U.S Destroyers
From Allen to Gearing

Anti-Air Armament Development
by Keith E. Allen

Fleet Destroyers
DD-66 Allen
DD-75 Wickes class
DD-186 Clemson class
DD-348 Farragut class
DD-356 Porter class
DD-364 Mahan class
DD-381 Somers class
DD-380 Gridley class
DD-384 Dunlap class
DD-386 Bagley class
DD-397 Benham class
DD-409 Sims class
DD-421 Benson class
DD-423 Gleaves class
DD-429 Livermore class
DD-453 Bristol class
DD-445 Fletcher class
DD-692 Allen M. Sumner class
DD-710 Gearing class

Destroyer Escorts
DE-5 Evarts class
DE-51 Buckley class
DE-224 Rudderow class
DE-99 Cannon class
DE-129 Edsall class
DE-339 John C. Butler class

In the course of World War II, the United States employed hundreds and hundreds of destroyers and destroyer escorts. The majority of these warships were buid during the war, including the entire run of destroyer escorts. Whereas destroyer production in the years of 1932 to 1939 had usually been on the order of a squadron per year, in other words eight ships, by the 1940s the dire threat of war had necessitated an increase in destroyer production. While at the Navy's storage facilities the old World War I-built "flushdecker" destroyers were demothballed and modernized, modified and renovated, the many yards that were capable of destroyer production built new warships many times as powerful as the "flushdeckers". These ships, which would serve as fleet escorts, as convoy escorts, as screening ships and patrol ships, as independent strike forces and gunfire support ships, as radar pickets and as submarine hunters, were certainly the most versatile element of the fleet.

Fast, powerful, of sleek lines and energetical appearence, the destroyer was a fairly new element of fleets, and had no direct antecedant. Where battleships traced their lineage to the ships-of-the-line of Nelson and DeRuyter, cruisers traced theirs to the frigates of the same ages, and submarines were found in both Revolutionary and Civil War Navies, there was nothing there resembling a destroyer. Only the advent of another vessel had led to the creation of the new class of ship. The advent of the torpedo boat, developed around the turn of the century, armed with self-propelled torpedoes capable of sinking even the heavily-armored battleships soon necessitated the development of a counter, the torpedo boat destroyer, a larger ship with small quick-firing guns to intercept torpedo boats far from the battleline. Soon, torpedo boats grew and mounted more guns to defend themselves against the new threat; soon, too, torpedo boat destroyers grew to mount torpedoes themselves, as it had become clear that such a ship might, too, engage the enemy battleline closely. This new ship proved versatile and effective. During World War I, already, only destroyers served in Britain's Grand Fleet. It was at this time, too, the American destroyer designs were produced that later saw service in World War II.

The oldest American destroyer to do so was a part of the class of 1000 ton four-stack destroyers that were the predecessors of the flushdeckers. Already, these ships, whose design had evolved from smaller and less capable ships, mounted all the armament that would go into the flushdeckers, but had a different layout. Although successful and not much less capable than the later ships, the giant size of the flush-decker production program made their retention unneccessary.

When America entered World War I in April of 1917, the Navy faced a problem. It lacked small ships, such as destroyers and escorts. Therefore, a construction program was approved which would increase the number of such ships in the fleet. In the event, it almost eightupled the strength of the destroyer force. Aiming at a simple, mass-production design, even if this was not really up to the standards of firepower and strength present in ships of other nations, the simple-hulled, flush-decked Wickes and Clemson designs. In many respects, the incredible achievement of the American industry in churning out over two hundred such destroyers in a little over two years was astonishing; in many other respects, it was unfortunate. Few of the destroyers completed prior to the end of World War I, a mere one and a half years after America's entry into it. The production program continued, running out in 1920. By this time, European destroyers had overtaken the flushdeckers in virtually all respects, and the ships had not been capable of rendering effective service to the Allied cause. However, the United States were now stuck for the time being with these ships, which served as the United States' primary destroyer until the 1930s, even though dozens were put into mothballs during the 1920s.

Only in 1932 did Congress approve the construction of a new destroyer class. This class, the Farraguts, was in all respects superior to the flushdeckers. Although not incredibly large tonnage-wise, the Farraguts included the most modern weaponry and machinery available at the time. It had dual-purpose artillery mounted on the centerline, director control for the artillery, high-pressure and high-temperature steam plants; all in all, truly the "gold-platers" they were called by their flushdecker-driving comrades.

The Farraguts had shown the way; the next class, the Porters, was a step in another direction. This large destroyer was more crafted along the lines of European large destroyers, heavy on artillery. With eight 5" guns in twin mounts, the Porters were almost small cruisers. Their almost pre-ordained role was that of a "destroyer leader", although the Navy did not want them to be; and yet, so they were used.

It followed the Mahan class, improving the Farraguts in the engineering parts, and adding four torpedo tubes. The Mahan class was an obvious improvement over the Farraguts, but it was just one step. Meanwhile, the Somers class improved the Porter class in a similar fashion.

The Gridley class followed, with a different philosophy. Stressing torpedo firepower over gun firepower, the Gridley class mounted sixteen torpedo tubes but only four 5" guns. The following Bagley and Benham classes were repeats of the Gridley system. By the time they were ordered, however, things were changing again. In light of the changing nature of destroyer warfare, with an emphasis on screening and away from attacking, the Sims class returned to the general layout of the Mahan class in guns and torpedoes. However, throughout, the evolution of fire control and engineering advances had ensured that the Sims class would be markedly more capable than the Mahans.

This was true also of the Bensons, which followed the general Sims layout. This class, with yet another new engineering plant, was the basis for the most wartime production run, the Gleaves, Livermore and Bristol classes. These ships, build in a variety of yards and mounting almost eighty ships together, were later used primarily in the Atlantic.

The reason was that a more capable class of destroyer was available for fleet duty (Atlantic duty was mainly convoying), the Fletchers. Designed free of the constraints of the naval treaties, the Fletchers were excellent ships of sturdy built and great firepower, all enclosed gun mounts and partial armor over vital spaces. The long 175 unit production run ensured that these ships would form the core of all mid- and late-war task forces.

Serving alongside the Fletchers in these fleets were the Sumner and Gearing classes, Fletcher modifications with three twin mounts of 5" guns instead of five singles. Their incredible anti-air firepower made the Sumner and Gearing classes the most capable of World War II destroyers.