USS Preston while underway in the late 1930s
|Namesake:||Samuel W. Preston|
|Builder:||Mare Island Navy Yard|
|Laid down:||27 October 1934|
|Launched:||22 April 1936|
|Commissioned:||27 October 1936|
|Fate:||Sunk 14 November 1942|
|Class and type:||Mahan-class destroyer|
|Length:||341 ft 4 in (104.0 m)|
|Beam:||35 ft 0 in (10.7 m)|
|Draft:||9 ft 10 in (3.0 m)|
|Speed:||37 knots (69 km/h; 43 mph)|
Preston was laid down on 27 October 1934 at the Mare Island Navy Yard, Vallejo, California, and launched on 22 April 1936. She was sponsored by Mrs. Edward H. Campbell, commissioned on 27 October 1936, with Commander C. D. Swain in command.
Following shakedown, Preston operated briefly under the Chief of Naval Operations, then joined Battle Force, U.S. Fleet. Initially assigned to Destroyer Squadron 2 (DesRon 2), then shifted to DesRon 5, she conducted peacetime training exercises in the Pacific until 7 December 1941. Patrol and coastal escort duties along the west coast kept Preston in the eastern Pacific until 1 June 1942. Then setting a westward course she headed for Hawaii in the screen of the aircraft carrier Saratoga. Arriving on 6 June, her group, TG 11.1, departed again the next day to rendezvous with Task Force 17 (TF17) and deliver planes, pilots, and material to the carriers Enterprise and Hornet as that force refueled and rested after the Battle of Midway.
On 13 June, Preston returned to Pearl Harbor and for the next four months conducted type exercises and performed patrol and escort work in the Hawaiian area. She joined TF 16 on 4 October, and on 15 October sailed for the Solomon Islands. On 24 October, TF 16 rendezvoused with TF 17, formed TF 61, and continued on. Two days later, Preston, in the carrier screen, introduced her guns to the enemy at the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands. Downing two planes, she emerged unscathed from her first engagement and retired to Nouméa.
Rearmed, she headed back to the Solomons for her second and last fight. On the evening of 14 November, Preston, with TF 64, sailed along the western end of Guadalcanal to intercept another Japanese run down the “Slot” to bombard Henderson Field and land reinforcements. Swinging around Savo Island, the force, two battleships preceded by four destroyers, entered the channel between Savo and Cape Esperance. At 23:00, the battleship Washington picked up the Japanese cruiser Sendai on her radar, and, at 23:17, the Third Battle of Savo Island began.
Sendai, accompanied by the destroyer Shikinami, had been following the Americans, but 16-inch (406 mm) projectiles drove them off. Soon after, however, the battle was rejoined. The Japanese force had been dispersed and within minutes of the battleship/cruiser encounter, enemy destroyers, edging along the southern shore of Savo, entered the fray. USS Benham and Preston followed. Gwin, which had been firing illumination shells toward the earlier gunfire exchange, came into the action in time to sight the cruiser Nagara and four destroyers closing in. Farther out, heavier Japanese ships were preparing to join in. The concentrated American destroyers were now central targets.
Approximately eight minutes after the enemy was engaged, USS Walke was hit. Soon after, Preston, preparing her torpedoes, was struck. One salvo from Nagara had put both firerooms out and toppled the afterstack. Her fires made an easier target and shells came in from both port and starboard; there is the possibility that the shells coming in from port were from friendly ships (Lundgren, 291f). The fires spread. At 23:36, she was ordered abandoned. Seconds later she rolled on her side. She floated for another ten minutes, bow in the air; then sank, taking 116 of her crew with her.
The battle continued. Gwin now became the target of Japanese guns. Shells exploded in an engine room and on the fantail. At 23:38, Walke's forecastle was blown off. Benham's bow was all but demolished; she would go down on 15 November. Walke soon followed Preston to the Savo Island graveyard. At 23:48, as the battleships took over, the remaining destroyers were ordered to retire. In the ensuing duel, Washington inflicted irreparable damage on the Japanese bombardment force and remained unscathed. However, South Dakota was exposed by searchlight and took shells from that enemy force. The Japanese had again scored heavily, but in doing so had lost a battleship and a destroyer, and, more important, had abandoned their mission of bombarding Henderson Field into uselessness.
Preston earned two battle stars for World War II service.
- This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships. The entry can be found here.
Lundgren, Robert. "Question 39/43: Did the Japanese have help in sinking USS Preston?", Warship International v.45, no. 4, 2008.
- USS Preston website at Destroyer History Foundation
- history.navy.mil: USS Preston