USS Whipple (DD-217)

USS Whipple (DD-217) was a Clemson class destroyer that served in the Eastern Mediterranean and Black Sea in 1920-21, with the Asiatic Fleet in 1921-25 and again from 1929. She survived the disastrous battles in the Dutch East Indies early in 1942, and escaped to Australian waters. She was then withdraw to the United States, where she was converted into an escort. She spent the rest of the war on a mix of convoy escort and anti-submarine duties, playing a part in the sinking of U-544.

The Whipple was named after Abraham Whipple, a leading American naval officer during the War of Independence, serving as captain of the frigates Columbus and Providence, and later as a squadron commander until he was captured at the fall of Charleston in 1780.

The Whipple was laid down at Cramp’s of Philadelphia on 12 June 1919, launched on 6 November 1919 and commissioned on 23 April 1920.

USS Whipple (DD-217) and USS Smith Thompson (DD-212) at Dewey Dry Dock after 1936 Collision
USS Whipple (DD-217)
and USS Smith Thompson (DD-212)
at Dewey Dry Dock
after 1936 Collision

The Whipple’s first deployment was to the Black Sea and eastern Mediterranean, an area that was then in turmoil as a result of the Russian Revolution and collapse of the Ottoman Empire. She left the United States on 29 May 1920 and reached Constantinople on 13 June, where she came under the command of Admiral Mark L. Bristol, Commander US Naval Detachment in Near Eastern Waters. Her first task was to transport representatives from the British and American Tobacco Co from Constantinople to Samsun, on the north coast of Turkey, along with mail for the Chandler (DD-209). She then crossed the Black Sea to visit Savastopol, before moving west to Constanta, Romania. She was then ordered to dash east to Batum, crossing from Samun to Batum on a single day arriving on 7 July. She was present at Batum when the British and French handed control of Batum over to the independent state of Georgia. Georgia had declared her independence on 26 May 1918 but this period of independence only lasted until 1921 when the Soviets invaded, after the end of British and French military support.

The Whipple was then sent out of the Black Sea, and visited Beirut, Damascus and Port Said before returning to Constantinople on 18 August 1920. She was then sent back into the Black Sea, where she was used to carry mail between Romania, Russia and Turkey. On 19 October 1920 she helped save the Greek steamer Thetis, which had come ashore off Constanta. Soon after this the Soviets began to overrun the Crimea. The White Russian general Peter N. Wrangel pulled back into Sevastopol, where he was then besieged. Anyone associated with the White cause was desperate to escape by sea.

At this point there was only one US ship, the Overton (DD-239), was present at Sevastopol. When news of the looming disaster got out, four more were rushed to the scene (Fox (DD-234), Humphrey (DD-236), John D. Edwards (DD-216) and Whipple). They were also joined by the cruiser St. Louis. The American ships were used to evacuate some of the Whites. The Whipple arrived on 14 November. She became the last US warship to leave the port, towing a barge full of White soldiers and filled with refuges. The barge was handed over to the Humphrey, and the Whipple then took her refuges to Constantinople.

The Whipple resumed her mail duties into the spring of 1921, but the Americans then decided to move the destroyer force in the Eastern Mediterranean to the Philippines. The Whipple and her division left on 2 May 1921, and sailed through the Suez Canal, before visiting Bombay, Colombo, Batavia (Java), Singapore and Saigon on her way to Cavite on the Philippines, arriving on 29 June 1921. She spent the next four years serving with the Asiatic Fleet, based at Cavite in the winter and North China in the summer. Her main role in this period was to protect US interests in China, then in the middle of a prolonged period of civil war and chaos.

Late in 1922 she was commanded by Frank Jack Fletcher, later famous as the operational commander of the US Fleets during the battles of the Coral Sea and Midway.

USS Whipple passing Levensau Bridge, Kiel Canal, 1927
USS Whipple passing Levensau Bridge, Kiel Canal, 1927

Early in 1925 the US Navy sent an expeditionary force to Shanghai to protect US property and lives during a period of conflict around the city. The first troops to land were twenty eight marines from the gunboat USS Sacramento (PG-19). They were followed by an expeditionary force under Captain James. P. Schwerin, which was transported to the city on the Whipple, Borie (DD-215) and Barker (DD-213). The destroyers landed their marines on 22 January.

Soon after this the Whipple and her division were withdrawn to the United States, leaving on 18 May 1925 and arriving at San Diego on 17 June. She then moved to her new base at Norfolk, arriving on 17 July. For the next two years she spent most of her time operating between Maine and Florida and taking part in manoeuvres from Guantanamo Bay. She was also one of the ships that took part in the US intervention in Nicaragua, and on four occasions put landing parties ashore to protect US interests.  

