Fletchers in the All-Too-Hot Cold War

Article excerpt

Backbone of American destroyers in the Pacific War, the 175-ship-strong Fletcher-cte proved their remarkable adaptability by serving the nation another quarter-century in history's hottest Cold War

Today, there are only three existence as museum ships in the United States, a fourth is on display in Greece and a derelict fifth, mired in litigation, awaits an uncertain fate in a torrid Mexican backwater (see "Intel File"). These are the sole survivors of the famed 175-ship strong Fletcher-class of World War II, fleet destroyers which bore the brunt of the Pacific War. Watchdogs of the Navy's fast carrier attack groups, the Fletchers fought in every Pacific action following the Battle of Midway, earning the kind of eternal glory that filled legions of history books. Their names are so synonymous with valor, sacrifice, and devotion to duty in WWII that few today realize they went on to serve in the Korean and Vietnam conflicts as well. There, despite their age, they earned new laurels mastering the techniques of fighting an enigmatic new enemy in what came to be known as the often alltoo-hot Cold War.

It is claimed that while longevity in itself does not necessarily insure eminence it does suggest the kind of fastidious breeding that makes for champions. Therefore, it can be said that this same rationale is also applicable to certain warships whose inherent efficiency of design enables them to enjoy a long service life thanks to their ability to continue meeting a variety of ever-changing Naval roles. Such a vessel was the Fletcher-class fleet destroyer of WWII, an elite series of ocean greyhound that went on to serve their country's postwar needs for another quarter of a century in the frosty Cold War against Soviet Russia and the worldwide threat of communistic aggression. Whether it was the Cuban missile crisis of 1962, revolution in Lebanon, knocking out North Korean supply trains, bombarding Vietnamese artillery positions, or standing lonely vigil as plane guards for Naval airmen at Yankee Station off Vietnam, the Fletchers were everpresent, dutifully doing their job.

The result of four decades of destroyer development, the 2020ton displacement Fiefcner-class came about with the emerging dominance of the large fleet carriers need for fast escorts - speed which none of the pre-war of Sims-, Gleaves-, Bristol- or jBenson-classes possessed. Requiring speed at least 5-kts faster than the fastest (Essex- class) carriers then building, the Fletchers represented the state of the art in warship evolution providing the Navy with a long- range 37-kt destroyer with the unmatched firepower of five 5-in/38 guns, ten torpedo tubes, 6500-mi endurance and the reliability of four Babcock and Wilcox oil-fired boilers powering two 60,000-shp General Electric geared steam turbines. With every inch of interior space accounted for to accommodate the cramped 330-man crew, remarkably the Fletchers, with little deterioration in speed or maneuverability, were also able to later add an inordinate amount of anti-aircraft weaponry, extra ammunition, and wartime electronic gear within their slender 39.5-ft beams.

Although many concessions were initially made in the process of estabfishing the ship's basic design concept by the Navy's General Board, it was universally agreed that the vessel ultimately laid down late in 1941 would easily best the new 2400-ton Japanese Kagero-class and the 5.9-in-gunned 2500-ton German iVarvik-class to become the world's finest destroyer, a fleet-footed flushdeck warship possessing a variety of unparalleled attributes within its sleek 376-ft all-welded hull.

Foremost of its outstanding characteristics was its fire-director controlled five 5-in/38 dual-purpose guns, each capable of sustained highangle rapid fire and ten 21-in torpedo tubes located in two five-tube midship centerline banks. For its antisubmarine warfare (ASW) role, six Kguns and twin stern-mounted depth charge roll-off racks allowed patterns of up to eight depth charge canisters to be simultaneously fired in a deadly prescribed geometric pattern. …