Warships – Destroyers and Escorts (Part 5)

A Japanese 'Fubuki' class destroyer

Axis destroyer designs
Facing the navies of what became the Allied powers were the naval forces of the three nations that constituted the Axis powers, namely Germany, Italy and Japan. The first destroyers to be built in Germany were the 22 ships of the ‘Type 34’ or ‘Maass’ class, which were laid down from 1934 for launch in 1937 and 1938. Despite their attempts to keep abreast of current design trends in the time they had been denied the right to build such ships, the Germans found themselves faced with a number of technical problems, most notably in the propulsion arrangement, and in service the ships soon acquired a reputation for unreliability. Considerable size was chosen for advantages in seaworthiness as well as weapon installation and location, but the use of a short bow section with insufficient flare and freeboard meant that the ‘Type 34’ units were very wet ships in any sort of sea. In an attempt to match the projectile weight of the latest French destroyers, a new 5-in (127-mm) weapon was designed to supersede the well proved 4.1-in (105-mm) gun, but although in itself a successful weapon this gun was installed in an obsolescent mounting that precluded its use as a dual-purpose weapon. The details of the ships included a full-load displacement of 3,160 tons, an armament of five 5-in (127-mm) guns in single mountings, four 37-mm anti-aircraft guns in two twin mountings, six 20-mm cannon in single mountings and eight 21-in (533-mm) torpedo tubes in two quadruple mountings, and a speed of 38 kt on the 70,000 hp (52200 kW) provided to two shafts by geared steam turbines.

The survivors of these ships were complemented from the years in the middle of World War II by the 15 ships of the ‘Type 36A’ or ‘Narvik’ class, which was a development of the ‘Type 34’ design with greater weight of fire provided by a change to a main-armament calibre of 5.9 in (150 mm) in a gun that was difficult and slow to work. The details of this class included a full-load displacement of 3,600 tons, an armament of five 5.9-in (150-mm) guns in one twin and three single turrets, four 37-mm anti-aircraft guns in two twin mountings, five 20-mm cannon in single mountings and eight 21-in (533-mm) torpedo tubes in two quadruple mountings, and a speed of 36 kt on the 70,000 hp (52200 kW) delivered to two shafts by geared steam turbines.

The problems with the main armament of the ‘Type 36A’ class persuaded the German naval high command that the switch to a 5.9-in (150-mm) gun had been wrong, and the German navy’s next destroyers were the units of the ‘Type 36B’ class that reverted to the 5-in (127-mm) gun. Only three of the ships were completed with a full-load displacement of 3,505 tons, an armament of five 5-in (127-mm) guns in single mountings, four 37-mm anti-aircraft guns in twin mountings, 15 20-mm cannon in three quadruple and three single mountings, and eight 21-in (533-mm) torpedo tubes in two quadruple mountings, and a speed of 36 kt on the 70,000 hp (52200 kW) delivered to two shafts by geared steam turbines.

At the smaller end of the destroyer spectrum, Germany operated a number of ships including the 12 ships of the ‘Albatros’ and ‘Iltis’ torpedo boat classes laid down in the 1920s with an armament of three 4.1-in (105-mm) guns in single mountings as well as a useful torpedo armament, 21 ships of the ‘Type 35’ and ‘Type 37’ classes that were too small for real utility, and then the 15 ships of the ‘Type 39’ or ‘Elbing’ class that were launched between 1942 and 1944. These last were still comparatively small ships, but had an appearance sufficiently imposing that they were often mistaken for larger fleet destroyers. Their details included a full-load displacement of 1,755 tons, an armament of four 4.1-in (105-mm) guns in single mountings, four 37-mm anti-aircraft guns in two twin mountings, six 20-mm cannon in single mountings and six 21-in (533-mm) torpedo tubes in two triple mountings, and a speed of 33.5 kt on the 32,000 hp (23860 kW) delivered to two shafts by geared steam turbines.

Italian classes
Italy also operated a mixed fleet of small and large (or in American terminology fleet) destroyers, some of them fairly old. The small type of destroyer was epitomised by a basic design originating in World War I with a length of 239 ft 6 in (73 m). The first three of these classes have been mentioned above, and comprised the eight ‘Pilo’ class ships of 1914/15 with an armament of five 4.1-in (102-mm) guns in single mountings and four 17.3-in (440-mm) torpedo tubes in two twin mountings, the four ‘Sirtori’ class ships of 1916/17 with an extra gun, and the eight ‘La Masa’ class ships of 1917/19 with the main armament restored to four guns. Then came the six ‘Generale’ class ships of 1921/22 with a full-load displacement of 890 tons, an armament of three 4-in (102-mm) guns in single mountings, two 3-in (76-mm) anti-aircraft guns in single mountings and four 17.3-in (440-mm) torpedo tubes in two twin mountings, and a speed of 30 kt on the 15,000 hp (11185 kW) delivered to two shafts by geared steam turbines. A 269-ft (82-m) hull was used in the four ‘Palestro’ class ships of 1919/20 for a nearly 50% increase in power, which offered a higher speed with the same basic armament as the ‘La Masa’ class, and the same hull was retained for the improved ‘Curtatone’ class of 1922-23.