Anyone who served on her on one of four periods between 22 November 1926 and 27 April 1927 qualified for the Second Nicaraguan Campaign Medal

Whipple and her division left Norfolk on 26 May 1927 to begin a cruise to northern European ports. During this tour she was photographed passing under the Levensau Bridge on the Kiel Canal, the scene of many similar photographs of Imperial German warships in the recent past. This was followed by a very brief posting in the Mediterranean, which only lasted until 29 January 1928 when she departed from Gibraltar heading for Guantanamo Bay. After taking part in some exercises in Cuban Waters she left for the west coast on 26 March 1928, heading for her new base at San Diego. She was based there for just over a year, before departing for the Asiatic Fleet once again on 1 August 1929.

For the next ten years the Whipple took part in the standard operations of the Asiatic Fleet, spending the winter in the Philippines and the summer based at Tsingtao (until the Japanese occupied the city in 1938).

Crew of USS Whipple (DD-217) on foredeck, c.1927-29
Crew of
USS Whipple (DD-217)
on foredeck, c.1927-29

Anyone who served on her on one of seven periods between 14 April 1930 and 25 October 1932 qualified for the Yangtze Service Medal.

In February 1932 the Whipple was part of a US fleet that moved to Shanghai to protect US interests after fighting broke out between the Japanese and Chinese in the city.

In October 1935 she took part in a visit to French Indochina, visiting Saigon.

On 14 April 1936 the Whipple collided with the Smith-Thompson (DD-212) during exercises in Subic Bay. The Smith-Thompson suffered such heavy damage that she was scrapped. The Whipple’s bow had been bent around until it pointed sternwards, but the damage was more superficial than it appeared (early destroyers often suffered heavy damage to their lightly built bows without serious consequences). In this case she received the bow from the Smith-Thompson and was soon returned to service.

In July 1937 open warfare broke out between the Chinese and Japanese around Peking. In an attempt to convince the Japanese of their unity, the Soviets invited the Americans to play a formal naval visit to Vladivostok, the first since the establishment of diplomatic relationships between the US and USSR in 1933. The cruiser Augusta (CA-31) and destroyers WhippleAlden (DD-211), Barker (DD-213), and Paul Jones (DD-230), arrived at Vladivostock on 28 July 1937, and stayed there until 1 August. However the visit had no impact on the Japanese, and the war spread to Shanghai soon afterwards. The Whipple was on alert to intervene to rescue Americans from Chinese ports until the middle of 1938, when after the fall of Shanghai the fighting moved inland. This left the Whipple free to play a visit to Bangkok in June 1938.

She was back in Chinese waters in 1939 after trouble broke out at Amoy. The Japanese landed troops after a Japanese citizen was shot, and the British and Americans landed troops to protect the International Settlement. By September 1939 the Whipple was serving as the Station Ship at Amoy, and the base for Captain John T. G. Stapler, the Commander of the South China Patrol.

Anyone who served on her during five periods between 7 July 1937 and 7 September 1939 qualified for the China Service Medal.

This ended after the outbreak of war in Europe at the start of September 1939. Admiral Thomas C. Hart, commander of the Asiatic Fleet, withdrew most of his ships back into Philippine Waters, where the Whipple spent the next two years on neutrality patrol.


As the likelihood of war with Japan increased in the autumn and winter of 1941 Admiral Hart decided to disperse some of his fleet. Destroyer Division 58 (Whipple, Alden (DD-211), Edsall (DD-219), John D, Edwards (DD-216)) and the tender Black Hawk were sent on a visit to Balikpapan on Borneo, where they remained until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor plunged the United States into the war.

In the immediate aftermath of Pearl Harbor Admiral Hart agreed to send his destroyers to join a battle group that was to be built around the battleship HMS Prince of Wales and battlecruiser HMS Repulse, but this was cancelled after both of those ships were sunk by Japanese aircraft in the South China Sea on 10 December 1941. By this point the Whipple was already close to Singapore, arriving on 11 December. After a few days in port, the US destroyers departed for the Dutch East Indies on 14 December to join the Australian-British-Dutch-American (ABDA) force, which was preparing to try and defend the Malay Barrier, to keep the Japanese out of the Indian Ocean and away from Australia.

The Whipple was used on escort and patrol duties until February 1942.


Survivors from USS Langley (CV-1) on USS Whipple (DD-217)
Survivors from USS Langley (CV-1) on USS Whipple (DD-217)

In February 1942 the ABDA fleet made a desperate attempt to stop the Japanese invasion of Java. On 12 February the Whipple collided with the Dutch light cruiser De Ruyter in a heavy fog, but after a brief visit to the dry dock at Tjilatap was cleared to rejoin the fleet. On 26 February the Whipple and Edsall (DD-219) departed from Tjilatjap to join up with the Langley (AV-3), a former aircraft carrier now being used as an auxiliary, carrying aircraft to Java. On 27 February the small fleet was found by the Japanese, and came under a series of air attacks. Just after noon the Langley was hit, and by 13.25 she had to be abandoned. The Whipple picked up 308 survivors from the Langley, and then attempted to sink her, but without success, despite firing nine rounds of 4in and two torpedoes. She and the Edsall were then ordered to leave the area to avoid further air attack.

