USS O'Brien (DD-51)

USS O'Brien (DD-51) was the name ship of the O'Brien class of destroyers. She served from Queenstown in 1917-1918 and then from Brest for the last few months of the First World War.

The O'Brien was named after Captain Jeremiah O'Brien and his brothers Gideon, John, William, Dennis and Joseph, who together with other townsfolk captured the British schooner HMS Maragretta at the entrance to Machias Harbour (now in Maine).

USS O'Brien (DD-51) on trials, 1914
USS O'Brien (DD-51)
on trials, 1914

The O'Brien was laid down by Cramps at Philadelphia on 8 September 1913, launched on 20 July 1914 and commissioned on 22 May 1915. During her trials she reached 29.41 knots. She joined the 5th Division, Torpedo Flotilla, Atlantic Fleet, and spent the period before the US entry into the First World War operating off the US East Coast and in Cuban waters.

The O'Brien was in the York River on 6 April 1917, when the United States entered the First World War. She was one of the first US destroyers to be sent to Europe, leaving New York on 15 May 1917 and escorting a convoy from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Ireland. She reached Queenstown on 24 May 1917 and joined the 6th Destroyer Division. Her main duties at this point were escorting east-bound convoys through the danger zone and rescuing the crews of sunk merchant ships.

On 16 June 1917 she had her closest brush with a U-boat, while escorting SS Elysia only 12 miles off Queenstown. Her crew spotted a periscope, and then saw the U-boat pass along the starboard side of the ship. A depth charge was dropped, but didn't appear to have caused any damage. Three hours later HMS Jessamine reported a large oil path in the same place, and on the following day USS Cushing also reported oil. The O'Brien was credited with inflicting serious damage on the submarine. Post-war research identified the submarine as U-16, and showed that she completed her cruise.

Amongst the O'Brien's commanders while she was based at Queenstown was Charles Adams Blakely, who retired as a vice admiral in December 1941 after a distinguished inter-war career, mainly involved with carrier aviation.

In the summer of 1918 the O'Brien moved to Brest, from where she operated along the French Coast. 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 24 May 1917 and 11 November 1918 qualified for the First World War Victory Medal.

After the end of the war, she was used to provide a mail and passenger service between Brest and Plymouth. She returned to New York on 8 January 1919 and remained in limited service, before being decommissioned on 9 June 1922. She was struck off on 8 March 1935, scrapped, and her materials sold on 23 April 1935.

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



20 July 1914


22 May 1915


Scrapped 1935

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 (2 August 2016), USS O'Brien (DD-51) ,

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