Bainbridge Class Destroyers

The Bainbridge Class destroyers were the first American destroyers, although they were officially designated as torpedo-boat destroyers.  All five served in the Philippines before the First World War and then as escort vessels in the Mediterranean from late 1917.

The US Navy had purchased its first torpedo boat, the tiny 31 ton USS Stiletto in 1887. This was followed by a series of increasingly large torpedo boats, starting with the 116 ton USS Cushing of 1890 and settling at around 200 tons. Four larger torpedo boats were also produced - the 279 ton USS Farragut (TB-11) of 1898, the 340 ton USS Stringham (TB-19) of 1899, the 255 ton USS Goldsborough (TB-20) of 1899 and the 235 ton USS Bailey (TB-21) of 1899. All four were armed with four 6-pounder guns and two 18in torpedo tubes.

Destroyer Evolution
Destroyer Evolution

In 1898 Congress authorised the construction of sixteen torpedo-boat destroyers. This came after the outbreak of the Spanish-American War of 1898. In the same act the Congress also authorized the last of the smaller torpedo boats. The larger torpedo-boat destroyers were seen as a counter to the existing Spanish destroyers, and were also a response to the poor sea-going qualities of the existing US torpedo boats.

The new ships were expected to serve as ocean escorts, and so needed to be fast enough to keep with the fleet.

The sixteen destroyers authorized in 1898 were split into two main groups - thirteen Bainbridge class ships and three Truxtun class ships. The Bainbridge class ships can also be split into several sub-classes - five Bainbridge class ships, two Hopkins class ships, two Lawrence class ships, two Paul Jones class ships and one Stewart class ship.

All thirteen ships had two shafts, each powered by a vertical triple expansion engine, and with four boilers in total. All were coal powered. They differed in the make of boiler, layout of funnels and weapons, and the shape of the forward parts of the ship.

USS Barry (DD-2), fitting out 1902-3
USS Barry (DD-2),
fitting out 1902-3

The Bainbridge class ships had a raised forecastle deck, four funnels arranged into two groups, one torpedo tube between the two groups and one at the rear of the ship. They were powered by four Thornycroft boilers.

USS Hopkins (DD-6), c.1904
USS Hopkins (DD-6),

The Hopkins class ships had a turtle deck forward and longer 3in guns.

The Lawrence class ships also had a turtle deck forward. They had the funnels in a single group and both torpedo tubes behind them - one just behind the funnels and one at the rear. They were powered by Fore River boilers.

The Paul Jones class were very similar to the standard Bainbridge ships, but displaced 480 tons, up from the 420 tons of the standard ships.

The Steward used Seabury boilers, and was the fastest of the first generation of destroyers, although only by a very narrow margin.

Forward 3in Gun, USS Bainbridge (DD-1)
Forward 3in Gun, USS Bainbridge (DD-1)

All thirteen were originally armed with two 3in (75mm guns), one carried above the bridge area and one on a small platform behind the rear funnel, five 6-pounder guns and two 18 in torpedo tubes.

All but one of these first sixteen destroyers was laid down in 1899 (the exception was USS Steward, which used different boilers and was the fastest of the group.

Crew Spaces in USS Dale (DD-4)
Crew Spaces in
USS Dale (DD-4)

All five Bainbridge class ships began their careers with the Coast Squadron of the North Atlantic Fleet, with most serving in the 1st Torpedo Flotilla. This flotilla was then sent to the Asiatic Station. The trip east from the US to the Philippines lasted from 12 December 1903 to 9 March 1904 and helped prove that the Bainbridge class ships were indeed sea worthy. All five members of the class were based in the Philippines, with frequent cruises in Chinese waters for most of their careers. After the US entry into the First World War they were moved to the Mediterranean, where they acted as escort vessels. The Chauncy was lost in a collision in 1917, and the surviving four members of the class were scrapped soon after the end of the war.

Thornycroft Water Tube Boiler, Paul Jones Class Destroyers
Thornycroft Water Tube Boiler, Paul Jones Class Destroyers

The last three of the first sixteen destroyers formed the Truxtun class, which were similar to the Hopkins class, but with lower funnels. Next came the 700 ton Smith class destroyers (DD-17 to DD-21), the first to use turbine engines. Although these were significantly larger than the first sixteen, they were soon outclassed by the 1,000t destroyers, and all of the smaller types became known as 'flivvers', after the Model T Ford.

On 24 February 1916 the US Navy reclassified all sixteen of the earliest destroyers as Coast Torpedo Vessels, recognising that they had been left behind by advances in destroyer design. By this point the Tucker class destroyers were entering service. These displaced over 1,000t, carried four 4in guns and 8 21in torpedoes, could lay mines, used oil fuel and turbine power, and were much more effective than the early 400 tonners. Despite this decision all sixteen saw active service during the First World War, although they were scrapped soon after the end of the war.

Displacement (standard)

420 tons

Displacement (loaded)

620 tons

Top Speed



4 Thornycroft boilers
2 Vertical Triple Engines


3000 miles at cruising speed




23ft 7in


Two 3in/25 guns
Five 6pdr guns
Two 18in torpedo tubes

Crew complement


Ships in Class

USS Bainbridge (DD-1)
USS Barry (DD-2)
USS Chauncey (DD-3)
USS Dale (DD-4)
USS Decatur (DD-5)

Books on the First World War | Subject Index: First World War

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (10 September 2015), Bainbridge Class Destroyers ,

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