The Fletcher class was the main production destroyer of World War Two. The Fletcher class was the largest and most important class of U.S. destroyers to serve in the war. The Fletcher class formed the backbone of U.S. destroyer forces in World War II, and played a major role in the defeat of Japan in the Pacific. They proved to be very rugged platforms, serving in every naval theater of the war with distinction. Small, fast, fighting ships, they were used to screen task forces, escort convoys, bombard shore positions and deliver torpedo attacks. No aircraft carrier or battleship ventured into enemy waters without her escorting destroyers ahead.
A total of 175 Fletcher class destroyers were built during the war, the largest class of destroyers constructed by the United States in World War II. Two groups were built. The first had high, streamlined bridges and high gun directors inherited from the prewar Sims class. The second group, beginning with USS Brownson (DD 518), had lower, squared-off bridges with an open walk-around area for better vision during antiaircraft action. The lines and balanced appearance of both versions were among the most graceful of all 20th century warships. An additional nine ships were cancelled in December 1940 as were two prototypes. Two modified Fletcher class were constructed in Japan in the late 1950s.
Fletcher class destroyers were the first to break with design practices that had developed as a result of the London Treaty of 1930. They were large ships that carried sufficient food, fuel, ammunition and stores for extended operations in the Pacific. Powered by four Babcock & Wilcox boilers and General Electric trubines, with 2 shafts totalling 60,000 SHP, they were capable of 38 knots. Loaded with 492 tons of oil, they could range 6,500nm at 15 knots. Being 376 feet, 6 inches, in length meant that they could carry five five-inch dual-purpose guns, ten torpedoes, depth charges and antiaircraft guns. The Fletcher Class destroyer is only 39 feet 6 inches wide. The design helps to give it the speed and manueverability to perform its job and survive. When general quarters were sounded the men ran to their battle stations. To avoid men colliding with each other the men moved on the ship in a counter clockwise direction. General quarters required men to move down the port side of the ship and up starboard. Their ability to refuel at sea enabled them to carry less fuel yet operate effectively in the vastness of the Pacific.
The five five-inch dual-purpose guns, the largest on the ship, fired on aircraft, ships, and shore targets. They could hit a surface target nine miles away, or an air target six miles away. As many as nine men worked inside the mount, loading, aiming and firing, as fast as every four seconds. Below is a handling room where men passed ammunition to the gun crew above. In the Ammunition Handling Room, nine men stood by ready to move projectiles and powder cases up the electric hoist to the 5-inch/38 caliber gun mount directly above on the next level. Each of the 5-inch gun mounts on the ship has a handling room beneath it. In battle, this crew moved 24 to 30 shells and powder casings a minute up to the gun mount. Gun crews used dummy ammunition to practice loading the 5-inch/38 caliber guns which had to be loaded by hand. Teamwork was essential for rapid, accurate fire in combat.
During World War II in the Pacific, the ship's ten 40 mm gun mounts were crucial to her survival. Each gun mount had two barrels, and each barrel could fire 160 rounds per minute, with an effective range of 4 miles. However, even this tremendous firepower was not always effective against enemy planes. Japanese suicide planes (kamikazes) hit 88 American destroyers.
During World War II, seven 20 mm guns provided a final and important line of defense against enemy aircraft. However, these small-caliber guns had little chance against a determined kamikaze pilot, or later against high-speed jet aircraft [all the 20 mm guns were removed during the modernization of the ships in the 1950s].
Two types of depth charges were used in World War II to sink submarines. The Mk-7 "ash can" charges which resembled 50-gallon oil drums were mostly replaced during the war by the Mk-9 "teardrop" charges which are on the rack today. The teardrop sunk more quickly and with greater accuracy than the ash can it replaced.
Torpedoes are designed to attack enemy surface ships. During World War II, Fletcher class destroyers carried 10 21-inch torpedoes, each weighing 2,215 pounds. A three-man crew programmed the torpedoes' course, speed, and depth. Once fired into the water, the torpedo provided its own propulsion that could carry a 780 pound explosive charge three miles at 45 knots or 7 1/2 miles at 28.5 knots. It was usually difficult to hit a target with a torpedo, and sometimes torpedoes failed to explode on impact. However, when it worked, a single torpedo could sink a ship.
