Cassin Class Destroyers

The Cassin Class Destroyers were the first of four classes of '1,000 ton' destroyers that weren't popular with the Destroyer community when they first appeared, but that proved their worth during the First World War.

Early in 1909 the General Board was given responsibility for drawing up the detailed characteristics of warships. They were almost immediately asked for advice on a new set of destroyers, and recommended a repeat of the Paulding class. This produced the first ships of the Monaghan class. In May 1910 the board repeated that advice for Financial Year 11 (completing the class), but announced that it had plans for a larger ship for FY 12. In June 1910 the Board issued a memorandum outlining its views on the role of destroyers. The Board had already decided that the big guns of the battleships were the fleet's main offensive weapon, and the destroyers thus existed to protect the fleet. This meant that they would have to have the same operational range and sea keeping abilities as the battleships, but didn’t need the extreme high speeds seen in some contemporary destroyers. In later documents the board added a tactical radius of 4,000 miles at 15 knots, the need for at least one 4in or 5in gun, a speed of 30 knots for one hour and 25 knots for 24 hours. Good sea keeping was seen as key.

USS Cassin (DD-43) at Charlestown Navy Yard, Boston
USS Cassin (DD-43)
at Charlestown Navy Yard,

USS Downes (DD-45), 1919
USS Downes (DD-45), 1919

USS Duncan (DD-46) in the war zone, 1917
USS Duncan (DD-46)
in the war zone, 1917

USS Parker (DD-48), Hampton Roads, 1914
USS Parker (DD-48),
Hampton Roads, 1914

Detailed design work on the new ships began in September 1910, but sped up in February 1911 when it became more likely that funding would be provided for fresh destroyers. The first design was for a 900t ship, armed with 4in guns and three twin 18in torpedo tubes. The 5in gun was abandoned because it would be difficult to build a firm enough platform on a destroyer hull.

Congress authorised eight destroyers on 4 March 1911 (DD-43 to DD-50). The design was approved on 18 March 1911. At the same time the 700 ton ships were finally entering service in significant numbers, and a number of problems began to appear. The stern torpedo tube turned out to be inaccurate at speeds above 20 knots, as the course of the torpedo was disrupted by turbulent water. In order to solve this problem the stern torpedo tube and No.4 gun were swapped on the Cassin class ships. The modified design was issued on 6 June 1911, as Destroyer 1913.

USS Cummings (DD-44) before First World War
USS Cummings (DD-44) before First World War

USS Balch (DD-50), 1915-16
USS Balch (DD-50)

USS Downes (DD-45) and USS Benham (DD-49), 1921
USS Downes (DD-45) &
USS Benham (DD-49)

The new 1,000 ton design was unpopular with many in the fleet. Many within the existing destroyer units believed that their ships were an offensive weapon and existed to carry out torpedo attacks on enemy battleships. They thus preferred the smaller 700 ships, which carried a similar torpedo load and were seen as more capable of conducting a torpedo attack. In contrast the General Board saw the battleship gun as the more effective weapon, and the destroyer as largely a defensive weapon. The increase in firepower given by the switch from 3in to 4in guns was thus a logical step. The Board was also aware that the Navy was desperately short of cruisers, and the destroyers would thus have to carry out some of the cruiser's scouting role, again requiring a better ship. In practice the General Board's view was more accurate, and the larger destroyers would prove to be better sea boats and more flexible. A compromise was found, in which one 4in gun was replaced with a fourth twin 18in torpedo tube. All four were mounted on the sides amidships, with the two starboard mountings close together and those on the port sides further apart.

In September 1911 Cramps suggested a new twin-screw layout for the machinery, replacing the triple-screw layout of the previous classes. The new design included reciprocating cruising engines in an attempt to compensate for the lower fuel efficiency of turbines at cruising speeds. This required the production of a new stern, and wasn't entirely successful. The first of the Cramp ships, USS Aylwin, failed to reach her design speed on trial.

The Cassin class ships had two different configurations of cruising engines. DD-43 and DD-44 had a reciprocating engine that could be used to power one shaft at speeds below 15 knots. DD-45 to DD-50 had a pair of reciprocating engines, one for each shaft.

Main power came from Parson turbines, powered by 4 Normand boilers which provided 16,000shp.

USS Cassin (DD-43) was based at Queenstown after the American entry into the First World War. She was damaged during a battle with U-61, and needed several months of repairs. After the war she took part in the US Navy's transatlantic flight, watching part of the route used by the Curtiss NC-4 flying boat. Soon afterwards she was placed in the reserve, before joining the Coast Guard to take part in the prohibition era 'Rum Patrol' from 1924 to 1933.

USS Cummings (DD-44) was also based at Queenstown, then moved to Brest after the end of the war. She was placed in the reserve, then served with the Coast Guard from 1924 to 1932.

USS Downes (DD-45) was based at Queenstown from November 1917 to December 1918. After the war she was placed in the reserve, then served with the Coast Guard from 1924 to 1931.

USS Duncan (DD-46) was based at Queenstown from November 1917. After the war she entered the reserve, and wasn't reactivated before she was scrapped.

USS Aylwin (DD-47) also moved to Queenstown, but she was then transferred to English waters, and operated in support of Royal Navy forces based at Portsmouth and Devenport. She was decommissioned in 1921, lost her name in 1933 (to allow it to be used by USS Aylwin DD-355).

USS Parker (DD-48) served at Queenstown from the summer of 1917 until July 1918, and then at Plymouth to the end of the war. She was involved in several attacks on U-boats. She was decommissioned in 1922 and scrapped in 1935.

USS Benham (DD-49) was based at Queenstown from November 1917 until June 1918, and then at Brest. She was attacked twice by U-boats, but not damaged. She was decommissioned in 1922 and scrapped in 1935.

USS Balch (DD-50) was based at Queenstown. She was involved in two clashes with German U-boats, and was damaged in a collision with USS Paulding (DD-22). She was placed in the reserve in 1922, decommissioned from the reserve in 1933 and scrapped in 1935.

All eight members of the class were scrapped in the mid 1930s to satisfy the terms of the London Naval Treaty of 1930.

Displacement (standard)

1,010t nominal

Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed

29kts at 16,000shp (design)
29.14kts at 14,253shp at 1,057 tons on trial (Duncan)


2-shaft Parson turbines plus reciprocating cruising engines
4 boilers for 16,000shp


305ft 5in


30ft 2in


Four 3in.50 guns (DD-43 & DD-44)
Four 4in/50 guns (DD-45 to DD-50)
Eight 1in torpedo tubes in four twin mountings

Crew complement


Ships in Class

USS Cassin (DD-43)


USS Cummings (DD-44)


USS Downes (DD-45)


USS Duncan (DD-46)


USS Aylwin (DD-47)


USS Parker (DD-48)


USS Benham (DD-49)


USS Balch (DD-50)

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

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (9 June 2016), Cassin Class Destroyers ,

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