On April 16, 1945, the crewmen of the USS Laffey were battle hardened and prepared. They had engaged in combat off the Normandy coast in June 1944. They had been involved in three prior assaults of enemy positions in the Pacific-at Leyte and Lingayen in the Philippines and at Iwo Jima. They had seen kamikazes purposely crash into other destroyers and cruisers in their unit and had seen firsthand the bloody results of those crazed tactics. But nothing could have prepared the crew for this moment-an eighty-minute ordeal in which the single small ship was targeted by no fewer than twenty-two Japanese suicide aircraft.
By the time the unprecedented attack on the Laffey was finished, thirty-two sailors lay dead, more than seventy were wounded, and the ship was grievously damaged. Although she lay shrouded in smoke and fire for hours, the Laffey somehow survived, and the gutted American warship limped from Okinawa’s shore for home, where the ship and crew would be feted as heroes
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Destroyers were used to lay minefields outside of enemy harbors and to transport troops and supplies to beleaguered outposts in enemy controlled waters that were too dangerous for conventional transports to negotiate. They escorted convoys, provided air and gunfire support for larger and more vulnerable ships (such as troop transports and aircraft carriers), attacked superior enemy forces, bombarded invasion beaches well within the range of enemy shore batteries, scouted for their fleets and served as radar pickets far from the protection of friendly naval forces. They were expected to put themselves at risk to protect their charges, whether merchant ships or heavy warships. Destroyers fought submarines, aircraft and surface actions against all other classes of warships, from battleships to MTB’s. Destroyers occasionally operated alone, but more often they were formed into flotillas or squadrons, which would then jointly be assigned a task, such as to escort a convoy, screen a task force, or to attack an enemy surface force with torpedoes and gunfire.
Destroyers of all the major sea powers were lost during the war in the course of what were essentially suicide charges at far more powerful enemy surface ships. The courage and dedication of destroyer men clearly transcended national boundaries. Destroyers were viewed as expendable ships in both world wars and many of their brave crews paid the ultimate price.Excellent destroyers were designed and built for the navies of all the major sea powers during WW II. Destroyers are multi-purpose warships, necessarily a blend of characteristics. The destroyer designs of the major sea powers often emphasized different ratios of these characteristics, based on their tactical requirements. Examples of some of these include habitability, sea keeping, range, speed, torpedo battery, main battery, anti-aircraft (AA) battery, anti-submarine (AS) weapons and so forth. Every destroyer had to strike a balance between these often contradictory requirements and it is not surprising that destroyers designed to operate on inland seas (the Baltic or Mediterranean, for example) differed from those designed to operate in the vast Pacific Ocean. We will try to note these differences as we examine the destroyers of the various navies.
The U.S. Navy letter designation for destroyers is “DD” and for large destroyers “DL.”
The American Fletcher class was the most numerous single class of destroyers built during the war, numbering some 151 ships of the original and improved types. This illustrates the esteem in which these excellent vessels were held. They served in both the Atlantic and Pacific theatres with distinction in almost every major battle from the beginning of 1943 onward and it is hard to see how the Pacific War could have been prosecuted without them.
The Fletchers were the quintessential WW II American destroyers. They were long range, flush deck, twin funnel vessels with outstanding firepower. Construction of the (earlier) Benson class destroyers and the (later) Allen M. Sumner class continued concurrently with the Fletcher class, although the Fletchers were generally considered the best all-around ships. Here are the original specifications for the Fletcher.
- Displacement: 2325 tons standard; 2924 tons full load
- Dimensions: 369′ 1″ wl; 376′ 5″ loa; 39′ 7″ beam; 13′ 9″ full load draft
- Machinery: 2-shaft GE geared turbines, 4 Babcock & Wilcox boilers, 60,000 shp = 38 knots at 2550 tons. Oil 492 tons
- Range: 6500nm at 15 knots
- Armament: 5-5″/38 DP (5×1), 4-1.1″ AA (1×4), 4-20mm, 10-21″ torpedo tubes (2×5), 6 DCT + 2 DC racks
- Armor: 0.75″ side, 0.5″ deck
- Complement: 300
- Launched: 1942-1944
The 5″ main battery guns were an efficient, quick-firing, dual-purpose type that served equally well for surface actions and as heavy AA guns. As with most WW II destroyers, the light AA armament was increased during the war. The 1.1″ guns were removed and the typical Fletcher class AA armament later in the war became five twin 40mm Bofors mounts and seven 20mm guns. Some ships in 1945 had one bank of torpedo tubes removed to compensate for replacing two of their twin 40mm gun mounts with quad 40mm mounts. Japanese Kamikaze planes had become the principal threat to U.S. destroyers and there were few Japanese surface combatants left to torpedo.
19 Fletcher class destroyers were sunk during the war and five more were so heavily damaged that they had to be scrapped. Of the survivors, many served in the Korean War and most were not stricken from the U.S. Navy list until the 1970’s.
Japanese Admiral Boshirō Hosogaya
|Born||24 June 1888
Nagano Prefecture, Japan
|Died||8 February 1964 (aged 75)|
|Allegiance||Empire of Japan|
||Imperial Japanese Navy|
|Years of service||1908–1945|
|Commands held||Heavy cruiser Chōkai
Commandant of Communications School
Commandant of Torpedo School
Ryojun Naval District
1st China Expeditionary Fleet
|Battles/wars||World War II
Battle of the Komandorski Islands
|Other work||Governor South Seas Agency|