Osprey's US Flush-Deck Destroyers 1916-45
48 pages, 7¼ x 9¼
When the US entered WWI, it was deficient in all manner of materiel with which to wage war. That included destroyers. A huge building program got underway to provide what was needed and these ships were farmed out to several ship yards for construction. Eventually, 377 ships were built in three very similar classes. These were the Caldwell, Wickes, and Clemson classes.
Unlike other nation's destroyers, these ships did not have a prominent, raised forecastle. Tests had shown there was no need. They were armed with four 4.7 inch guns in open mounts with two triple torpedo tubes. They were also designed to make 36 knots, fast enough to keep up with the battle fleet. In addition, they were oil fired and turbine powered. Most had geared prop shafts, but not all. In fact, each ship yard was able to choose the main equipment for these ships. This led to some difficulties. Specifically, some were considerably slower than others.
These ships were also woefully under-gunned when it came to anti-aircraft protection and they were not initially equipped to hunt submarines. These were the days prior to SONAR, though there were underwater listening devices. The ships also had a knife-edge stern which made it difficult to mount depth charge racks. One of the many modifications was the installation of the square 'porch' on the back of these ships to allow these racks to be carried.
Such was the pace of building, that only a very few of these ships actually saw any service in WWI. Despite the end of the war, the rest of the fleet was built with the last of them being commissioned in 1921.
At the end of the war, there was a bit of a problem. Such was the drawdown in forces that the USN had all these ships and not enough people to man them. Many of them were put into ready reserve, some were operated with half crews and others had crews switch between two ships just to keep them up and running. With the advent of the various naval treaties, a number of them were scrapped or repurposed. Some were used as test ships while others became auxilliaries. A few became minesweepers and others became light seaplane tenders.
With the start of WWII, 50 of them were provided to the British under lend-lease. These ships were outfitted as convoy escorts. This often meant the replacement of one of the four boilers and stacks by fuel tanks to extend the range. In the US, having all these destroyers was a blessing. These ships were obsolescent at best and many were converted to fast transports, minesweepers and other ship types, vital to the war effort. They allowed the newer destroyers to be used in their intended role. Often it meant the removal of one or more boilers, but then endurance was more of a requirement, especially when used as convoy escorts. They just had to be faster than the submarines.
These ships had a wide and distinguished war career, especially in the Pacific. In the early years they were a large part of the Asiatic fleet and helped fight the Japanese with some success. Others were used to transport Marine raiding forces, supply coast watchers and to bring provisions to troops on contested islands where speed in and out was important.
Eventually, most were replaced by late 1944 though many were still in service until the end of the war. All of these ships, even though provided to the UK or USSR were scrapped by 1950, leaving none for museums. However, they had done their job and more. Without them, the war would have been a bit more difficult for the Allies.
Besides being my favorite Osprey series, this one is a superb look at these important ships and is a book you really need to have on your shelves.
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