There followed a long gap in Italian small destroyer design and construction until the advent of the 32 ‘Spica’ class ships from 1936. These had their boiler uptakes trunked into one funnel to maximise usable deck area and enhance gun traverse arcs, and their armament was based on three 3.9-in (100-mm) guns in single mountings as well as four 17.7-in (450-mm) torpedo tubes located initially as four single tubes but later as two twin mountings. Further development of the same concept resulted in the ‘Ariete’ class. Planned in 1941, the class was to have numbered more than 40 ships, but only 16 were laid down: a mere one of these was delivered to the Italian navy before Italy’s armistice with the Allies in September 1943, but another 13 were later completed in the shipyards of northern Italy for German use. The type had a full-load displacement of 1,125 tons, an armament of two 3.9-in (100-mm) guns in single mountings, two 37-mm anti-aircraft guns in single mountings and six 17.7-in (450-mm) torpedo tubes in two triple mountings, and a speed of 31 kt on the 22,000 hp (16405 kW) delivered to two shafts by geared steam turbines.

Another stream of Italian destroyer development had become evident in the mid-1920s with the appearance of the first ‘Sauro’ class ships and then the closely related ‘Turbine’ class ships with the hull lengthened by some 9 ft 10 in (3.0 m) to allow the incorporation of a higher-rated propulsion arrangement. Respective totals of four and eight such destroyers were built in the mid- and late 1920s with details that included, for the definitive ‘Turbine’ class, a full-load displacement of 1,700 tons, an armament of four 4.7-in (120-mm) guns in two twin mountings, two 40-mm anti-aircraft guns in single mountings and six 21-in (533-mm) torpedo tubes in two triple mountings, and a speed of 36 kt on the 40,000 hp (29825 kW) delivered to two shafts by geared steam turbines.

Between 1928 and 1930 the Italians produced, as successors to the four ‘Sauro’ class destroyers, the 12 units of the ‘Navigatore’ class in which a heavy armament and considerable power were shoehorned into a comparatively small hull for a full-load displacement of 2,580 tons, an armament of six 4.7-in (120-mm) guns in three twin mountings, three 37-mm anti-aircraft guns in single mountings and four or six 21-in (533-mm) torpedo tubes in two twin or triple mountings, and a speed of 38 kt on the 50,000 hp (37280 kW) delivered to two shafts by geared steam turbines. In 1930-32, the Italian navy introduced the four ships of the ‘Dardo’ class in which maximum possible use of the deck area was made possible by the trunking of the boiler uptakes into a single funnel. This permitted a main armament of four 4.7-in (120-mm) guns in two twin mountings. Further development of the same concept led to the four destroyers of the improved ‘Folgore’ class with each gun mounting provided with its own director to make possible the simultaneous engagement of two targets.

The main limitation of the ‘Dardo’ and ‘Folgore’ classes was their lack of seaworthiness, and in the following 1934 ‘Maestrale’ class of four ships the hull was lengthened by some 32 ft 9 in (10 m) and also increased in beam. Basically the same hull was used in the 1936 ‘Oriani’ class of four ships. With the threat of war increasing at this time, the Italian navy in 1937 and 1938 placed orders for another 12 destroyers modelled on the ‘Oriani’ class design. These were the ‘Soldato’ class destroyers with a full-load displacement of 1,460 tons, and armament of four or five 4.7-in (120-mm) guns in two twin and one single mounting, one 37-mm anti-aircraft gun and six 21-in (533-mm) torpedo tubes in two triple mountings, and a speed of 39 kt on the 48,000 hp (35790 kW) delivered to two shafts by geared steam turbines.

Japanese classes
In the period up to the later part of World War I in 1918, the Japanese had closely followed the British lead in destroyer concepts, either buying directly from the UK or constructing ships based directly on British thinking. This system resulted in two lines of design and construction, leading to large first-class destroyers and smaller second-class destroyers. In the closing stages of World War I, the Japanese decided that there was something to be learned from German destroyer thinking, especially in the matter of a well between the forecastle and the forward part of the superstructure to break the force of water streaming over the bows in any sort of weather. This resulted in the 13 ‘Minekaze’ and 21 ‘Momi’ class first- and second-class destroyers launched in the years immediately following World War I as what were basically large- and small-scale versions of the same basic design. The ‘Minekaze’ class ships had a full-load displacement of 1,650 tons, an armament of four 4.7-in (120-mm) guns in single mountings and six 21-in (533-mm) torpedo tubes in two triple mountings, and a speed of 39 kt on the 38,500 hp (28685 kW) delivered to two shafts by geared steam turbines. The nine ‘Kamikaze’ class destroyers that followed were basically similar to the ‘Minekaze’ class ships, and further improvement of the same concept came with the 12 ‘Mutsuki’ class destroyers that introduced the 24-in (610-mm) torpedo as an exceptionally potent anti-ship weapon.

