U.S. Destroyers: An Illustrated Design History


Friedman, a naval historian, revises his 1982 account of the development of all classes of American destroyers to describe the past two decades of designs since the Spruance and Perry classes. He details the design evolution of the Arleigh Burke class, which has become the standard surface combatant, and describes attempts beginning in the late 1980s to develop a follow-on class, culminating in the current DD(X) program. Engineering plant features and complete descriptions of anti-aircraft and anti-submarine ...
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Friedman, a naval historian, revises his 1982 account of the development of all classes of American destroyers to describe the past two decades of designs since the Spruance and Perry classes. He details the design evolution of the Arleigh Burke class, which has become the standard surface combatant, and describes attempts beginning in the late 1980s to develop a follow-on class, culminating in the current DD(X) program. Engineering plant features and complete descriptions of anti-aircraft and anti-submarine weapons systems are also given, and an entire chapter is devoted to destroyer combat experience in WWII. Detailed ship plans by naval expert A. D. Baker III are included, along with section views that show internal arrangements, and numerous b&w photos. arrangements, and numerous b&w photos. Annotation ©2004 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781557504425
  • Publisher: Naval Institute Press
  • Publication date: 4/15/2003
  • Series: Illustrated Design Histories Series
  • Edition description: REV
  • Pages: 568
  • Sales rank: 915,397
  • Product dimensions: 8.76 (w) x 11.14 (h) x 1.40 (d)

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By Norman Friedman

Naval Institute Press

Copyright © 2004 Norman Friedman
All right reserved.

Chapter One

Prologue: Torpedo Boats into Destroyers, 1886-1898

The U.S. destroyers are directly descended from the torpedo boats built at the end of the last century. These boats provided the technology necessary for destroyer construction. This transition from torpedo boat to destroyer, more marked in the U.S. than in many other navies, was symbolic of the transition of the Navy itself from a coastal defense-cum-cruiser warfare force to a force capable of contesting the command of the sea through the operations of a battle fleet. That is, the torpedo boats were always considered an arm of an integrated coastal defense organization, midway between the Army's forts and controlled minefields and the Navy's larger coastal defense ships and monitors. Seagoing capability was valuable largely in that it increased the flexibility of a force never numerically sufficient to cover the entire U.S. coast in detail. The largest of the torpedo boats approached the performance required of destroyers that would have to accompany the fleet, although their armament was ill-suited to the primary destroyer tasks.

U.S. interest in torpedo craft dates back to the Civil War, when both sides used spar torpedoes in combat; the steam launch commanded by Lieutenant W. B. Cushing, which sank the Confederate ironclad Albemarle in October 1864, was in effect the first torpedo boat. Later the first U.S. torpedo boat to be built for the purpose would be named after Cushing. Torpedoes and torpedo craft were attractive as inexpensive defensive weapons and were intensively studied during the long period of naval neglect after 1865; the Torpedo Station at Newport, Rhode Island, was founded as early as 1869, and in 1875 the Herreshoffs, yacht builders of Bristol, Rhode Island, built one of the world's first specialized torpedo craft, the 56-foot spar torpedo boat Lightning. Two of the few ships built for the Navy during the 1870s, the Alarm and Intrepid, were experimental torpedo craft. Moreover, the one naval professional who consistently shaped naval policy during the 1870s and early 1880s, Admiral of the Navy David Dixon Porter, was a strong advocate of torpedo craft; indeed, he had approved Cushing's mission in 1864. In effect he supplied the continuity formally denied the Department of the Navy by the failure of successive attempts to create a naval advisory board to interpose between the civilian Secretary of the Navy and the professional bureaus. Admiral Porter was responsible for the appointment of a naval advisory board, which began the renovation of the Navy in 1881.

The 1881 board recommended not only a considerable program of new construction, but also a resuscitation of the U.S. industrial base; for example, new ships were to be built of steel rather than of iron because "for the reputation and the material advantage of the United States it is of prime necessity that in this country, where every other industry is developing with gigantic strides, a bold and decided step should be taken to win back from Europe our former prestige as the best shipbuilders of the world." In this spirit, successive authorizing acts demanded that all American naval materiel be manufactured within the United States, even though this entailed, at times, a cost in military efficiency. However, it also entailed the development of the domestic industrial base required to support a large fleet.

The board's goal of full U.S. naval self-sufficiency was unusual in a world whose warship and naval weapon market was dominated by a few European, largely British, firms. This was particularly the case with torpedo craft, which required so much expertise for their construction that a yard practically had to design its own if they were to be successful. Moreover, they were very nearly experimental in character: their success depended upon the yard's ability to pare away unnecessary weights while retaining sufficient hull strength and engine durability. Well aware that it lacked the necessary, expertise, the Navy Department through the nineties preferred to allow its torpedo-boat contractors the greatest possible latitude, adopting for its own designs many of their features. The acts authorizing these boats were sufficiently vague that it was often difficult to compare the products of different bidders; regardless of the proven expertise of some of those bidding, the department was constrained to accept the lowest bid.

