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US Navy Gun Destroyers 1945-1988: Fletcher Class to Forrest Sherman Class

24 Nov 23

48 pages

Rear Admiral R. G. Melly

Mark Stille is a retired US Navy Commander, with a background in intelligence. He is a prolific author of books on modern naval warfare, with a particular interest in the war in the Pacific, but in this short, soft-backed book, he reviews the six classes of gun destroyers built by the US Navy and operational during the Cold War era. The most numerous ships under discussion were those of the Fletcher (175 units), Sumner (68 units) and Gearing (98 units) classes.

The gun destroyers, with their genesis in WWII, were the most numerous combatants of the US Navy; by the 1960s, they were gradually replaced by ships with better ASW and AAW capabilities. However, some units remained in commission into the 1980s, and others remained in service, in foreign navies, into the 1990s. Designed to be high speed, multi-mission platforms, their principal role, post WWII, was as escorts for the carrier groups. Too small to successfully incorporate guided missile systems, some of the vessels were subsequently adapted for more specialist roles, such as radar pickets or ASW platforms.

Whilst the numerous Gearings were the most important Cold War destroyers, many of which continued in service into the 1980s, the ships of the later Forrest Sherman-class (18 units) were designed to be capable of higher speeds than the earlier ships, again to be part of the screen of a carrier task force. These latter ships effectively represented the last of the US Navy’s gun destroyers. The Mitscher-class (four large units) proved to be too costly, and the single ship of the Norfolk-class spent its career as a cruiser-sized experimental ship, configured primarily for ASW.

The destroyers were fitted with torpedoes and an impressive armament of dual purpose 5in guns.  Less successful were the 3in mounts, introduced in 1947 to replace the wartime 40mm and 20mm guns, and there was also a struggle to develop effective ASW weapons, until the ASROC mounting was introduced with its payload of a Mk 46 torpedo. The ships were, however, adapted to receive a variety of radar and ASW sensors, with varying degrees of success.

In discussing how the ships were deployed during the Cold War era, it is of no surprise that the Korean and Vietnam Wars were the main areas of operations. However, these useful ships were present at all the hot spots over this period. Additionally, a comprehensive series of tables indicates, for each of the ships, the dates that they were commissioned, modernised and decommissioned and their subsequent fate.

Notwithstanding some minor editing errors, the author has produced a readable, informative and succinct summary of the classes of warship that constituted the US Navy’s gun destroyers over the Cold War period. It is amply illustrated with black and white pictures, along with some impressive, coloured line drawings which provide useful clarity as to the ships’ features.