USS Tucker – The WW2 Destroyer Rigged With Sails

The USS Tucker (DD-374) was a Mahan-class destroyer commissioned by the United States Navy in 1936, renowned for its speed and armament, serving with distinction in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters during World War II.

In August 1942, while operating near the Solomon Islands, it tragically struck a mine and sank, marking a somber end to its active service.

Post-sinking, the Tucker’s remains became a site for diver training and were ultimately stripped by private salvors and recreational divers, leaving it a shadow of its former self.


Design Of USS Tucker

The USS Tucker (DD-374) was a notable example of the United States Navy’s Mahan-class destroyers. Its construction at the Mare Island Navy Yard began in 1934 and was officially commissioned in 1936.

The Mahan-class destroyers, including the Tucker, were designed with several advancements over their predecessors. This class aimed to balance speed, firepower, and durability, enhancing the Navy’s capabilities in various potential combat scenarios.

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A notable feature of the Mahan-class was their increased length and beam, which allowed for improved seakeeping abilities, higher speed, and more room for armaments and crew. The ship, with its approximately 341 feet in length and 35 feet in beam, was a manifestation of these design principles.

One of the most significant aspects of the USS Tucker’s construction was its propulsion system. It was equipped with high-pressure superheated boilers and geared turbines, connected to two propellers.

USS Tucker pictured in March, 1937, off of Norfolk Navy Yard.
USS Tucker pictured in March, 1937, off of Norfolk Navy Yard.

This setup was capable of generating a substantial amount of power, propelling the ship to speeds exceeding 35 knots. Such speed was crucial for the destroyer role, allowing the Tucker to effectively engage in offensive operations, fleet screening, and rapid redeployment as situations demanded.

The armament of the USS Tucker was a critical factor in its design, meant to address the multifaceted threats of the era. It was equipped with five 5-inch guns, which were versatile for both surface combat and anti-aircraft defense. In addition to these, the Tucker boasted twelve 21-inch torpedo tubes, a significant increase in torpedo armament compared to earlier destroyers. This heavy torpedo armament made it a formidable threat to larger enemy vessels.

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Furthermore, the Tucker and its class were designed with improved anti-aircraft capabilities, acknowledging the growing importance of air power in naval warfare. As for armor, destroyers like the Tucker typically had minimal armor to maintain higher speeds and maneuverability, relying instead on their agility and armament for defense.

Service History

After its commissioning in 1936, the USS Tucker was initially involved in a variety of peacetime activities that were typical for U.S. Navy ships of the era. These included training exercises, maneuvers, and showing the flag in port visits around the world. Such activities were crucial in maintaining crew proficiency, testing the ship’s capabilities, and representing American naval power and diplomatic presence internationally.

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The Tucker participated in fleet problems, which were large-scale exercises designed to simulate complex naval operations and tactics. These exercises were invaluable in developing and refining U.S. naval doctrine and preparedness.

In June 1940, Tucker was returning to Hawaii after conducting fleet exercises near Wake Island. To stretch fuel supplies, homemade sails were rigged, apparently moving the Tucker at an estimated 3.4 knots.

USS Tucker with her sails rigged.
USS Tucker with her sails rigged.

The attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 marked a turning point for the Tucker and the United States Navy. At the time of the attack, Tucker was moored to a destroyer tended while undergoing an overhaul. As the first wave of Japanese aircraft began their attack, the crew of the Tucker opened fire with her 50-caliber machine guns. The United States’ entry into World War II brought the Tucker into active combat operations, primarily in the Pacific Theater, which would become the main stage of its wartime service.

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Initially, the Tucker continued to conduct Neutrality Patrols, but now with the added urgency and danger of being in a state of war. The ship was involved in escorting convoys and patrolling critical sea lanes to protect them from Japanese submarines and surface raiders. These early wartime missions were crucial in maintaining the flow of troops and supplies necessary for the Allied war effort.

The Sinking Of USS Tucker

On August 4, 1942, while engaged in operations near the Solomon Islands, the USS Tucker encountered one of the many dangers of naval warfare – mines.

The USS Tucker was escorting the cargo ship SS Nira Luckenbach into Espiritu Santo unaware that US Navy destroyers had laid mines in the entrance to the harbor. The ship struck a mine ripping the hull in two. Three sailors on watch were killed in the explosion, while the remaining personnel were rescued by the Nira Luckenbach.

The wreck of USS Tucker pictured the day after her sinking.
The wreck of USS Tucker pictured the day after her sinking.

Three days following the sinking of the Tucker, the naval tugboat Navajo reached the wreckage location accompanied by divers. They successfully retrieved significant components such as the ship’s guns, turbines, anchors, and chains.

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Throughout the remainder of World War II, the site where the Tucker rested, submerged in just 60 feet (18 meters) of water, became a training ground for Navy divers, with no additional salvage operations conducted by the military.

Due to the shallow depth, the wreckage was readily accessible, attracting private salvagers who stripped away any valuable remnants, leaving the Tucker’s remains scattered and pillaged. Additionally, recreational divers visiting the site contributed to its degradation, turning it into what was described by 1997 as resembling an “underwater junkyard.”