USS Pillsbury (DD-227)

USS Pillsbury (DD-227) was a Clemson class destroyer that served with the Asiatic Fleet from 1922, and was sunk by Japanese surface ships on 2 March 1942, after apparently attacking a much larger Japanese force.

The Pillsbury was named after John E. Pillsbury, a US naval officer during the Spanish-American War, then Chief of Staff of the North Atlantic Fleet and Chief of the Bureau of Navigation. He was also an expert on the Gulf Stream.

The Pillsbury (DD-227) was laid down at Cramp’s of Philadelphia on 23 October 1919, launched on 3 August 1920 and commissioned on 15 December 1920.

At first she joined Squadron 3, Division 39, Atlantic Reserve Fleet. In May 1921 she visited New York, then moved to Newport, their summer base.

USS Pillsbury (DD-227) in 1930
USS Pillsbury (DD-227)
in 1930

Pillsbury served for many years with the Asiatic Fleet.

In the autumn of 1923 she served with the Yangtze Patrol Force, visiting Hankow and Shanghai. She then returned to the Philippines, before on 11 December she formed part of a US fleet that was sent to Canton to convince the Nationalist government there not to sieze part of the Chinese Maritime Customs.  

In June-July 1925 she landed men to help protect US interests in Shanghai during a period of unrest in the city. Anyone who took part qualified for the Shanghai Expeditionary Medal.

In March 1927 Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist Army attacked Nanking. During the fighting a series of attacks were carried out on westerners, and a powerful naval force was dispatched to the city. The Pillsbury was one of a number of US destroyers that took part in the operation, supporting a bombardment of the Nationalist positions on 24 March 1927.

In January 1928 she was once again in the Yangtze, before departing for the Philippines later in the month for winter training. From 20-28 September 1928 she was part of a destroyer flotilla that visited Nagasaki to give her crew some recreation time. The squadron took part in night spotting practice at Alacrity Bay on 29 September, then sank the decommissioned gunboat USS Elcano (PG-38) for long range gunnery practise on 4 October. 

Anyone who served on her during nine periods between 11 September 1926 and 25 October 1928 qualified for the Yangtze Service Medal.

US Destroyers at Chefoo, 1930s US Destroyers at Chefoo, 1930s

In February 1932 she was one of a number of US warships sent to Shanghai to protect US interests after the Japanese attacked the city.

During the first half of April 1935 the Pillsbury and Pope carried out a cruise in the southern Philippines. In October 1935 she visited Hong Kong, before joing the Peary, Pope and Black Hawk on a goodwill visit to French Indochina, visiting Tourane on 16 October and Saigon on 22 October, before returning to Manila in November.

In September 1937 she visted Tsingtao, at the time in Chinese hands, but soon to be seized by the Japanese.

Anyone who served on her during five periods between 7 July 1937 and 7 September 1938 qualified for the China Service Medal.

In June 1939 she was the station ship at Swatow, protecting 48 Americans known to be in the city. The Japanese were about to attack, and warned all foreign powers to remove their citizens and warships from the area. Their attack began on 21 June 1939, but the Pope was on her way to provide reinforcements. In the event US citizens weren’t threatened during the limited fighting, and the Pillsbury was relieved as station ship by the Pope on 1 July 1939.


The Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships contradicts itself over the movements of the Pillsbury at the outbreak of war in the Pacific. Her own entry records that the Pillsbury was one of the ships ordered away from the Philipiines on 27 November 1941, and places her at Bornoe when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. However the entry for the Peary (DD-226) has the Pillsbury at Cavite when the Japanese attacked on 10 December 1941, and helping to put out a fire. The entry for the Tanager (Minesweeper No.5) has the Pillsbury damaged during the raid.


On 13 January the Pillsbury and the Boise joined a convoy that had just left Kupang Bay on Timor, arriving at Saleh Bay, Sumbawa later on the same day.

Her next role was to screen the Marblehead ( along with Pope, John D. Ford and Parrott) as she investigated a report of Japanese ships off Kema on Celebes. By the time the Americans arrived the Japanese had left, so they returned to Kupang Bay, arriving on 18 January.

Between 21-28 January a force built around the Houston escorted the President Polk from Thursday Island to Surabaya. The Pillsbury joined this force while it was at sea.

On 14 February the Pillsbury was part of the ABDA force that put to sea from southern Sumatra under Rear Admiral Doorman in an attempt to attack a Japanese force. On 15 February this fleet was attacked by Japanese aircraft in the Banda Strait, and although no ships were actually hit, Doorman decided to turn back.

The Pillsbury was part of the ABDA force that attempted to stop the Japanese invasion of Bali. She fought at the battle of the Badung Strait (19/20 February 1942), a night action in which four Japanese destroyers fought off a much larger Allied force. During the battle the Pillsbury fired three torpedoes at one Japanese ship, with no hits. She was then illuminated by a searchlight and fired at. Towards the end of the battle she did manage to score some hits on the destroyer Michishio, (along with the John D. Edwards and Tromp). Between them they killed 13 and wounded 83 of the Japanese crew, and the Michishio had to be towed to safety after the battle.

After this battle the Pillsbury and Parrott (DD-218) were both ordered to move to Tjilatjap, to take on fresh torpedoes and undergo a brief overhaul.

The Pillsbury was lost with all hands on the night of 2 March, while heading towards a planned rendezvous with USS Pheonix (CL-46). In the dark she ran into a powerful Japanese force, four battleships, five cruisers, the carrier Soryu and Destroyer Squadron 4, posted south of Java to prevent any Allied ships escaping. The Pillsbury was detected heading directly towards the Japanese fleet. The Japanese were briefly perplexed by this action, before opening fire. The Pillsbury was sunk by fire from three crusiers and two destroyers, and the only report of the battle came from later interrogation of Japanese participants in the battle. It isn’t clear if the Pillsbury had mistaken the nearest Japanese ships for the Pheonix, or had decided to try a night torpedo attack.

Pillsbury received two battle stars for World War II service, for Asiatic Fleet operations 8 December 1941-1 March 1942 and for Badoeng Strait (19-20 February 1942).

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)

Armour - belt


 - deck



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



3 August 1920


15 December 1920

Sunk by surface action

2 March 1942

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 (17 June 2019), USS Pillsbury (DD-227) ,

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