chauncey
—piled up on the California coast at Point Pedernales (Honda), just north of Point Arguello, bringing the number in commission down to 111.
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The number of active flush deckers increased again to 113 in April 1925 when Hazelwood
recommissioned, leaving 150 in reserve. McDermut
decommissioned in May 1929, bringing the number in service back down to 111.
1930 REHABILITATION PROGRAM
294 Charles Ausburn
299 John Francis Burnes
307 Paul Hamilton
308 William Jones
315 La Vallette
324 Robert Smith
130 Jacob Jones
132 Aaron Ward
152 Du Pont
156 J. Fred Talbott
1930 REHABILITATION PROGRAM
Shortly before the 1929 stock market crash, Navy Secretary Charles Francis Adams’ annual report to Congress raised the issue that 60 flush-deckers—Bethlehem-built with Yarrow boilers (including 46 of the 111 ships in commission)—were wearing out. As the Navy Department could not justify the expenditures necessary to refit them, he said, “they would be decommissioned with a view to their ultimate removal from the Naval List.”
Most of the 46 were scrapped or sold by 1934. (Two that escaped were Thompson, which became a floating restaurant in South San Francisco, and Corry, which was towed up the Napa River from Mare Island and stranded along the east bank.) To replace them, 48 mothballed ships were recommissioned (see table).
COAST GUARD DESTROYERS
In the twenties, during the “prohibition era,” 23 flivvers and 1,000-tonners
had been transferred to the Coast Guard to help chase down “rum runners.” In 1930–2, Paulding-class Monaghan
were retired and replaced by six flush-deckers—Abel P. Upshur, George E. Badger, Herndon, Hunt, Welborn C. Wood and Semmes
—which took their hull numbers CG-15–20 and served until 1934.
In 1935, a year after returning from her Coast Guard service, Semmes was converted as a submarine test ship (AG 24). Operating thereafter from Key West, Florida, she continued in this service throughout World War II.
1936 FORCE REDUCTION
The 1930 London Naval Treaty
limited the total tonnage of destroyers the US Navy could maintain. Also, as the first goldplaters
began to commission, a second group of flush-deckers was sold for scrapping, including 35 more Bethlehem-built ships with Yarrow boilers (see table).
As a result of this program (partially offset by some recommissionings) plus the loss due to collision of Smith Thompson in 1936, the total number of flush-deckers dropped from 200 (102 in commission) at the beginning of 1936 to 172 by May 1937. The decommissioning of Walker in March 1938 and Taylor in December brought the active and reserve force down to 170 (78 in commission).
1936–9 SOLD, SUNK OR SET ASIDE
238 James K. Paulding
On 3 September 1939, two days after Germany invaded Poland to begin World War II, Congress passed the Neutrality Act. Thirteen flush-deckers had long been attached to the Asiatic Fleet as Destroyer Squadron 5 and later as Destroyer Squadron 29
. In addition to 60 1,500–1,850-tonners, that left 65 flush-deckers—some of which were conversions—to cover the entire western hemisphere, for which the US Navy was now responsible.
Immediately it moved to activate every additional escort vessel available. Fifty-four of the 92 mothballed flush-deckers recommissioned during the last four months of 1939 and by September 1940, when transfer of fifty “destroyers for bases” to the UK and Canada began, “red lead row” was empty.