A Tin Can Sailors
Destroyer History


Launched on 2 September and commissioned on 30 December 1920, the JOHN D. FORD (DD-228) joined the Asiatic Fleet in August 1922. Operating out of Manila, she cruised from southern China to northern Japan. In June 1924, she protected American lives and interests threatened by civil unrest in Shanghai, China, and in March 1927, covered the evacuation of American and foreign nationals from Nanking. The FORD remained in Chinese waters and following Japanese aggression in northern China in July 1937, she evacuated Americans from Peiping. After war broke out in Europe in September 1939, she began neutrality patrols in the Philippine and South China Seas.

On 10 December 1940, the FORD and POPE (DD-225) were patrolling in the Manila area when the Japanese made their devastating air raid on Manila Bay. The two destroyers sailed southward the same day to join DesRon 29 patrolling the Makassar Strait off Borneo. On 20 January 1942, the Japanese invaded Borneo at Balikpapan. The FORD was one of six destroyers that joined the light cruisers BOISE (CL-47) and MARBLEHEAD (CL-12) to form an ill-fated strike force to confront the enemy. Steaming into the Makassar Strait, the BOISE hit a dagger-sharp rock protrusion and had to turn back. With her went the MARBLEHEAD, which was having engineering problems, and two destroyers to serve as escorts. They left the veteran four-pipers POPE, PARROTT (DD-218), PAUL JONES (DD-230), and FORD to meet a dozen Japanese destroyers, a light cruiser, and several smaller armed vessels.

Around midnight on 24 January, the four destroyers sped toward Balikpapan with its harbor full of Japanese transports. Smoke from oil refineries blown up earlier in a Dutch air attack covered the approach of the destroyers who launched a sweeping torpedo raid against transports anchored off the entrance to Balikpapan Harbor. The destroyers' first ten torpedoes missed their targets. The fault lay with the torpedoes, not the destroyermen who gamely circled for another run. Alerted to their presence, a squadron of Japanese destroyers steamed out of Balikpapan and into Makassar Strait mistakenly searching for a submarine they believed was attacking the transports. Meanwhile, as the four-stackers ran through the anchorage, their torpedoes finally found targets. Before retiring to Soerabaja from the first U.S. surface action in the Pacific war, they sank four enemy transports and one patrol boat. One of the ships was a victim of the FORD's torpedoes. The only casualties were four wounded in the FORD.

On 3 February, the enemy began air raids on Soerabaja, and the FORD retired in convoy to Tjilatjap on the southern coast of Java. Two weeks later, the FORD and POPE, with the Dutch cruisers DE RUYTER and JAVA and the destroyer PIET HIEN of the American-British-Dutch-Australian (ABDA) Strike Force steamed to Badoeng Strait to engage an enemy destroyer-transport force. At 2200 on the night of 19-20 February, the Dutch and American destroyers began their torpedo attack. Within minutes, the PIET HIEN was hit and sunk, and the FORD and POPE were engaged in a running torpedo and gun battle with the Japanese destroyers OSHIO and ASASHIO. In the smoke-filled melee, no one registered a hit, and at 2310 the Americans retired from the fray. During the battle, the FORD had jettisoned a motor whaleboat, which provided the means for thirty-three survivors of the PIET HIEN to reach safety.

On 21 February, the FORD and POPE picked up eighteen torpedoes from the BLACK HAWK (AD-9) and steamed to Soerabaja, arriving the 24th to join the dwindling ABDA Strike Force. Shortages of fuel, ammunition, and torpedoes and considerable battle damage had left the Allies in a critical situation. Only four U.S. destroyers remained fully operational.

Late on the 27th, the FORD, JOHN D. EDWARDS (DD-216), PAUL JONES, and ALDEN (DD-211) sortied with an Allied force of five cruisers and five other destroyers to search for the enemy in the Java Sea. At 1600 they were under air attack and as they ran northward in the Java Sea, they came upon a large invasion force of four cruisers and thirteen destroyers. At 1616 the Japanese fired the opening salvoes of a furious seven-hour running battle marked by intermittent gun and torpedo duels. The FORD emerged from the battle undamaged, but in the valiant attempt to prevent the invasion of Java, five Allied ships were sunk. Out of torpedoes and low on ammunition, the FORD and the three American destroyers left Soerabaja for Australia on 28 February. En route, they managed to outrun three enemy destroyers guarding the Bali Strait and reached Freemantle on 4 March.

Convoy escort duty and antisubmarine patrols in the Pacific and Atlantic took the FORD into 1944. While cruising west of the Azores on 16 January, the destroyer helped sink the German submarine U-554, and at Gibraltar on 29 March, she was damaged in a collision with a British tanker but was soon back on convoy duty. Reclassified as miscellaneous auxiliary ship AG-119 in July 1945, the JOHN D. FORD was decommissioned on 2 November 1945 and was sold for scrap in October 1947.


From The Tin Can Sailor, April 2001

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