USS Ericsson (DD-56)

USS Ericsson (DD-56) was an O'Brien class destroyer that served from Queenstown in 1917-18 and Brest in 1918, becoming the first US warship to fire a torpedo at a U-boat during the war.

The Ericsson was named after the Swedish naval engineer John Ericsson who designed the ironclad USS Monitor and worked on the screw propeller amongst other achievements.

The Ericsson was launched by the New York Shipbuilding Co at Camden, New Jersey, on 22 August 1914 and commissioned on 14 August 1915. She was based off the US East Coast and in Caribbean waters before the American entry into the First World War. In 1916 she was part of the Torpedo Flotilla, Atlantic Fleet.

USS Ericsson (DD-56/ CG-5) with US Coast Guard
USS Ericsson (DD-56/ CG-5)
with US Coast Guard

In October 1916 she took part in one of the more controversial incidents of the neutrality period. U-53 paid a visit to the US and then began to sink ships off the Nantucket Light Ship, operating outside US territorial waters. On 9 October U-53 sank five merchant ships, causing an international incident. However she did obey price rules and there were no casualties. The Ericsson rescued the crew from a British merchant ship that was amongst the losses.

The Ericsson was part of the second batch of US destroyers sent to Europe after the American entry into the First World War (Tucker (DD-57), Rowan (DD-64), Cassin (DD-43), Ericsson (DD-56), Winslow (DD-53), and Jacob Jones (DD-61)). They reached Queenstown, Ireland, on 17 May 1917.

On 21 May 1917 she became the first US warship to fire a torpedo at a U-boat after the US entry into the war. Her target was attacking two sailing ships, and the submarine was forced away. She then rescued 37 survivors from the two ships.

On 28 September she carried out a night attack on a surfaced U-boat, dropping depth charges but failing in an attempt to ram the submarine.

In June 1918 the Ericsson moved to Brest, where her main duty was to tow a kite balloon about three miles ahead of a convoy to watch for U-boats.

On 30 March 1918 she and the Stockton (DD-73) were escorting the troop ship St. Paul sailing between Queenstown and Liverpool when the small convoy was attacked by a U-boat. The Ericsson fired at the submarine, which in turn fired a torpedo at the Stockton. Both sides missed.

USS Ericsson (DD-56) during 1916
USS Ericsson (DD-56) during 1916

In October 1918 she helped escort Troop Convoy 70 on the last stage of its voyage across the Atlantic. This convoy was noteworthy for suffering a high number of fatalities early in the great Influence Epidemic

Anyone who served on her between 21 May 1917 and 11 November 1918 qualified for the First World War Victory Medal.

USS Melville (Destroyer Tender No.2), Queenstown, 1917
USS Melville
(Destroyer Tender No.2),
Queenstown, 1917

After the end of the war the Ericsson had a brief refit at Liverpool, took part in the official welcome of President Woodrow Wilson to France, and then returned to the US, reaching New York on 8 January 1919.

In May 1919 she was part of Destroyer Squadron 14 (USS Cummings (DD-44); USS Wainwright (DD-62); USS Parker (DD-48); USS Balch (DD-50); USS McDougal (DD-54); USS Ericsson (DD-56); and USS Dixie (AD-1)).

In the same month she was posted to the Azores to support the successful transatlantic flight being attempted by a flight of Navy Curtiss NC-4 flying boats.

On 7 August 1919 she was placed in commission into the reserve. She was placed into reduced commission in 1920-22, although did put to sea to take part in the summer exercises of 1921.

On 7 June 1924 she was transferred to the Coast Guard, where she took part in the 'Rum Patrol' as CG-5. She returned to the Navy on 23 May 1932, was scrapped and her materials sold on 22 August 1934.

Displacement (standard)

1,050t design

Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed

29kts at 17,000shp
30kts at 16,974shp at 1,021t on trial (McDougal)


2-shaft Zoelly turbines plus reciprocating cruising engine
4 boilers


305ft 5in


31ft 2in


Four 4in/50
Eight 21in torpedoes in twin mountings
Depth charges

Crew complement



22 August 1914


14 August 1915


Scrapped 1934

U.S. Destroyers: An Illustrated Design History, Norman Friedmann . The standard history of the development of American destroyers, from the earliest torpedo boat destroyers to the post-war fleet, and covering the massive classes of destroyers built for both World Wars. Gives the reader a good understanding of the debates that surrounded each class of destroyer and led to their individual features.
cover cover cover

Books on the First World War | Subject Index: First World War

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (25 August 2016), USS Ericsson (DD-56) ,

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