Destroyer classes of the late 1930s – The US ‘Sims’ class

In 1936 the US Navy’s Chief of Naval Operations completed a review of the basic design of his service’s destroyers. At this time the latest destroyer classes approaching completion or being built were the ‘Porter’ class (eight ships), ‘Mahan’ class (18 ships), ‘Gridley’ class (four ships), ‘Bagley’ class (eight ships), ‘Somers’ class (five ships) and ‘Benham’ class (10 ships). At the same time the new London Naval Treaty had changed the limit on destroyer tonnage from a limit per ship (though an upper limit of 3,000 tons per ship was retained) to a limit on total tonnage. What the US Navy decided in these circumstances was based on its need for large numbers of modern destroyers, making it possible for the US Navy to fight simultaneous wars in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, to replace the very large numbers of destroyers built during or immediately after World War I which were now totally obsolete.

The US Navy was conscious of the deteriorating world situation, which was threatening war in two hemispheres, and in the circumstances decided that while a major change in destroyer concept might yield considerably superior destroyers, the time needed to consider, plan, design and build advanced ships of such a nature was not available to it, and that it must therefore opt for an evolutionary rather than step change in concept, and thus work to create a better destroyer which did not much exceed the previous 1,500-ton limit.

The initial result was the ‘Sims’ class, which was designed with a standard displacement of 1,570 tons and, largely in light of the type of operations which might have to be fought in the Pacific against the Japanese, a main armament of five 5-in (127-mm) centreline guns in single mounts. This was the armament of the ‘Mahan’ class destroyers, while the destroyers of the ‘Gridley’, ‘Bagley and ‘Benham’ classes had four such guns, and those of the ‘Somers’ class had eight such guns in four twin mounts. The torpedo armament of the preceding ‘Mahan’ and ‘Somers’ class ships had been three 21-in (533-mm) quadruple mountings, and of the ‘Somers’ class ships no fewer than four quadruple banks. All of the ‘Sims’ class destroyers were quite severely overweight, and this led the Bureau of Construction and Repair to propose a variety of torpedo revisions including the solution which was actually adopted, namely two banks of tubes on the centreline and the elimination of waist banks. The broadside was unchanged, and in fact now the after bank of tubes could be used in more severe weather. This suggestion was accepted in September 1939, and some of the later ships were completed to the new standard while the earlier ships had all been revised before the USA’s entry in World War II in December 1941. The tubes now surplus to requirement were installed on the new ‘Atlanta’ class of light anti-aircraft cruisers. The anti-submarine armament was quite inadequate, for it comprised only two racks for 10 depth charges.

Last ‘third-generation’ class
The ‘Sims’ class destroyers thus represented the sixth and last class of the ‘third-generation’ 1,500-ton destroyers whose entry to service was a major element in the modernisation of the US Navy in the 1930s. The ships were the last US destroyers built with a single engine room, changed with the Benson-class destroyers for increased survivability. They were also the first US destroyers to feature a new and longer type of hull that presaged those of the larger and faster destroyer classes which were built in very large numbers in World War II.

The ‘Sims’ class marked the introduction of the Mk 37 Gun Fire-Control System. Characterised by a turret-mounted gun director, this advanced system was controlled by a Ford Mk 1 Fire-Control Computer located deep in the hull, and this made possible the automatic aiming of the guns against both surface and air targets with first-hit solutions in near real-time. The system proved very effective, was steadily developed and used extensively for the control of the 5-in (127-mm) guns on destroyers and larger ships, and remained in service on US ships until the 1970s.

One important reason why the ships were produced overweight at the engineering plant was due to poor communications between the overall design authority (the Bureau of Construction and Repair) and the machinery authority (the Bureau of Engineering). The two authorities were therefore amalgamated into the new Bureau of Ships in 1940, though this arrangement left untouched the autonomy of the Bureau of Ordnance, which was responsible for armour, guns and gun mountings.

Paving the way
In effect the ‘Sims’ class destroyers in their definitive form were the prototypes for the ‘Benson’, ‘Gleaves’ and ‘Livermore’ class destroyers which were built in large numbers and paved the way to the classic ‘Fletcher’ and ‘Allen M. Sumner’ classes.

Pairs of the ships were built on the east coast of the USA by the Bath Iron Works, Federal, Newport News, Boston Navy Yard and Norfolk Navy Yard, and single ships by the Charleston and Philadelphia Navy Yards for launch between April 1938 and October 1939 as Sims, Hughes, Anderson, Hammann, Mustin, Russell, O’Brien, Walke, Morris, Roe, Wainwright and Buck. The whole class served in the Atlantic before the USA’s entry into the war, and modifications effected to improve the ships’ capability for escort work included the elimination of the No. 3 5-in (127-mm) gun in favour of a Y-gun and automatic weapons, and at a later time all received an enhanced anti-aircraft capability in the form of a twin 40-mm Bofors mounting in the former No. 3 position, and four 20-mm cannon. In 1945 Mustin, Russell and Morris were refitted with two more twin 40-mm guns in place of the torpedo tubes, and in Russell the two single 20-mm cannon were replaced by twin cannon.

In World War II Sims, Hammann, O’Brien and Walke were sunk by the Japanese, and Buck by the Germans. Three of the seven survivors were undergoing overhauls at the end of the war, and were left unfinished and ultimately scrapped. The remaining four seaworthy ships were used as targets during the 1946 Operation ‘Crossroads’ atomic weapon tests at Bikini atoll: Anderson was sunk by the first blast, while Hughes, Mustin and Wainwright were damaged in the trials and later sunk as targets two years later.


‘Sims’ class destroyer

Type: destroyer

Displacement: 1,764 tons standard and 2,313tons full load

Dimensions: length 348 ft 4 in (106.17 m) overall; beam 36 ft 0 in (10.97 m); draught 13 ft 4 in (4.06 m)

Machinery: three Babcock & Wilcox boilers delivering steam to two Westinghouse geared steam turbines delivering 50,000 shp (372800 kW) to two shafts

Performance: speed 37.7 kt; range 7,470 miles (12035 km) at 12 kt with 459 tons of fuel

Complement: 192 in peace and 251 in war

Armament: five (later four) 5-in (127-mm) L/38 dual-purpose guns in five (later four) single mounts, four 0.5-in (127-mm) anti-aircraft machine guns in single mounts, and 12 or eight 21-in (533-mm) torpedo tubes in three or two quadruple banks, and two racks for 10 depth charges