USS Thornton (DD-270/ AVD-11)

USS Thornton (DD-270/ AVD-11) was a Clemson class destroyer that was at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked, then served in the Aleutians and the South Pacific, taking part in the battles for Guadalcanal and Okinawa before being badly damaged in a collision and abandoned as not worth repairing.

The Thornton was named after James Shepard Thornton, a US naval officer during the Mexican War and American Civil War.

The Thornton was laid down by the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corp at Squantum, Mass, on 3 June 1918. She was launched on 2 March 1919 and sponsored by Miss Marcia Thornton Davis. She was commissioned on 15 July 1919, and departed for Europe on 26 August.

USS Thornton (DD-270) in inshore waters
USS Thornton (DD-270)
in inshore waters

The Thornton visited the Azores, then arrived at Gibraltar on 15 September 1919. She spent the rest of 1919 visiting a number of European ports, before departing for home early in 1920. She arrived at Boston on 12 February 1920, and departed for the Pacific on 27 March. After a slow voyage she reached her new base at San Diego on 27 May 1920. For the next two years she operated along the California coast. In 1922 she was part of Destroyer Division 31, alongside the Bailey (DD-269), Tingey (DD-272), Morris (DD-271), Swasey (DD-273) and Meade (DD-274).

The Thornton was decommissioned on 24 May 1922, and remained out of service until 25 May 1940 when it was decided to convert her into a seaplane tender. She was recommissioned in ordinary on 24 June 1940 and moved to San Francisco to be converted. She was redesignated as AVD-11 on 2 August 1940, and was recommissioned in her new role on 5 March 1941.

The Thornton arrived at Pearl Harbor on 18 April 1941 and operated in Hawaiian waters until August 1942. During this period she also visited Wake, Midway and Palmyra islands. 

When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 the Thornton was moored at berth S-1 in the Submarine Base. Most of her crew were onboard, although her commanding officer was ashore. Four of her officers were onboard, including Ensign J.S. Burns, her Gunnery Officer and First Lieutenant. The crew opened fire with every weapon available, including those allocated to her landing party – a total of four .50in machine guns, three .30in Lewis guns, three .30in Browning automatic rifles and twelve .30in rifles. She claimed part of one success, shooting down a Japanese torpedo bomber with the help of fire from the Hulbert (AVP-6). During the battle she fired 6,000 rounds of .50in ammo and 2,000 rounds of .30in ammo, and was undamaged. 


The Thornton arrived at French Frigate Shoals on 29 May 1942, relieving the minelayer USS Preble (DM-20). During the battle of Midway the Thornton, Ballard (AVD-10), Clark (DD-361) and tanker Kaloli (AOG-13) were posted there. This prevented the Japanese from using the shoals to refuel their flying boats, which in turn prevented them from carrying out reconnaissance flights over Pearl Harbor.

On 25 August 1942 the Thornton left Pearl Harbor and moved north, reaching Kodiak in Alaska on 30 August. She joined Task Force 8 and operated along the Alaskan coast, visiting Kodiak, Attu and Chernofski. However she had to be withdrawn from the Aleutians for service in the South Pacific after the tender McFarland was damaged.

The Thornton left for Pearl Harbour on 21 October, arriving on 30 October. She departed for the South Pacific on 10 November, first moving to Suva in the Fiji Islands. She was also based at Funafuti in the Ellice Islands, and at Vanikoro in the Santa Cruz Islands

On the 25th, Thornton steamed out of Pearl Harbor, headed north, and arrived at Kodiak, Alaska, on the 30th. For the next two months, the seaplane tender cruised the icy Alaskan seas as a part of Task Force 8. She visited Kodiak, Attu, and Chernofski before departing Kodiak for Pearl Harbor on 21 October.


USS Thornton (AVD-11) after 1945 collision USS Thornton (AVD-11) after 1945 collision

On 17 July 1943 the Chincoteague (AVP-24) was damaged by Japanese bombing at the Santa Cruz Islands. Later on the same day the Thornton arrived to help in the attempts to her. The Thornton transferred portable pumps across, which helped keep flooding under control. On the following morning the Thornton had to help put out a fire in the Chincoteague’s engine room. The Thornton towed her for most of the day, apart from a gap in the morning when a possible submarine was detected. The Thornton remained alongside the Chincoteague until heavy seas forced her to a safe distance early on 19 July, but tugs then arrived and pulled her to safety.  The Thornton then remained at Espiritu Santu until 11 November when she departed for Guadalcanal. On 13-15 November she escorted the Chandeleur (AV-10) from Espirutu Santo to Guadalcanal.


On 4-5 January 1944 she escorted the escort carrier USS Barnes (CVE-20) to Espiritu Santo after the carrier had taken part in the invasion of the Gilbert Islands. The Thornton then returned to US west coast, visiting Pearl Harbor on 5-8 February and arriving at Mare Island on 17 February. She spent the next ten months on the west coast, undergoing repairs and taking part in local operations. She finally departed for the war on on 3 December 1944. She visited Pearl Harbor once again, this time staying from mid-December 1944 until late February 1945.


On 22 February 1945 the Thornton left Pearl Harbor to take part in the invasion of Okinawa. However her part in the battle would be short. On 5 April 1945, while serving with the Search and Reconnaissance Group of the Southern Attack Group, she was involved in a collision with the Ashtabula(AO-51) and Escalante (AO-71).

Collision Damage to USS Thornton (AVD-11) Collision Damage to USS Thornton (AVD-11)

The Ashtabula’s bow struck the Thornton amidships, causing serious damage and opening up a large rift that opened her up to the sea. The Thornton had to be towed to safety by the Munsee, but on 8 April her little flotilla was threatened by four kamikaze aircraft. Two were shot down by the escorting destroyer USS Gillespie, and the other two failed to attack. The small fleet reached Kerama Retto on 14 April, but on 29 April a board of inspection and survey recommended that the Thornton should be stripped of all useful material, beached and decommissioned. She was beached and decommissioned on 2 May 1945. In July 1957 what was left of the wreck was donated to the government of the Ryukyu Islands.

Thornton earned three battle stars for World War II service, for Pearl Harbor, Guadalcanal and Okinawa.

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



2 March 1919


15 July 1919

Damaged in collision

5 April 1945


2 May 1945

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

WWII Home Page | WWII Subject Index | WWII Books | WWII Links | Day by Day

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (18 March 2020), USS Thornton (DD-270/ AVD-11) ,

Help - F.A.Q. - Contact Us - Search - Recent - About Us - Privacy