Caldwell Class Destroyers

The Caldwell Class Destroyers were the first of the famous 'flush-deckers' and were partly experimental ships that tested out the new design and a variety of power plants.

In December 1913 the general specifications were issued for Destroyer 16, the design to be funded in Fiscal Year 1916. This called for a general development of the standard 1,000 tonner, but with triple torpedo tubes and anti-aircraft guns if available.

USS Allen (DD-66) at sea off Hawaii, 1944
USS Allen (DD-66)
at sea off Hawaii, 1944

USS Craven (DD-70) celebrating the Armistice
USS Craven (DD-70)
celebrating the Armistice

USS Osborne (DD-295), USS Gwin (DD-71) and USS DuPont (DD-152), Charleston, SC, 1920
USS Osborne (DD-295),
USS Gwin (DD-71)
and USS DuPont
Charleston, SC, 1920

The new layout was adopted in an attempt to reduce the amount of pitching and rolling encountered on the 1,000 tonners. In order to achieve this, the beam and mid-ship cross section were increased. This meant that the draft had to be decreased in order to maintain a high speed without a big increase in engine power. If this was done using the raised forecastle of the 1,000 tonners then the ship would have been rather weak amidships. The Bureau of Construction and Repair suggested using a flush deck layout. The new ships would retain the bow freeboard of the 1,000 tonners, in an attempt to make sure that they remained dry ships. The flush deck then sloped gently down to the lower stern. This gave them more longitudinal strength than the 1,000 tonners (this would later allow the Wickes and Clemson classes to be built without many changes to the basic hull).

The design was completed in May 1915. A number of other changes were introduced at this stage. The two waist guns were moved onto a platform amidships, with the galley below. A chart house was installed of the searchlight platform, and the bow was made strong enough to ram submarines.  

The destroyer operators had never really accepted that their ships existed to protect the battle fleet, and not carry out torpedo attacks on enemy ships. They had argued in favour of a smaller 700t attack boat, using torpedoes as their main armament. In contrast the General Board of the Navy saw the destroyer's main role as using its guns to break up enemy torpedo boat attacks, with a secondary role as a fleet scout. Gun power and endurance was thus more important than speed and the torpedo battery. Having lost this battle the destroyer operators accepted the Destroyer 16 design, but commented that the flotilla was 'willing to make a reasonable sacrifice of battery and other qualities except speed' in order to get a large enough number of ships!

The original plan was for the ships to be powered by four boilers powering a two-screw turbine. In June 1915 the Steam Engineering department suggested using a triple-screw system, with a high pressure main turbine and geared cruising turbine on the central shaft and lower pressure turbines on the outer shafts. The two middle smoke pipes were to be merged, so they would have three funnels.

USS Caldwell (DD-69) in British Waters in 1918
USS Caldwell (DD-69)
in British Waters in 1918

View inside bridge of USS Stockton (DD-73)
View inside bridge of USS Stockton (DD-73)

USS Manley (DD-74) as fast transport, 1939
USS Manley (DD-74)
as fast transport, 1939

The six ships were authorised on 3 March 1915.

Only the two ships built by Cramp followed the Steam Engineering plan (Conner DD-72 and Stockton DD-73).  The other four members of the class had twin screws, and all but Gwin had four funnels. Caldwell (DD-69) had General Electric-built Curtiss geared turbines with separate cruising turbines. Craven (DD-70), Gwin (DD-71) and Manley (DD-74) all had Parsons geared turbines.

The new design had a number of problems. The decrease in draft meant that they had to have a sloping keel to get the propellers deep enough into the water. Despite keeping the bow as high as on the earlier designs, the lack of a forecastle made them very wet ships in heavy seas. The smoke stacks also caused problems, and the torpedo tubes and deck structures had to be moved aft. As a result the radio room had to be moved forward, closer to the bridge (this was eventually seen as an advantage).

The Caldwell class ships kept the cutaway sterns of the 1,000 tonners, and made 30 knots. The mass produced Wickes class adopted a raked stern, and could reach 35 knots. 

DD-70 and DD-71 were completed with Y-gun depth-charge projectors. Most of the other members of the class also got Y-guns later in their careers.

