USS Wilkes (DD-441)

USS Wilkes (DD-441) was a Gleaves class destroyer that served on convoy escort duty, took part in Operation Torch, then moved to the Pacific theatre in 1944, taking part in the fighting in the Admiralty Islands, at Hollandia and western New Guinea, the Caroline Islands, Leyte and Okinawa, and supported the carrier raids on Japan.

The Wilkes was named after Charles Wilkes, a US naval officer who led the United States Exploring Expedition of 1838-1842 and served during the Civil War. During the war he seized two Confederate diplomats from the Royal Mail steamer RMS Trent in neutral waters, nearly triggered war between the US and Britain. However President Lincoln defused the crisis by releasing the two diplomats.

USS Wilkes (DD-441) in camo measure one, 1941. USS Wilkes (DD-441) in camo measure one, 1941.

The Wilkes was originally classified as a Livermore class ship, but became a Gleaves class ship when the two classes were merged because the two Gleaves class ships were given the same more powerful engines as the Livermore class.

The Wilkes (DD-441) was laid down on 1 November 1939 by the Boston Navy Yard, launched on 31 May 1940 when she was sponsored by Mrs. Bessie Wilkes Styer and commissioned on 22 April 1941. She began her shakedown cruise in June 1941, off the coast of New England.

After her shakedown cruise was over the Wilkes joined the neutrality patrol operating in the western Atlantic. Her first mission was to screen the North Carolina (BB-55) and Washington (BB-56) on their shakedown cruises in the Caribbean. She joined them at Bermuda on 24 August and operated with them until 9 September when she departed for Boston.

After a brief period of availability at Boston she departed for Guantanamo Bay on 25 September. After four days of training in Cuban waters she departed for Hampton Roads, arriving on 2 October. She spent the rest of October operating along the north-eastern coast, visiting Gravesend Bay, New York, Casco Bay, Maine and Provincetown, Mass.

On 2 November she reached Argentia, Newfoundland. She was used to escort the Yukon (AF-9) then joined the oiler Salinas (AO-19), which had been damaged by two torpedo hits and escorted her to safety at Cape Sable, Nova Scotia.

On 28 November the Wilkes left Cape Sable on her first convoy escort mission, supporting Convoy HX-162 heading to Iceland. The convoy reached Iceland the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. This was soon followed by the German declaration of war on the USA, which turned the US Navy from a theoretical neutral into a combatant. The Wilkes spent the rest of December escorting convoys between Argentia and Iceland. She returned to Boston just before Christmas and spent the rest of the year there.


On 1 January 1942 the Wilkes departed for Casco Bay, arriving on the following day. A few days of exercises followed, before on 5 January she left with the Madison (DD-425), Roper (DD-147), and Sturtevant (DD-240), heading for Argentia. From 10-18 January she escorted the east-bound Convoy HX-169. She was then relieved as an escort and continued on to Ireland with the other three destroyers, arriving at Londonderry on 21 January.

She got underway on 25 January to escort the westbound convoy ON-59. The US force relieved the original British escort and escorted the convoy to Boston, arriving on 8 February.

On 15 February the Wilkes departed for Casco Bay, joining the Pollux at sea. They were joined at sea by the Truxtun, and continued north in poor visibility. Early on 18 February the Wilkes ran aground on a beach, followed quickly by the Pollux and Truxton. The Wilkes was able to back off the beach at 0700, three hours after grounding. However the other two ships were both lost and 205 men killed, the Atlantic Fleet’s highest loss of the war so far. The Wilkes returned to Argentia then moved to Boston for repairs.

On 1 April the Wilkes joined Task Force 21 at the Boston Navy Yard.

On 7 April the Wilkes left New York to escort the Augusta (CA-31) to Newport. On the following morning the Wilkes sighted the British oil tanker SS Davila at close range, and two minutes later the two ships collided, with the Davila’s bow hitting the Wilkes on the port, next to her number one fireroom. This knocked out one of her engines and the Wilkes was forced to head to Boston on one engine. The repairs were completed by 3 June and on 4 June she carried out post-repair trials.

