The US Navy’s Flush-Deck Destroyers

What’s a “flush deck” destroyer?
315 feet overall; 31 feet beam;
1,080–1,287 tons standard displacement;
6 officers, 95 men as designed;
273 built.
FLUSH DECKER EVOLUTION
FLUSH DECKER EVOLUTION
THE GREAT WAR
FLUSH DECKER EVOLUTION
THE GREAT WAR
FLUSH DECKERS IN PEACETIME
FLUSH DECKER EVOLUTION
THE GREAT WAR
FLUSH DECKERS IN PEACETIME
FLUSH DECKERS AT WAR
FLUSH DECKER EVOLUTION
THE GREAT WAR
FLUSH DECKERS IN PEACETIME
FLUSH DECKERS AT WAR
FLUSH DECKER EVOLUTION
THE GREAT WAR
FLUSH DECKERS IN PEACETIME
FLUSH DECKERS AT WAR
By 1890, 75 years after steamboats first became viable,
the Navy had commissioned its first “protected cruisers.”
USS Chicago, flagship of the “ABC cruisers”
But their gun batteries offered no defense
against speedy torpedo boats.
Chicago 6-inch gun.
In 1897, the Royal Navy
was rudely introduced to
steam turbine power …
Queen’s Diamond Jubilee by Charles Dixon.
New Asst. Secretary of the Navy Roosevelt took note.
Theodore Roosevelt at the Naval War College, 1897.
How could the torpedo boat be defeated?
Answer: by a “torpedo boat destroyer.”
Decatur, Torpedo Boat No. 5, authorized in 1898, runs trials in 1902.
In 1904, President Roosevelt ordered the Navy to convene a
board under RAdm. George A. Converse to “consider the
types and qualities of torpedo vessels and their machinery.”
President Theodore Roosevelt and RAdm. George A. Converse.
By 1907, the “battleship navy” was growing.
USS Connecticut, flagship of the Great White Fleet, on trials in1907.
F/Y 1907: Congress authorized destroyers for fleet defense
based on the Converse Board’s recommendations.
Drayton (Destroyer No. 23).
The series continued until F/Y 1916, when displacement
increased to 1200 tons on a strengthened “flush deck” hull.
The series continued until F/Y 1916, when displacement
increased to 1200 tons on a strengthened “flush deck” hull.
Flush-decker Wickes and 1000-tonner Aylwin.
Same overall dimensions; same freeboard fore ’n aft.
Four stacks …
USS Caldwell
… or three.
Main battery: four x 4-inch/50 …
… and 12 torpedo tubes.
FLUSH DECKER EVOLUTION
THE GREAT WAR
FLUSH DECKERS IN PEACETIME
FLUSH DECKERS AT WAR
1914 in Europe: World War I broke out …
Archduke Franz Ferdinand assassinated.
1914 in the Americas: the Panama Canal opened.
First ship through the Panama Canal, 1914.
1915: despite provocation, the US remained neutral.
Lusitania torpedoed, May 7, 1915.
1916 in Europe: the Battle of Jutland.
1916 in the US: Congress passed the Naval Act of 1916
(the “Big Navy” Act), which authorized 10 battleships,
5 battlecruisers … and 50 destroyers.
Artist’s conception of Lexington-class battlecruiser.
1917: Germany declared unrestricted submarine warfare.
The United States responded by
declaring war …
President Woodrow Wilson
… and sent destroyers to Ireland, to help defend
the western approaches against the U-boat.
Return of the Mayflower by Bernard F. Gribble
The destroyers operated from Queenstown (now Cobh)
and later from Brest.
Brest
Queenstown
IRELAND
FRANCE
Over the next 18 months, they convoyed 2 million troops
to Europe without loss.
“A Critical Moment” by Burnell Poole.
Precision munitions!
Eleven builders eventually completed 273 flush deckers …
0 10 20 30 40 50 60 70
Charleston NY
Seattle-Tacoma
Norfolk NY
Bath
Mare Island NY
Newport News
New York Ship
Beth Squantum
Beth Quincy
Cramp
Beth San Francisco
Caldwell
Wickes
Clemson
… although only 40 were in commission by the Armistice,
11 November 1918.
Their construction required a dramatic expansion in
shipbuilding capacity …
Number of flush deckers as of 1 September.
Keel laid
Launched
Commissioned
… involving existing yards,
Fore River Shipyard, Quincy, Massachusetts
… and new ones.
