Sea History 100 - Spring 2002

Page 17

ACentennial ot American Destrovers by David F. Winkler, PhD


hi s yea r mark s the censrroye r No. 5, USS D ecatur, entertennial of a US Navy waring service on 5 May 1902, more ship rype: the destroye r. Alrhan six mon rhs before rh e comm isthough th e United States was nor sion in g of rhe "first destroyer," USS the first to introduce this ship, it has Bainbridge. built them in greater numbersOrganized into flotillas, m any of more than 1,000 co untin g th e rhe new ships were deployed overguided miss ile variants-and has seas, conducting the "show-the-flag" put rhem to mo re di versified use miss ion rhar has long been pan of than any orher country. US naval operations. Although fast, In the !are 1800s, so me co unwirh speeds up to and over 30 knots, tries, including th e US, acquired due to their limited tonn age the fas r shipsarm ed wit h torpedoes as a first sixteen ships lacked "sea legs." defensive counter to armored battl e Co ngress auth orized additional fl eets. When th e Chilean revoludestroye rs in 1906 and during the tion sta rred, rheworld's navies rook subsequent yea rs leading to World note when the torpedo gunboats War I. T hese wars hips progress ively Almirante Condell and A lmirante increased in size and in arm ament. Lynch torpedoed and sank rhe ironT he te n destroye rs authorized in 1908 used a new fuel-o il-which clad Blanco Encalada. Validating the torpedo boar as a deadly weapon enabl ed them to refu el at sea. T he system, rh e C hilean action also reeight destroyers authorized in 1911 broke the 1,000-ton mark in disminded naval commanders rhat methods to coumer rhe formidab le place ment. With Europe embroiled in "The craft were needed. Great W ar," a new model of torIn 1892, to coun rer rhe threat of pedo boat posed an ominous threat. French and German torpedo boats, rhe BririshAdmiralryordered "TorBuilding on techn ology introduced pedo Boat Catchers," ships capable USS Bainbridge (DD I) was the first destroyer ordered, but by American John Holland, rhe of hi gh seas o perati o ns. Befo re lo ng, the fifth to be commissioned, on 24 November 1902. (ALL Ge rmans put to sea submersibl e photos from the Naval H istorical Center) however, rhe term "Torpedo Boar torpedo boars, otherw ise known as Destroyer" was pencil ed in o n offi cial co r- ships of this new rypeo n 4 May 1898. Afrer submarin es . W hen America entered rhe respondence and the term sruck. By rhe defeating Cerve ra at th e Barde of Santiago war in Apri l 1917, th e US Navy deployed turn of rhe cenru ry, British shipya rds had on 3 Jul y 1898, the US moved ahead with D es troyer Squadro n 8 to Queenstown , Ireproduced more than 100 of th e new class of co nsrrucrion of torpedo boat destroye rs. land, to augmem the Royal Navy's defense ships for rhe Royal Navy plus som e for The new vessels, which had an average against the Ge rm an undersea menace. expo rt to other countries, such as Spain. di splacement of 420 tons, were armed w ith When Co mmander Joseph K. Taussig' s six When war with Spain was pending in light guns and torpedoes. They we re named des troyers ar rived on 4 May, the British March 1898, a report from rhe Naval War for naval heroes, a tradition char would co mmander, Vi ceAdmiral Sir Lewis Bayly, as ked the American when his squadron Board, headed by Ass istant Secretary of the Navy T heodore Roosevel t, noted that rhe would be ready for service. Taussig replied, "We especially need "We are ready now, sir. " Spanish torpedo- boat destroyers station ed torpedo boat destroyers" in rhe Ca nary Islands offered "rhe only real W hile newer American destroyers were menace to us." T he report co ncluded : "We immediately assigned to patrol and conespecially need torpedo boar des rroyers"- continue over the next century and be- voy-esco rt miss ions in th e North Atlantic, and recommended their immedi ate pro- yond- with some exceptions, such as the several of rh e Navy's first sixteen "tin cans" curem ent. O n 29 April, Spanish admi ral rece ntl y co mmi ss ion ed USS Winston found th emselves performing similar duPascual Cervera bega n his trek across th e Churchill and USS Roosevelt (named for ties in the calmer M editerranean . D espite Arlamic to Puerto Rico with four cruisers Franklin and Eleano r). Because the Navy being armed with recently-developed depth contracted co nstru ctio n to a va ri ery of ci- charges, and with so me of rhe ships emand three torpedo boat destroyers. With rh e threat of imminent Spanish vilian and government shipyards, th e ships ploying new underwater sound detecting bo mbardm ent of American port citi es had different outward appearances, al- devices call ed hydrophones, the Am eri can bringing fear and panic to the eastern sea- though all fea rured a raised forecastle to wa rships co uld hardly claim they swept the board of the Un ired States, it was hardly a minimize water over the bow in heavy seas seas of the U-boar menace. Indeed, only Uco incidence rhar Congress authorized co n- and all were coal-burners. The delivery 58 fell victim when, on 17 November struction of rh e US Navy's first sixteen dates also varied, with Torpedo-Boar D e- 191 7, she was forced to surface afte r being