After a short period of exercises at Casco Bay the Wilkes escorted Convoy BX-26, on the route from Boston to Halifax. She then departed for New York.

On 1 July she departed for Placentia, where she was carried out escort and patrol duties before returning to New York.

On 13 July she left New York to escort Convoy AS-4 on the first stage of a voyage from New York to Suez. On 16 July SS Fairport, the second ship in the first column, was torpedoed and sank. The Wilkes carried out a sonar search for the attacker and dropped nine depth charges with no result. On 17 July she made another sonar contact and carried out a depth charge attack. Air came to the surface, followed by the bow of a submarine which then rolled over and dived, seemingly out of control. A second depth charge attack produced more air and the surface was covered with dark brown liquid and oil. However the only U-boat lost on that day was sunk by air attack at the western edge of the Bay of Biscay, so the Wilke’s target must have survived. Three days later the Wilkes was detached from the convoy and sent to Trinidad to refuel, She then moved to Norfolk (with the Livermore) arriving on 25 July.

Next came two coastal runs from Norfolk to New York and back.

The first of the trips began on 26 July and saw Wilkes and Livermore escort the battleship Arkansas (BB-33) to New York.

On 31 July she left Newport News as part of the escort of the Indiana (BB-58)as she carried out trials in Virginian waters.

On 19 August she left New York heading for Halifax, Nova Scotia, arriving on 21 August. She remained there until 5 September when she left to escort USAT Siboney to New York. The rest of September was spent carrying out exercises in Casco Bay, Maine.

On 30 September she departed for Virginia, arriving at Hampton Roads. Most of October was spent preparing for Operation Torch, the invasion of French North Africa. This included amphibious operations with TF 33.

On 24 October the Wilkes set sail with the fleet heading for Fedhala, north of Casablanca in French Morroco. She was part of Task Force 34 during the landings. 

The Wilkes was one of the control vessels for the initial landings. She was at her starting point by 0500 and the first four waves of landing craft were dispatched between 0525 and 0540. At 0604 French shore guns began to fire on the landing craft, and at 0610 the American ships opened fire. The Wilkes fired on the batteries at Fedala. After her duties as a control vessel were over she joined the fire support forces.

The French naval forces at Casablanca put up more of a fight than expected. At 0815 six French warships came out of the harbour. Two French destroyer leaders got close enough to the landing craft to hit some of them, while at the same time exchanging fire with the Wilkes and Ludlow (DD-428). The Milam opened fire on the Wilkes, but her shots fell short. The French destroyers were then forced away by the arrival of US cruisers.

During the day she made a radar contact on the surface, followed soon afterwards by a sighting of a dark object in the water. She dropped nine depth charges, but then lost contact with the target due to turbulence caused by the depth charge explosions in shallow water.

On 9 February she sighted a French destroyer coming out of Casablanca. She moved to intercept the French ship, but the shore battery at Pointe d’Oukach opened fire, and the Wilkes was forced to retire. The French destroyer also retreated back into Casablanca.

On 11 November news arrived that Casablanca had surrendered. However this didn’t stop the fighting at sea, as German U-boats had now arrived. At 1958 a rocket burst near the convoy area, and at 1959 the Winooski (AO-38) reported that she had been torpedoed. At 2000 the Joseph Hewes (AP-50) also reported being torpedoed, sinking within an hour. The Wilkes was on patrol around the convoy area at the time.

On 12 November she escorted the Augusta into Casablanca harbour before returning to her patrol duties. At 2300 she detected a submarine on sonar and dropped six depth charges. Two hours later two ships in the convoy anchorage area were torpedoed, followed by a third 26 minutes later. The convoy was ordered to sea, and the Wilkes took position off its starboard side. The convoy then zig zagged to avoid U-boats for the next two hours.

On 15 November the Electra (AK-21) was torpedoed in a nearby convoy. The Wilkes picked up a submarine at 1800 and made a depth charge attack, without result. She then escorted the Electra back to Casablanca. The Wilkes rejoined the convoy at sea on 17 November and reached Norfolk on 30 November.

