USS Leary (DD-158)

USS Leary (DD-158) was a Wickes class destroyer that served in the Atlantic and Caribbean, before being sunk by U-boats on 24 December 1943. 

The Leary was named after Clarence Frederick Leary, a British-born officer in the US Naval Reserve who was killed in a fire on the supply ship USS Charlton Hall on 20 July 1918.

Detail from Battle of Scheveningen by Willem van de Velde the Elder
First radar test,
USS Leary (DD-158),

The Leary was laid down at the New York Shipbuilding Corp on 6 March 1918, launched on 18 December 1918 and commissioned on 5 December 1919. In January 1920 she was one of the ships that came to the aid of the damaged USAT Powhatan, which was drifting in the North Atlantic after her machinery was disabled.

The Leary joined the Battle Fleet in the Pacific early in 1921. She took part in the fleet exercises off Peru in February 1921, but then returned to the Caribbean to observe a seaplane bombardment of German warships taken as reparations after the First World War. She was the decommissioned on 29 June 1922.

The Leary was recommissioned in 1930 and on 1 May 1930 joined the Atlantic Fleet, with her base at Newport, Rhode Island. She took part in the normal peacetime mix of operations off the east coast and training in the Caribbean as well as taking part in the annual fleet exercises. From 1935 onwards she was used for training cruises with the reserves and midshipmen.

In April 1937 the Leary was used for the first test of radar onboard a US warship. A 200 megacycle radar set, developed by the US Naval Research Laboroatory, was mounted on her deck, with the radar antenna on top of the barrel of one of the 4"/50 guns, to allow the antenna to be moved more easily. These tests weren't terribly successful, but an improved set was tested on USS New York (DD-34) in 1939 and was able to detect incoming warships at night.

In September 1939, after the outbreak of war in Europe, the Leary and Hamilton (DD-141), carried out anti-submarine patrols off the lower New England coast. Early in 1941 the Leary, along with Babbitt (DD-128) and Schenck (DD-159) moved to Key West. In March-April she undertook training off Nantucket with Cruiser Division 7. 

USS Leary (DD-158), San Diego, 1930s USS Leary (DD-158), San Diego, 1930s

On 9 September 1941 the Leary began a series of convoy escort missions to Iceland, arriving at Reykjavik for the first time on 18 October. On 19 November, during one of these missions, she began the first US warship to make radar contact with a surfaced U-boat.

The rising war clouds over Europe changed this schedule. In September 1939 destroyers Leary and Hamilton (DD-141) established a continuous antisubmarine patrol off the lower New England coast. The following year her patrol functions enlarged and 9 September 1941 she began a series of hazardous escort missions to Iceland. On 19 November Leary became the first American ship to make radar contact with a U-boat. After 26 February 1942 she spent a year escorting convoys from the midocean meeting point to various Icelandic ports.

Anyone who served on her between 16 September-31 October or 13 November-7 December 1941 qualified for the American Defence Service Medal.

Between February 1942 and February 1943 the Leary was used to escort convoys from the mid ocean meeting point to Iceland.

In early March the Leary took part in anti-submarine exercises with the submarine USS R-5. She then escorted four convoys to Trinidad between mid-March and mid-June 1943.

Between 7-31 July 1943 the Leary escorted a convoy from New York to Algiers, returning to New York on 27 August. She escorted a second convoy to North Africa in October, returning to New York on 30 October

In late November the Leary joined a hunter-killer anti-submarine group based around the escort carrier USS Card (CVE-11), operating in the North Atlantic.

At 1.58am on 24 December, when 585 west-northwets of Cape Finisterre, the Leary detected a U-Boat on sonar, but before she could react she was hit in the aft engine room by a torpedo fired by U-275. U-382 also fired at her, but missed. Her commander, James E. Kyes, ordered the crew to abandon ship, but soon afterwards two more torpedoes from U-275 hit and 98 men, including Kyes, were lost. Kyes was awarded a posthumous Navy Cross for his actions after the first torpedo hit.

The Leary earned one battle star during the Second World War.

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



18 December 1918


5 December 1919

Sunk by U-boats

24 December 1943

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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (24 January 2018), USS Leary (DD-158) ,

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