USS Fletcher (DD-445) in her original layout, 1942
|Preceded by:||Gleaves class|
|Succeeded by:||Allen M. Sumner class|
|Built:||3 March 1941 to 22 February 1945|
|In commission:||4 June 1942 to 1971 (USN), 2001 (Mexico)|
|Lost:||19, plus 6 not repaired|
|Length:||376.5 ft (114.8 m)|
|Beam:||39.5 ft (12.0 m)|
|Draft:||17.5 ft (5.3 m)|
|Propulsion:||60,000 shp (45 MW); 4 oil-fired boilers; 2 geared steam turbines; 2 screws|
|Speed:||36.5 knots (67.6 km/h; 42.0 mph)|
|Complement:||329 officers and men|
|Armament:||Varied; see § Armament|
The Fletcher class was a class of destroyers built by the United States during World War II. The class was designed in 1939, as a result of dissatisfaction with the earlier destroyer leader types of the Porter and Somers classes. Some went on to serve during the Korean War and into the Vietnam War.
The United States Navy commissioned 175 Fletcher-class destroyers between 1942 and 1944, more than any other destroyer class, and the design was generally regarded as highly successful. Fletchers had a design speed of 38 knots and a principal armament of five 5-inch guns in single mounts with ten 21-inch torpedoes in two quintuple centerline mounts. The Allen M. Sumner and Gearing classes were Fletcher derivatives.
The long-range Fletcher-class ships performed every task asked of a destroyer, from anti-submarine warfare and anti-aircraft warfare to surface action. They could cover the vast distances required by fleet actions in the Pacific and served almost exclusively in the Pacific Theater of Operations during World War II, during which they accounted for 29 Imperial Japanese Navy submarines sunk.[failed verification] In a massive effort, the Fletchers were built by shipyards across the United States and, after World War II ended, 11 were sold to countries that they had been built to fight against: Italy, Germany, and Japan, as well as other countries, where they had even longer, distinguished careers. Three have been preserved as museum ships in the U.S. and one in Greece.
The Fletcher class (named for Admiral Frank F. Fletcher, Medal of Honor recipient and holder of two Distinguished Service Crosses) was the largest destroyer class ordered. It was also one of the most successful and popular with their crews. Compared to earlier classes built for the Navy, the Fletchers carried a significant increase in lethal firepower, including anti-aircraft weapons and increased armor plating; this contributed to greater displacement and overall weight and height increase. Their flush deck construction added structural strength; however, it did make them cramped, as less crew space was available below decks compared with a raised forecastle.
The Fletcher-class was the first generation of destroyers designed after the series of Naval Treaties that had limited ship designs heretofore. The growth in the design was in part a response to the challenge that had dogged U.S. Navy designs in coping with long range operations in the Pacific Ocean. They were also to carry no fewer than five 5 in (127 mm) guns and ten deck-mounted torpedo tubes on the centerline, allowing them to meet any foreign design on equal terms. Compared to earlier designs, the Fletchers were large, allowing them to adapt to evolving defensive priorities through the addition of two 40 mm Bofors quadruple mount anti-aircraft guns as well as six 20 mm Oerlikon dual AA gun positions. This addition to the AA suite required the deletion of the forward quintuple torpedo mount, a change done under the 4 April 1945 anti-kamikaze program.
Fletchers were also much less top-heavy than previous classes, allowing them to take on additional equipment and weapons without major redesign. They were fortunate in catching American production at the right moment, becoming "the" destroyer design, with only the Fletcher-class derivatives, the Sumner and Gearing classes, following it.
The first design inputs were in the fall of 1939 from questionnaires distributed around design bureaus and the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. The design parameters were the armaments desired of the next destroyer. As such, the questions were of how many guns, torpedoes, and depth charges were seen as desirable. Also asked was at what point would the design grow large enough to become a torpedo target instead of a torpedo delivery system. The answer that came back was that five 5 in (127 mm) dual-purpose guns, twelve torpedoes, and twenty-eight depth charges would be ideal, while a return to the 1500-ton designs of the past was seen as undesirable. Speed requirements varied from 35 to 38 kn (40 to 44 mph; 65 to 70 km/h), and shortcomings in the earlier Sims class, which were top-heavy and needed lead ballast to correct this fault, caused the Fletcher design to be widened by 18 in (46 cm) of beam. As with other previous U.S. flush deck destroyer designs, seagoing performance suffered. This was mitigated by deployment to the Pacific Ocean, which is relatively calm compared to the Atlantic.
