- NHSA Webmaster
- Ship design and development
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- December 1981 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
IN HIS BOOK “DESTROYERS“, Antony Preston refers to the Fletchers as ‘The Magnificent Fletchers’, and this is a very fitting description indeed. One would have to be an absolute bigot not to agree with Antony Preston.
The United States Navy began restocking with destroyers in 1933 with the laying down of the 1500 ton Farragut class, followed by variations of the same model. A raised foc’sle had been used in all destroyers built since 1933 in the United States, culminating in the Benson-Livermore class of utility destroyer. All DDs built since 1933 shared another common feature, they were all armed with the 5 inch .38 calibre gun as main armament. In the flotilla leaders this had been a low angle turret mounted gun, but in the fleet destroyers the 5”/38 was carried in a dual purpose mounting. Great faith had always been placed in torpedoes as the destroyer’s main weapon, and final designs for fleet destroyers followed much the same lines in most navies. Ten torpedo tubes and four or five main guns seemed to be the optimum design.
With the laying down of the Fletcher class many new innovations were worked into the design. They were big ships, just 6 inches shorter than the lovely British Tribals, with a standard displacement of 2,050 tons. Much larger than the Emergency Type being built in the United Kingdom, they were also much more advanced in design. It had been an accepted fact for years that higher steam pressures and temperatures meant that machinery could be made lighter, or conversely a larger plant could be made lighter, or conversely a larger plant could be installed for the same weight. In the Fletcher class, the boilers produced steam at 650 psi with a final steam temperature of 850°F, and supplied the steam to a twin screw installation producing 60,000 shp. This was far in advance of the standard 300 psi/40,000 shp plant for the Emergency class boats, but by one of those odd quirks of fate, in 1930 HMS Acheron was given 500 psi boilers for experimental purposes, but the idea was not followed up.
War was quite on the cards when the Fletchers were ordered, and all stops were pulled out to produce a really effective ship in a short time. Welding had been common procedure for many years in the USN, and was suitable for rapid production of hulls. The flush deck was again brought into service, making a very strong hull that could take a lot of punishment. Machinery spaces were laid out on the unit system, proven under war conditions in the torpedoing of USS Kearney. One of the Benson class fitted for unit machinery, Kearney had been damaged by a torpedo hit from a U-boat before the US entry into the war, and British authorities were very impressed with the way the ship stood the hit. When the Weapon class was designed the unit system was adopted for this class.
It was in the main armament that the Fletcher class really showed their might. Five single 5 inch .38 calibre dual purpose guns were carried in enclosed gun houses. Being dual-purpose guns, not much thought went into close range weapons, only one four barrel 1.1 inch multiple machine gun was fitted for this purpose. It was soon discovered that the 1.1 inch was just not good enough, and was soon replaced by a twin 40 mm Bofors. War in the Pacific really brought out the need for close range weaponry, and the final outfit for the Fletchers saw them fitted with five twin 40 mms seven mms, and still carrying the full set of torpedo tubes. In the British service a great number of destroyers lost 50% of their torpedo armament to allow for the fitting of a single 4 inch MK V AA gun. In the case of the Fletchers extra armament could be added without reduction in other areas.
A design speed of 37 knots was called for, but with a large increase in ammunition stowage, this speed was reduced to 35 knots. No less than 550 rounds were carried in magazines for each gun with an additional 50 rounds ready-use ammunition at each gun.