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Destroyer Classes of World War 2

The pre-war classes of destroyer had been constrained by the London Naval Treaty of 1930 and by the country’s reluctance to invest in a stronger Navy, but they did advance destroyer design in a number of ways. Now, on the eve of impending war, the U.S. was ready to take destroyer design to the next level. Enter the Fletcher Class.

Click on any ship to enlarge photo.

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Fletcher Class (175 Ships)
Building upon design improvements developed and tested over the previous ten years, the Fletcher class was a new kind of destroyer, bigger, more seaworthy, more rugged, and more heavily armed. The first ships of the class were already being built when the U.S. entered the war officially. Eleven shipyards answered the call and launched 175 of the new destroyers in just 32 months. The Japanese had destroyers this size for ten years, and the U.S. had some serious catching up to do.

USS Chevalier DD-451 Fletcher Class
USS Chevalier (DD-451) Fletcher Class Destroyer. Displacement: 2050 tons, Length 376.5 ft., Beam: 39.5 ft., Propulsion four oil-fired boilers driving two geared steam turbines and two props. Speed: 36.5 knots, range: 5,500 nautical miles, Armament: Five dual-purpose main guns in five single mounts, ten 21-inch torpedo tubes, two depth charge racks, six to ten Bofors 40mm and seven-twelve 20 mm Oerlikon anti-aircraft guns, Crew: 329 officers and enlisted.
Click on image to enlarge.
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Allen M. Sumner Class (58 Ships)
Before the first Fletchers were in service, the Navy ordered a different design to sport more fire power. The Allen M. Sumner Class was a bit wider and carried six 5” dual-purpose guns in three double mounts.

During the last year of the war, because the Japanese navy had been decimated, and the biggest threat was then Kamikaze planes, most of the ships in this class had their aft torpedo tubes replaced with an addition four 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft guns.
USS Ingraham DD-694 Sims Class
USS Ingraham (DD-694) Allen M. Sumner Class in 1944. Displacement: 2220 tons, Length 376.5 ft., Beam: 41 ft., Propulsion four oil-fired boilers driving two geared steam turbines and two props. Speed: 34 knots, Range: 6,000 nautical miles, Armament: Six dual-purpose main guns in three double mounts, ten 21-inch torpedo tubes, one depth charge rack, twelve Bofors 40mm and eleven 20 mm Oerlikon anti-aircraft guns, Crew: 336-363 officers and enlisted.
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Gearing Class (98 ships)
As basically a variation of the Sumner class, the Gearing class added 14 ft. to the overall length to make room for greater fuel storage, thus giving the ships in this class additional range. They were thought of as “long hull” Sumner class, and during the later part of the war production shifted to the long hull. Only a few were commissioned in time to serve before the Japanese surrendered. Most had been commissioned by the end of 1946 and went on to serve well into the 1960’s.
USS Sarsfield DD-837 Gearing Class
USS Sarsfield (DD-837) Gearing Class destroyer in 1945. Displacement: 2600 tons. Length: 90.5 ft., Beam: 40.9 ft.,
Click on image to enlarge.
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Fletcher Class Destroyer
Some naval historians will tell you that the Fletcher class destroyer was the most successful ship of World War 2, and that the war would not have been won without them. It could be said of every ship that set sail for battle on the Allied side. We needed every one of them. But there is no question that the 175 Fletcher class destroyer fought valiantly, and many men lost their lives serving their country aboard these ships.
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Elmer Charles Bigelow
Elmer Charles Bigelow grew up in Illinois and in 1942, at the age of 22, like tens of thousands of other young men, he signed up to take the fight to enemy that had bombed Pearl Harbor. He was assigned to USS Fletcher DD-445 as Fireman Third Class and advanced to water tender second class. In that position he was responsible for attending to fires and boilers in the ship’s engine room.

On February 14, 1945, Fletcher was assisting in minesweeping operations in preparations for a landing on Corregidor Island when she was hit by a Japanese shell that penetrated the No.1 gun magazine. Instantly understanding the danger of the situation, Bigelow grabbed two fire extinguishers and rushed to the fire, without taking time to don protective breathing apparatus because he knew every second counted. His action saved the ship from what could have been devastating explosions, but cost him his life. He expired the following day from damage to his lungs.

USS Bigelow DD-942
Of course the young sailor had no idea and never knew that he would be posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor and that 12 years later the U.S. Navy would launch a 407 ft. 2800 ton Forrest Sherman class destroyer named after him. Photo above: USS Bigelow DD-942.

The U.S. Navy has a very proud tradition of naming destroyers after naval heroes. They didn’t have to be admirals; they just had to be great Americans…. like Elmer Charles Bigelow from Hebron, Illinois.

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USS Aaron Ward DD-483
Building Destroyers at a Frenzied Pace

Left: USS Aaron Ward (DD-483) and USS Buchanan (DD-484) Gleaves Class destroyers ready for launch at Federal Shipbuilding, Kearney, New Jersey, October, 1941. Gleaves was the last of the pre-war destroyers. Sixty-six were built between May1938 and November, 1942 (first keel to last launch). Since this design was already in production, shipyards did not stop building them while, at the same time starting to build the new Fletcher class.

The plans Washington put in place to build destroyers was described as an “emergency” program. USS Fletcher keel was laid two months before the Pearl Harbor attack, and just 32 months later, 11 shipyards, working overtime, had launched 175 Fletcher class destroyers. That is a rate of more than a ship a week. This would be amazing enough, but American shipyards in that same period were also building battleships, carriers, cruisers, transport ships, and submarines….as well the previous (Gleaves) and subsequent (Sumner) classes of destroyers.

Below Left: Miss Hilda Ward, daughter of Rear Admiral Aaron Ward, christens the ship named in honor of her father.

Below Right: USS Philip (DD-498) and USS Henshaw (DD-499) Fletcher class destroyers ready for a dual christening ceremony at Federal Shipbuilding in Kearny, New Jersey on October 13, 1942, ten months after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

A ship’s guns and other gear such as radar were mounted after launch. Then the ship would be assigned a crew and go through a period of trials before being commissioned.

While the speed of a destroyer was officially rated at 36 or 37 knots, they often actually achieved higher speeds during trials. USS Maury (DD-401), a Gridly class destroyer was clocked at 42.8 knots in 1938. That is about 46 miles per hour, which is just about highway speed in a car, probably was highway speed in a 1938 car.
The point is these ships were built to HAUL and pack a serious punch with torpedoes, 5” guns, and depth charges.
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Christening a US destroyer 1943
American shipbuilding during WWII
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