USS Woodbury (DD-309)

USS Woodbury (DD-309) was a Clemson class destroyer that served with the Pacific Fleet before being lost in the Honda Point disaster of September 1923

The Woodbury was named after Levi Woodbury, Secretary of the Navy from 1831-1834.

The Woodbury was laid down at the Union Iron Works plant at San Francisco on 3 October 1918 and launched on 6 February 1919 when she was sponsored by Miss Catherine Muhlenberg Chapin, daughter of the newspaper publisher W.W. Chapin. She was commissioned on 20 October 1920.

The Woodbury had a slow start to her career. She arrived at her home port of San Diego on 23 November 1920 and went into the Reserve Docks, where she joined the rotating reserve. In February 1921 she carried out a few daytime runs, but returned to port in March-May. In June 1921 she moved to San Pedro, where her crew worked on the William Jones (DD-308) while that ship was in dry dock, then underwent a spell in drydock herself. After that she returned to San Diego, where she stayed for most of the rest of the year. The only exception was a single trip to Seattle via Los Angeles.

USS Woodbury (DD-309) aground off Honda Point
USS Woodbury (DD-309) aground off Honda Point

On 14 January 1922 the Woodbury, Nicholas (DD-311), S. P. Lee (DD-310), and Young (DD-312) left San Diego heading for Puget Sound, arriving on 18 January. She then underwent an overhaul that lasted to the end of March. The flotilla departed for home on 3 April, but had to put into Port Angeles, Washington State, after the Nicolas developed a fault. Repairs were quick, and they were back at San Diego on 8 April. The Woodbury then returned to the inactive part of the rotating reserve, where she remained until late September, as part of Destroyer Division 17. From July onwards her crew were used to provide maintenance and upkeep services to her sister ships in the division.

On 26 September 1922 the Woodbury, Young and Nicholas put to sea for gunnery exercises and torpedo drills. In late October she was used to recover torpedoes fired by the battleships Idaho (BB-40) and New Mexico (BB-42). She then spent the rest of the year at San Diego.

On 6 February 1923 the Woodbury left San Diego alongside Destroyer Squadrons 11 and 12, heading for Panama to take part in Fleet Problem I, a simulated attack on the Panama Canal. The Woodbury was part of the attacking force, built around the Battle Fleet, while the defending force was made up of the Scouting Fleet and a division of battleships.

The Woodbury returned to San Diego on 11 April and remained there until 25 June when she left for the Pacific Northwest. On 2 July she reached Tacoma, where she took part in the Independence Day parade. She then moved to Port Angeles, where she was based for the next two weeks. This was followed by visits to Bellingham and Seattle.

On 27 July she was part of the escort for President Warren G. Harding on the Henderson as he sailed through the fleet, only a few days before his death. She was then used as a target for long range gunnery drills by Battleship Division 4, before visiting Lake Washington. She returned to Puget Sound on 20 August, where she embarked Admiral Robert E. Coontz, the Commander in Chief of the US Fleet, and transported him on a visit to the Keyport naval torpedo station. Over the next few days she was used as a transport ship by Coontz, as well as the Chief of Staff and the Chief of the Bureau of Yards and Docks. She then began the voyage home, reaching San Francisco Bay on 31 August.

USS Fuller (DD-297) and USS Woodbury (DD-309) at Honda Point USS Fuller (DD-297) and USS Woodbury (DD-309) at Honda Point

On 8 September 1923 the Woodbury began her final voyage, heading for San Diego as part of Destroyer Squadron 11. That evening the squadron leader, USS Delphy (DD-261) turned east too soon, and instead of entering the Santa Barbara Channel led the squadron onto the rocks off Point Arguello (close to Honda Point). The Delphy hit the rocks first, and was followed by six more destroyers, including the Woodbury. Further back two destroyers ran lightly aground but were able to escape largely undamaged and the rest of the force managed to turn away in time.

The Woodbury ran aground next to a small island, soon after 21.05. A group of volunteers carried four lines across to the rock, which they were then able to use as a permanent anchor (giving it the name Woodbury Rock). Once the ship was secure, her commander, Louis P. Davis, ordered full speed astern in an attempt to get off the rocks, but she was still aground when the power failed at 22.30. Once it was clear that the ship couldn’t be refloated, Davis ordered the crew to make their way across the lines to the small island, where they were joined by some men from the Fuller (DD-297). The entire crew of the Woodbury survived the disaster, still the largest peacetime loss of US Navy ships.

The Woodbury was officially decommissioned on 26 October 1923, and struck off the Navy List on 20 November. She was sold for scrap twice – the first deal of 6 February 1924 wasn’t implemented and it isn’t clear if the second one, of 19 October 1925, was either – in any case by that date not much of her can have been left.

Displacement (standard)


Displacement (loaded)


Top Speed

35.51kts at 24,890shp at 1,107t on trial (Preble)


2-shaft Westinghouse geared turbines
4 boilers
27,000shp (design)


2,500nm at 20kts (design)


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



6 February 1919


20 October 1920

Lost at Honda Point

8 September 1923

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
How to cite this article: Rickard, J (28 October 2020), USS Woodbury (DD-309) ,

Help - F.A.Q. - Contact Us - Search - Recent - About Us - Privacy