USS Anderson DD-411
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Pre-War Classes - Destroyers designed in the 1930’s

After the WW I, which had been billed as “war to end all wars” Americans had little appetite for a military build up. While the American economy boomed during the 1920’s making our gross national product as much as one third of the world total, the Navy was building very few ships. The U.S entered a series of three international Naval treaties to limit our need to compete with other countries. And the American public had concluded that Naval ships were unnecessary.

While much of the country was in no mood to prepare for war, leaders in Congress and in the Navy understood the need to build a much more robust fleet, especially considering the military build up by Germany and Japan. They understood the need for fast, seaworthy ships that could protect the fleet from enemy ships, with torpedoes as their primary anti-ship weapon. The Naval Treaty of 1930 limited the U.S. to building eighty-four 1200-ton destroyers and thirteen 1850-ton destroyer leaders.
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Farragut Class
First of the “Treaty 1500 tonners,” USS Farragut ushered a new kind of destroyer. While still very narrow with a length-to-beam ration of 10:1 like the “four stackers,” she had a raised forecastle that would make her more seaworthy in heavy seas. The lower main deck maintained a lower center of gravity. Farragut was also more heavily armed with five deck-mounted 5” / 38 caliber guns that were controlled by a newly designed Mark 33 main battery director. Four boilers fed steam to two steam turbines driving two props. She could reach a speed of 37 knots.

Farragut’s 5” guns had been designed as “dual purpose” meaning they were effective against aircraft as well as surface targets. With rapid fire and reliability these guns proved to be the most successful naval guns in their class during WW2, and were used on battleships, cruisers, and carriers, as well as destroyers.

Actual displacement - 1365 tons
Length - 341 ft., Beam - 34 ft.
USS Farragut DD-348
USS Farragut (DD-348) First of the 1500 Tonners. Her keel was laid in September, 1932, and she was commissioned in March, 1934. Click on image to enlarge.
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Porter Class (8 ships)
Destroyer Leaders - 1850 tons
Length - 381 ft. Beam - 36 ft.
Eight 5”/38 ca. guns in four 2-gun turrets
Fitted for WW2 in 1942 with two Bofors 40mm guns and six 20mm Oerlikon annoys
Eight 21-inch torpedo tubes
Similar propulsion system to the Farraguts, but more powerful and more efficient.
Speed - 37 knots
Range - 6,380 nautical miles
USS Porter DD-356
USS Porter DD 356. Click on image to enlarge.
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Mahan Class (16 ships)
1500 Tons
Basically a design improvement over the Farragut class improved propulsion and four additional torpedo tubes.
Length - 341 ft. Beam - 35 ft.
Five 5”/38 ca. guns in four 2-gun turrets
Twelve 21-inch torpedo tubes
Fitted for WW2 with Bofors and Oerlikon anti-aircraft guns
Speed - 37 knots
Range - 6,940 nautical miles
Mahon class was followed by two ships in the Dunlap class that were essentially same but with improved mounts an gunhouses for the forward 5” guns. These two ships also did not have the forward tripod mast.
USS Shaw DD-373
USS Shaw DD 373 in 1938.
Click on image to enlarge.
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Bagley (8 ships)
1500 Tons
These destroyers differed from the Mahans with external trunking of the boilers and a single stack. One 5” gun was omitted, making room for four additional torpedo tubes, bringing the total to 16 torpedo tubes. All eight Bagley ships were in Pearl Harbor on 12/7/41 and survived the attack. They went on to serve in several battles in the Pacific theatre where several were lost or heavily damaged.

Four ships of the Gridley Class were built at the same time as the Bagley destroyers and were similar in design.


Below: Aerial view of USS Mugford (DD-389) a Bagley class destroyer, shows the positioning of her 16 torpedo tubes.
USS Henley DD-391
USS Henley DD-391- Bagley class destroyer. Click on image to enlarge.
USS Mugford DD-389
20mm Naval Gun
USS Mugford Torpedoes
Above: USS Mugford (DD-389) with her torpedo tubes trained outward.

Left: Gunners on a USS Mugford port 20mm gun station observe USS Belleau Wood (CVL-24) and USS Franklin (CV-13) afire after being hit by Kamikaze attacks off the Philippines on Oct. 30, 1944. One of the duties of a destroyer was to screen larger ships and help defend against enemy planes. Destroyers were often in the thick of the battle, training their AA guns at Japanese planes as well as their torpedos at ships and depth charges at submarines.
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Somers (5) Ships
The London Naval Treaty for13 1850 ton destroyers. The first 8 funded by Congress were the Porter Class, and Somers were initially intended as five more of that design. However this class incorporated new propulsion technology involving super heated steam that became a standard for ships being built in the late 1930’s and though the war years.

As built, the ships in this class had eight 5-inch guns in four double mounts. However, they were single purpose guns, which meant they did have the elevation or triggering for use as anti-aircraft guns. So during the war, they were replaced with a smaller number of dual-purpose 5-inch guns. The original anti-aircraft guns were also replaced with Bofors and Oerlikon guns. Armament upgrades varied from ship to ship.
USS Sampson DD-394
USS Sampson (DD-394) Somers Class. 1850 ton displacement. Length: 381 ft., Beam: 36 ft. Speed: 36 knots. Click on image to enlarge.
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Benham Class (10 ships)
Very similar to the Bagley class with 16 torpedo tubes. However an improved high-pressure boiler design, only three boilers were needed.

