USS Wilson (DD-408)

USS Wilson (DD-408) was a Benham class destroyer that served in the Pacific in 1940-May 1941 then joined the Neutrality Patrol in the Atlantic. She joined the British Home Fleet from April-May 1942, covering the Russia convoys. She then moved to the Pacific, where she took part in the invasion of Guadalcanal, the battle of Savo Island, and operated in that area into the summer of 1943. She supported the invasion of the Gilbert Islands late in 1943 and the Marshall Islands early in 1944. She joined the fast carrier task force in June and supported the carriers during the invasion of the Marianas. After a refit in the US she escorted a convoy to Mindoro, which came under very heavy Japanese attack. In 1945 she took part in the invasion of Okinawa, where she suffered minor damage in a kamikaze attack. She carried out escort and patrol duties for the rest of the war. After the war she was a target at the Bikini Atoll atomic bomb tests and was decommissioned in August 1946.

The Wilson was named after Charles Wilson, who served in the US Navy during the American Civil War.

The Wilson was laid down at the Puget Sound Navy Yard on 22 March 1937, launched on 12 April 1939, when she was sponsored by the wife of Rear Admiral Edward B. Fenner, Commandant of the 13th Naval District, and commissioned on 5 July 1939. Her shakedown cruise took her to South America and Mexico, before she returned to San Diego on 17 November.


USS Wilson (DD-408) from above USS Wilson (DD-408) from above

After a period of upkeep at Puget Sound she returned to San Diego on 11 February 1940 where she joined Destroyer Division 12, Destroyer Squadron 6. She spent a couple of months operating along the coast of southern California, before she departed for Hawaii on 2 April, to take part in Fleet Problem XXI. On the way west the Wilson served as the plane guard for USS Saratoga (CV-3), part of the White Fleet. This fleet reached Hawaii on 10 April, and the Wilson then operated with the Lexington (CV-2) into May, during part of the Fleet Problem that was set around the islands.

After the end of the Fleet Problem the fleet remained at Hawaii, joining forces that had been moved there earlier in an attempt to discourage further Japanese aggression. The Wilson patrolled off Honolulu on 25-26 May, but then returned to Puget Sound for an overhaul. This was completed by the end of June, and on 5 July she departed from San Diego as part of the screen for the Maryland (BB-46) as she moved to Pearl Harbor, arriving on 12 July.

This time the Wilson remained at Hawaii for longer, operating off Honolulu and in the wider Hawaiian area until 2 December when she departed for San Diego with the rest of her division (DesDiv 15, DesRon 8). On 26 December she moved to the Bethlehem Yard at San Pedro for an overhaul that lasted into January 1940.


After the overhaul was complete the Wilson joined Task Force 3 (West Virginia (BB-48) and Tennessee (BB-43), which returned to Hawaii between 21-27 January. The Wilson then joined Task Force 1, and served with that unit into May.

As the US Navy became increasingly heavily involved in the battle of the Atlantic it was decided to move reinforcements from Pearl Harbor to the Atlantic. On 19 May the Wilson left Hawaii with a task force that included the Mississippi (BB-41), Savannah (CL-43), Sterett (DD-407) and Lang (DD-399) and secretly headed east. This force passed through the Panama Canal on the night of 2-3 June and reached Guantanamo Bay on 5 May.

On 9-10 June the Wilson patrolled off Guantanamo Bay. She then headed to Philadelphia with Task Group 7.1 (Battleship Division 3) and TG 7.4 (DesRon 8), arriving on 15 June. After a visit to the Boston Navy Yard the Wilson in late June she joined TF 27 (Philadelphia (CL-41) and Savannah) and joined the Neutrality Patrol in the Atlantic.

From 25 June to 8 July she took part in a neutrality patrol that took her from Hampton Roads to Bermuda (with Savannah, Philadelphia and Lang (DD-399). She paused at Bermuda from 8-15 July, before returning to Hampton Roads on 17 July. A brief overhaul at the Charleston Navy Yard followed in late July and early August.

On 17 August she joined the Lang and Sterett off the Virginia Capes, and the three destroyers moved to Casco Bay, Main, on 19 August. The three destroyers conducted exercises from Cascao Bay, before the Wilson and Lang departed to Bermuda in early September.

