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Torpedo Boat Destroyers

The USS Farragut was the first American Torpedo Boat Destroyer [T.B.D.], launched on 16 July 1898 and commissioned 05 June 1899. Soon thereafter Farragut was reclassfied from T.B.D. to Torpedo Boat as [TB-15], along with TB-19 Stringham, TB-20 Goldsborough, TB-21 Bailey, all of which displaced between 235 and 340 tons [that is, less than other Destroyers, but more than other Torpedo Boats]. Along with 16 other remaining Torpedo Boats [of an original total of 35], Farragut was renamed a Coast Torpedo Boat [No. 5] in August 1918, so that the name would be available for a new destroyer.

The U.S. Navy's destroyer history began again in 1902, with the commissioning of 11 torpedo boat destroyers. The first of these ships to be commissioned was USS Decatur (Torpedo-Boat Destroyer No. 5), on May 19, but the honor of being the first American destroyer is usually given to USS Bainbridge (Torpedo-Boat Destroyer No. 1), which the Navy commissioned on Nov. 24. By the end of 1911 there were 36 destroyers in the fleet, and by World War I there would be many more.

The destroyer had its origin in the late-19th century with the development of the first self-propelled torpedo. Navies quickly developed small fast torpedo boats designed to attack and sink larger battleships and cruisers. As a counter against torpedo boats, navies built a slightly larger ship, armed with torpedoes and heavier guns. These 900-ton ships were known as torpedo boat destroyers. World War I showed these ships suited to protecting larger ships against surface, submarine, and air attack. Also, they proved more effective offensively than torpedo boats, and assumed the attack role. By the end of World War I, they were simply known as "destroyers."

Two major events shaped the beginnings of the destroyer. The first was the advent of the torpedo boat. These swift, small craft were able to dash in close to larger ships, loose their torpedoes, and dash away. They proved their abilities with devastating effectiveness in the Chilean Civil War of 1894 and in the Sino-Japanese War of 1894.

In naval warfare the powers of destruction and protection held each other a close race. Whenever the penetration of the projectile has been increased, the armor plate has been thickened or hardened or both. The torpedo is the only weapon that stood unchallenged by the art of defence, and for this reason it was hard to overestimate its value.

Nothing so deadly had ever been introduced into warfare. It offered but two alternatives -- avoidance or destruction. In it powers were concentrated that did not admit of defence. The torpedo net, a steel netting arranged to be hung around a ship from spars, was probably more effective than any other defence that had been tried; but these nets were very difficult to handle, impede the speed of the ship, and were rendered vulnerable by a device attached to the torpedo, and known as a net cutter.

As with artillery directed against unprotected men, which must be silenced before it becomes ineffective, so it was with the torpedo boat, which must be put out of action before it is inoperative. There was no protection against a torpedo if it strikes its mark and expleKes. The most powerful battleship ever built may become its victim as readily as the lightest tug. When the torpedo boats of France became a menace to England, she quickly saw that she could not rely on nets, or any of the devices for defence that had been proposed.

There was but one means of protection and that was to hunt down and destroy the torpedo boats of the enemy. This meant that she at once directed all her energies to securing a vessel that could be relied upon to run down torpedo boats. She built a number of vessels designed to do this and these have become known as torpedo boat catchers. They all, however, proved utter failures, for as in nature so in naval architecture there are some inexorable laws. One of these is that within certain limits speed is not appreciably affected by size, and to secure greater speed the size of the vessel must either rise above or fall below these limits. To rise above makes the vessel so large as to be suitable only for a heavy battery, and to fall below brings it within the dimensions of a large sized torpedo boat.

Though this law was well known as a matter of theory, it took England six years to learn that she could not disregard it in practice, and during that time she stayed within the prohibited limits, producing the most ignominious failures, and the more marked her failures the more persistent were her efforts to attain speed without constructing a vessel either large enough or small enough to accomplish that purpose. None of the catchers ever proved capable of catching a torpedo boat. The fastest one only made twenty knots under the most favorable circumstances, two knots less than the speed made by one of the first twelve torpedo boats England built. In addition to lacking speed, the catchers were too large to be handled as quickly or easily as the torpedo boats. They were structurally weak and their seaworthiness was often questioned.

It looked as though England would never solve the problem of protection against torpedo boats. All the valuable time and the immense amount of money she had expended on the catchers had been wasted. Her failures had attracted the attention of the world and it was apparent she would only render herself ridiculous by pursuing further the theory of construction on which these boats had been built. So in 1893, much chagrined and discouraged by her failures, she commenced the construction of a vessel upon an entirely different plan. This time she fell below the prescribed limits which had stood in the way of former success, and produced a vessel which was a large-sized torpedo boat capable of & arrying a light battery. This craft was a marked success and exceeded in both speed and seaworthiness the most sanguine expectations.

It was the first of the class of vessels now known as torpedo boat destroyers, which entirely superseded the catchers and were adopted by the foremost maritime nations. Vessels of this character could be built of great strength and with a seaworthiness that admitted of their going anywhere, in any weather, and by the late 1890s they had attained a speed of 30 knots and even more.

By the mid-1890s, many of the world's navies recognized the need for a counter weapon, and so the torpedo boat destroyer, later just "destroyer," was born. The "torpedo boat" part of the name got dropped, but the purpose of the type has not changed. Destroyers are picket ships. They protect larger ships from threats. The job of the destroyer has expanded from torpedo boats, to submarines (the torpedo boat under water) to anti aircraft pickets.

The U.S. Navy first faced a destroyer in the Spanish-American War. Spanish Admiral Pascual Cervera sent two destroyers against a squadron of U.S. Navyships at Santiago Harbor on July 3, 1898. American cruisers quickly took aim on the destroyers, blowing one out of the water. An American armed yacht, USS Gloucester, moved in on the second destroyer and sank it. Our Navy, realizing that had these destroyers had better handling and thus could have inflicted serious damage, sent out orders to speed the American destroyer program, then in its infancy.

The first U.S. destroyer was USS Bainbridge (DD 1), launched on August 27, 1901, and placed in full commission on December 23, 1903. During World War I, Bainbridge served on patrol and convoy duty in the Atlantic. Bainbridge was the lead ship in her class of 16 ships. She had an overall length of 250 feet and displaced 420 tons. She had a crew of four officers and 69 enlisted personnel and was armed with two 3-inch guns, five 6-pounders, and two 18-inch torpedo tubes. Built on the same model are the Harry, Chauncey. Paul Jones, Macdonough, Perry, Preble, and Stewart. The Dale and Decatur had an estimated speed of 28 knots. The Hopkins had a displacement of 408 tons. The Lawrence, displacing 400 tons, could make 30 knots, and so could the Truxtun and the Whipple and Worden of the same design, having a displacement of 433 tons.

Having served in the Great War, all were sold for scrap in January 1920.

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