USS Swasey (DD-273)/ HMS Rockingham

USS Swasey (DD-273) was a Clemson class destroyer that had a limited US career, but went to Britain as part of the Destroyers for Bases deal. In British service she served as an Atlantic convoy escort ship and troops convoy escort, before being converted into an air target ship in 1943. She sank after hitting a British mine on 27 September 1944.

Destroyer Division 31 in 1921
Destroyer Division 31 in 1921

The Swasey was laid down on 27 August 1918 by the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corp., Squantum, Mass. She was launched on 7 May 1919, and was sponsored by Miss Mary L. Swasey. She was commissioned on 8 August 1919 and assigned to the Pacific Fleet. She was posted to Pearl Harbor, arriving there in the autumn of 1919.

During 1922 she was part of Destroyer Division Thirty-One, made up of Bailey (DD-269), Thornton(DD-270), Morris (DD-271), Tingey (DD-272), Swasey (DD-273) and Meade (DD-274).

She operated from Hawaii until the summer of 1922 when she returned to San Diego. She was decommissioned on 10 June 1922 and remained in the reserve until 1939. She was recommissioned on 18 December 1939 during the rapid expansion of the US Navy after the outbreak of war in Europe.

In 1940 she was chosen to be one of the fifty ships to be transferred to Britain under the terms of the Destroyers for Bases Deal. She was transferred to the Royal Navy on 26 November 1940, as HMS Rockinham (G-58).

As HMS Rockingham

The Rockingham, Stanley, Ripley and Roxburgh arrived in British home waters in mid-December 1940. The Rockingham arrived at Devonport on 22 December and began a refit to prepare her for use as a convoy escort. This included the removal of her mainmast and the reduction in size of the foremast and aft three funnels, the removal of the aft 3in and 4in guns and the installation of a British 12-pounder HA gun. The aft torpedo tubes were removed and British Depth Charge throwers installed. The US Sonar was kept, but British ASDIC recorders fitted to it.

The refit was completed by 2 February 1941 and she was allocated to the 8th Escort Group. In March she joined her group, and was used for the Local Escort of Atlantic convoys as they crossed the North-West approaches. On 25-26 March she provided part of the escort for Military Convoy WS7 on its way out of the Clyde. However by the end of April it was clear that she was still suffering from a number of defects and a further refit was needed.

USS Swasey (DD-273) from the right USS Swasey (DD-273) from the right

This second refit was carried out by a commercial shipyard at Southampton, and lasted from 14 May to July 1942. This time the forward set of torpedo tubes was removed and a British triple mount was installed on the centre line behind the funnels. 20mm Oerlikon AA guns were also added.

Late in August she rejoined the 8th Escort Group. In September she was part of the escort for Convoy OG74 as it headed to Gibraltar.

In October the convoy moved to the 1st Escort Group, based at Londonderry, and allocated to the Atlantic Convoy escort role.

In December she was detached from the group to serve as part of the escort for troop convoys. On 24 December she joined the escort of military convoy CT8 going to Canada from the UK. In January 1942 she escorted the inbound convoy NA1 and outbound convoy CY10. In February she moved to Bermuda to escort AMC Ausonia from Halifax and then returned to the UK with Convoy NA4. In March she formed part of the escort of military convoy WS 17.

In April 1942 she returned to the 1st Escort Group and resumed her duties escorting trans-Atlantic convoys. However this was a short-lived assignment and in June 1942 she moved to London for yet another refit. This lasted until October 1942, and in November she rejoined the 1st Escort Group once again. This was the start of her longest period on the same front line duty, and she operated with the group from November 1942 until July 1943.

In August 1943 she was chosen for use as an air target ship. She was modified for her new role at Belfast from August to November 1943, before in January 1944 moving to Rosyth. From February to August 1944 she was used as an air target ship based on the east coast of Scotland.

On 27 September 1944, while returning to Aberdeen, she ran into the British defensive minefields along the east coast, hitting a mine. One man was killed. The Rockingham initially taken in tow, but soon had to be abandoned and later sank. 

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)

Armour - belt


 - deck



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



7 May 1919


8 August 1910

Sunk by British Mine

27 September 1944

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 (30 March 2020), USS Swasey (DD-273)/ HMS Rockingham ,

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