From 17-20 September the Naskville (CL-43), Lang and Wilson carried out anti-aircraft gunnery practice off Bermuda. She then joined the Philadelphia at sea on 3 October and escorted her to Chesapeake Bay.

The Wilson left Chesapeake Bay on 7 October to return to Bermuda, where she operated into the winter of 1941. During her time there she served as a screen for the Wasp (CV-7) (3-5 December), Nashville, and the first American escort carrier Long Island (AVG-1).

The Wilson was anchored off Bermuda when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

The American entry into the war had the potential to alter the status of the Vichy warships interned at Martinique. In order to make sure that they didn’t cause any trouble (and because of a false report that the armed merchant cruiser Barfleur had got underway to put to sea), the Wilson joined a task force led by the Wasp (CV-7) and Brooklyn which left Bermuda to vist Martinique (10-15 December). The French agreed to remain neutral, and the task force was soon able to return to Bermuda.


On 22 February TG 2.7 (Ranger, Augusta (CA-31), Savannah, Lang, Wainwright (DD-419) and Wilson) left Bermuda to pay another visit to monitor the French at Martinique. The American task force spent some time off Martinique, before returning to Bermuda on 17 March.

In mid-March the Wilson entered the Norfolk Navy Yard for a refit to prepare her for service with the British Home Fleet. This was complete by 21 March and on 24 March she joined Task Force 39 at Casco Bay (Wasp, Washington (BB-56), Wichita (CA-45), Tuscaloosa (CA-37) and eight destroyers. This task force departed for Britain on 26 March. On the following day the Task Force’s commander Rear Admiral John W Wilcox Jr, was washed overboard. After an hour long search his body was spotted floating face down, but the weather prevented it from being recovered. Command passed to Rear Admiral Robert C. Giffen. On 1 April the Wainwright detected a sonar contact and she and the Wilson dropped depth charges in the area, but without result.

The American fleet was met at sea by the British light crusier HMS Edinburgh on 3 April and reached Scapa Flow on 4 April. The Wilson would only operate with the Home Fleet for one month, but she got into action almost immediately after arriving, serving in the screen for the heavy covering force that protected the Russia convoys. She carried out several attacks on possible sonar contacts, but without any recorded successes.

USS Wilson (DD-408) off Mare Island, 2 December 1942 USS Wilson (DD-408) off Mare Island, 2 December 1942

On 6 May she arrived at Hvalfjordur as part of TF 99 (Washington, Wichita, Tuscaloosa, Wainwright, Madison, Plunkett and Wilson). They remained at Iceland for six days, before on 12 May the Wilson departed for New York with the New York and Plunkett.

After arriving at New York, the Wilson departed for Norfolk. On 20 May, while on that voyage, she spotted what was believed to be a U-boat on the surface. An attempt to ram failed, and the Wilson dropped seven depth charges. The ‘U-boat’ was then seen to ‘rise,  roll over and submerge’, and was later judged to have been a whale.

From 21 May to 4 June the Wilson underwent an overhaul at the Norfolk Navy Yard. On 4 June she departed for the Pacific, reaching San Diego on 19 June. She spent the rest of June operating off San Diego, including a spell as a plane guard for the Wasp as her air groups converted to the Grumman TBF-1 Avenger and Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless.

On 1 July the Wilson departed for the South Pacific with Task Force 18. Her eventual destination would be Guadalcanal, where the United States was planning her first counterattack of the war. After reaching Tonga, the Wilson moved to the Koro Islands, where she took part in the dress rehearsal for the landings in late July.

For the actual invasion the Wilson was assigned to the screen and fire support detail. She reached her position off the beachhead early on 7 August 1942. Initially she formed part of the seaward screen for the transport ships, before at 0840 she took up her position as control and salvage vessel off Beach Red. After a brief shore bombardment she returned to the transport screen. 7 August generally passed quietly for the Wilson.

On 8 August she continued to screen the transports, until she was ordered to take position to help repel a Japanese air attack that had been detected coming in from Rabaul. The attack began at around 1155 when a force of Betty torpedo bombers attacked. Although the American claimed to have shot down many aircraft, the Japanese were able to damage the transport George F. Elliot (AP-13), which burnt out, and the destroyer Jarvis (DD-393), which survived the attack, but then attempted to reach safety by heading west around Guadalcanal and was sunk by Japanese air attack. The Wilson was unsure if she had been responsible for any of the air victories.