December was spent on short escort and patrol missions between New York and Casco Bay, Maine.


Between 14 January 1943 and 14 February the Wilkes escorted a convoy from New York to Casablanca and back. She did the same between 6 March and 5 April.

For the rest of April and up to 14 May she was used on the route between New York and Norfolk.

From 15-21 May she escorted a convoy to Cristobal in the Panama Cana Zone, returning to Hampton Roads on 25 May.

From 29 May to 8 June she operated along the north-eastern coast of the US.

Between 10 June and 25 December 1943 the Wilkes carried out three round trips between the US and North Africa. 

She broke away from convoy escort to support the Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943, forming part of DesRon 13, which screened TG 86, the Western Naval Task Force. This part of the fleet supported the US troops landing near Licata.

The Wilkes ended the year at New York where she prepared to move to the Pacific.


On 7 January 1944 the Wilkes, Swanson (DD-443) and Marshall (DD-676) departed to the Panama Canal, reaching the Pacific end on 12 January. The Wilkes was then used to escort the troop ship SS Mormacdove to Milne Bay, New Guinea, arriving on 20 February 1944. On 25 February she departed for Cape Gloucester, New Britain, joining a a convoy of LSTs on-route. She then escorted the convoy to Cape Gloucester, then on to Megin Island, Cape Cretin and the Tami Islands (in Huon Gulf).

On 3 March the Wilkes embarked US Army troops and their equipment at Buna, and got underway as part of a convoy of nine destroyers and three high speed transports, all carrying troops to reinforce the 1st Cavalry Division on Los Negros Island in the Admiralty Islands. They arrived on 4 March and the Wilkes was able to land all of her troops without incident. The Wilkes then remained off Los Negros to act as a fire support ship and evacuate casualties. On 5 March she bombarded Lemondrol Creek, just to the south of Momote air strip and targests near Hayne Harbour. She carried out similar duties until 7 March when she departed to Seeadler Harbor on Manus to support the fighting there.

On 13 March joined TY 76.1.55, which escorted seven LSTs to Seeadler Harbor. They arrived at 0900 on 16 March and patrolled off the harbour entrance while the LSTs unloaded. The LSTs left the harbour at 2030 and the destroyers escorted them back to Cape Sudest.

The Wilkes returned to Cape Sudest for a period of availability on 24 March, remaining there until 9 April when she departed for Seeadler Harbour, from where she escorted a convoy to Langemak Bay on New Guinea. She was back at Oro Bay on 11 April for another period of availability.

The Wilkes reached Cape Cretin on 17 April where Lt General Walter Krueger, commander of the Sixth Army, and his staff came on board, to watch the landings at Wakde-Sarmi. On 20 April the Wilkes joined TF 77 and took up a post as a radar picket. On 22 April she supported the  landings at Tanahmerah Bay, then operated in support of the fighting in that area.

On 18 May 1944 the Wilkes and Roe (DD-418) supported the 1st Battalion, 163rd Infantry, as they landed on Wakde Island. The Wilkes provided fire support and was part of the anti-submarine screen.

After refuelling and ungoing brief repairs the Wilkes supported the landings on Biak Island on 26 May.

On 5 June she was part of the escort of a convoy of nine LSTs, three LCIs and four LCTS as they passed between the Schouten Islands. She then operated in the Humboldt Bay area and spent the second half of June bombarding targets around Aitape and Toem.

On 1 July she supported the landings on Noemfoor Island.

On 30 July she supported the landings at Cape Sansapor.

This ended her time operating off New Guinea. On 19 August she departed for the Marshall Islands, reaching Eniwetok on 25 August. On 28 August she joined TF 38, becoming part of the screen for the fast carriers.

She supported the carriers as they raided Iwo Jima, Chichi Jima, Saipan, Yap, Ulithi, Peleliu, and Formosa.

On 14 October she screened the carriers as they attacked Luzon, followed by attacks on Leyte on 17 October and Samar on 24 October.

She took part in the battle of Leyte Gulf. On 25 October she was part of TG 38.4 and acted as a communication link between two of the task groups heading to engage the Japanese Northern Force off Cape Engano. On 26 October the Wilkes and Swanson (DD-443) were detached and sent to Ulithi for upkeep and repairs.

