Winter 2014 - Navy
A heritage of warfighting excellence
Compiled from the Naval History and Heritage Command Reports
From the “Greyhounds of the Fleet” to the
“Workhorse,” the destroyer continues to prove its
worth as a multipurpose warship tailored to
meet the threat-of-the-moment, whether it is
antisubmarine, antiaircraft or provide support for
amphibious landings. The Navy’s newest destroyer,
USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000), embraces innovation and
new technology and sports the stealthy silhouette of other
recent ships commissioned in the Navy, such as both
littoral combat ships and San Antonio-class amphibious
transport dock ships. Its particular mission is less
deep-water driven to providing support and coverage
for another evolution in the Navy’s inventory, the littoral
combat patrol fleet.
Yet even now, as the Navy shifts its focus from
Southwest Asia to the Pacific, it will prepare again for a
possible deep-water threat and continue to upgrade its
proven destroyers of today, the Arleigh Burke-class.
“As these ships are commissioned, they will continue to
serve as the fleet’s workhorses, as they improve on or retain
all the warfighting capability of previous Arleigh Burke
destroyers, including advances in antisubmarine warfare,
command and control and antisurface warfare,” said
Captain Mark Vandroff, USN, DDG 51 program officer,
Program Executive Office, Ships, in a Navy Live blog.
“The Navy is relying on a stable and mature infrastructure
while increasing the ship’s air and missile defense
capabilities through spiral upgrades to the weapons
and sensor suites. These ships continue to be delivered at
the highest quality while serial production has reduced
costs and increased capabilities.”
Built to stop the torpedo boat threat
Torpedo boat destroyers were created to fight off a new
threat: fast torpedo boats and submersibles maneuvering
past escorts and targeting battleships in the late 1890s.
Then-Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore
Roosevelt wrote torpedo boats were the “only real menace”
to the U.S. fleet during the Spanish-American War. So,
Congress authorized 16 torpedo boat destroyers on 4 May
1898. Fast and agile, the scouts of the fleet would take on
initial attackers, as they escorted larger ships to their
destination, or in battle.
The Bainbridge-class, with 13 ships, was the first, with
the three-ship Truxtun-class completing the first order for
16 in 1903. USS Bainbridge (DD 1) was powered by 400-ton coal burners with steam engines
and armed with two torpedo tubes and two
three-inch guns that gave ships both speed and
The next 26 ships were nicknamed “flivvers,”
due to their light weight at 740 short tons. The last
was commissioned in 1912.
Destroyers then underwent a design change that
may seem familiar today. Beginning with the
Cassin-class in 1913, and including the classes of
Alwyns, O’Brians, Tuckers and Sampsons, the destroyers
were known as “broken deckers” for their high
forecastles. They were the first to weigh 1,000 tons.
These “one tonners” switched from coal to oil-fired
steam turbine engines and boasted eight torpedo
tubes with four four-inch .50-caliber gun mounts.
From 1915 through 1922, the U.S. dramatically
expanded the number of destroyers in commission,
producing 273 Caldwell, Wickes and Clemson-class
destroyers. The destroyers, beginning with the
six-ship Caldwell-class, featured a “flush deck” with
no raised forecastle. They also had four separated
stacks, giving them the nickname of “four pipers.”
But there were the exceptions: Three had only three
stacks. They also increased in size yet again to
1,190 tons. These “flush-deckers” sported 12 mounted
torpedo tubes, four four-inch guns, one three-inch
antiaircraft gun and some light machine guns.
With the passage of the Naval Appropriations
Act of 1916, destroyers were mass-produced across
11 shipyards between 1915 and 1922. On 16 April
1917, Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels
directed six destroyers to immediately join the
antisubmarine war effort in European waters.
Those that saw action were used to search out German
U-Boats as they escorted merchant ships and troop
transport ships to and from Great Britain.
By 1922, all 267 of the Wickes-Clemson classes had
been built. During peacetime, many were converted to
minesweepers, mothballed or sold to other nations.
The 1922 Washington Naval Treaty among the U.S.,
United Kingdom, France, Italy and Japan attempted to
regulate the size and armament of major navies. The 1930
London Naval Treaty among the same countries regulated
“surface vessels of war” that weighed less than 1,850 tons
with “guns not above 5.1-inches (130 mm),” according to
Ship’s Data for U.S. Naval Vessels.
By 1932, the Navy redesigned the destroyer again into
the 1,500-ton Farragut-class, back to a raised forecastle
with two stacks. After the sparse flush-deckers of World
War I, the Farraguts seemed extravagant, which coined a
term for the new class as “gold-platers” that extended past
the Farragut-class through the Sims-class, built in 1937.