On the night of 8-9 August the Wilson replaced the Jarvis in the screen of the northern force of cruisers, which were patrolling around Savo Island. Early on 9 August this force was attacked by the Japanese (battle of Savo Island). The Wilson was on the starboard bow of the cruisers Vincennes, Quincy and Astoria when the Japanese attacked from the port. She opened fire on the Japanese, eventually firing over the American cruisers, but was unable to prevent the Japanese from sinking all three of the cruisers in the northern force, as well as HMAS Canberra and damaging the Chicago (CA-29). After the battle the Wilson rescued some of the survivors from the cruisers. She then took part in efforts to save the Astoria, coming alongside, sended a working party onboard and pumping water. She was then ordered away at 11.35, just before the Astoria finally sank. The Wilson transferred the survivors to the transport Hunter Liggett (AP-27), then departed for New Caledonia, escorting the transport ships as they left Guadalcanal.

Before they reached New Caledonia, the Wilson, Dewey (DD-349), Monssen (DD-434), Buchanan (DD-484), and Ellet were ordered to escort the oiler Cimarron (AO-22) as she refuelled TF 61 (the main naval force for the invasion) at sea. They then escorted the oiler to Efate. The Wilson was then used to escort the oiler Kaskaskia (AO-27) to Noumea, then carried out a mix of patrol and escort duties,

On 12 September the Wilson left Tonga with Task Force 11 (Saratoga, South Dakota, New Orleans (CA-32) and five destroyers), to escort the damaged heavy ships back to Pearl Harbor for repairs. The Wilson reached Pearl Harbor on 21 September, and it was decided that she needed a yard overhaul. She thus departed for the west coast, and entered the Mare Island Navy Yard.

This overhaul was completed by 9 December when the Wilson departed for the Pacific. After reaching Pearl Harbor she was ordered to a position 500 miles from Wake Island to act as a radar direction finder ship for a force of USAAF B-24 Liberators which were bombing the island. After the raid was over the Wilson returned to Midway, then Hawaii, reaching Pearl Harbor on 28 December. 


In mid January the Wilson escorted the light carrier Copahee (CVE-12) to Espiritu Santo, arriving on 17 January 1943. She then moved to Guadalcanal, arriving during a Japanese air raid on Henderson Field. She screened the transports off Lunga Point, and then bombarded Japanese positions between the Bonegi River and Cape Esperance. On 29 January the Wilson and Anderson carried out a photographic reconnaissance and bombardment of Japanese held beaches along the northern coast of Guadalcanal. She then returned to Espiritu Santo.

On 5 February she left Espiritu Santo with the Nashville, Helena (CL-50), Honolulu (CL-48), St. Loius (CL-49) and six other destroyers, heading to Noumea in New Caledonia. She then returned to Guadalcanal to join the force gathering to attack the Russell Islands (Operation Cleanslate, 21 February 1943). She acted as a screen and escort ship during the unopposed occupation of the Russells.

The Wilson operated around Guadalcanal, Purvis Bay and Tulagi for most of March, carrying out a mix of screening and patrol duties. She then moved to Havannah harbour (Efate) for a period of tender availability.

After this she screened the escort carrier Chenango (CVE-28) as she ferried replacement aircraf to Guadalcanal, operating with the carrier into late April.

For the rest of the summer of 1943 the Wilson escorted convoys heading to and from Guadalcanal and operated with the Chenango.

On 23 May the Strong and Wilson were ordered to go to the assistance of the motor torpedo boat tender Niagara (AGP-1), which had been hit by Japanese bombs. They spent 23-24 May trying to find the Niagara but without success. The search was called off after it was discovered that the Niagara’s survivors had been rescued by her motor torpedo boats and she had been scuttled.

On 24 July the Wilson was part of a force of seven destroyers that left Guadalcanal to carry out a bombardment of Japanese positions at Munda, New Georgia. After the attack she returned to Purvis Bay. For the next few days she split her time between patrols off Lunga Point and Kukum Beach, Guadalcanal, and escort duty protecting LSTs heading to Rendova.

