The Clemson-class destroyers, virtually a repeat of the Wickes-class, but had more fuel capacity and were much slower, around 26-28 kts maximum speed, as compared to the predecessors 35 kts. The Clemson-class’s major deficiency was speed. The Navy was forced to compromise on design characteristics in order to get this class of destroyer built faster. However, since all of the Clemson-class were built after the end of the war, this was a poor tradeoff, leaving a discrepancy in speed of seven kts between the two types of destroyers that the Navy would use over the next two decades.
A total of 156 Clemson class destroyers were laid down between April 1918 and September 1920. They were a repeat of the Wickes (DD-75) class destroyers but with 35% more fuel capacity (375 tons) which increased endurance to 2500 miles at 20 knots, or 4900 miles at 15 knots. They were fitted with four boilers; Normand, Yarrow, or White-Forster and geared turbines; Parsons, Curtis, or Westinghouse. Not all were completed by the end of the War, and many were placed in reserve in 1921-22 after the need for them had passed.
The later classes, 1915 to 1918, have a continuous flush main deck from stem to stern, but with considerable sheer ; the bow, while less conspicuously elevated than in the earlier classes, having decidedly more freeboard than the stern. The change from the high and cut away forecastle to the flush deck has produced great improvement in seaworthiness, habitability, and all around efficiency. In the flush-deck type, the reluctance to turn into the wind still existed, but in a much less marked degree ; while the tendency towards excessive leeway, which is characteristic of all destroyers because of their necessarily shallow draft and the large area which they expose to the wind, is somewhat increased.
Destroyers of the 35-knot type had a large after dead-wood, which resulted in greater steadiness of sea route but produces an excessively large turning circle, the tactical diameter being as great as one thousand yards with rudder angle of twenty degrees.
The later classes, 1915 to 1918, had a continuous flush main deck from stem to stern, but with considerable sheer ; the bow, while less conspicuously elevated than in the earlier classes, having decidedly more freeboard than the stern. The change from the high and cut away forecastle to the flush deck produced great improvement in seaworthiness, habitability, and all around efficiency. In the flush-deck type, the reluctance to turn into the wind still exists, but in a much less marked degree ; while the tendency towards excessive leeway, which is characteristic of all destroyers because of their necessarily shallow draft and the large area which they expose to the wind, is somewhat increased.
In the latest destroyers of the 1916 program (as enlarged by subsequent legislation), the maneuvering power was increased by cutting away the after deadwood to a considerable extent and slightly increasing the rudder area. Other changes have materially added to the steadiness in a seaway, thus giving an improved gun-platform, and, by increasing the capacity for fuel oil, have extended the cruising radius.
It was impossible to build too many destroyers so long as the submarine seriously menaced the United States. On October 6, 1917, Congress granted another money appropriation for destroyers, - $350,000,000 this time, - on the strength of which the Navy placed orders for 150 additional destroyers. In 1918 twelve more were ordered from various navy yards; so that the total of war orders for destroyers, including the twenty ordered in the autumn of 1916, was 273. Thirty-eight were delivered and commissioned before the armistice. After the armistice it was found to be possible to cancel economically the contracts for the construction of only six of the destroyers which were being built on war orders. The total war construction of destroyers, therefore, both before and after the armistice, produced 267 of these useful vessels.
The war builders of destroyers were the Bath Iron Works, the Fore River Shipbuilding Company (Quincy, Massachusetts), the Union Iron Works (San Francisco), William Cramp & Sons (Philadelphia), Newport News Shipbuilding Company, New York Shipbuilding Company, Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation, Mare Island Navy Yard, Charlestown Navy Yard, and the Norfolk Navy Yard.
In the prosecution of the destroyer construction program during the war, two phenomena are to be noted as exceptional : (1) the increase in the rate of construction at the shipyards, and (2) the building of the great plant at Squantum, Massachusetts, near Boston, for the construction of destroyers.
Before 1914 the average time for building a destroyer for the Government was about two years and a half, counting from the day Congress authorized the construction until the builders delivered the boat ready for commissioning. This was not only the American average, but the average in other countries as well. After the war started and Germany began to use her submarines against merchant shipping, the naval builders of Europe speeded up their processes, but even then it took two years to build a destroyer. The American builders in the war succeeded in cutting this time in two on the average; and in exceptional instances the time of construction was reduced far below this average. The Mare Island Navy Yard laid the keel of the destroyer Ward on May 15, 1918, and launched the hull on June 1 - seventeen and one-half days. Machinery and fittings had been installed and the vessel was delivered to the Navy for its trials on the first day of September - 109 days after the laying of the keel. The Squantum plant delivered the destroyer Mohan for the trials 174 days after the keel was laid. These were the extreme records for speed in construction, but the hundreds of other destroyer projects did not lag far behind these marks. On the average it took less than a year to turn out a destroyer during the war.
There were not enough shipbuilding facilities in the United States to turn out destroyers in the numbers desired by the Navy, which therefore undertook to provide new facilities. There was a large expansion of the plant of the Union Iron Works at San Francisco, but the most notable development was at Squantum. Here the Fore River Shipbuilding Company (which had been acquired by the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation), acting as agent for the Government, filled and graded a large tract of swampy ground and roofed over forty-three acres of it - practically with a single roof. Even the building ways and the slips in which the floating hulls were fitted out were covered. The ground was broken for this operation in October, 1917, and on November 30, 1918, the first completed vessel was delivered. Its keel had been laid on April 20. This plant built the hulls only and afterwards fitted them out, but the boilers and machinery were constructed elsewhere.
Sixty-four were scrapped in accordance with the London Naval Treaty of 1930; these being dismantled 1930-36. Six served with the Coast Guard in 1930-34. In late 1940, twenty of these destroyers were loaned to Britain and Canada under the Lend Lease Act. Eight of these did not survive the war.
In 1937 four Clemson class destroyers were converted to destroyer minelayers (DM) and in 1940 eight more were converted to high speed destroyer minesweepers (DMS) and thirteen to seaplane tenders (AVD/AVP). A further seven were converted to high speed transports (APD) in 1942-43. The Reuben James (DD-245) of this class was the first US warship to be sunk by hostile action during World War Two; she was torpedoed by German submarine U-562 on 31 October 1941 with the loss of 115 men. Ten more ships of this class would be lost to enemy action and six accidentally during World War Two.
The fact that the Clemson-class was still built even after the Great War was over demonstrated the importance of the destroyer to the future of naval combat. However, the recommendation to continue building a slower destroyer with small 4' guns and not correct those deficiencies is bewildering. The requirement for speed in a destroyer was essential, as was proved in the Great War, both for the offensive and defensive mission.
As late as 1940, the Navy and General Board sought to modernize the older destroyers (1200-tonners) to perform convoy escort missions in the Atlantic with enhanced anti-aircraft capabilities. These older and smaller destroyers no longer had the speed to keep up with the newer classes of ships, but could perform the convoy escort mission with modifications and upgrades to the ship’s armament.
The Board recommended removal of the 4" guns and replacement with six 3" guns, a torpedo tube on each wing, and .50 caliber guns to supplement the 3" guns for increased anti-aircraft capabilities. Of course, aircraft were not the only threat to Allied convoys, with the submarine and surface raiders in the Eastern Atlantic as well. Since the submarine threat, remembered from WW I, was still there, these destroyers were provided with newer depth charges, racks, and throwers.
The class was withdrawn from service in 1945-46 following World War II.
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