The Fletcher class was the main production destroyer of World War Two. The Fletcher class was the largest and most important class of US destroyers to serve in the war. The Fletcher class formed the backbone of US 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.
RADM Frank Friday Fletcher was a recipient of the Medal of Honor for service in operations off of Vera Cruz in 1914 and then named Commander in Chief of the U.S. Atlantic Fleet that same year. The Fletcher-class destroyer, the dominant destroyer of WW II, was named for him.
In December 1939, the US Navy General Board held a hearing on a new type of destroyer meant to accompany large capital ships, namely battleships and aircraft carriers. The design specifications presented to the Board a much larger destroyer than any previously discussed or built. This class of destroyer would be over 400 feet long, have a beam over 40 feet, have a fully loaded speed of over 40 kts, and a full load displacement of approximately 3300 tons, but would be in the 2100 ton class of destroyers. The armament increase included eight double purpose 5" guns, two 1.1 pounder 4-barrel anti-aircraft guns, forward and aft, and two quintuple torpedo tubes on centerline.
The design called for a flush deck ship enabling the crew to reach all areas of the ship from the inside, instead of having to transit outside the skin of the ship. Additional armor protection was added to the decking over the machinery spaces and around the pilothouse. High freeboard forward would allow the crew to use the #1 gun and remain relatively free of water. The stability problems plaguing the 1500-ton and 1850-ton destroyers would not be a problem with this much larger destroyer. One drawback of the increased length was the increased turning circle, a problem experienced by all U.S. destroyers when compared to those of Great Britain. This design became the Fletcher-class destroyers.
The 1941 ship construction program (enacted 22 April 1940) acknowledged that the Navy was properly balanced on 1500-ton and 1850-ton destroyers, but needed to focus on building the destroyer type of about 2100-tons, with seaworthiness and stability foremost in the General Board’s mindset. The previous two classes, the 1500-ton and 1850-ton destroyers exhibited both seaworthiness and stability problems, hence the Board’s emphasis on fixing the problems for this larger tonnage destroyer. The Board recommended building 70 of these destroyers over the period from 1940-48. This 2100-ton destroyer was the Fletcher-class and 175 were built in total over the next few years.
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 the 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 fully 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.
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.
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. Two modified Fletcher class were constructed in Japan in the late 1950s.
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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