On 10 August the Wilson was part of a force of six destroyers that found a group of Japanese transport barges but three of her four main guns jammed early in the fight so she was unable to take part in the action. Once the guns were repaired she returned to her patrol duties off Guadalcanal, before at the end of August joining Task Force 38. She was then sent to Sydney, Australia, before returning to TF 38 at Noumea.

On 7-10 October the Wilson took part in a series of large scale exercises carried out to test different arrangements of task forces and task groups. She formed part of Task Force 38, built around the Saratoga, Breton (CVE-23), San Diego (CL-43), San Jaun (CL-54) and their destroyer escorts.

On 19 October the Wilson escorted a convoy of LSTs and LCIs to Vella Lavella, which had been evacuated by the Japanese two weeks earlier.

On 5 November she was part of the screen for Rear Admiral Frederick C. Sherman’s carriers as they raided Rabaul, and rescued the three man crew of a crashed Avenger.

On 11 November the carriers attempted another attack on Rabaul, but this time the Japanese attacked first. The Americans came under attack for two hours, and the Wilson operated as part of the screen for the Bunker Hill (CV-17) claiming two victories. The American attack sank the Japanese destroyer Suzunami.

The Wilson returned to Espiritu Santo, where on 14 November she joined Task Group 50.5 (Saratoga and Princeton). She formed part of the screen for the carriers as they attacked Japanese airfields on Nauru Island, then joined the main fleet for the invasion of Makin and Tarawa in the Gilbert Islands. The Wilson was posted half way between the two islands, again forming part of the sceen for the carriers. She then returned to Espiritu Santo and then Efate.

On 25 December she left Efate to carry out exercises with the battleships Washington (BB-56) and North Carolina (BB-55).


The Wilson started 1944 with a period of drydocking and tender availability at Noumea.

On 18-20 January she moved from Efate to Funafuti as part of TG 37.2 (Massachusetts, North Carolina, South Carolina and Washington). At Funafuti the fleet was re-organised, and the Wilson was allocated to the task group built around the carriers Bunker Hill, Cowpens (CVL-25) and Monterey (CVL-26) and the fast battleships Iowa (BB-61) and New Jersey (BB-62).

The Wilson formed part of the screen and also acted as a plane guard as the carriers raided Kwajalein, Truk and carried out the first raids against Saipan and Tinian in the Marshall Islands. She then returned to Majuro.

The Wilson then helped escort TG 50.8 from Majuro to Efate. During the voyage she made a sonar contact, but lost it after a first depth charge attack. A period of drills and exercises at Espiritu Santo then followed.

The Wilson next joined TG 36.3 (Manila Bay (CVE-61) for attacks on Kavieng, New Ireland. The group then moved to Emirau, to escort convoys in that area. The Wilson then returned to Purvis Bay, from where she escorted a convoy to Efate.

The Wilson was then ordered to return to the US West Coast, to form part of the escort for battleships moving to the Pacific. On the stage from Efate to Pearl Harbor (7 April-16 April) she sailed with TU 34.9.5, built around the Tennessee (BB-43) and Mississippi. She reached Puget Sound on 24 April and San Francisco on 30 April, where she joined the Maryland (BB-46), Colorado (BB-45), Washington, and California (BB-44). She then escorted them back to Pearl Harbor, arriving on 10 May 1944.

On 24 May the Wilson left Pearl Harbor as part of TG 12.1 (North Carolina (BB-55), Washington (BB-56), three cruisers, one minelayer and six destroyers) heading for Majuro, arriving there on 30 May.

The Wilson was part of the fast carrier task force (TF 58) during the invasion of the Marianna Islands. She was part of TG 58.4 when it raided Saipan in mid June. She was posted to the west of the islands on 19 June when a large force of Japanese aircraft were reported to be incoming (battle of the Philippine Sea). However all but one Kate were intercepted by American fighters before reaching the Wilson’s position.

On 20 June the carriers raided Guam and Rota, while the Wilson, Sterett and Lang (DD-399) were sent to carry out an anti-shipping sweep and harassment mission against the same islands, firing on some Japanese sampans and gun emplacements east of Agana, on the south coast of Guam.