Delphy, first to launch at Squantum, Massachusetts, 18 July 1918.
Mare Island launched Ward after only 17½ days.
Ward, launched at Mare Island after only 17½ days (15 May–1 June 1918).
The program continued even after the Armistice.
Laying the keel for USS Zane at Mare Island Navy Yard, 15 January 1919.
Craven, LCdr. M.B. McComb commanding.
Plane guard duty.
First transatlantic flight, May 1919
The peace conference in 1919 revived old suspicions.
Signing the peace treaty in the Hall of Mirrors, Versailles, 29 June 1919.
… and flush-decker deliveries continued.
Number of flush deckers as of 1 September.
Keel laid
Launched
Commissioned
Minelayers
In 1920, the navy converted 14 flush deckers as
light minelayers.
Rizal.
“… to contribute to the
maintenance of the
general peace, and to
reduce the burdens of
competition in
armament …”
Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes
Preamble to “five-power” treaty between the
United States of America, the British Empire,
France, Italy and Japan signed at Washington,
February 6, 1922.
Not until 1921 did the United States host a conference on
naval arms limitation …
.. and then cut the number of its own destroyers in
commission by more than half.
Number of flush deckers as of 1 September.
It placed the remainder in reserve.
“Red lead row,” San Diego, 1922. 1922
Question: why didn’t we stop building earlier?
Anglo-Japanese alliance.
Answer: we were concerned about another war.
IJN Kongo in 1913.
Question: Why did we continue building flush deckers when
the British were commissioning more advanced destroyers?
HMS Vivien
FLUSH DECKER EVOLUTION
THE GREAT WAR
FLUSH DECKERS IN PEACETIME
FLUSH DECKERS AT WAR
There followed a 10-year building “holiday.”
Number of flush deckers as of 1 September.
There never were 273 flush deckers.
De Long at Half Moon Bay, California, December 1921.
Unfinished business
Smyrna
GREECE
TURKEY
Odessa
Theodosia
Trabzon Samsun
Constantinople
Varna
Alexandria
Venice
USS Pope at Hangkow (Wuhan), China.
Wuhan
CHINA
1923: Japan earthquake relief.
1923: Honda.
CALIFORNIA
SANTA BARBARA CHANNEL
1923: Honda.
The United States’ signature around the world.
McFarland at Venice in 1927.
Kanawha (AO 1) and her nest.
Off Coronado.
1930: 60 destroyers were taken from mothballs to replace
others that were worn out.
Number of flush deckers as of 1 September.
Coast Guard
1931: six were loaned to the Coast Guard
1932: radio control.
Sigourney controlled by aircraft.
Later in the 1930s: some decommissioned and scrapped as
newer destroyers fleeted in.
Number of flush deckers as of 1 September.
1937: first test of radar on board ship.
Leary.
Peacetime cruises (rarely over 15 knots).
Borie and sisters, Alaska, 1937.
1939: war in Europe. The Navy mobilized all flush deckers in
reserve. Began conversions.
Number of flush deckers as of 1 September.
Seaplane tenders
To Britain
To Canada
Minesweepers
1940: “Mr. President …
in the long history of the world this is a thing to do now.”
Late 1940: 50 destroyers for base sites.
Used in convoy and secondary duty.
HMS Mansfield, 1943.
By late 1941, Bismarck had been sunk but Tirpitz was ready
for sea duty.
Tirpitz.
The only drydock in German hands outside of Germany was
the Normandie Dock at St. Nazaire.
St. Nazaire
FRANCE
GERMANY
Raid on St. Nazaire
HMS Campbeltown at Normandie Dock, St. Nazaire , Brittany, 28 March 1942.
FLUSH DECKER EVOLUTION
THE GREAT WAR
FLUSH DECKERS IN PEACETIME
FLUSH DECKERS AT WAR
Neutrality patrol: 4 September 1941
The Greer Incident
“This was piracy—legally and
morally .
“From now on, if German or
Italian vessels of war enter the
waters, the protection of which
is necessary for American
defense, they do so at their own
peril.”
—President Roosevelt
11 September 1941
Greer signalman Joe Moll.
Neutrality patrol: October 1941:
Reuben James torpedoed.
Reuben James
7 December 1941 at 0645
Off Pearl Harbor
Ward by Tom Freeman.
Attention immediately shifted to the Asiatic Fleet …
… which was driven out of Manila and retired to the south.
Japanese planes bomb Cavite Naval Base, 10 December 1941.
