USS Ward (DD-139/ APD-16)

USS Ward (DD-139/ APD-16) was a Wickes class destroyer that fired the first shots of the Pacific War, and served as a fast transport before being sunk by a Kamikaze in 1944.

The Ward was named after James Harmon Ward, a US naval officer who was one of the first tutors at Annapolis, served in the Mexican War and during the American Civil War, becoming the first US naval officer to be killed during the war.

USS Ward (DD-139) at Mare Island, September 1918
USS Ward (DD-139) at Mare Island, September 1918

Destroyer Evolution
Destroyer Evolution

The Ward was laid down on 15 May 1918 at Mare Island, launched only 15 days later, on 1 June 1918 (a record), and commissioned on 24 July 1918. Despite all of this effort, she didn't enter service in time for active service in the First World War, and didn't leave the west coast until 2 December 1918.

The Ward became the flagship of Destroyer Division 18. She took part in the winter manoeuvres of 1918-19 at Guantanamo Bay, and then in May 1919 helped support the successful transatlantic flight of the Navy Curtiss flying boat NC-4, taking up a position in the line of navigation ships between the Boggs (DD-136) and Palmer (DD-161). In July 1919 she passed through the Panama Canal as the US Fleet moved to the Pacific. She then visited Acapulco and a series of California ports before reaching her home base at San Diego. She was based there until 21 July 1921, when she was decommissioned.


Unlike many of her sister ships, she wasn't recommissioned again during the 1920 or 1930s, and didn't return to active duties until 15 January 1941, where she was recommissioned. She had a difficult voyage to her new base at Hawaii, but arrived safely on 9 March, becoming part of the 14th Naval District's local defence force and DesDiv 80, along with USS Allen (DD-66) and two other Wickes class destroyers USS Chew (DD-106) and USS Schley (DD-103). The division was given the job of patrolling the channel entrance at Pearl Harbor! For the rest of 1941 the small division of old destroyers conducted anti-submarine patrols in the area off Hawaii.

Troops embark on USS Ward (APD-16), 30 July 1944
Troops embark on
USS Ward (APD-16),
30 July 1944

Late in November 1941 the US commanders in Hawaii reached a 'war warning', after it became clear that war with Japan was a real possibility. Admiral Kimmel, the C-in-C of the Pacific Fleet, ordered the inshore patrols to depth charge any suspicious contacts in the defensive sea areas. The Ward operated within two miles of the entrance to Pearl Harbor, with her depth charges live. On 6 December the Ward put to sea at the start of a patrol outside the harbour entrance. She was thus on duty when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

The first alert came at 0408 on 7 December, when she attempted to find a submarine that might have been detected by USS Condor (AMD-14), but without success. She soon had her first taste of combat. As the Antares (AKS-14), flagship of Training Squadron 8, returned into harbour, lookouts on the Ward spotted the wake from a probable submarine attempting to follow her in. At 0645 the Ward fired the first shots of the Pacific War when one of her 4in guns opened fire at the Japanese midget submarine that was attempting to break into Pearl Harbor. At least one shot hit, and the Ward dropped four depth charges which sank the submarine. News of this clear attack failed to reach the fleet in time to prevent the Japanese from achieving a surprise attack. The Ward was strafed by one passing Japanese aircraft after the main attack began, but was otherwise outside the main battle area.

After the attack on Pearl Harbor the Ward was used for anti-submarine warfare, until she was eventually selected for conversion into a fast transport. This work took place at the Puget Sound Navy Yard during the second half of 1942. She had her forward boiler and fire rooms converted into accommodation, and the forward funnels removed. Her 4in guns and .50in machine guns were replaced with dual purpose 3in/ 50 guns and 20mm Oerlikons. She was also give four 36ft landing craft.


The Ward was redesignated as APD-16, and departed for the South Pacific on 6 February 1943. She moved to Espirito Santo, where she was used on anti-submarine patrols, escort duties and local transport missions, while also training for her new role. She was near Tulagi on 7 April 1943 when the Japanese launched Operation I, a massive air strike designed to make up for the loss of Guadalcanal. The Ward claimed a part in the destruction of two aircraft, and the attack generally ended as a failure, with only the Aaron Ward (DD-483) and Kanawha (AO-9) sunk for the loss of a large number of Japanese aircraft.

USS Ward (DD-139) firing No.3 Gun for first time
USS Ward (DD-139) firing No.3 Gun for first time

Between 8-10 April the Ward (along with (DD-468), Farenholt (DD-491), and Sterett (DD-407)) escorted five merchantmen from Tulagi to Espiritu Santo. She then carried out night landing exercises in the New Hebrides, before returning to anti-submarine duties.

On 16 June she helped fight off a Japanese air attack at Guadalcanal, claiming four victories. On 23 June she formed part of the escort of a convoy that lost two cargo ships to a Japanese submarine attack on the following day (at the hands of RO-103).

On 17 December she joined Task Force 76 at Milne Bay, New Guinea, ready to finally carry out her transport role. On 24 December she took 140 men from the 3rd Battalion 7 Marine Regiment on board, and departed for Cape Gloucester as part of TU 76.1.21. On 26 December she landed her men at beach Yellow One at Cape Gloucester. On 29 December she landed 200 men from the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines, at Cape Gloucester.


