Warship Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2022: A Multinational Effort
Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 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, Dec. 21, 2022: A Multinational Effort
Above we see the Wickes-class tin can, USS Yarnall (Destroyer No. 143) gently aground in the shallows off Lynnhaven Roads, Virginia on 25 November 1939, while part of FDR’s Neutrality Patrol. Although she was a “war baby,” wholly constructed in 1918, she had joined the fleet too late for the First World War. However, don’t worry, she got in plenty of service under three different Allied flags in the Second.
Yarnall was one of the iconic first flight of “Four Piper” destroyers that were designed in 1915-16 with input from no less an authority as Captain (later Admiral) W.S. Sims. Beamy ships with a flush deck and a quartet of boilers (with a smokestack for each) were coupled to a pair of Parsons geared turbines to provide 35.3 knots designed speed– which is still considered fast today, more than a century later. The teeth of these 314-foot, 1250-ton greyhounds were four 4-inch/50 cal MK 9 guns and a full dozen 21-inch torpedo tubes.
They reportedly had short legs and were very wet, which made long-range operations a problem, but they gave a good account of themselves. Originally a class of 50 was authorized in 1916, but once the U.S. entered WWI in April 1917, this was soon increased and increased again to some 111 ships built by 1920.
Our vessel was the first named in honor of naval hero John Joliffe Yarnall. Born in Virginia three years after the end of the Revolutionary War, he was appointed midshipman in the Navy on 11 January 1809. His chief claim to fame was as the first lieutenant on board Oliver Hazard Perry’s flagship, USS Lawrence during the decisive Battle of Lake Erie in 1813, where he was grievously wounded. Sailing for the Mediterranean with Stephen Decatur in the frigate USS Guerriere in 1815, Mr. Yarnell was again seriously injured in the fight to capture the Barbary corsair flagship Meshuda. Sent back to the States with dispatches, a copy of the new treaty with the Dey of Algiers, and some captured flags aboard the sloop-of-war USS Epervier— itself captured from the British– Yarnall, Epervier, and the 134 sailors and marines aboard her were never heard from again, vanishing somewhere in the Atlantic in August 1815.
The first Yarnall (Destroyer No. 143) was laid down on 12 February 1918 at William Cramp & Sons at Philadelphia, launched later that spring, and commissioned on 29 November 1918, CDR William F. Halsey, Jr., in command.
As noted in Halsey’s Navy biography:
Dispatched to France in 1919, USS Yarnall would soon be transferred to DesRon 4 in the Pacific Fleet and the Asiatic station where she would serve briefly until laid up on 29 May 1922, as part of the great post-WWI drawdown.
Recommissioned at San Diego on 19 April 1930 after eight years of mothballs, Yarnall would bounce back and forth between the Atlantic and Pacific several times, homeported alternatively at Charleston and San Diego.
On 30 December 1936, Yarnall was again placed out of commission for a second time and joined the reserve fleet at Philadelphia.
Then came war
Recommissioned at Philadelphia on 4 October 1939– a month after Hitler crossed into Poland– the aging greyhound joined the Atlantic Fleet’s DesRon 11 and would operate out of Norfolk on the Neutrality Patrol for a year. By that time, Britain was holding its own against the Germans and Italians alone and in desperate need of every sort of war material– especially naval escorts to safeguard vital convoys against the U-boat menace.
With Europe again at war, on 2 September 1940, FDR signed the so-called Destroyers for Bases Agreement that saw a mix of 50 (mostly mothballed) Caldwell (3), Wickes (27), and Clemson (20)-class destroyers transferred to the Royal Navy in exchange for limited basing rights on nine British overseas possessions.
For Yarnell, this meant she would be decommissioned at St. John’s, Newfoundland on 23 October 1940, then taken into service with the Royal Navy as HMS Lincoln (G42) on the same day in a warm transfer.
Dubbed the “Town class” by the Admiralty even though the 50 vessels spanned three distinct classes, ex-Yarnall had been renamed in honor of the county town of Lincolnshire, England, the second such vessel to carry that name for the Royal Navy, previously only used on a 50-gun fourth rate launched in 1695.
