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- Ship design and development
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- December 1981 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The Mark 37 Director was used to control both surface and AA firings, and this director was probably the best brought out during WW2. It was so good in fact that it was fitted into the 3rd group of Battle class destroyers in the Royal Navy.
But if the ships were hard hitting and fast, they did suffer from one real drawback. The crew were jammed in like sardines. Three tiered bunks had become the standard for accommodation, but this left the living compartments very cramped. Officers were a little better off. They were berthed in two or three bunk cabins in similar fashion as was later adopted into the Battle class destroyers. Officers in the British service had always been treated royally as far as cabins were concerned, each officer having his own, but the Battles changed all that.
Messing in the Fletchers was good, as the crew ate in a dining hall adjacent to the galley, obviating the need to carry food into the living spaces. This is now common practice in most of the world’s navies.
When it came to actual fighting conditions the Fletchers showed that not only could they give it out, but they could take it as well. Not many were lost through enemy action, although they were in the thick of it from the time they came into service. Possibly the best illustration of the rugged construction of the class was the Battle of Samar, one of the many parts of the Battle for Leyte Gulf. In this action the Japanese main fleet found the American escort carrier group guarded only by three Fletchers and four destroyer escorts. It was a one-sided battle from the start, and should have resulted in all the escort carriers being sent to the bottom, but the battle turned out otherwise. In what can only be described as one of the classic destroyer actions in naval history, the three Fletchers attacked the Japanese main fleet. Two of the three destroyers were sunk, but not until they had inflicted serious damage on their opponents. Hoel was the first to go after suffering 44 direct hits from shells ranging from 5 inch to 14 inch. Hit at 0728 on the morning of the 25th October 1945, Hoel did not sink until 0855. Johnston was hit by three 14 inch shells just as she had launched a torpedo spread at 0720. This was followed in quick succession by three 6 inch direct hits, reducing the ship’s speed to 17 knots. From then on she was a sitting duck but did not sink until 1010. Casualties were indeed heavy. Out of a crew of 285 Johnston lost 184 dead and 101 wounded. Hoel had lost 253 dead and another 15 died of wounds.
On the credit side one Japanese cruiser, Kumano, was stopped dead in the water by Hoel’s torpedoes and two other cruisers were badly damaged by gunfire. The main effect of the action was that after two hours of what should have been an easy victory the Japanese broke off and fled. Included in the Japanese force were four battleships, including the 18.1 inch gunned Yamato, six cruisers and eleven destroyers. This complete force was put to flight by a determined destroyer attack. This action has never gained much publicity in Australia, as no Australian ships were involved, but it was one of the most memorable actions of WW2.
On the radar picket screen off Okinawa, Fletchers felt the full force of the Kamikaze attacks, many of them suffering damage, but few were lost. They were tough ships.
After WW2 came to a close and the larger Sumners and Gearings took over the main destroyer roles in the USN, modifications were carried out to the Fletchers to fit them for the type of warfare that was now expected. Many different duties were given them, and with each duty came a different scale of armament. Some ended up with only two 5 inch guns and a helicopter. Some lost one and others lost both banks of torpedoes. Transfers to foreign navies took place, many going to South America, whilst others ended up in German and other European navies. 186 ships had been built and by 1979 no less than 45 were still in service in various navies around the world. None remained in American Service at that date.