The C.I.C. was the Combat Information Center aboard ship. Information collected by visual means and by radar, sonar, and radio was assembled and evaluated here and then relayed to the appropriate combat stations on the ship or to neighboring vessels. Ten to twelve crewmen worked in C.I.C., including the ship's Executive Officer. During battle, the most important job of the ship was C.I.C. There was a serious debate during the end of the war as to whether the Captain should be in C.I.C. and the exec on the bridge. Because everything happened in C.I.C.
The wardroom served as a dining room and lounge for the ten to twelve ship's officers. During combat, the wardroom became the forward battle dressing station; therefore it was equipped with an operating table and surgical lights. The crew's meals were prepared in this kitchen and carried to the crew's mess two decks below, as well as to the chief petty officers' mess and to the officers' wardroom. The laundry of the entire crew was done at least once a week, except during heavy seas or fresh water shortages. Over 300 men lived and worked aboard ship, and Navy regulations required cleanliness and neatness.
As the United States in World War II built more Fletcher class destroyers than any other, this class is particularly significant and played a major role in our nation's victory at sea. This class was the first to break with design practices that had developed as a result of the London Treaty of 1930. Fletcher class destroyers were flush deckers with two funnels and five 5-inch guns. They were larger in size than any previous class of destroyers and when full y loaded carried the fuel, ammunition, and stores needed for extensive sea duty in the Pacific. Their larger size enabled them to employ their 5-inch guns in enclosed mounts. They had 10 torpedo tubes in two quintuple banks, depth charges, and large batteries of antiaircraft guns.
The first of the class to be laid down was Nicholas (DD-449) in March 1941. She joined the fleet in June 1942. The last to join the fleet was Wiley (DD-597) in February 1945. The "war emergency" Fletcher-class units had built-in modifications based on the wartime experience of earlier sister ships.
DD-343 Noa, a Clemson-class destroyer, recommissioned at Philadelphia 1 April 1940 and was fitted with a seaplane which nested just forward of the after deckhouse, replacing the after torpedo tubes. At the same time a boom for lifting the aircraft was stepped in place of the mainmast. She steamed for the Delaware Capes in May and conducted tests with an XSOC-1 seaplane. The plane was hoisted onto the ocean for takeoff and then recovered by Noa while the ship was underway. Such dramatic demonstrations convinced the Secretary of the Navy that destroyer-based scout planes had value, and 27 May he directed that six new destroyers of the soon-to-be-constructed Fletcher Class (DD 476-481) be fitted with catapults and handling equipment. Because of mechanical deficiencies in the hoisting gear the program was cancelled early in 1943. The concept thus failed to mature as a combat technique, but the destroyer-observation seaplane team was to be revived under somewhat modified conditions during later amphibious operations. Originally built with a seaplane catapult in place of her number three 5-inch gun mount, these ships resembled other Fletcher-class destroyers except for the 40-millimeter twin antiaircraft mount on the fantail.
Watson (DD-482) - planned as a modified Fletcher-class destroyer to be built at Kearny, N.J., by the Federal Shipbuilding and Drydock Co. - was to be powered by an experimental diesel propulsion system. However, due to more pressing wartime destroyer construction programs, the ship was never laid down, and her construction was cancelled on 7 January 1946
The Fletcher class ships had a strong armament, long range, reliability, and irrepressible toughness. Some of their success came by inheritance; most units joined the fleet after the early, unpleasant lessons of night combat against the Japanese. However, the Fletchers presented the perfect vehicle for exploiting those lessons, achieving utter triumph at Cape St. George and Surigao Strait. Also, most of the losses among the Fletcher and Sumner classes resulted from kamikaze attacks. In many cases the ships survived, but the navy in that stage in the war didnt bother to repair them.