On 3 November the Wilkes and Nicholson (DD-442) departed for Guam, arriving on 4 November. They then carried out a round trip to Manus, before escorting Convoy GE-29 to Eniwetok, arriving on 25 November.

On 1 December she departed for Pearl Harbor, on her way to the Puget Sound Navy Yard for an overhaul. She entered the Todd’s Pacific Shipbuilding Yard at Seattle on 17 December.


On 3 January 1945 repairs to the badly damaged carrier Franklin (CV-13) was completed. She left the Puget Sound Navy yard on 28 January, escorted by the Wilkes. They arrived at the Naval Air Station, Alameda, on 4 February.  The Franklin only remained there long enough to collect her new air group, and then departed for Pearl Harbor, again with the Wilkes as escort. They arrived at Pearl Harbor on 13 February.

The Wilkes spent the rest of February and early March carrying out exercises and drills with the carrier Shangri-La (CV-38) around Hawaii.

On 9 March she departed for Ulithi as part of the escort of the New Mexico (BB-40), arriving on 19 March. From 22-26 March she moved from Ulithi to Guam. On the way she rescuecd the four survivors of a PBM which had put down after running out of fuel.

Between 1-27 April the Wilkes carried out two solo round trips between Guam and Saipan.

She then escorted a convoy of six ships to Okinawa, arriving at the Hagushu anchorage on 1 May. She then operated in the waters around Kerama Retto, to the west of Okinawa. On 4 May she towed a downed PBM to Kerama Retto. On 12-22 May she screened the carriers as they attacked Nansei Shoto (a Japanese name for the Ryukyu Islands). On 22 May she escorted the Makin Island (CVE-93) to Kerama Retto where the carrier took on supplies. She then returned to the carrier screen.

On 24 June she and her task unit departed for Leyte, arriving on 27 June. She then moved to Ulithi, and underwent a period of limited availability there from 30 June-9 July.

On 9 July she left Ulithi to rejoin Task Force 38. She was still at sea with that unit when news arrived on 15 August that Japan had surrendered.

On 20 August she was back at Ulithi for repairs and upkeep. She departed on 24 August as part of the screen of Task Unit 30.8.9, which patrolled off the Mariana and Bonin Islands.

She was soon detached from this force and reached Okinawa on September. On 7 September she joined TG 70.6 in the Yellow Sea, and on 11 September arrived at Inchon, Korea (then called Jinsen). She spent the rest of September and October in that area, often carrying passengers around the area.

On 21 October she began her voyage home, visiting Saipan on 27 October and Pearl Harbor on 4-7 November. She reached San Diego on 13 November, then departed for the East Coast on 16 November.

The Wilkes joined the Inactive Fleet, Atlantic, at Charleston on 3 December. She was placed out of commission in reserve on 4 March 1946, and spent the next two decades in the reserve. She was struck off on 16 September 1968 and sold for scrap on 29 June 1972.

Wilkes received 10 battle stars for her World War II service, for North Africa, Sicily, the Bismarck Archipelago (Admiralty Island landings), Hollandia, Western New Guinea, Western Caroline Islands, Leyte (Surigao Strait and supporting operations), Okinawa and Third Fleet operations against Japan. Anyone her served on her from 1 November-7 December 1941 qualified for the American Defense Service Medal. Anyone who served on her between 2 September-22 October 1945 qualified for the Navy Occupation Service Medal.

Displacement (standard)

1,630t design
1,838t as built

Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed

35kts design
36.5kt at 50,200shp at 2,220t on trial (Niblack)


2-shaft Westinghouse turbines
4 boilers
50,000hp design


6500nm at 12kt design

Armour - belt


 - deck



348ft 3in


36ft 1in


Five 5in/38 guns
Ten 21in torpedo tubes
Six 0.5in AA guns
Two depth charge tracks

Crew complement


Laid down

1 November 1939


31 May 1940


22 April 1941



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 (12 December 2023), USS Wilkes (DD-441) ,

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