During 1927 the Japanese launched the first of an eventual 20 ‘Fubuki’ class first-class destroyers, and in the process created a type that was a trend-setter in destroyer design as it switched from British and German design influences to a basically Japanese concept with a higher forecastle, no well between the forecastle and the forward part of the superstructure, and a strengthened superstructure that was thus considerably less prone to damage in heavy seas. These impressive ships had a standard displacement of 2,090 tons, an armament of six 5-in (127-mm) guns in three triple turrets and nine 24-in (610-mm) torpedo tubes in three triple mountings with no fewer than 18 torpedoes, and a speed of 38 kt on the 50,000 hp (37280 kW) delivered to two shafts by geared steam turbines.

In 1931 the Japanese introduced a small destroyer type as the ‘Tomodzura’ class, whose four units were designed to complete the destroyer tonnage allocated to the Japanese in the Washington Naval Treaty. These ships were designed for coastal operations off Japan and along the shore of eastern Asia, and were ambitious attempts to install maximum capability into minimum hull: with a standard displacement of only 650 tons, each ship carried an armament of three 5-in (127-mm) guns in one twin and one single mountings as well as four 21-in (533-mm) torpedo tubes in two twin mountings, and was capable of a speed of 30 kt on the 11,000 hp (8200 kW) delivered to two shafts by geared steam turbines. That too much had been attempted on this hull was revealed by the top-heaviness of the class in general and the capsize of the lead ship in particular, and this problem was addressed in the following ‘Ootori’ class of eight ships launched between 1935 and 1937 with a longer but still very narrow hull but a reduced armament. The details of the ‘Ootori’ class included a full-load displacement of 1,050 tons, an armament of three 4.7-in (120-mm) guns in single mountings, one 40-mm anti-aircraft gun and three 21-in (533-mm) torpedo tubes in a triple mounting, and a speed of 30 kt on the 19,000 hp (14165 kW) delivered to two shafts by geared steam turbines.

Although the ‘Fubuki’ class destroyers had offered considerable capabilities at the time of their introduction (a decade before the capable British ‘J’ class destroyers with a slightly inferior specification but a very high reputation), the trend-setting nature of the class had resulted in a number of operational problems that were addressed in succeeding classes. The first of these was the ‘Akatsuki’ class of four ships launched between 1931 and 1933 with a lightened topside structure on a shorter hull, and there followed the ‘Hatsuhara’ class of six destroyers with a hull that was shortened still further, resulting in the loss of one 5-in (127-mm) gun mounting and one torpedo tube triple mounting, and a propulsion arrangement of reduced power as Japanese designers sought to comply with the limitations imposed by the first of the London Naval Agreements. Further development of the ‘Hatsuhara’ class design led to the ‘Shiratsuyu’ class of 10 ships with a further shortening of the hull but an improvement in torpedo armament to eight 24-in (610-mm) tubes in two quadruple mountings with reloads.

In 1937 there appeared the first of 10 ‘Asashio’ class ships that ignored the London Naval Agreement limitations and were therefore very similar to the original ‘Fubuki’ class ships. The excellence of this basic design was further attested by the completion of 18 ‘Kagero’ class destroyers that introduced a slightly beamier hull and were launched between 1938 and 1941 before completion to a standard that included a full-load displacement of 2,490 tons, an armament of six 5-in (127-mm) guns in three twin mountings, four 25-mm anti-aircraft guns in two twin mountings and eight 24-in (610-mm) torpedo tubes in two quadruple mountings, and a speed of 35 kt on the 52,000 hp (38,770 kW) delivered to two shafts by geared steam turbines. So successful was the type considered, moreover, that the following 20 ‘Yugumo’ class destroyers were basically similar.

The final type of Japanese large destroyer constructed in World War II was the ‘Akitsuki’ class, of which 12 units were launched between 1941 and 1944. These were planned as anti-aircraft escorts for major surface forces, and were designed to offer the same capabilities as the American ‘Atlanta’ and British ‘Dido’ class cruisers on a smaller hull that would therefore be cheaper and quicker to build. One of the keys to this capability was the adoption of a main gun of somewhat smaller calibre than those used in the Western ships, the loss of projectile weight in the Japanese gun being more than balanced by its considerably higher rate of fire. The details of the class included a full-load displacement of 3,700 tons, an armament of eight 3.9-in (100-mm) dual-purpose guns in two pairs of superfiring turrets, four 25-mm anti-aircraft guns in two twin mountings and four 24-in (610-mm) torpedo tubes in a quadruple mounting, and a speed of 33 kt on the 52,000 hp (38770 kW) delivered to two shafts by geared steam turbines.

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