USS Wasmuth (DD-338/ DMS-15)

USS Wasmuth (DD-338) was a Clemson class destroyer that was converted into a minesweeper in 1940, but was lost late in 1942 after two of her own depth charges were swept overboard and detonated close to her stern.

The Wasmuth was named after Henry Wasmuth, a US marine who was killed during an attack on Fort Fisher, North Carolina on 21 January 1865. She was the first ship in the US Navy to be named after a private.

USS Wasmuth (DD-338) in Alaska, 1937 USS Wasmuth (DD-338) in Alaska, 1937

The Wasmuth was laid down by the Mare Island Navy Yard on 12 August 1919, launched on 15 September 1920 when she was sponsored by Miss Gertrude E. Bennet, stepdaughter of Lieutenant Colonel R. H. Davis, USMC and commissioned on 16 December 1921. However she wasn’t fully fitted out until 27 February 1922, when she departed for her trials and a shakedown cruise. This was followed by post-shakedown repairs, before she arrived at San Francisco to calibrate her sound signal apparatus. She then moved to San Pedro where she spent a month supporting battleship torpedo practice. This effectively ended her first period in service, and she was decommissioned at San Diego on 26 July 1922.

Towards the end of the 1920s it became clear that the boilers in the Yarrow powered Clemson class destroyers were wearing out. The Navy decided to scrap them, and bring some of the sisters out of the reserve to replace them. The Wasmuth was recommissioned on 11 March 1930. She spent the next decade operating with the Pacific Fleet, sometimes as part of Destroyer Flotilla 2 of the Battle Force. She took part in the regular programme of training, and visited the Caribbean for exercises with her flotilla. She was briefly allocated to Rotating Reserve Squadron 10 for part of the autumn of 1934. She accompanied the fleet when it moved to Pearl Harbor in mid 1940.

In August 1930 the Wasmuth and the Perry carried a group of Senators from the Interstate Commerce Commission to Alaska where they were to make a study of the Alaska Railroad.

In the summer of 1933 the Wasmuth was part of a fleet of destroyers that visited Alaska.  

USS Long (DD-209) and USS Wasmuth (DD-338) in Alaska, 1937 USS Long (DD-209) and USS Wasmuth (DD-338) in Alaska, 1937

In 1940 Wasmuth was chose to be converted into a high speed minesweeper. The work was carried out at Pearl Harbor, where she had her torpedo tubes removed and replaced with minesweeping gear. However she kept her main guns, anti-aircraft guns and depth charge racks. She was reclassified as DMS-15 on 19 November 1940.

The conversion was completed on 5 April 1941. The Wasmuth spent the next two weeks operating from Palmyra Island before returning to Pearl Harbor. Between 10 June and early July she visited the US West coast before returning to Pearl Harbor, where she carried out a mix of local patrols and minesweeping exercises.

The Wasmuth was moored with three of her sisters from Mine Division 4 (Trever (DMS-16), Zane (DMS-14), and Perry (DMS-17)) at the mouth of Pearl Harbor’s Middle Loch when the Japanese attacked on 7 December 1941. Both her commander and executive officer were off the ship when the attack began, so Lt (junior grade) J. Grey had to take command. Her position on the inboard side of her formation meant that only her aft machine guns could actually open fire. The ship’s fire was credited with shooting down one Aichi, which crashed nearby on the Waipio Peninsula. By 9.32 the first of her sisters, the Trever, was underway and the Wasmuth soon followed. By this point her XO was onboard (as was the captain of the Trever, who had missed his own ship). The Wasmuth got out of the harbour and began to patrol outside the channel entrance. During this period she dropped two depth charges on suspected targets without any result. During the afternoon she and the Zane attempted to sweep the entrance channel, but had to stop after the Wasmuth’s sweeping wire parted. Soon after this her commander finally reached the ship.

In the aftermath of the attack the Wasmuth carried out patrols between Pearl Harbor and Johnston Island. On 31 May 1942 she left as part of the escort of Convoy 4111, arriving at San Francisco on 10 June. She remained there until the last day of July when she left as part of the escort of Convoy 2113, returning the Pearl Harbor on 12 August.

The Wasmuth left Pearl Harbor only two days later heading for the Aleutians. She reached Kodiak, Alaska on 20 August and joined Task Force 8, which had the task of escort supply ships heading to the Aleutians.

On 27 December 1942 the Wasmuth was escorting a convoy in a storm when two of her depth charges were knocked off their tracks by the seas and exploded just below the ship’s fantail, Part of the stern was blown away and she soon began to sink. The tanker USS Ramapo (AO-12) came alongside and spent three and a half hours transferring the 134 officers and men and two passengers from the Wasmuth. Everyone was rescued safety. The Wasmuth turned out not to be sinking very quickly, and didn’t finally go under until early on 29 December.

The Wasmuth was awarded one battle star, for the defence of Pearl Harbor.

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed

35.51kts at 24,890shp at 1,107t on trial (Preble)


2-shaft Westinghouse geared turbines
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



15 September 1920


16 December 1921

Sunk after accident

29 December 1942

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 (26 May 2021), USS Wasmuth (DD-338/ DMS-15) ,

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