Shipped to Plymouth in November for modifications at HM Devonport to operate with the Brits and to pick up a mostly Australian crew, Lincoln/Yarnall was nominated for service with the 1st Escort Group for convoy defense in Western Approaches, with her first mission involving the hunt for the German pocket battleship Admiral Scheer after the attack on convoy HX 84. Over the next nine months, she would participate in no less than 20 convoys.
It was in April 1941 that Lincoln came to the rescue of a converted 15,000-ton passenger steamer, turned auxiliary cruiser, filled with more than 400 souls. The former P. & O. liner Comorin (Capt. John Ignatius Hallett, DSO, RN (retired)) caught fire in heavy weather in the North Atlantic and had to be abandoned. Closing in with two other tin cans, Lincoln helped pull off her passengers and crew, then stood by to sink the blazing steamer with her 4-inch guns.
Under refit in January-February 1942, it was decided to transfer Lincoln on loan to the “Free Norwegian” Navy forces in exile.
The Scandinavian neutral had managed to sit precariously on the fence in the Great War and indeed was a peaceful country that had last seen the elephant during the Napoleonic Wars, skirmishing at first with the British and then the Swedes for independence. With some 130 years of peace behind it, the Norwegian Navy in April 1940 was again an armed neutral, ready to take on all comers to preserve the homeland. Then came the invasion.
Two months of tough resistance against German invaders while reluctantly accepting Allied intervention left the Norwegian Navy covered in glory (such as when the tiny 200-ton gunboat KNM Pol III stood alone– briefly– against the mighty heavy cruiser Blücher, the heavy cruiser Lützow, the light cruiser Emden, three torpedo boats and eight minesweepers carrying 2,000 troops to Oslo, or when the ancient and nearly condemned coastal monitors KNM Eidsvold and Norge attempted to stop the Germans at Narvik), but was largely left sunk at the bottom of the fjords they defended.
When the endgame came, a dozen or so small ships and 500 officers and men made it to British waters to carry on the war. These included such Edwardian relics as the destroyer Draug (commissioned in 1908!) and the newer Sleipner, as well as fishery patrol ships such as the Nordkapp, which all soon got to work for the Allies, guarding sea lanes, escorting convoys and protecting the UK and Allied-occupied Iceland from potential Axis invasion.
With the small core of exiled prewar Norwegian sailors, an influx of Norwegians living abroad, and transfers from the country’s huge merchant fleet, the exiled Free Norwegian Navy was able to rebuild abroad.
Soon, the old Draug was in full-time use as a training and support vessel while small trawlers and whalers provided yeoman service as the “Shetland Bus” regularly shuttling spies, SOE operatives, and Norwegian resistance agents into occupied Scandinavia and downed Allied aircrew out throughout some 200 trips.
As these operations expanded, the Brits began transferring surplus (five ex-Wickes-class tin cans) and then new-built naval vessels (Flower and Castle-class corvettes, motor torpedo boats, Hunt-class destroyer escorts, and later two S-class destroyers) to the growing Norwegian fleet to perform convoy escort missions.
That’s where Yarnall/Lincoln comes in.
With her new Norwegian crew aboard, but under the same British-assigned name and pennant number albeit with a Norwegian royal prefix, the destroyer HNorMS Lincoln (jageren in Norwegian parlance) was nominated for convoy defense in the eastern Atlantic under Royal Canadian Navy control and would set out for Halifax to join the Western Local Escort Force.
Over the next two years, the American-built destroyer, with her Norwegian exile crew, as part of the British fleet under Canadian control, would take part in no less than 58 convoys.
A further refit in Charleston in July 1943– one of her old homeports during her USN years– Lincoln would pick up a new-fangled Hedgehog anti-submarine mortar and an improved radar outfit.
Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum have the collection of the old Charleston Naval Shipyard in their archives and they have several “finished” photos, dated 20 March 1943, of HMS/HNorMS Lincoln (USS Yarnall).