At the start of 1944 the Ward joined Transport Division 22, ready to take part in the invasion of Saidor on New Guinea. On 2 January she landed Company 'L' of the 126th Army Infantry Regiment, 32nd Division, at Saidor. She was then based at Espiritu Santo into February, before leaving to take part in the invasion of Nissan Island in mid-February. This attack was opposed by air attack, but not by any troops, and the Ward was soon able to return to Russell Island to pick up reinforcements.

In March 1944 the Ward took part in the landings at Emirau Island, transporting 'B' Company, 1st Battalion, 4th Marines. She landed 208 troops and 22 tons of stores at Emirau and then joined the anti-submarine screen, before returning to Purvis Bay for some upkeep late in the month.

On 22 April the Ward landed the 163rd Army Regimental Combat Team at Aitape, New Guinea. She then took part in a half hour long shore bombardment, before bringing reinforcements to Aitape. Next came a spell of anti-submarine duties to protect the transports heading for Saidor, followed by patrol duties to protect other landing craft at Aitape. She then escorted four troop transports to Humboldt Bay.

On 27 May she landed troops from the Army's 186th Infantry Regiment to Bosnik on Biak Islands in the Schoetens. She then spent most of June carrying out anti-submarine duties off Humboldy Bay and in New Guinea. This was followed by a brief overhaul at Manus. July was spent on local transport duties in the New Guinea area. She then acted as a picket ship for a convoy heading from Humboldt Bay to Maffin Bay.

On 30 July the Ward landed Companies E and F of the 1st Army Infantry Regiment, 6th Division, a combat photographic unit and three Australian war correspondents at Cape Sansapor.

Early August was spent on local transport missions, before she headed to Australia for an overhaul. On 9 August heavy weather caused damage to her, pulling a 3in ready-use ammo locker off the deck, leaving a small hole. The overhaul and repairs at Port Jackson, Sydney, lasted for ten days.

In mid-September the Ward landed 157 men from Company "A," 124th Infantry Regiment, 31st Division on Morotai, operating with TU 77.3.2. She then provided part of the anti-submarine patrol .

At the start of October the Ward embarked 147 men from Companies "E" and "F" of the 6th Army Ranger Battalion, who were to take part in the preliminary operations at Leyte Gulf in the Philippines. She got underway on 12 October. Early on 17 October the convoy was spotted by a Japanese aircraft, which dropped a white flare revealing the invasion force. The Ward was still able to drop her boats, but after that things got more difficult. The Ward's boats had to go back to HMS Ariadne while Schley's boats came to the Ward to pick up Ranger Company F. The Ward was struggling to stay in the swept channel, while all but one of her boats became grounded on their landing beach. One was towed off, but the others had to remain there overnight. The fourth boat couldn't reach the Ward and had to go to the Schley instead, while one of Schley's boats was taken onboard the Ward.

On 18 October the Ward returned to the area to unload supplies. She helped fight off an attack by two Vals, and then returned to the Palaus. On the way one of her men was drowned after falling overboard. She returned to the Philippines on 12 November, as part of the escort for three LSTs. The fleet came under heavy air attack that day, but the Ward was untouched.

On 6 December the Ward embarked 106 men from the 77th Division and headed for Ormoc bay on Leyte Island. Once again this force came under air attack, but early on 7 December the Ward was able to disembark her troops. She was then used to screen the fleet, once again coming under air attack. She was attacked by nine 'Betties', of which three came straight for her. One was hit by the Ward's anti-aircraft fire, but crashed straight into her at 0956, hitting at the water line. The other two both crashed within a short distance of the Ward. The first aircraft exploded within the Ward, starting fires in the empty troop accommodation spaces. Despite desperate attempts to put out the fires the Ward couldn’t be saved. At 1015, O'Brien (DD-725), Saunter (AM-295), Scout (AM-296), and Crosby began rescue operations, and at 10.24 her commander, Lt. R. E. Parwell issued the order to abandon ship. Amazingly only one man was injured during the attack and its aftermath, and the entire crew was safely evacuated. The surviving ships attempted to fight the fire, but without success, and at 11.30 on 7 December she was sunk by gunfire from the O'Brien.

The Ward earned ten battle stars during the Second World War, for Pearl Harbor, the Solomon Islands, New Georgia, Treasury-Bougainville, the Bismarck Archipelago, Eastern New Guinea, Hollandia, Tinian, Western New Guinea and Leyte

Displacement (standard)

1,160t (design)

Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed

35kts (design)
35.34kts at 24,610shp at 1,149t on trial (Wickes)


2 shaft Parsons turbines
4 boilers
24,200shp (design)


3,800nm at 15kts on trial (Wickes)
2,850nm at 20kts on trial (Wickes)

Armour - belt


 - deck



314ft 4in


30ft 11in

Armaments (as built)

Four 4in/50 guns
Twelve 21in torpedoes in four triple tubes
Two depth charge tracks

Crew complement



1 June 1918


24 July 1918


7 December 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 (1 November 2017), USS Ward (DD-139/ APD-16) ,

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