USS MacLeish (DD-220)

USS MacLeish (DD-220) was a Clemson class destroyer that served in the eastern Mediterranean in 1922-24, with the Asiatic Fleet in 1925-31 and on convoy escort duties in the Atlantic and US Home Waters for much of the Second World War.

The MacLeish was named after Kenneth MacLeish, a pilot in the US Naval Reserve Flying Corps who was shot down and killed on 14 October 1918 while serving with the RAF.

The MacLeish was laid down at Cramp’s of Philadelphia on 19 August 1919, launched on 18 December 1919 and commissioned on 2 August 1920.

The MacLeish briefly served with the Pacific Fleet, but was then allocated to the US Naval Forces in Turkish waters, departing on 5 June 1922 (with the Litchfield (DD-336), Parrott (DD-218), Edsall (DD-219), Bulmer (DD-222), Simpson (DD-221), and McCormick (DD-223))

In October 1922 she provided men for the landings parties that helped organise the evacuation of refugees from Smyrna in Turkey and anyone who took part in these parties on 1-5 October 1922 qualified for the Smyrna Expeditionary Medal.

The MacLeish operated in the Black Sea and eastern Mediterranean, taking part in humanitarian efforts in a chaotic area, and protecting US interests.

USS MacLeish (DD-220) with the battlefleet, late 1930s
USS MacLeish (DD-220)
with the battlefleet, late 1930s

In 1924 the MacLeish was assigned to the Scouting Fleet. She visited a series of European ports on her voyage home, arriving in the United States in July 1924 and then departed for the west coast.

On 7 May 1925 the MacLeish departed for the China Station, arriving at Shanghai on 21 June 1925, in the aftermath of  a period of some chaos in the city. In June-July she provided landing parties to protect US interests in the city. Anyone who served on her in that period qualified for the Shanghai Expeditionary Medal.

On 26 August 1928 the minesweeper USS Avocet ran aground in a typhoon off the coast of China. The MacLeish was one of three destroyers that were used to run past her at high speed to create a wave that would rock her free. Eventually this actually played a part in her successful return to sea on 29 August.

Anyone who served on her on fives sets of dates between 7 January 1927 and 2 November 1931 qualified for the Yangtze Service Medal.

On 7 December 1931 the MacLeish’s Squadron 5 was reorganised, with its six ship divisions replaced with four ship divisions. The MacLeish formed part of a new Division 17, along with the McCormick, Tracy, Truxtun, Borie and Simpson, which was detached from the Asiatic Fleet and sent back to the United States to join Rotating Reserve Squadron 20 at the Mare Island Navy Yard. The nature of this assignment meant it was a short-term assignment, and she was soon rotated out of the reserve and back into service.

USS MacLeish (DD-220) at Constantinople, 1922 USS MacLeish (DD-220) at Constantinople, 1922

By the late 1930s the MacLeish had transferred to the Battle Fleet, operating from Pearl Harbor. She was decommissioned on 11 March 1938, and entered the Reserve Fleet.

After the outbreak of war in Europe the MacLeish was recommissioned on 25 September 1939, and became the flagship of the newly formed Destroyer Squadron 31, which was created in the same month. She still held that position at the start of 1942. She served on the Eastern Sea Frontier in 1940, before later in the year returning to port to be converted into an escort. This involved giving her more suitable weapons and adding extra fuel tanks.


The conversion was complete by the end of January 1941. The MacLeish was then used to escort convoys along the US coast, before in July she moved to North Atlantic patrol and convoy duties. She continued to perform this duty afte the US entry into the Second World War.

Any who served on her in four periods between 23 June and 7 December 1941 qualified for the American Defense Service Medal.


In the spring of 1942 the MacLeish was assigned to coastal patrol and escort duties. Between then and February 1943 she escorted twelve convoys between Norfolk and Key West and nine between new York and Guantanamo Bay.

On 2 May 1942 the MacLeish attacked a possible U-boat and was credited with a probable kill off the Florida coast. However the only U-boat lost on that day was U-74, sunk by British escorts off the coast of Spain.


In February 1943 the MacLeish was assigned to the escort forces for convoys heading to Casablanca. In the first half of 1943 she escorted two convoys from New York to Casablanca to support the fighting in North Africa after Operation Torch.

Between 13 June and 3 July she helped escort the carrier Santee (CVE-29) as she steamed from Hampton Roads to Casablanca, along with the Bainbridge and Overton. They formed Task Group 21.11, and formed a loose escort for Convoy UGS-10. The MacLeish remained part of the Santee’s group for the rest of 1943.

During the group’s second trip, in July 1943, the Santee’s aircraft were credited with three possible sinkings. These were later confirmed as U-160 (14 July), U-509 (15 July ) and U-43 (30 July).

Between mid October and 13 November she joined the Bainbridge and the Simpson, escorting the Santee on another trip to Casablanca.


By 1944 the MacLeish was becoming increasingly aged. She spent the first three months of the year serving as a target ship for torpedo planes off Key West. She was then overhauled, and returned to her escort duties. In May she left for the Mediterranean as the flagship of Task Force 63. After D-Day the MacLeish escorted a convoy from the US to Cherbourg.

That ended her active career. Later in 1944 she was used as a target ship for submarines in training as they moved from the US East Coast to the Pacific.


The MacLeish returned to Boston, where on 5 January 1945 she was redesiganted as AG-87. Her armament was removed, before she resumed duties as a target ship at Panama. She worked with twenty five submarines in that role, before moving to Rhode Island to tow targets for naval aircraft.

The MacLeish was decommissioned on 8 March 1946, struck off on 13 November and sold for scrap on 18 December 1946.

MacLeish received one battle star for World War II service, for Task Force 21.11 (13 June-8 August 1943)

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



18 December 1919


2 August 1920

Sold for scrap

18 December 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 (18 April 2019), USS MacLeish (DD-220) ,

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