USS Benham was struck by a Japanese torpedo and scuttled at the Battle of Guadalcanal, November 15, 1942. Ships of this class served extensively during WW2. USS Sterett (DD-407) received the Presidential Unit Citation for her service in the battles of Guadalcanal, and Vella Gulf.

USS Sterett Kamakaze attack
USS Rowan and USS Augusta
USS Benham DD-397
USS Benham DD 397 - Displacement: 1491 tons, Length: 341 ft., Beam: 36 ft., Speed: 38 knots. Click on image to enlarge.

Left: Kamikaze damage to Sterett’s starboard side after an attack on April 9, 1945 off Okinawa. She made to Ryukyu Islands, where this photo was taken on April 11. It is a sad example of the tragedy of war. A young Japanese pilot gave his life to make that hole. We should never forget the individual sacrifices of the many men who lost their lives at sea, in the air, and on land during WW2. Photo from the collection of Lt. David Longmaid, USNR.

Below: Aerial view of USS Rowan (DD-405) Click on any image to enlarge.

Below Left: USS Rowan (DD-405) receives provisions from USS Augusta (CA-31 ) in December, 1942.
USS Rowan DD-405
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Sims Class (12 Ships)
A variation of the Treaty ships at just 70 tons more, these ships were similar to their predecessors. Armament was four 5-inch guns and eight torpedo tubes.

After the war started, their older secondary guns were replaced with Bofors and Oerlikons. The Sims were the first to have the Mark 37 Gun Fire Control System, which can be seen in this photo atop the bridge. This technology was a retrofit as it was not ready before the war.

All twelve in this class saw combat in WW2, and five were lost.


USS Wainwright DD-419
USS Wainwright DD 419 Sims Class in 1944. Displacement: 1570 tons, Length: 348 ft., Beam: 36 ft., Speed: 37 knots. Click on image above or below to enlarge.
Sims Class Destroyer
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Benson Class (30 ships)
No longer restrained by the Treaty of 1930, the Navy ordered a new class to be heavier and more robust. Six ships were ordered in fiscal year 1938. Another 24 would be built during the first year of WW2, before the Fletcher Class was ready for full-scale production.

Boiler and engine room design separated a fore and aft combination so that a hit to one part of the ship would not disable both engines.

The photo at right shows Benson with her new Mark 37 Gun Fire Control System with its new radar technology. Before the war, U.S. ships still relied on a crow’s nest for visual observation of targets.

USS Benson DD-421
USS Benson (DD-421) Displacement: 1620 tons. Length: 348 ft., Beam: 36 ft., Speed: 37.5 knots. Armament: Five single-mount Dual-purpose 5-in. guns, ten 21-inch torpedo tubes, 2 depth charge racks. After the war started, Bofors and Oerlikon anti-aircraft guns. Click on image to enlarge.
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Gleaves Class (66 ships)
Originally referred to as the Livermore Class after USS Livermore (DD-429). Benson and Gleaves classes were almost identical with the shape of their stacks being about the only visible difference. During the war, the Benson and Gleaves class were often grouped together as the “Benson Livermore Class”

USS Gleaves DD-423
USS Gleaves (DD 423) Displacement: 1630 tons. Length: 348 ft., Beam: 36 ft., Speed: 37.4 knots. Armament: Five single-mount Dual-purpose 5-in. guns, ten 21-inch torpedo tubes, 2 depth charge racks. After the war started, Bofors and Oerlikon anti-aircraft guns replaced the original .50 caliber machine guns on many, perhaps all, of the ships. Click on image to enlarge.
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5 inch naval gun

Five Inch / 38 Caliber Naval Gun


Shown at left, USS Shaw (DD-373) crew members train with the ship’s No. 3 gun in July, 1942. Several ships in the 1930’s were originally equipped with single-purpose 5” guns, which meant that they could fire only at surface targets (other vessels or shore targets). During World War 2, most ships were either originally equipped with or retrofitted with “Dual-Purpose” 5” guns. This meant that the barrel could be raised to a higher elevation to target aircraft. The dual-purpose guns also had anti-aircraft fuze setters It is difficult for the average person to comprehend that a destroyer’s big guns would be used to shoot at airplanes, firing a projectile that is 5 inches wide and weighs 55 lbs. Going into the war, there were only two kinds of fuses for an exploding shell. One, of course, was the contact fuse. The projectile would have to actually hit the airplane for the fuse to activate the explosive. The other was the time fuse. Gunners would set the time fuse and do their best to get it right. The idea was for a barrage of projectiles to explode in the air and create a wall of shell fragments that the plane would then fly into. Timing was key, and getting it right was an elusive trick. Then along came the brainiacs at the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University. They came up with the “proximity fuse” that used radio frequencies from an oscillator that bounced off the reflective surface of an airplane. The concept had been developed in England, where they could not perfect the technology to make it work. Known as the VT Fuse for variable time fuse, it revolutionized anti aircraft munitions and had a significant impact on the outcome of the war. It was an extremely secret, though widely used, technology that the Allies were able to keep Germany and Japan from obtaining.
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A total of 169 pre-war destroyers served in World War 2. They were smaller than the subsequent classes, a little top heavy, and generally more vulnerable. Roughly one fourth of them didn’t survive the war. However, they played a vital role in the war effort, first by being the platform for many improvements in destroyer design, from propulsion to armament, leading the way for the heavier extremely successful Fletcher Class. The pre-war ships served in many capacities, including patrol and convoy operations, anti-sub and anti-aircraft warfare. Some logged as much as 300,000 miles during the war. Their officers and crew were as fearless as any Americans who took the fight to the Germans and the Japanese.
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