Arriving back at Portsmouth in December 1943, it was decided that the old girl was too worn out even for the Norwegian exiles– who were receiving new British-built S-class destroyers just in time for D-Day— and Lincoln was placed in reserve in the Tyne River and later nominated for transfer to the Soviets, who would take anything they could get. Thus, she became Druzhnyy (“Friendly”) in the Red Banner Fleet, turned over on 26 August 1944 after her new Soviet crew had arrived aboard the laid-up vessel the month prior.
She was joined in this 1944 transfer by four other bases-for-destroyers Wickes-class sisterships: USS Fairfax (HMS Richmond, later Soviet Zhivuchiy: “Tenacious”), USS Twiggs (HMS Leamington, later Soviet Zhguchiy: “Firebrand”), USS Maddox (HMS/HMCS Georgetown, later Soviet Zhyostky: “Rigid”), and USS Crowninshield (HMS Chelsea, later Soviet Derzkiy: “Ardent”) in addition to at least four Clemson class vessels.
Druzhnyy was scheduled for passage to Kola Inlet as part of outbound Russia Convoy JW60 in September 1944 and arrived at her new home on the 23rd. She would end her wartime service by patrolling the Arctic, Barents, and the White Sea.
This meant that Yarnall was one of the final Wickes-class destroyers still in active service, only repatriated to Rosyth and returned to Royal Navy control on 24 August 1952. She was then placed on the Disposal List, and within a month had been towed to Inverkeithing for scrapping.
In all, Yarnall would see some 12 commanders running from Halsey to LCDR John Greeley Winn including future RADM Thomas Ross Cooley– a surface warrior who would head Battleship Division 6 during Iwo Jima and Okinawa. Her HMS Lincoln days would add two Brits, CDR Alan MacGregor Sheffield, and LT Ronald John Hanson, while HNorMS Lincoln would see three Norwegians: Kapt. Aimar Sørensen, Ltn. Helge Øi, and Kapt.ltn. Chr. Monsen, giving her a total of 17 skippers– not counting the Russians!
Of note, Sørensen would go on to do big things with the Cold War NATO Norwegian Navy, retiring as a Viseadmiral in a CNO role in 1967.
Today no Wickes-class tin cans survive. The last one afloat, USS Maddox (DD–168), was scrapped in late 1952 after serving in the US, then RN, then Canadian, then Soviet navies.
However, one of the class, USS Walker (DD-163), has been given new life in the excellent alternate history series Destroyermen written by Taylor Anderson.
Yarnall’s original 1918 plans booklet, printed on linen, is preserved in the National Archives. Odds are, Halsey spent time pouring over them during the vessel’s outfitting.
Yarnall’s name was carried by a second U.S. Navy warship, a Fletcher-class destroyer, DD-541. Laid down some 80 years ago this month at Bethlehem Steel’s San Francisco yard, she was commissioned on 30 December 1943 and was soon off to fight the Empire of Japan. Between then and 1958 when she was laid up, Yarnall (DD-541) earned seven battle stars for her World War II service and two battle stars for her service during the Korean War.
Loaned to the Republic of China in 1968 and eventually transferred, the latter Yarnall continued to serve the Taiwanese Navy until at least 1999, one of the last Fletchers still in service anywhere in the world.
The more things change, right?
1,710 long tons (1,740 t) (standard)
2,530 long tons (2,570 t) (deep load)
Length: 362 ft 9 in (o/a)
Beam: 35 ft 9 in
Draught: 14 ft 6 in (deep)
40,000 shp (30,000 kW)
2 × Admiralty 3-drum boilers
Propulsion: 2 × shafts; 2 × Parsons geared steam turbines
Speed: 36 knots
Range: 4,675 nmi at 20 knots
Sensors: (Royal Navy WWII fit)
Radar Type 290 air warning
Radar Type 285 ranging & bearing
4 × single 4.7-inch (120 mm) Mark XII dual-purpose guns
1 × twin Bofors 40 mm AA guns
4 × twin QF 20 mm Oerlikon AA guns
2 × quadruple 21-inch torpedo tubes
4 × throwers and 2 × racks for 70 depth charges
Ships are more than steel
And heart of burning coal,
For those who sail upon
That some ships have a
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