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The First Destroyers

The Bainbridge Class
During the Spanish American War, future president Theodore Roosevelt, then Assistant Secretary of the Navy, noted that the greatest threat to our navy was the Spanish torpedo boat destroyers. On his recommendation, the U.S. Congress in 1898 authorized 16 torpedo boat destroyers and 12 seagoing torpedo boat destroyers to be built the for the U.S.Navy.

At 420 tons ( 630 fully loaded), these first destroyers were small and light, compared to later classes. They were also comparatively lightly armed with two 3-inch guns and, five smaller guns, and two 18-inch torpedo tubes. They required a crew of 3 officers and 72 enlisted men.

These first destroyers were completed too late to be used in the Spanish American War.
A few were deployed to the Philippines before The First World War and then during that war, they were used to escort convoys in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic.
USS Treble DD-12
USS Treble (DD-12)
Originally designated as “Torpedo Boat Destroyers,” the Bainbridge class became the first class of U.S. destroyers. Speed was an important factor, so the class had four coal-fired boilers supplying steam to two triple-expansion (3-piston) engines, driving two props. These narrow ( 23 ft. beam) 250 ft. ships reached a speed of 28 - 29 knots. Photo courtesy of the U.S.Naval History and Heritage Command, from the collection of Thomas P. Naughton.
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USS Bainbridge DD-1
Left: USS Bainbridge (DD-1) during “Fitting Out” in 1902 at the Neafie and Levy Shipbuilding company in Philadelphia. Neafie and Levy got its start as a designer and manufacturer of steam engines. The company went on to build steel ships for the Navy and commercial customers and became the first major supplier of propellers, which were replacing the paddle wheel. Note the very high forecastle and narrow beam of the Bainbridge class. The photographer labeled the picture “U.S.T.B.D. Bainbridge” for Torpedo Boat Destroyer. This ship is the forbear of both the destroyers and the torpedo boats of World War Two. Photo courtesy of the Bureau of Ships Collection in the U.S. National Archives.
US Sailor in 1915
Above: In about 1915, when USS Bainbridge was serving in the Philippines, a sailor sits next to her forward 3” gun, which is mounted on the open bridge. Photo courtesy of the Naval History and Heritage Command from the collection of C.A. Shivley.
First Tin Can Sailors

The First Tin Can Sailors

Crew of USS Bainbridge (DD-1) enjoys a Washington”s birthday dinner in 1916 on the ship’s main deck, while the ship was serving in Philippine waters. Photo from the collection of C.A. Shively courtesy of the U. S. Naval History and Heritage Command.
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Just twenty-eight years before American destroyers were outfitted with advanced radar systems, giving them a huge advantage over the Japanese, a seaman works “aloft” aboard USS Bainbridge DD-1. The earliest destroyers relied upon the view from the top of the mast to see targets and distant threats. Cruisers and battleships prior to WW2 had substantial mast structures for observation, but these destroyers had a simple mast and at least on seaman who was a good climber. Photo of “Seaman Claxton” from the collection of C.A. Shively, courtesy of he U. S. Naval History and Heritage Command.
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Web Site Sponsor: Great American
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Patriotic Posters
At the beginning of the 20th Century, full-color printing was coming of age, and the U.S. Government produced posters that would promote patriotism and encourage people to enlist in the Army or Navy or support the war effort on the home front. The best illustration artists of the day were patriots and donated their talents for the cause. We offer a collection of the most colorful and wonderful patriotic illustration art in American history with beautifully reproduced poster art prints - just $12.95 with free shipping. Even if you don't purchase, the web site is an-up close look at this fascinating subject.
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Destroyers - 1908 - 1916

Palling Class
In the years leading up to World War One, the U.S. built another 52 destroyers. They became bigger and more heavily armed. 21 of the destroyers in this era were Paulding class (shown at right).

All of the pre WW1 destroyers had high forecastles, and four boilers. The Paulding class were the first to have oil fired boilers (as opposed to coal). Displacement increased to 742 tons (887 fully loaded). Length had increased from Bainbridge’s 250 ft to 291 ft. Armament was five 3 inch guns and six torpedo tubes in three twin mounts.
USS Henley DD-39
USS Henley (DD-39) Paulding class destroyer commissioned in 1912.
Click on image to enlarge.
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Flush Deckers - 1918 - 1922

Wickes Class

After 7 ships with various design changes in what is referred to as the Clemson class, the U.S. went into mass production of destroyers in 1917 building 111 ships in the Wickes class and 156 in the Clemson class.

These ships became known as “Flush Deckers” because they didn’t have the high freeboard forecastle of the first destroyers. They were also bigger and heavier, and more heavily armed.

Overall Length - 314 ft. , Beam 32 ft.
Displacement - 1154 tons
Speed - 35 knots
Crew - 159 officers and enlisted
Armament - Four 4” deck mounted guns
One to Two 3” guns
Twelve 21” torpedo tubes
Depth charge rack for anti-sub

USS Biddle DD-151
USS Biddle (DD-151) Wickes class destroyer commissioned in 1919.
Click on photo to enlarge.
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Clemson Class

With a few design changes over the Wickes class, they were the last of the destroyers built before the treaty ships of the 1930’s. They were the first destroyers to be fitted with anti-aircraft guns. Propulsion was four oil-fired boilers providing steam for two steam turbines driving two props. The Navy decided to add fuel tanks to increase the range to 4,900 nautical miles, despite the added risk of having fuel tanks above the waterline.

Many flush deckers served admirably in World War Two. During the war, these older destroyers were often referred to as “four-stackers.” USS Brooks (photo at right) served in many operations in the Pacific Theatre as a transport and minesweeper. In January 1945, she was heavily damaged by a Japanese Kamikaze strike. Three of her crew will killed in the attack, and eleven wounded. Brooks was towed back to California but did not return to service.
USS Brooks DD-232
USS Brooks (DD-232) Clemson class destroyer during sea trials in 1920
Click on image to enlarge.
Battleship Cove
If you live in or travel to southeastern New England, you should plan a visit to Battleship Cove in Fall River, MA. It is only about a 20 minute drive from Newport or Providence. See a battleship, destroyer, and submarine close up; tour the extensive PT Boat exhibit; or ride a beautifully restored classic carousel with hand-carved ponies.


© 2017 Phil Dickinson
P.O. Box 4195, Middletown, RI 02842

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