This procedure was quite as dangerous for the bidder as for the department: torpedo boats were deceptively small and simple, and it was quite easy to underbid. Thus, experienced firms submitting realistic bids often lost out to newcomers, and the very small size of the market represented by the U.S. Navy of the 1880s and 1890s cannot have encouraged the formation of specialized firms. Two tried: Herreshoff, already famous for yachts and fast steam launches, and Bath Iron Works-whose founder, General Thomas W. Hyde, imported French (Normand) technology, going so far as to buy the plans of a Normand torpedo boat and translate metric measurements into English units to build the Dahlgren and Craven. He also hired Charles P. Wetherbee, an American graduate of the French École d'Applications du Génie Maritime, who had spent his summers at the Normand yard. Wetherbee continued as the Bath destroyer design specialist until the end of World War I, by which time the Navy had quite given up permitting its builders much leeway. By then, however, the argument that private firms were best at exploiting advanced technology had led the Navy to rely on the Electric Boat Company for submarine designs.

One important element in the Navy Department's perhaps militarily unwise policy of spreading around torpedo craft construction bids was political: the wider the naval construction funds were spread, the more popular would be the expansion of the fleet. For example, in 1892 the Iowa Iron Works of Dubuque won the contract for the torpedo boat Ericsson (the construction of which was apparently quite disastrous), and that year the Secretary of the Navy characterized this award as the beginning of a contribution by the midwestern states to the new Navy. The representatives of these states had traditionally opposed naval construction on the ground that it favored firms on the seacoasts. Another consideration was geography: boats for service on the West Coast had to be built there, even though at higher cost.

From 1881 onward successive advisory boards and Secretaries of the Navy recommended large programs for torpedo-boat construction. For example, in 1885 the Secretary claimed that 50 could be built for the price of a single ironclad; he contrasted a German program for 150, one for each 10 miles of coast ("a distance which can be traversed by the boat in half an hour in any weather in which an ironclad would venture to approach") with the nonexistent U.S. program. That year an Army-Navy board on coastal defense recommended construction of 175 torpedo boats, as well as 18 rams, to be distributed among ten operating areas: Eastport, Maine, to Cape Ann (30 boats); Cape Ann to Cape Cod (10); Long Island Sound (20); New York (20); Delaware Bay (10); Chesapeake Bay (15); Charleston (20); the Gulf Coast (10); New Orleans (10); the Pacific Coast (30). This particular board was more successful in its advocacy of the first U.S. armored warships, the Maine and the Texas.

The next year Herreshoff completed an experimental torpedo boat, the Stiletto, which proved so successful that she was bought the following year. In August 1886, Congress finally authorized the construction of a single boat, which became the USS Cushing. The Admiral of the Navy protested that numbers, not just a single experimental unit, were needed: he wanted 20, each not less than 150 feet in length and having a speed (then quite unobtainable) of about 26 knots; "these vessels, of course, should be designed by the Messrs. Herreshoff who, with their quadruple expansion engines, would have no difficulty in obtaining the necessary speed." What the Herreshoffs produced was somewhat more modest: their Cushing, Torpedo Boat No. 1, was not launched until January 1890 and was designed for only 23 knots.

A second boat was not authorized until 1890, although successive Secretaries kept asking for more torpedo craft; for example, in his 1889 report, Secretary Benjamin F. Tracy observed that "apart from the want of battleships, the most marked defect of the present fleet is in torpedo boats." He wanted at least five built, and the next year praised the new Cushing as among the best in the world:

If this country had twenty like her, and had them equipped with effective torpedoes, they would be a material addition to its means of defense. As long as it has but two, they will be little service otherwise than to show what native skill and ingenuity can do in this direction.

Up to this point the Navy thought of torpedo craft as a means of coastal defense, but Tracy appointed a new policy board, which added another concept: adopting Mahan's new ideas, it called for a combination of coastal and oceangoing fleets, the latter to carry a war to the enemy. In enemy waters the battle fleet would be subject to torpedo-boat attack. The board called for 15 torpedo cruisers of about 900 tons each to accompany its "ten battleships of great coal endurance" and their cruiser consorts; for operations overseas there would also be three torpedo depot ships to support short-range torpedo craft, which would be carried overseas aboard the battleships, cruisers, and the depot ships themselves.