To achieve 38 kn (44 mph; 70 km/h) with a 500-ton increase in displacement, shaft horsepower was increased from 50,000 to 60,000 compared to the previous Benson and Gleaves classes. The Fletchers featured air-encased boilers producing steam at 600 psi (4,100 kPa) and 850 °F (450 °C), with two 350 kW steam turbine driven electrical generators and a 100 kW emergency diesel generator. Typically, Babcock & Wilcox boilers and General Electric geared steam turbines were equipped, although other designs and manufacturers were probably used to maximize the rate of production.
The main gun armament of the Fletcher was five dual-purpose rapid-fire 5 inch/38 caliber (127 mm) guns in single Mk-30 turrets, guided by a Mark 37 Gun Fire Control System, including a Mk 12 fire control radar and a Mk 22 height-finder (both replaced by the circular Mk 25 radar postwar) linked by a Mark 1A Fire Control Computer and stabilized by a Mk 6 8,500 rpm gyroscope.
Ten 21 in (530 mm) torpedo tubes were fitted in two quintuple mounts on the centerline amidships, firing the 21-inch Mark 15 torpedo. Anti-submarine armament was two depth charge racks for 600-pound charges at the stern, augmented by six K-gun depth charge throwers for 300-pound charges amidships.
Besides the main dual-purpose guns, initial (April–May 1942) anti-aircraft armament was light; a quadruple 1.1"/75 caliber gun (located in an elevated tub between the number three and four 5"/38 caliber gun mounts), and six Oerlikon 20 mm cannons (two in front of and below the bridge, and four amidships). Beginning in June 1942, the 1.1" gun was replaced by a twin Bofors 40 mm gun mount, plus another twin mount on the fantail between the depth charge racks. In February 1943, the fantail-mounted Bofors was removed, and instead, one twin mount was placed on each side of the aft funnel, bringing the total number of 40 mm barrels to six. In 1942 and 1943, the number of Oerlikon cannons was steadily increased. Ships were often modified before leaving the shipyard with a seventh 20 mm mount in front of the bridge behind the number two 5"/38 caliber gun mount, and anywhere from one to three mounts on the flying bridge depending upon the bridge configuration of the ship. In combat, commanders often requisitioned additional guns, and some Fletchers mounted up to thirteen 20 mm cannons. In June and July 1943, two more twin Bofors mounts were added in place of the 20 mm cannons in front of and below the bridge, giving a total of ten barrels. With this modification, the Oerlikon cannons were rearranged and their number was standardized at seven; four amidships and three in a heart-shaped mount on the fantail.
Due to the increasing threat from kamikaze attacks, beginning in July 1945 some ships returning to the United States for refit received further antiaircraft modifications, replacing the forward set of quintuple torpedo tubes with a large gun platform housing two quadruple 40 mm guns (for a total of fourteen barrels). The seven single 20 mm guns were replaced with six twin mounts (four amidships and two on the fantail, rather than three as before).
Three (Pringle, Stevens, and Halford) were built with aircraft catapults, resulting in the deletion of the rear torpedo tube mount and number 3 5-inch gun mount. This alteration was not a success in service and was not repeated. These three destroyers were later converted to the normal Fletcher-class configuration.
Nineteen Fletchers were lost during World War II; six more were damaged, evaluated as constructive total losses, and not repaired. Postwar, the remainder were decommissioned and put into reserve.
With the outbreak of the Korean War many were returned to active duty. During this time 39 were refitted under project SCB 74A, reducing their overall main armament and the number of torpedo tubes to accommodate other weapons. A new ahead-throwing weapon called Weapon Alpha was installed in many of the ships. Others carried trainable Hedgehogs. Eighteen ships were redesignated as escort destroyers (DDE), optimized for anti-submarine warfare; these reverted to destroyer (DD) designation in 1962.
Four Fletcher-class destroyers are preserved as museum ships. Three are in the United States and one is in Greece, although only Kidd retains her World War II configuration.
Velos is the only vessel still in commission. Velos alongside G. Averof are ceremonially commissioned by the Hellenic Navy having Palaio Faliro as their base. Their crew are active Officers of Hellenic Navy. Velos still retains its complete armament and equipment(as modernized in 1950s). In September 2019 its crew took her to Thessaloniki for a short 3 month stay. As of October 2020[update], she remains in Thessaloniki and she has been visited by over 157.000 visitors.
All three American museum ships have been designated as National Historic Landmarks.
In 2018, Kidd was used as the filming location for the fictional USS Keeling (codenamed Greyhound), from C.S. Forester's novel The Good Shepherd, in its appearance in the book's 2020 cinematic adaptation, Greyhound.