The Whipple was ordered to rendezvous with the Pecos (AO-6) at Christmas Island to transfer the pilots rescued from the Langley. Early on 27 February she was attacked by a Japanese bomber off Christmas Island, but was able to avoid the attack. On 28 February the transfer was carried out. The small flotilla then broke up, with the two destroyers preparing to join a retreat from Java.

Unfortunately the Pecos was discovered by aircraft from the Akagi, Kaga, Hiryu and Soryu, while just to the south of Christmas Island. She was able to send out an SOS before being sunk, and this was picked up by the Whipple. The destroyer rushed to the scene, and was able to pick up 231 survivors from the Pecos, before leaving to avoid being exposed to air attack.

The Whipple was one of the few Allied ships to escape from the Dutch East Indies. She reached Australian waters, and reached Melbourne on 23 March 1942. She worked with ships from the Australian and New Zealand Navies on convoy escort duties along the east coast of Australia, before she was ordered to return to the United States. She left Sydney on 2 May, and traveled via the New Hebrides, American Samoa and Hawaii, before reaching San Francisco on 18 June 1942.

After her return to the United Sates the Whipple was modified for escort work. Two banks of torpedo tubes were removed and replaced with 20mm anti-aircraft guns. She was then used to escort convoys from the US West Coast to Hawaii, carrying out seven round trips between the second half of 1942 and the spring of 1943.


On 11 May 1943 the Whipple departed from San Francisco to escort a convoy to the Caribbean. The convoy visited Curacao to pick up a cargo of petroleum, before reaching Guantanamo Bay on 29 May. The Whipple was used to escort one convoy to Trinidad. In late June she moved to New York for repairs, which were over by 10 July. She was then used to escort a convoy to Casablanca, returning to Charleston on 27 August.

On 7 September 1943 she put to sea to escort a slow convoy to Recife, Brazil. After this she escorted a convoy to Trinidad, before returning to Charleston once again on 19 November. 


At the start of 1944 the Whipple joined the ‘hunter-killer’ anti-submarine group based around the new carrier USS Guadalcanal (CVE-60), alongside the destroyers (Alden (DD-211), John D. Edwards (DD-216) and John D Ford (DD-228). The group left Norfolk on 5 January 1944 on the Guadalcanal’s first operational voyage.

On 10 January one of her Avengers rolled off the flight deck after a bad landing. The Whipple was able to rescue one of her three crewmen, James A. Lavender, but the other two were never found.

On 16 January aircraft from the Guadalcanal spotted the large submarine U-544 on the surface, transferring radar detection gear to the U-516. The aircraft managed to sink U-544, but U-516 managed to escape, despite efforts by Whipple and John D. Ford to stop her.

The group reached Casablanca, where it replenished its supplies. It then made the return voyage to the US, this time without success, reaching Norfolk on 16 February 1944. This was the Whipple’s only trip with the group, and she was soon detached for repairs at Boston.

On 13 March 1944 the Whipple left the US as part of the escort for Convoy UGS-36, heading for the Mediterranean. On 1 April the convoy was attacked by low flying Dornier Do-217s and Junkers Ju-88s. The Whipple’s 20mm guns helped put up a anti-aircraft barrage that drove off the German attack, and the convoy reached Bizerta safely on 3 April. The Whipple returned to Norfolk on 30 April.

For the rest of 1944 and into the spring of 1944 the Whipple continued to carry out escort duties, mainly along the US east coast, but also with some trips to Casablanca and into the Caribbean.


By the summer of 1945 the Whipple was no longer needed as an escort. On 6 June 1945 she was re designated as an auxiliary, as AG-117. She was used as a target ship for submarines off New London. On 9 July she entered the New York Navy Yard, where she was to be converted into a high speed target vessel.

The work was soon complete, and on 5 August she departed from New York heading for Pearl Harbor, arriving on 30 August. After all the effort involved in her conversion she was only used as a target vessel by the Pacific training command until 21 September 1945, few days than it had taken her to reach Pearl Harbor!

The Whipple returned to the United States in October, reaching Philadelphia on 18 October. She was decommissioned on 9 November 1945, struck off on 5 December and sold for scrap on 30 September 1947.

Whipple received two battle stars for her World War II service, for service with the Asiatic Fleet (8 December 1941-3 April 1942) and service with convoy UGS-36 on 1 April 1944

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



6 November 1919


23 April 1920

Sold for scrap

30 September 1947

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


Film taken onboard in c. June 1945 by Yeoman Robert Ernest Cato Jr., who served on board


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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (19 March 2019), USS Whipple (DD-217) ,

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