Although the report of the board, delivered in January 1890, was greeted with derision, it did have a lasting effect, in that it led to the battleship program of the nineties, as well as to the authorization of the second torpedo boat (the Ericsson, a modified Cushing built to department plans) and a prototype torpedo cruiser. The fate of the latter is indicative of the technological problems of all small, fast craft of the time. She was to displace 750 tons and was required to make 23 knots; this called for a total of 6,000 horsepower. Congress appropriated $350,000 exclusive of armament, but it was soon realized that the engines alone would cost $325,000, and no builder was willing to bid. Tracy realized that the success of the torpedo cruiser was essential to the success of a U,S. high-seas battle fleet strategy:

The usefulness of this class of vessels has been shown very clearly in the late Chilean revolutionary war, when the ironclad Blanco Encalada was torpedoed and sunk by the torpedo gunboats Almirante Condell and Almirante Lynch; owing to their size, and consequent less fatigue of crew, together with an ample coal supply, they were enabled to operate a long distance from their base of supplies. If they had not possessed these features, especially the ability to keep the sea, the attempt would doubtless have been unsuccessful, if indeed attempted at all.

The particular functions of this class of vessels are to chase and destroy torpedo boats, to act as torpedo boats themselves when opportunity presents itself, and as lookout and dispatch vessels in fleet operations.

Tracy therefore pleaded for an amendment, in 1891 and again in 1892, to the 1890 Act, which would have raised the appropriation for the torpedo cruiser. He failed, but on the other hand it finally became possible to purchase rights to the Whitehead torpedo. No more torpedo boats were authorized even though Tracy asked for 30 in his last year in office, 1892.

Although the next administration felt constrained to suspend capital shipbuilding in view of the poor state of the economy, the torpedo-boat program so long awaited finally began to materialize, with three torpedo boats authorized in 1894 and three more in 1895. The former were essentially duplicates of the Ericsson built to Navy plans. For the next series, however, two (No. 6 and 7) were built by Herreshoff to his own plans, while another was built in Seattle to Navy plans. The department designs improved gradually, from 23 knots in the Ericsson to 24.5 in the Winslow class (No. 5) and 26 (the level proposed by Porter in 1886) in the Rowan (No. 8); Herreshoff pushed the state of the art, guaranteeing 27.5. These were all large oceangoing boats, as much as 175 feet long. The fleet of torpedo craft had now grown to the point at which a Secretary of the Navy observed in 1896 that it was time to make arrangements to lay up the bulk of the torpedo flotillas in peacetime, as a war reserve: it would be uneconomical to keep all manned continuously.

In 1896 there was a change in policy: three more oceangoing boats (No. 9-11) were authorized, as well as up to ten smaller and far slower ones, their number limited by total cost (No. 12-18 were built). The large boats were to be able to make the unprecedented speed of 30 knots.

In inviting proposals for the 30-knot boats, it was deemed advisable, in view of the very high speed to be obtained, to leave contractors as much latitude as possible, and for this reason, the Department did not prepare designs, exacting only the most general requirements....

Bath received its first torpedo-boat contracts under this authorization, as did the Union Iron Works on the Pacific Coast, selected over Herreshoff because of its location.

The department did prepare designs for the smaller (20- and 22.5-knot) boats, although it was prepared to accept alternatives, and in fact Herreshoff, the Columbian Iron Works (who had built Nos. 3-5), and Wolff & Zwicker (who had no previous torpedo-boat experience) were awarded contracts to build their own designs. This was presumably a safe course in view of the advance to higher speeds in large torpedo boats.

For 1897 the department again sought large oceangoing 30-knot torpedo boats to bidders' designs, two not less than 230 tons and one not less than 260. In fact one of them, the Stringham, displaced 340 tons and so was larger than many British destroyers. Nevertheless, although she was referred to as a destroyer in contemporary naval annuals, that was at best misleading. She was, rather, a seagoing torpedo boat, a coastal defense unit armed primarily with the torpedo and only secondarily with the gun (two 18-inch torpedo tubes with one reload each versus four 6-pounders). Thus, in February 1898, the Bureau of Construction and Repair favored:

"two sizes of torpedo craft, one of about 175 tons, seagoing torpedo boats, the other of about double this size, of the torpedo boat destroyer type.


Excerpted from U.S. DESTROYERS by Norman Friedman Copyright © 2004 by Norman Friedman. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Key to line drawings
Introduction 1
1 Prologue : torpedo boats into destroyers, 1886-1898 7
2 A decade of developments, 1906-1916 21
3 The mass-production destroyer, 1917-1922 39
4 Destroyer ASW, World War I and after 65
5 Leaders and the interwar period, 1917-1940 75
6 To the big destroyers, 1941-1945 111
7 The destroyer escorts, 1941-1945 137
8 Destroyer warfare, 1941-1945 165
9 Destroyer ASW : World War II and after 193
10 Destroyer AAW : World War II and after 203
11 The ultimate destroyer, 1944-1951 235
12 Postwar ASW escort 255
13 The fast task force escorts 293
14 Nuclear destroyers and frigates 327
15 The new escorts : SCB 199, Seahawk, DX FFG 349
16 New technology for a new destroyer 387
17 A post-cold war destroyer 431
Notes to tables 451
Notes on sources 539
Index 543
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