The US Navy's destroyer programs featured rapid growth of numbers and individual size. Tonnage increased as greater offensive and screening capacities were needed, and new fields of action opened up in anti submarine warfare. Few of the pre-World War I vessels served in the the Navy after the war, and the oldest of these which survived to see service in World War II was ALLEN, of the thousand-ton Sampson class.
The 1,000-ton class includes all vessels from the Cassin, No. 43, to and including the Shaw, No. 68. Vessels of this class have a high forecastle extending from the stem to a point just abaft the pilot house, where it breaks off to a low main deck which is extended to the stern. The high forecastle of these vessels plays an important part in their manoeuvring qualities; acting as a permanent jib, which, while helpful under some conditions, is a serious handicap under others. It must always be kept in mind and allowed for, its principal effect being, of course, to make it difficult to bring the vessel up to the wind. Caution must be used when such a vessel is run into a small harbor into which the wind is blowing and where it will be necessary to turn her within the harbor in order to get out. Under such conditions the ship may get beam to wind, and, lacking space to gather headway, refuse to turn into it, and may drift ashore broadside on.
Several narrow escapes are on record resulting from failure to appreciate this feature. In turning with a vessel of this type, it is desirable to turn in such a way as to take advantage of the jib effect instead of having to work against it. The effect of the wind upon the bow is particularly important in going alongside a dock. Destroyers of this class had a large after dead-wood, which resulted in greater steadiness of sea route but produced an excessively large turning circle, the tactical diameter being as great as one thousand yards with rudder angle of twenty degrees.
By the FY15 program, essentially a repeat Tucker, the Navy had triple mounts prepared, and put four of those on the Sampson class, to which Allen belonged. With its four 4" guns, two 1" pom-pom AA mounts, mine-laying capacity and endurance of some 2,500 miles at 20 knots, the new ships were superior to any destroyer then in use in the world.
When the United States entered the war in April 1917 there was already significant anxiety about a potential submarine threat off the East Coast. Further exacerbating this concern was the Navy's relative lack of first-line destroyers - approximately 50 in mid-1917 - and the decision to send most of those to Europe. A massive building program was already underway - it would lead to the eventual construction of 273 four-stack, "flush-deck" destroyers by 1921 - but for the rest of 1917, only two Sampson-class and the first three of the Caldwell class would be commissioned, and the need to escort troop convoys to France took top priority.
During the Great War the USS Sampson was engaged in the important, exacting and hazardous duty of patrolling the waters infested iuty ritb with enemy submarines and mines, in escorting and protecting vitally important convoys of troops and supplies through these waters, and in offensive and defensive action, vigorously and unremittingly prosecuted against all forms of enemy naval activity.
When a destroyer sighted a submarine, she would steam at full speed towards the point where it was seen, or as near to such a position as could be determined, and the "cans" would be dropped. When they were first used, and during 1917, it was the custom to drop only two or three and some very excellent results were obtained; notably the sinking of a submarine by the "Fanning" and the injuring of a submarine by the "Christabel." But though submarines had been sunk and injured in this way, a few of the authorities, and Admiral Sims in particular, advocated a change in tactics. Admiral Sims rightly believed that the greater the number of depth charges dropped, the better the chances of success. He also believed that the occurrence of many severe explosions would tend to frighten the crew of a submarine, and demoralize them.
According to this new method, fifteen or twenty, or sometimes as many as thirty depth charges were dropped at the slighest provocation. Dropping them was easy enough; the question was where to drop them. A submarine sighted at a given point, would be able to move only a certain distance within a given time; in other words, it would be inside a circle, the size of which would be determined by the length of time intervening between the sighting of the submarine and the arrival of the destroyer at the point where it was seen. As the speed of a submerged U-boat was known, it could be calculated within what area it must be. When the destroyer arrived at the position where the submarine was seen, she would commence to drop depth charges in a circle having a radius in proportion to the time consumed in describing it.
In dropping these charges the destroyer was confronted with the problem as to the depth at which they should be set to explode. Some submarines submerged to thirty feet when attacked, others to 200, and the destroyer's officer had no means of knowing which. It was anybody's guess. In spite of the best possible mathematical and scientific calculations hundreds of depth charges were dropped without results, except for the usual oil and bubbles which meant nothing, and the nerve racking explosions which the submarine crews experienced.
As Commander Cook, U.S.N., Commanding Officer of the Sampson-class Destroyer "Allen," once said, "You can give me all the science in the world, but when you have sighted a submarine and steamed a mile to reach the point where it submerged, I defy you to know when or where to begin to drop your depth charges and at what depth to set them. The submarine may be anywhere inside an area of several hundred yards and may be 30 feet or 200 feet below the surface. Nevertheless I throw as many 'cans' overboard, as I dare, at the slightest provocation; and though I have not bagged one yet I have made things unpleasant for many."
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