Although initially built with five five-inch guns, one
mount was removed to improve stability. The first Farragut
was commissioned in 1935, followed by 60 others through
the Benham-class, which would be the last of the
The Sims-class, with 12 ships at 1,570 tons, was
similar in design to the Farragut-class. Construction began
in 1937. The Gleaves-class, consisting of 66 ships, included
a split-powerhouse configuration, with just minor changes
for the 30-ship Benson-class. Those 96 ships were built and
commissioned between 1938 and 1943.
Even with a relatively young fleet of destroyers when
the United States entered World War II, none had torpedoes that could match Japan’s Long Lance torpedoes
with 1,000-pound warheads carried by the five-to-eight
gun-wielding Fubuki-class destroyers.
But having anticipated the threat coming from Japan,
the Navy authorized 175 of 2,100-ton Fletcher-class (and
her two derivatives, Allen M. Sumner and Gearing)
destroyers with its enlarged hull through the 1941-42
Shipbuilding Program. They were commissioned
between 3 March 1941 and 22 February 1945.
Capable of speeds up to 38 knots, the Fletcher-class also
boasted 10 21-inch torpedoes in twin quintuple
centerline mounts and was armed with five five-inch
single-mount guns. The multi-mission ship was capable
of every task required of it during both the European
and Pacific campaigns. Originally built with the World
War I-era “flush deck,” later Fletcher-class variants moved
to the “step deck” with a slightly raised forecastle and
replaced a torpedo mount with antiaircraft weaponry.
With its destroyers far more capable of hunting at
night, thanks to surface and air radar, the U.S. Navy
enjoyed decisive victories against Japanese forces in both
the 1943 battles of Vella Gulf and Cape St. George in the
Solomons. Between those two battles, seven out of nine
Japanese destroyers were sunk without a single loss of an
American destroyer. The advantage the Japanese had
with night combat training and long-range torpedoes
dissipated almost as quickly as their fleet of destroyers
was being sunk.
Commissioned in October 1943, the Halsey Powell
was decommissioned in 1968 and sold to South Korea,
where it served as the ROK Seoul until scrapped in 1982,
after nearly 40 years of service.
With the Fletcher-class going strong into the
Korean War, other designs were developed, with the
Mitscher-class beginning in 1949, followed by the
18-ship Forrest Sherman-class.
Shaking off its “gold-plate” status from its earlier
round, the 10-ship Farragut-class, also known as the
Coontz-class, was built between 1956-61.
The Charles F. Adams-class was a 23-ship guidedmissile
derivative of the Forrest Sherman-class, the last of
which was commissioned in 1964. Then came the gas
turbine class of destroyers: Spruance (31), built from
1972 to 1980. The last one was decommissioned in 2005.
The Arleigh Burke-class, the leader ship that was
commissioned in 1991, is a third longer and heavier than
any destroyer commanded by its namesake, former Chief
of Naval Operations Admiral Arleigh Burke, USN (Ret.),
who commanded DESRON 23 to victory during the
Battle of Cape St. George on 25 November 1943.
Touted as the most powerful warship ever built,
it featured the Aegis Combat System and SPY-1D
multi-function phased array radar.
As the ship was built through its four Flights (I, II, IIA
and III), it gained tonnage, from 8,315 to 9,800 tons, but
scaled back its length from the 563-foot Spruance-class
to between 504-509 feet. The ship’s hull has a wide flare
to cut through water for top speeds in high sea states.
It also returned to all-steel construction after the
aluminum superstructures used in other ship classes
became vulnerable to cracking and were less fire-resistant.
More cost-effective to build, still relevant
For more than 110 years, destroyers have been the
workhorses of the fleet, adapting and adjusting to new
threats and warfare from torpedo boats to aircraft
missiles. And destroyers continue to evolve.
“No other nation possesses the warfighting capability
and capacity of our Navy,” wrote Rear Admiral Thomas
Rowden, USN, Director of Surface Warfare Division
(OPNAV N96), in “Building the Surface Fleet for
Tomorrow,” an article published in the January 2014
Proceedings. He mentioned the Zumwalt’s state-of-the-art
capabilities of electric drive propulsion through the
integrated power system, advance gun system firing
long-range land attack projectiles, the peripheral vertical
launching system and the SPY-3 multi-function radar,
adding it “has set the stage for an exciting era of ship
construction and development in the future.”
But the sunrise on the Zumwalt-class is by no means
the sunset on the venerable Arleigh Burkes, which will
“remain the workhorses of the fleet,” Rowden said.
Its value to the fleet is evident after a contract was
approved in June 2013 for an additional 10 Arleigh
Burke-class Flight III variant that will be introduced into
the Fleet over the next 20 years, Rowden said.
Significant upgrades may include shipboard lasers
once they reach operational maturity, he said.
And like the Fletcher-class did for World War II
Veterans and beyond, the Arleigh Burkes may be the
destroyers that shape a generation of Sailors.