USS McKean (DD-90/ APD-5)

USS McKean (DD-90/ APD-5) was a Wickes class destroyer that entered service too late for the First World War, but that served in the Solomon Islands campaign of the Second World War as a fast transport, before being sunk off Bougainville.

McKean received four battle stars for World War II service, including one for the Guadalcanal Campaign (7 August-3 September 1942), two for New Georgia/ Rendova (30 June-31 August 1943) and one for Treasury-Bougainville (27 October-17 November 1943).

The McKean was named after William Wister McKean, a US naval officer who commanded the East Gulf Blockading Squadron at the start of the American Civil War.

The McKean was built by the Union Iron Works, San Francisco. She was laid down on 12 February 1918, launched on 4 July 1918 and commissioned at San Francisco on 25 February 1919 with Lt Commander Raleigh C. Williams in command. She spent most of her brief post-war career serving in the Atlantic. This included one trip to European waters in May-July 1919, before she was decommissioned at Philadelphia on 19 June 1922.

In 1940 the McKean was chosen for conversion into a fast transport. She was reclassified as APD-5 on 2 August 1940 and recommissioned at Norfolk on 11 December 1940, with Lt. Commander Thomas Burrows in command.

USS McKean (APD-5), early 1942
USS McKean (APD-5), early 1942

The McKean formed part of Transport Division 12, along with her sister ships Little, Colhoun and Gregory. All four of these ships would be lost action, all but the McKean during the battle of Guadalcanal.

In the spring of 1941 the McKean was chosen to form part of a force that was preparing to land troops on Martinique. Part of this force was later diverted to take part in the US occupation of Iceland, replacing British troops.

On 10 May 1942 the McKean left her east coast base at the start of a move to the Pacific, where the first American offensive of the Pacific War was soon to take place on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands.

On 7 July Task Group One (USS Saratoga) left Pearl Harbor, heading for the war zone. The McKean formed part of the antisubmarine screen for this force, but left the task group in mid July to pick up part of the First Marine Raider Battalion from Noumea, New Caledonia (22 July 1942). They then rejoined the main force on 26 July.

On 7 August the McKean landed her troups on Tulagi, part of the initial landings in the Guadalcanal area. On the night of 8-9 August the McKean, Little and Colhoun formed part of the defensive screen for the transport ships at Tulagi. On 8 September she was at Lunga Point when news arrived of a possible raid by Japanese heavy surface vessels. The McKean and USS Manley both had to depart at high speed. On 8 November she landed reinforcements at Aola Bay on Guadalcanal, reinforcing a marine raider force that had landed on 4 November. She was also used to run supplies and reinforcements onto Guadalcanal.

On 31 January 1943 the McKean departed for an overhaul on the US West Coast. She returned to the combat zone on 21 June 1943 and was used on escort and patrol missions between the New Hebrides and the Solomon Islands. She also took part in a series of invasions, landing troops on New Georgia and at Rendova.

In October 1943 the McKean joined the forces operating in the Treasury Islands and Bougainville. On 27 October she landed troops on Mono Island, amongst them a construction party that was able to get a search radar station into operation within a week. On 6 November she landed US reinforcements near Cape Torokina, Empress Augusta Bay, on Bougainville. She landed a second wave of troops on Bougainville on 11 November, and then returned to Guadalcanal where she collected 185 marines for a third run to Bougainville.

At about 0300 on 15 November a Japanese reconnaissance aircraft dropped a flare to the rear of the McKean's convoy. An hour of air attack followed, before a torpedo finally hit the McKean on her starboard side at 0350. The aft magazine and depth charge spaces exploded, and her fuel oil tanks burst. She was soon on fire from her forward funnel to the stern, with all power and internal communications lost. At 0355 Lt Commander Ralph L. Ramsey issued the order to abandon ship, and at 0400 she began to sink. Ramsey himself abandoned ship at 0412. Three minutes later her forward magazine exploded and at 0418 the last traces of her disappeared under water. A total of 64 of her crew and 52 of the marines were killed. The survivors were rescued by other destroyers in the first, including USS Talbot, whose boats picked up 68 crew and 106 marines. USS Signorney (DD-643) rescued another 34 survivors.

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed

35kts design
34.81kts at 27,350shp at 1,236t on trial (Kimberly)


2 shaft Parsons turbines
4 boilers
27,000shp design


2,500nm at 20kts (design)

Armour - belt


 - deck



314ft 4.5in


30ft 11.5in


Four 4in/ 50 guns
Twelve 21in torpedo tubes in four triple mountings
Two 1-pounder AA guns
Two depth charge tracks

Crew complement



4 July 1918


25 February 1919

Sunk by torpedo

15 November 1943

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 (23 March 2017), USS McKean (DD-90/ APD-5) ,

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