Peary executed an
epic escape to Darwin …
Darwin
Soerabaya
… only to be sunk in an air raid there.
USS Peary Memorial, Darwin, Australia.
The remainder of the Asiatic Fleet lasted only until March.
Soerabaya
Balikpapan
Soerabaya
Loss of Pope?
Survivors made their way home to the Atlantic, where the
Navy had been unprepared for a U-boat war.
Roving patrols didn’t work.
Jacob Jones
The convoy system did work.
Loss of Truxtun.
Argentia
Chambers Cove
NEWFOUNDLAND
Chambers Cove, Newfoundland.
Typical unconverted flush decker in World War II.
Ellis in the Atlantic.
In 1943, hunter-killer groups gained control.
USS Card (CVE 11)
Borie’s last battle.
1 November 1943.
Borie’s last battle.
1 November 1943.
Borie–U-256 reunion, Rudesheim, Germany, May 1992.
“We almost killed you!”
November 1942:
Invade North Africa.
Safi
MOROCCO
Port Lyautey
Casablanca
Dallas, Bernadou and Cole were stripped down.
Cole stripped down.
Dallas went upriver to capture the
Port Lyautey airfield.
Port Lyautey, Morocco.
Bernadou and Cole landed special forces
inside the harbor at Safi.
Safi, Morocco, 10 November 1942.
Moosehead.
Moosehead.
We entered the war with 118 flush deckers, one 1,000-
tonner and 100 “modern” destroyers …
By the end of the war, we added 356 more.
Flush deckers remained in demand as conversions.
Number of flush deckers as of 1 September.
APDs …
Manley (APD 1)
… led the landings at Guadalcanal in August 1942.
Beach Red, Guadalcanal
In September, Little and Gregory were illuminated by flares
from a friendly plane and sunk by Japanese destroyers.
Little and Gregory rehearse for the Guadalcanal landings.
In October, AVP McFarland survived a daytime
bombing and made it back to Pearl with a jury-
rigged rudder.
Seaplane tenders
McFarland (AVD 14)
Thereafter, flush-deckers operated in every Pacific war
campaign except one.
View toward Kolombangara across Blackett Strait from Plum Pudding Island.
At Blackett Strait,
Gamble, Preble and
Breese laid an offensive
minefield that sank 3
DDs.
Gamble’s minelaying gear.
To New Georgia’s Viru Harbor …
Where Hopkins, Kilty and Crosby were initially turned back.
Crosby.
To Vella Lavella …
Where Dent and Waters rescued the last Helena survivors.
Dent.
To Bougainville.
The landing beaches at Capt Torokina and Mt. Bagana, Bougainville.
Where McKean was lost.
Minesweeper conversion.
USS Zane
1944: across the Pacific to the Philippines.
Philippines
Japan
November 1943 – October 1944
Central Pacific Drive
In 1944: the majority of flush deckers were conversions.
Number of flush deckers as of 1 September.
To Leyte …
Where Ward was hit by a kamikaze and lost.
To Luzon …
Where minesweepers Hovey, Long and Palmer were lost
in January 1945 …
Hovey.
1945: north toward Japan.
Japan
Iwo Jima
Okinawa
Where Dickerson was scuttled.
Barry in 1945.
But the time of the surrender, there were fewer than 100
flush deckers around the world.
Number of flush deckers as of 1 September.
… and fewer than 50 by 1 January 1946.
Number of flush deckers as of 1 September.
The score: 33 US Navy flush deckers were lost during or
immediately after the war; 9 others.
• US Navy
 30 were lost, captured, or damaged beyond economical repair:
• 2 minelayers.
• 7 minesweepers.
• 11 transports.
• 10 unconverted destroyers.
 3 more were stranded before they returned home from their
final wartime deployments.
• Other
 7 British, 1 Canadian, 1 Russian.
One came home from Japan.
USS Stewart at San Francisco postwar.
The score: 32 of the 118 USN flush deckers were decorated
—more per ship than any other US Navy destroyer class.
• 6 ships received the Presidential Unit Citations for individual
performance.
• 10 others received a total of 15 awards for hunter-killer
operations in the Atlantic.
• 8 transports, 7 minesweepers, and 1 minelayer received a
total of 18 Navy Unit Commendations.
Today, little is left except the stories …
Remains of two
may still be
seen in San
Francisco Bay.
Thompson
Corry
Tomorrow … ?
The US Navy’s Flush-Deck Destroyers
More …
Destroyer History Foundation
www.destroyerhistory.org

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