Warship Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019: The final Four-Piper
Here at LSOZI, we are going to take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1946 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019: The final Four-Piper
Here we see the Clemson-class “four-piper” flush-decker torpedo boat destroyer USS Hatfield (DD-231) in dry dock at the Philadelphia Navy Yard on May 23, 1932, with a newly-fitted bow. One of a tremendous class of vessels some 156-strong, she had a long and varied career, ending it as the very last of her type in U.S. service.
An expansion of the almost identical Wickes-class destroyers with a third more fuel capacity to enable them to escort a convoy across the Atlantic without refueling, the Clemson’s were sorely needed to combat the pressing German submarine threat of the Great War. At 1,200-tons and with a top speed of 35 knots, they were brisk vessels ready for the task.
However, they were was built too late for the war.
The hero of our story was named after naval hero John Hatfield, a young man who volunteered for service and, appointed Midshipman 18 June 1812, served on the small armed schooner USS Lady of the Lake as part of the force commanded by Lt. Isaac Chauncey on Lake Ontario. During the assault on York (now Toronto) in April 1813, Hatfield was killed while leading his ships small boats in a combined arms attack that netted the giant British Royal Standard taken from the Parliament House (and currently in the USNA collection).
Laid down 10 June 1918 at New York Shipbuilding Corp., Camden, N.J, Hatfield just missed her Great War and commissioned 16 April 1920. Her early career included a fleet review by President Harding at Hampton Roads and training cruises in the Caribbean. Interestingly, although almost every four-piper carried a battery of five 4″/50 cal singles, she was one of a handful (DD-231 through DD-235) that were commissioned instead with four 5″/51 cal guns. Due to the extra weight, no depth charge racks were installed on these more heavily gunned sisters
With the Allied High Commission in the former Ottoman Empire needing muscle, on 2 October 1922, Destroyer Division 40, composed of the destroyers Bainbridge (DD-246), Fox (DD-234), Gilmer (DD-233), Hatfield (DD-231), Hopkins (DD-249), and Kane (DD-235), and Destroyer Division 41, composed of the destroyers Barry (DD-248), Goff (DD-247), King (DD-242), McFarland (DD-237), Overton (DD-239), and Sturtevant (DD-240), sailed from Hampton Roads, Virginia, for Constantinople.
The destroyers arrived there on 22 October, under the command of RADM Mark Lambert Bristol, who had his flag on the humble station ship USS Scorpion, a Warship Wednesday alum, who spent years in the Bosporus moored to the quay and connected by telephone with the Embassy. Hatfield remained in the region until 31 July 1923, when she was given orders to proceed back to the West Coast.
Assigned to the U.S. Scouting Fleet, her stomping ground ranged from New York to Panama including a tour of gunboat diplomacy off the coast of Nicaragua throughout February and March 1927, during the civil war in that country in which the U.S. backed the conservative Solórzano government. For this, Hatfield picked up the Second Nicaraguan Campaign Medal.
The next year, Hatfield was part of the squadron that carried President Coolidge to Cuba and Haiti for the Pan-American Conference.
Hatfield had a crack up with the USS Sands (DD-243), a sistership, during maneuvers 40 miles off Newport, Rhode Island, 13 September 1930. Damage control was quick and she was towed to Brooklyn Navy Yard by tugs Sagamore (AT-20) and Penobscot (YT-42) for repairs.
Transferred to San Diego in 1932 after a brief stint in ordinary, by April 1936 she was deployed to friction points once again, serving off Spain in the neutrality patrol during the Spanish Civil War as part of Squadron Forty-T commanded by RADM Arthur P. Fairfield. This special task force, initially comprising the old cruiser Raleigh, fellow four-piper USS Kane, Hatfield, and the Coast Guard cutter USCGC Cayuga, saved hundreds of U.S. and foreign nationals during the conflict. In all, she would spend 19 months there, returning to the U.S. at the tail end of 1937, returning to mothballs for a few months.
When WWII erupted in Europe, Hatfield was dusted off once more and recommissioned 25 September 1939 for assignment to FDR’s East Coast Neutrality Patrol looking for U-Boats, a mission she would continue through August 1940 when she was sent to the West Coast, arriving at Bremerton for operations in the Northern Pacific as part of the rusty old tin cans of DESDIV 82.
In the days immediately after Pearl Harbor, the obsolete flush decker was sent to sparsely defended Alaska, where she spent her “shooting days” of WWII. Even equipped with sonar, radar, and a smattering of machine guns for AAA use, destroyer technology had passed her by.
As noted by DANFS: “In the uncertain early months of the Pacific war, Hatfield convoyed merchant ships to Alaskan ports, helping to carry the supplies necessary to establish bases in the North. She continued this vital duty in the bleak and dangerous northern waters until 13 March 1944, when she returned to Seattle.”
Relegated to work as an auxiliary (AG-84) in October 1944, she finished her military service towing targets and assisting with underway training. Hatfield decommissioned 13 December 1946 and was sold for scrap 9 May 1947 to National Metal & Steel Corp., Terminal Island, Calif, the last of her kind in the Navy. Only spending about 36 months of her 26 years out of commission — a rarity for her class– Hatfield had some 22 skippers in her long career.
Some of her original builder’s plaques are on display at the Los Angeles Maritime Museum.
And of course, there are a number of postal cancelations from this far-traveled greyhound.
As for her sisters, seven Clemson’s were lost at the disaster at Honda Point in 1923, and 18 (including six used by the British) were lost in WWII including one, USS Stewart (DD-224), which was famously raised by the Japanese and used in their Navy only to be recaptured by the USN and given a watery grave after the war. Those four-pipers not sold off in the 1930s or otherwise sent to Davy Jones were scrapped wholesale in the months immediately after WWII. Besides Hatfield, the penultimate Clemson in US service was USS Williamson (DD-244) which was decommissioned 8 November 1945 and sold to the breakers on 4 November 1948.
The final Clemson afloat, USS Aulick (DD-258), joined the Royal Navy as HMS Burnham (H82) in 1940 as part of the “Destroyers for Bases” deal. Laid up in 1944, she was allocated for scrapping on 3 December 1948.
None are preserved and only the scattered wrecks in the Western Pacific, Honda Point, the Med and Atlantic endure.
1,215 tons (normal)
1,308 tons (full load)
Length: 314 ft. 4.5 in
Beam: 30 ft. 11.5 in
Draft: 9 ft. 4 in
4 × boilers, 300 psi (2,100 kPa) saturated steam
2 geared steam turbines
27,600 hp (20,600 kW)
Speed: 35.5 knots (65.7 km/h)
Range: 4,900 nmi (9,100 km) @ 15 kn (28 km/h)
Crew: (USN as commissioned)
8 chief petty officers
4- 5″/51cal guns
12 × 21 inch torpedo tubes (4 × 3) (533 mm)
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