USS O'Brien (DD-415)

USS O'Brien (DD-415) was a Sims class destroyer that served on the US east coast in 1940-41 then moved to the Pacific after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In 1942 she operated in the Central and South Pacific. On 15 September, while escorting a convoy to Guadalcanal, she was hit by a torpedo. At first the damage didn't seem too bad, but on 19 October, while on her way to San Francisco for repairs she broke up and sank.

USS O'Brien (DD-415) under construction, 1938 USS O'Brien (DD-415) under construction, 1938

The O’Brien was named after the six O’Brien brothers, who all served on the sloop Unity when it captured HMS Margaretta in 1775.

The O’Brien was laid down in the drydock at the Boston Navy Yard on 31 May 1938, launched on 20 October 1939 when she was sponsored by Miss Josephine O’Brien-Campbell, the great-great-great grand-daughter of Gideon O’Brien, and commissioned on 2 March 1940. Her launch ceremony was someone unusual, as she had been built in a drydock alongside the Walke, Landsdale and Madison, so all four ships were christened on the same day.

After entering service the O’Brien took part in the Neutrality Patrol, operating in the western Atlantic and Caribbean.

On 7 December 1940 the O’Brien and Walke left Guantanamo Bay to join the Moffett (DD-362) and Sims (DD-409) off Martinique, to watch the Vichy French warships that were trapped there. O’Brien and Walke watched Fort de France on Martinique until 14 December.

On 28 July she left Norfolk to escort the Wasp as she carried Curtiss P-40Cs and Stearman PT-17s which were to support the US landings on Iceland. The Wasp’s group joined up with the main TF 16 a few days later, and escorted them until 6 August, when the aircraft took off to make their own way to the existing British airfields on Iceland. The Wasp and her escorts then turned back for home, reaching Norfolk on 14 August.

In September 1941 she formed part of the screen of Convoy TF-15, escorting a convoy to Iceland.

In the autumn of 1941 she entered a drydock for repairs. After the attack on Pearl Harbor she was selected to be transferred to the Pacific, and by 31 December she was at the Norfolk Navy Yard.


The O’Brien, Idaho and Mustin left Norfolk on 15 January 1942, passed through the Panama Canal on 20 January and reached San Francisco on 31 January 1942.

The O’Brien left San Francisco on 4 February as part of the escort of a convoy heading to the western Pacific, but collided with the destroyer Cass and suffered damage to her port side that forced her to return to Mare Island for repairs.

The O’Brien left Mare Island on 20 February to head to San Diego then on to Pearl Harbor, where on 5 March she became the flagship of Destroyer Division 4. For much of March she operated from Pearl Harbor and patroled around French Frigate Shoals. In late March the O’Brien and Curtiss moved to Midway to evacuate the civilian personnel, returning to Pearl Harbor on 3 April.

At Pearl Harbor her anti-aircraft batteries were improved. On 18 April the O’Brien, Flusser and Mugford departed to carry passengers to the  Naval Air Station at Palmyra. She then returned to the West Coast to escort a convoy from San Diego and San Francisco to Samoa, arriving at Pago Pago on 28 April.

She spent most of May on local escort duties at Pago Pago. On 26 May she helped support the occupation of Wallis Island, which had been taken over by the Free French. On 19 June the O’Brien and Procyon departed for Pearl Harbor. The O’Brien spent almost a month on escort duty and as a patrol and plane guard ship at Pearl Harbor.

On 17 August the O’Brien departed from Pearl Harbor as part of TF 17 (Hornet, Northampton, Pensacola, San Diego, five destroyers and the oiler Guadalupe (AO-32) ) heading for the South Pacific. TF 17 soon joined up with TF 18, and on 15 September the combined force was attacked by the Japanese submarines I-15 and I-19, while escorting a convoy heading to Guadalcanal.

USS O'Brien (DD-415) being torpedoed, 1942 USS O'Brien (DD-415) being torpedoed, 1942

During this attack I-19 fired the most succesful single spread of torpedoes ever fired. One hit and fatally damaged the Wasp. Another hit and damaged the North Carolina (DD-415). A third narrowly missed the O’Brien, passing just behind her stern, but a fourth hit her far forward in the bow.

The damage to the bow wasn’t that serious. Bulkhead 22 buckled but remained watertight so all of the damage was in front of that. Nobody was killed in the explosion, and the flooding only caused her bow to sink by 5in. However the inpact caused vibrations all along the hull, buckling the hull plates and longitudinal frames and badly damaging the bottom structure between frames 104 and 108. Water leaked into the forward engine room through open seams and rivet holes and the entire aft part of the ship was bent 1 degree to port.

The O’Brien was able to proceed at her own power, and made her way to Espiritu Santo, 280 miles away, at a speed of less than 12 knots, arriving on 16 September. She was helped by good weather and moderate seas. At Espiritu Santo some initial repairs were carried out by the Curtiss (AV-4). Most of these were in the bows, but all holes between frames 104 and 108 were plugged by divers.

The O’Brien departed from Espiritu Santo on 21 September, and covered the 603 miles to Noumea at 11.5 knots, arriving on 23 September. More repairs were carried out by the Argonne (AG-31). A new partial bow section was added, significant work went into repairing the weakened area at frames 104-108 and torpedoes, depth charges, ammo and some of her radar were removed to save weight. Once the repairs were completed she was considered capable of making 15 knots in a moderate sea.

On 10 October the O’Brien departed for Mare Island, San Francisco, with the Lang (DD-399) and Cimmaron (AO-22). She reached Suva on 13 October, where one failed repair was itself repaired. However an inspection found no other problems. She departed Suva on 16 October, but as she moved east the rate of leakage began to increase. The crisis began on 18 October. The fire and bilge pumps that had been coping with the leaks were no longer enough, and the main pump had to be used. The area repaired at Suva failed again. At 10am the vertical keel was found to be broken and cracks were appearing deep in the hull. It was clear that she was no longer going to be able to reach San Francisco, and she headed for the nearest anchorage, at Pago Pago. Topside weights were jettisoned, and the crew prepared to abandon ship. However the pumps were still able to just about cope.

This changed at 0337 on 19 October when a shell plate on the port side broke open. The pumps were no longer able to cope, and at 0430 the forward engine room had to be abandoned. At 0600 parts of the bottom opened up, and the forward and aft parts of the hull began to move independently of each other. It was clear that the ship could no longer be saved, and at 0630 all hands apart from a salvage crew abandoned ship. At about 0800 she sank, a remarkable 2,800 miles after being torpedoed! All of her crew were rescued. The loss of the O’Brien was studied in great detail, and the leasons learned helped save badly damaged ships later in the war.

DD-415 earned 1 battle star during World War II, although which one isn’t listed in the Navy’s list of awards. The most likely candidate is the defence of Guadalcanal.

Displacement (standard)

1,570t design
1,759.3t as built  

Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed

35kt design
38.75kt at 51,387shp at 1,948tons on trial (Anderson)
36.91kts at 51,138shp at 2,230tons on trial (Anderson)


2-shaft Westinghouse turbines
3 boilers
50,000shp design


6,500nm at 12kts design
5,640nm at 12kts at 2,350t wartime
3,660nm at 20kts at 2,350t


348ft 3.25in


36ft 1.5in


Five 5in/38 DP guns
Twelve 21in torpedo tubes in three quad tubes in design
Eight 21in TT in two quads as built
Four 0.50in AA guns
Two depth charge tracks

Crew complement


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 (11 January 2023), USS O'Brien (DD-415) ,

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