Hoel succumbed to a more traditional fate beneath an avalanche of Japanese gunfire: 40 shells, ranging from five-inch to 16.1 inch, stopped her dead in the water, and subsequent hits finished her off. Johnston received 4,700 pounds of incoming ordnance within the space of one minute. It wrecked half of her machinery, yet she continued at 17 knots. Commander Ernest Edwin Evans was the Commanding Officer of the USS JOHNSTON (DD-557), a Fletcher class destroyer which fought Japanese forces in the battle off Samar on October 25, 1944. Evans was a true warrior who, upon taking command of the newly commissioned vessel on October 27, 1943, told his crew, "This is going to be a fighting ship. I intend to go in harm's way, and anyone who doesn't want to go along had better get off right now." Evans was awarded the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as commanding officer of the U.S.S. Johnston in action against major units of the enemy Japanese fleet during the battle off Samar on 25 October 1944. The first to lay a smokescreen and to open fire as an enemy task force, vastly superior in number, firepower and armor, rapidly approached. Comdr. Evans gallantly diverted the powerful blasts of hostile guns from the lightly armed and armored carriers under his protection, launching the first torpedo attack when the Johnston came under straddling Japanese shellfire. Undaunted by damage sustained under the terrific volume of fire, he unhesitatingly joined others of his group to provide fire support during subsequent torpedo attacks against the Japanese and, outshooting and outmaneuvering the enemy as he consistently interposed his vessel between the hostile fleet units and our carriers despite the crippling loss of engine power and communications with steering aft, shifted command to the fantail, shouted steering orders through an open hatch to men turning the rudder by hand and battled furiously until the Johnston, burning and shuddering from a mortal blow, lay dead in the water after 3 hours of fierce combat. Seriously wounded early in the engagement, Comdr. Evans, by his indomitable courage and brilliant professional skill, aided materially in turning back the enemy during a critical phase of the action.
Destroyer Squadron Twenty-One's proud history began in March, 1943, when the first ships of the then-new Fletcher class, having been deployed to Guadalcanal in the southwestern Pacific's Solomon Islands, were organized as Destroyer Squadron Twenty One, part of Admrial William F. Halsey's Third Fleet. Over the next three years, Fletcher, Radford, Jenkins, La Vallette, Nicholas (flagship), O'Bannon, Chevalier, Strong, Taylor, Ross, and Hopewell served in the front line and collectively earned three Presidential Unit Citations, a Navy Unit Commendation and 118 battle stars. Then in 1945, Admiral Halsey chose the three survivors of this most decorated destroyer squadron - Nicholas, O'Bannon, and Taylor - to escort his flagship Missouri into Tokyo Bay "because of their valorous fight up the long road from the South Pacific to the very end."
The USS KIDD was part of Destroyer Squadron 48 of World War II, which was composed of nine Fletcher class destroyers, four of which were constructed at the Kearney Shipyard in New Jersey. After the end of the War, all of the other destroyers of the 245 Fletcher and Sumner class besides the USS KIDD were modernized. This was done by the replacement of the rear island of the ship with a helicopter platform, the addition of side launching torpedo tubes, and the installation of hedgehog depth charge launchers.
An anti-submarine weapon, the hedgehog was deployed on most Fletcher-class destroyers after World War II to supplement the depth charge. The 24 small bombs were launched from spiked fittings, hence the name "hedgehog". The bombs exploded on contact and achieved a higher sinking rate against submarines than depth charges did.
With the outbreak of the Korean Conflict, many destroyers were recalled to service and also served in Atlantic and Mediterranean waters. Some of these vessels were modernized in the 1950s to meet the changing conditions of naval warfare. One 5-inch gun and both quintuple banks of torpedo tubes were removed. Six deck-mounted torpedo tubes, loaded with modern Mark 44 torpedoes were installed. USS The Sullivans is in good condition and retains much of her World War II integrity.
A handful of these ships served into the early 1970s. Many were transferred abroad. Thirty-two were transferred to the navies of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Columbia, Germany, Greece, Italy, Japan, Korea, Mexico, Peru, Taiwan, Turkey and Spain. By 1971, all units remaining in the US Navy had been retired.
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