The Caldwell class ships saw limited service in US colours. Four of the six saw service during the First World War. USS Gwin (DD-71) arrived too late for the First World War and was scrapped before the Second. Five of the six spent the inter-war period in the reserve, and two were scrapped before the Second World War. USS Manley (DD-44) had the most distinguished US career, serving as the prototype fast transport (APD) and serving extensively in the Pacific.

Craven (DD-70), Conner (DD-72) and Stockton (DD-73) went to the Royal Navy in 1940, where they served as HMS Lewes, HMS Leeds and HMS Ludlow.

USS Caldwell (DD-69) served from Queenstown, Ireland, from March 1918 until the end of the First World War, with a brief break for experimental work. She was decommissioned in 1922 and sold for scrap in 1936.

USS Craven (DD-70) arrived too late to serve in the First World War. She helped support the transatlantic flight of four Navy Curtiss NC flying boats in 1919 and was then placed in the reserve. She was decommissioned in 1922. In 1939 she was renamed Conway, and in 1940 she was given to the Royal Navy as part of the Destroyers for Bases deal. In British service she was renamed HMS Lewes, and served in British Home Waters, took part in the hunt for the Admiral Scheer in 1940, moved to South Africa in 1943 and served with the Eastern Fleet as a submarine tender in 1944-45.  

USS Gwin (DD-71) wasn't commissioned until 1920, and was decommissioned in 1922. She was struck off in 1937 and sold for scrap in 1939 after a very limited career.

USS Conner (DD-72) was based at Brest from May 1918 to the end of the First World War, escorting US troop convoys heading for France. She was decommissioned in 1922, but then reactivated in 1940 and given to the Royal Navy, where she served as HMS Leeds. In British service she served as a convoy escort in the North Sea, surviving repeated air attacks.

USS Stockton (DD-73) was based at Queenstown during 1918, and took part in one attack on a U-boat. She was decommissioned in 1922, recommissioned in 1940 and given to the Royal Navy as HMS Ludlow.

USS Manley (DD-74) was based at Queenstown from December 1917 to March 1918, when she was very badly damaged by explosion of her own depth charges. She was towed to safety by two British tugs, but wasn't repaired in time to return to active service. In 1919 she performed as a diplomatic mail ship in the Black Sea. She was decommissioned in 1922, but was recommissioned in 1930 for use as an experimental torpedo firing ship. She then returned to normal destroyer duties for a period, including a period operating off Spain during the Civil War. In 1939 she was converted into a troop transport, becoming APD-1 (High Speed Transport) on 2 August 1940. She served in her new role in the Pacific, taking part in the Guadalcanal campaign, the invasion of the Marshalls (Operation Flintlock), the invasion of Saipan and the invasion of the Philippines in 1944. In 1945 she helped screen the escort carriers during the invasion of Okinawa, a sign that her time as a transport was over. In June 1945 she reverted to the DD-74 and was used to train gunners against kamikaze attacks. She was scrapped in 1946.

Three members of the class (Craven, Conner and Stockton) went to the Royal Navy in September 1940 as part of the 'Destroyers for Bases' deal. Caldwell and Gwin were disposed of before the Second World War. Only the Manley remained in US service during the Second World War, by which time she had been converted into the first of the fast destroyer transports as APD-1.

Displacement (standard)

1,120t (design)

Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed

30kts at 18,500shp
30.20kts at 19,930shp at 1,192 tons on trial (Gwin)


2-shaft turbines
4 boilers


2,500nm at 20kts

Armour - belt


 - deck



315ft 7in


30ft 6in


Four 4in/50 guns
Two 1-pounder AA guns
Twelve 21in torpedo tubes in four triple mounts
One Y-gun (DD-70 to DD-71)

Crew complement


Ships in Class

USS Caldwell (DD-69)


USS Craven (DD-70)


USS Gwin (DD-71)


USS Conner (DD-72)


USS Stockton (DD-73)


USS Manley (DD-74)

Books on the First World War | Subject Index: First World War

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (14 December 2016), Caldwell Class Destroyers ,

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