USS Henley (DD-391)

USS Henley (DD-391) was a Bagley class destroyer that fought at Pearl Harbor and during the invasion of Guadalcanal, before being sunk by torpedoes off Finschhafen, New Guinea, on 3 October 1943.

The Henley was named after Robert Henley, who served in the US Navy during the Quasi-war with France, the war against the Barbary pirates and the War of 1812 and died in 1835 while serving as commander of the West India Squadron.

USS Pompano (SS-181) and USS Henley (DD-391) under construction 1936 USS Pompano (SS-181) and USS Henley (DD-391) under construction 1936

The Henley was launched on 12 January 1937 at the Mare Island Navy Yard when she was sponsored by Miss Beryl Henley Joslin, a distant relative of Captain Henley and commissioned on 14 August 1937. Her shakedown cruise took her to Hawaii, before she joined Destroyer Division 11 of the Battle Force at San Diego on 12 September 1938. She was based at San Diego until 14 April 1941, when she left to join the fleet at its new base at Pearl Harbor.

On the morning of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor an inexperienced sailor had sounded General Quarters instead of Quarters, so the Henley was moored with her battle stations manned. As a result she fired the first 5in destroyer shots as the Japanese attacked, although her commanding officer and executive officer were both on shore, so she was commandeed by Lieutenant Francis Fleck, her Gunnery and torpedo officer. A bomb exploded 150 yards off her port bow as she was slipping her chain, but she was under way at 0830 and was then able to get out of the harbour. She claimed one aircraft shot down (as it attempted to attack the Henley) and a share of a second during the fighting. She also dropped depth charges on a sonar target which may have been one of the midget submarines caught outside the harbour. Her CO and XO came onboard from the Trever at about 11.30.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack the Henley helped escort the Saratoga on the last stages of her voyage to Pearl Harbor from the US West Coast, arriving on 15 December, then took part in the failed attempt to relieve Wake Island and the succesful resupply of Midway Island.


The Henley was photographed at the Mare Island Navy Yard on 25-26 February 1942.

The Henley spent most of the first half of 1942 on convoy escort and anti-submarine duties in Australian waters. For much of this period she was part of Task Force 44, which was commanded by the British Rear Admiral Victor Crutchley.

USS Henley (DD-391) at sea, 2 May 1938 USS Henley (DD-391) at sea, 2 May 1938

On 8 May the Henley was at Noumea when she was ordered to put to sea to search for the crippled oiler Neosho, which had been badly damaged by Japanese air attack during the battle of the Coral Sea. On 11 May the Henley became the first ship to reach the Neosho, which was still afloat. The Henley was able to rescue 104 survivors from the Neosho and 14 from the Sims, along with five passengers from the Yorktown and Portland who had been unlucky enough to be on the Neosho when she was attacked. Three of the survivors died on the Henley. The Henley then had to sink the Neosho, but this turned out to be harder than expected. The first torpedo hit but failed to explode. The second exploded but the Neosho failed to sink. Finally it took 146 rounds of 5in ammo to sink her. The Henley spent the next three days attempting to find more survivors who were known to be on rafts although without success. However the Helm did find four survivors on a raft on 16 May.

USS Henley (DD-391) at Mare Island Navy Yard 1937 USS Henley (DD-391) at Mare Island Navy Yard 1937

She then moved to Wellington, New Zealand, to join the forces being assembled for the invasion of Guadalcanal. She left Wellington on 22 July as part of the escort for the transports, and during the invasion on 7 August carried out anti-submarine patrols off the invasion beaches. She was attacked by Japanese aircraft but wasn’t damaged, and claimed a share in two victories.

During the battle of Savo Island the Henley and Helm were stationed off Tulagi. They received Admiral Crutchley’s order for the destroyers to concentrate at 0206 but her attempts to find the Australia failed and she spent several hours wandering lost in heavy rain and fog, almost colliding with the Mugford.

On 18 August the Blue, Henley and Helm left Noumea to escort a convoy to Guadalcanal. On the way the Blue was torpedoed and had to be towed to Guadalcanal by the Henley. On 21 August the Blue (DD-387), Henley and Helm (DD-388) arrived at Guadalcanal, as the escort for the cargo ships Fomalhaut (AK-22) and Alhena (AKA-9). She remained in the area until 29 August.

On 29 August the Henley departed for Australia, and she spent the next year on plane guard, convoy escort duties and anti-submarine patrols in Australian waters and around New Guinea. Once again she formed part of TF 44.

On 7 September the Henley left Brisbane with Task Force 44 in an attempt to catch a Japanese cruiser and destroyer that had bombarded the Gili Gili and Waga Waga areas. On 11 September the Henley, Selfridge, Bagley and Helm were detached and sent to Milne Bay to hunt for two more Japanese destroyers that were attempting to rescue a Japanese force trapped on Goodenough Island. They searched the area on the night of 11-12 September but without success and rejoined the task force on 12 September. The Japanese were able to evacuate most of their men.


On 27 June the Henley, Bagley and SC-749 left Townsville to escort six LSTs carrying 2,600 Army troops to Woodlark Island. The troops were landed on the night of 30 June and 1 July, and a fighter airstrip was operational on the island by 23 July!

The Henley was part of the screen during the invasion of Finschhafen, New Guinea, on 21 September 1943. The force was attacked by ten Japanese torpedo bombers. The Henley claimed three victories and a share in three more during a half hour battle.

On 3 October the Henley, Reid and Smith were carrying out a sweep off Finschhafen when two torpedoes were sighted heading for her, fired by the Japanese submarine RO-108. Her captain was able to avoid these two, but she was then hit by a third. This hit on the port side and exploded in No.1 Fireroom, breaking her keel, knocking her bow 30 degrees to one side and destroying all of her boilers. Her crew abandoned ship, and she sank at 18.29. Fifteen men were killed, but her fellow destroyers were able to rescue eighteen officers and 225 men.

USS Henley (DD-391), San Diego, 1938 USS Henley (DD-391), San Diego, 1938

Henley earned four battle stars for her participation in World War II, for Pearl Harbor, the invasion of Guadalcanal, the defense of Guadalcanal and Eastern New Guinea.

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed

38kts design
36.8kt at 47,191shp at 1,969t on trial (Blue)


2-shaft General Electric turbines
4 boilers


6,500nm at 12kts design
6,940nm at 12kts at 2,200t wartime
4,360nm at 20kts at 2,200t wartime


341ft 3in


35ft 6.5in


Four 5in/38 guns
Sixteen 21in torpedo tubes in four quad mounts
Four .50in AA guns
Two depth charge tracks

Crew complement


Laid down



12 January 1937


14 August 1937

Sunk by torpedo

3 October 1943

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 (23 August 2022), USS Henley (DD-391) ,

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