USS Gillis (DD-260/ AVD-12)

USS Gillis (DD-260) was a Clemson class destroyer that was converted into a seaplane tender and served in Alaskan waters in 1941-44, then as a plane guard before taking part in the invasion of Okinawa.

The Gillis was named after John P Gillis and James H Gillis, two US naval officers who both served in the Civil War, the first towards the end of his career and the second at its beginning.

The Gillis was laid down by Bethlehem at Quincy on 29 May 1919. She was launched on 29 May 1919 and was sponsored by Helen I. Murray, the granddaughter of James H Gillis, and Mrs Josephine T. Smith, the niece of John P. Gillis. She was commissioned on 3 September 1919.

The Gillis moved to the Pacific, arriving at San Diego on 20 January 1920. She joined the Pacific Fleet Destroyer Force, but was decommissioned on 26 May 1922 after two years of active service.

The Gillis wasn’t one of the large number of destroyers recommissioned in September 1939, but in 1940 she was chosen for conversion into a seaplane tender. She was recommissioned ‘in ordinary’ on 28 June 1940, reclassified as AVD-12 on 2 August and fully recommissioned at San Francisco on 24 March 1941.

USS Gillis (AVD-12) leaving a floating dry dock
USS Gillis (AVD-12)
leaving a floating dry dock

The Gillis was assigned to Patrol Wing 4, of the Aircraft Scouting Force, US Pacific Fleet. Her main job was to act as a plane guard between San Diego and Seattle, but she also paid a visit to the north, serving at Sitka, Alaska from 14-17 June and Dutch Harbor and Kodiak from 15-31 July 1941. After an overhaul at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard she moved to Alaska, arriving at Kodiak on 16 October 1941. She was still there when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and remained in Alaskan waters until February 1942 when she returned to Puget Sound for another overhaul.

This was completed by the spring and she returned to Kodiak on 26 May 1942. The Gillis was at Dutch Harbor when the Japanese bombed the port on 3 June 1942. It was her radar that first detected the incoming Japanese aircraft at 0540. The Gillis went to general quarters and attempted to get out to sea, but was still in the harbour when the attack finished. During the attack the Gillis fired her AA guns, and claimed two victories.

On 6 June 1942 she was carrying out an air-sea rescue patrol off Umak Island when she detected an underwater contact on sonar. She made three depth charges attacks, and as a result a Japanese submarine briefly came to the surface, before disappearing. The Gillis then lost contact, and was credited with damaging a submarine.

On 10 June the Gillis arrived at Atka, from where she supported the Catalinas of PatWing Four as they carried out 48 hours of bombing attacks on Kiska, starting on 11 June. Her job was to refuel and rearm the bombers as they arrived at Ataka from Dutch Harbor, and then repeating it after each raid. The attack continued until the Gillis ran out of fuel and bombs. At the end of the raid, the Gillis set fire to all of the buildings at Atka, in the expectation that the Japanese would soon seize the island.

On 20 July 1942 the Gillis was attacked by three Japanese bombers at Adak. One bomb landed within 10 feet, but failed to explode and she was undamaged during the raid.

The Gillis remained in the Aleutians and Alaska until 19 April 1944 when she departed from Dutch Harbor heading for another overhaul at the Puget Sound Naval Yard. After the refit she moved to San Diego, arriving on 13 June. Most of the rest of 1944 was spent acting as a plane guard for carriers operating along the California coast. She then moved to Pearl Harbor, arriving on 8 December 1944. From December until February 1945 she acted as a plane guard for the escort carrier Makassar Strait(CVE-91).

On 20 February 1945 the Gillis left Pearl Harbor as part of Rear Admiral M.L. Deyo’s Gunfire and Covering Force, part of the massive fleet allocated to the invasion of Okinawa. She arrived off Kerama Retto on 25 March 1945, and was used to protect minesweepers then to support the underwater demolition teams. After the invasion of 1 April she acted as a tender for observation and patrol planes based at Kerama Retto, and carried out air-sea rescued patrols.

On 28 April she left Okinawa as part of the screen for the Makassar Strait, escorting her to the Philippines. The Gillis then returned to Okinawa as part of the screen of the USS Wake Island (CVE-65), which was ferrying land based aircraft to Okinawa. The aircraft were flown off on 29 June and the Gillis then escorted the Wake Island back to Guam, arriving on 3 July.

This ended her active career. She left Guam on 8 July 1945 heading for the west coast. She was decommissioned at San Pedro on 15 October 1945, struck off on 1 November 1945 and sold for scrap on 29 January 1946. 

The Gillis received two battle stars for service in World War II, for the occupation of Attu and Okinawa.

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed

35.51kts at 24,890shp at 1,107t on trial (Preble)


2-shaft Westinghouse geared tubines
4 boilers
27,000shp (design)


2,500nm at 20kts (design)


314ft 4in


30ft 10.5in


Four 4in/ 50 guns
One 3in/23 AA gun
Twelve 21in torpedoes in four triple mountings
Two depth charge tracks
One Y-Gun depth charge projector

Crew complement



29 May 1919


3 September 1919

Sold for scrap

29 January 1946

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

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (6 February 2020), USS Gillis (DD-260/ AVD-12) ,

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