Fletchers, Sumners, and Gearings, Oh my!

So,  I’m re-reading US Destroyers: An Illustrated Design History for… oh, the tenth time?

The Fletcher-class destroyer is THE archetype World War II destroyer. And with 175 of them built during the war, it was numerically, the single largest class of destroyers in the war. And incredibly, most of them were built and commissioned in just a two year period.*

But I never quite realized just how many other destroyers there were. Yes, I certainly knew the Sumner/Gearings served. But I don’t think I realized just how many were built between 1943 and 1945.  156 Sumner/Gearings were built. Ironically, while the Sumner/Gearings were retained in service postwar, they were in may ways less capable than the Fletchers. They were slower, and their lower freeboard made them very wet when serving in the rough waters of the Atlantic in the post war years.

But the part that really surprised me was the number of pre-Fletcher ships in service. I knew there were several small classes of ships that lead to the Fletcher class, but I never really grasped that the vast majority of the destroyer force in the first half of the war were Benson/Livermore (or Gleaves) ships, and earlier 1500/1630 ton designs.  There were 96 Benson/Livermore/Gleaves ships. Combined with the 71 earlier “modern” destroyers, it would be a long time before the Fletchers dominated the fleet.

*Though 273 Wickes/Clemson class flush-deckers were built between 1917 and 1922, and many survived to serve in World War II, they were mostly used in a modified escort form. Relatively few served as destroyers, per se; the most famous examples being in the Asiatic Fleet.

16 thoughts on “Fletchers, Sumners, and Gearings, Oh my!”

  1. I own the book as well. One of my prized possessions.

    One drawback to the Fletchers was the single rudder, which made their turning radius just about that of the Iowas.

    Certainly, the FRAM I and II of the Gearings (and some Sumners and Fletchers) allowed these tough little ships to serve 30+ years and avoid block obsolescence in the ASW/ASuW roles.

    I assert that a Littoral Combat Ship that can actually survive combat in the Littorals would be an updated Gearing-type, with gas turbines, a helo deck, at least two 5″/62 mounts, CIWS, SeaRAM, and all the other modern features of the LCS designs. Tough, survivable, powerful units.

    But alas, not “transformational”.

    1. Yep. There’s a reason the Sumner/Gearings went with two rudders.

      I don’t think you’re seriously suggesting restarting LCS with a Gearing hull. And I’d probably have disagreements with you on what form such a ship should take.
      Basically, to get what you’ve listed would entail… building a Spruance. And if you are going to build a Spruance, the temptation is to just go ahead and build a Burke instead.

      If the original, small, semi-sorta-kinda expendable SeaFighter had been built, that would make a good deal of sense in certain littoral environments. Choke points such as Hormuz, obviously.

      But Mahan got it right, over 120 years ago. It’s a lot easier for a blue water navy to move in and dominate the coastline of an enemy, than it is for a coastal force to attack a fleet in being.

    2. I’d drop the 5″/62’s, honestly.

      Replace the 5″/38’s with probably the OTO Melara 76mm, in some sort of updated version.

      Use diesels instead of gas turbines. If a flight deck must be included somewhere, give it a KNOX-style hangar, and make it a small one, not something for two SH-60’s. Make the deck about big enough to take a Cobra, and call it good.

      Incidentally, I’ve got copies of some substantial chunks of the fabrication drawings for a Fletcher …

    3. URR is both an artilleryman AND a Marine. There’s no way on the planet he’s gonna want in inshore ship to NOT be capable of fire support for the Marines ashore. Since the Mk71 8″ isn’t available he’ll settle for the 5″/62.

      When I get around to discussing what MY low end of the Navy would look like, I’ll discuss gun choices. But note that gun choice influences the size of the ship, not just by the size of the mount, but also the magazine AND the fire control establishment for that weapon. Two 5″/62 guns take a lot more hull volume than a single 5″/38 dual mount. The fire control system takes a lot more power. Which drives up the engineering plant. Which drives a need for increased bunkerage. Which drives a need for a bigger main plant, which drives up hull size, and if we’re gonna buy a ship this big, I guess we need more than a point defense missile system, and if we do that, I guess we gotta put Aegis on it, and HOLY COW, IT WEIGHS 14,000 TONS!

  2. I used to have the complete set, but a few years ago, I lost Battleships, Cruisers, Submarines, and Carriers.

    Ouch. Can’t afford to get them now.

    //buys lottery ticket

  3. Brad,

    Why would such entail building a Spruance? Gearings, as you are aware, had 3 dual 5″/38 DP mounts, myriad 40mm (later 3″), and 20mm cannon. All on a 376 foot, 2,200 ton hull. After FRAM, most retained 2 dual 5″ mounts, managed a helo deck, and carried a variety of ASW weapons. Without hull space requirements for boiler rooms and fire rooms, smaller crew quarters requirements, dozens of AA gun positions, there could be room for VLS, and a much more powerful weapons package than the fragile and underarmed LCS.

    Not every ship needs to do everything.

    1. You own the book, but have you read the book? Again and again, the General Board and its successors struggled with the burgeoning sized of destroyers, and struggled to keep growth in check. But the pressures that lead to those increases were real.
      Friedman’s book on amphibs also has a great discussion on the LFSS, amphibious fire support ship, and how the Navy was stunned at how little ship they would get for quite a bit of money.

      If you want a Gearing sized platform, you’ll get Gearing sized performance. The Navy didn’t stick with FRAMI/II ships because they liked them. They stuck with them because they had no choice. There was no money to buy anything else.

  4. Why yes, in fact, I HAVE read the book.

    Whether the Navy was stuck with the Gearings or not is irrelevant to the argument. They were effective platforms, even after major upgrades mid-life.

    I would tell you a “Gearing-sized performance” is exactly what we would want from LCS. Tough, fast, well-armed, survivable. What we have instead is a fragile, unreliable, maintenance-intensive, under-armed, under-manned 3,500 ton $500+ million dollar platform that, though called a “Littoral Combat Ship”, cannot survive combat in the littorals.

    Your assertion begs the question the Navy has abjectly refused to answer. What is the high-low mix? Just what number of smaller vessels without capital ship capability do we want to perform missions (anti-piracy, littoral work) that are inappropriate for major fleet units with billion-dollar price tags?

    1. Gearings were still around when I was in. I liked them and could live with bringing them back in modified form. They were damp beast, however. The Dealey DEs were drier than the Gearings. Bringing back real Frigates would be a better move than LCS.

      I’d never put a Diesel into a hull destined for use as an ASW platform. They’re far too noisy, even with vibration isolation measures.

  5. Brad! You must work at NAVSEA! Every ship needn’t have everything.

    No AEGIS, and if a 3,000-4,000 ton hull can’t take two 5″/62 mounts, make the aft mount the OTO 76mm.

    Tough, powerful, fast, well-armed, survivable. And not the size of a 1950s heavy cruiser.

    1. Sir, I’m working on a response. Gimme a day or two, if you please.

      I just tossed off the post first thing this morning, but your questions as to what an inshore ship should be and not be deserve a considered response.

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