The Wilson then carried out a similar shore bomdarment role during a raid on the Palaus, but on 4 August she was ordered back to the US West Coast for an overhaul, and thus missed the invasion of the Palaus. She reached Pugut Sound on 20 August, before moving to Seattle for her overhaul, which lasted into the autumn.

Once the overhaul was completed the Wilson moved to Alameda, California, where she joined the Yorktown (CV-10). They departed for Pearl Harbor on 13 October. The Wilson spent a month exercising around Hawaii, before departing for the Admiralty Islands with the Sterett in late November. During the voyage they attacked a sonar contact, but without success. From the Admiralty Islands the Wilson moved to Leyte.

On 25 December the Wilson left Leyte heading for Surigao Strait, from where she escorted a convoy to San Pedro Bay.

On 27 December she left Leyte as part of nien destroyers escorting a convoy to Mangarin Bay on Mindoro and back. On 28 December this convoy was targeted by Japanese kamikazes. One hit and destroyed the liberty ship SS John Burke¸ another hit and amaged the liberty ship SS William Sharon.  The Wilson attempted to put out the fires on the William Sharon but kept been called away by reports of incoming aircraft. Although the fires were eventually put out, the William Sharon was now too badly damaged to save and was left as a drifting derelict. The Wilson rescued the survivors from her crew, then rejoined the convoy, reaching it at 1630. Another attack came in later in the evening in which one LST was sunk. The attacks continued on 29 December, and didn’t stop when the convoy was moored in Mangarin Bay on 30 December. During these attacks the Wilson claimed two Frances. That evening the Wilson came to the aid of the Gansevoort, hit by a damaged Zero. She was able to stay until all the fires were out before being called away to deal with another air raid.


The Wilson returned to Leyte Gulf on 1 January 1945. On 4 January she left with ten destroyers to escort a convoy to Lingayen Gulf to take part in the invasion of Luzon. On 9 January she reached the Gulf, where she was allocated to shore bombardment duties. Later on the same day she departed as part of the escort for the unloaded transport ships heading back to Leyte. She returned to Lingayen Gulf on or soon after 24 January, where she was once again allocated to fire support duties. During the day she fired 108 rounds of 5in ammo and hit many of her targets. She left Lingayen Gulf on 31 January escorting a slow convoy back to San Pedro Bay, Leyte.

From Leyte she moved on to Hollandia, then Manus, Port Purvis and finally Ulithi on 21 March, where she formed part of the screen for the Northern Attack Force for the invasion of the Ryukyus. She arrived off the south-west coast of Okinawa on 1 April 1945, the first day of the invasion. During the day she was attacked by two Japanese aircraft, forcing one away and shooting down the second. She spent four days operating off Okinawa, before being ordered to Guam on 4 April. However during that voyage she was ordered to rendezvous with a convoy and escort it to Okinawa, reaching the southern end of Kerama Retto on 16 April. Soon after her arrival she was attacked by two Japanese aircraft. One was shot down 75 short of the Wilson, but she bounced off the water flew over the Wilson. Her propeller hit a 40mm gun tub, while a 250kb bomb ended up in an aft living compartment. The bomb’s main charge failed to explode but her booster charge did go off, causing damage that killed five. Three more men were blown overseas when the aircraft flew overhead but were picked up by the Wilson. The unexploded bomb was quickly removed, and the Wilson remained on duty off Okinawa until 12 June, carrying out a mix of screening duyties and shore bombardments.

She returned to Pearl Harbor on 26 June. She then moved to Saipan, where she spent the rest of the war screening convoys, patrollong and on air-sea rescue duties.

The Wilson was based at Iwo Jima and Hagushi in the autumn of 1945, then in late October moved to Chinese waters. In late December she returned to the US West Coast, where she was selected to take part in the atomic bomb tests at Bikini Attol. She was used as a target during the tests, and decommissioned on 29 August 1946, but she hadn’t been sunk, and was eventually sunk in deep water off Kwajalein on 8 March 1948.

Wilson received 11 battle stars for her service during World War II, for the capture of Guadalcanal, defense of Guadalcanal, consolidation of the Solomons, New Georgia, Treasury-Bougainville, Gilbert Islands, Marshall Islands, Pacific Raids of 1944, Marianas, Luzon and Okinawa.

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.
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How to cite this article: Rickard, J (29 November 2022), USS Wilson (DD-408) ,

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