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Book Review
US Destroyers 1934-45 Pre-war
Osprey New Vanguard 162 – US Destroyers 1934-1945 Pre-war classes
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by: Scott Espin [ SPIFF ]

Model Shipwrights


“US Destroyers 1934-45: Pre-war classes” is number 162 in Osprey’s New Vanguard series. The New Vanguard books explore the design, development, operation and history of the machinery of warfare throughout the ages. This book is volume one of a two-volume study on US World War II Destroyers by Dave McComb, the president of the Destroyer History Foundation. This book was released January 26th, 2010. Volume 2 “US Destroyers 1942-45: Wartime Classes” is scheduled to be released April 2010. This book looks at the design history and gives an operational overview of these early Destroyers which played such a vital role for the US Navy in WWII.

The Book

“US Destroyers 1934-45: Pre-war classes” by Dave McComb, illustrated by Paul Wright is book number 162 in the Osprey New Vanguard Series. The book is in the typical format we’ve come to expect with the New Vanguard series. The book measures 9.6 x 7.1 x .2 inches and contains 48 pages of text, black and white photos, tables and color profiles. It is bound in a nice glossy paperback cover with some nice artwork and photos on the front and back covers. I must admit I really like the look and feel of the book. The fonts and overall layout are really nice, well organized and easy to see.

The first chapter is an introduction which gives a brief historical background of the years leading up to WWII including the various arms limitation treaties and the political climate of the time as it pertains to the world’s Navies.

Design and Development
The next chapter, “Design and Development” focuses specifically on each of the pre-war Destroyer classes; Farragut, Mahan, Dunlap, Bagley, Gridley, Benham, Porter, Somers, Sims, Benson and Gleaves. It begins by outlining the process in the US at the time for building new warships. Congress had to authorize construction of new ships and then separately appropriate the funds. After that, the Secretary of the Navy, with input from a General Board of Senior Admirals, would approve the contracts and turn them over for design to three independent technical bureaus. The Construction and Repair bureau designed the hull and fittings, Engineering designed the propulsion and auxiliary machinery and Ordnance designed the armament. The author goes on to discuss US Navy destroyer doctrine and development during the 20s and 30s.

The book continues on with information on each of the various Destroyer classes built under the 1932 through 1940 Fiscal programs. Each of the classes have their own section with information on the key characteristics and points of interest, including such things as the cost, dimensions, armament, and powerplant, as well as the improvements incorporated into each succeeding class. The hull numbers, ship names and construction locations are documented in tables and there are black and white photos of each class. This section of the book is organized as follows:

•The Treaty Classes: 1,500-Ton Destroyers
Fiscal years 1932 and 1933: the Farragut class
Fiscal year 1934: the Mahan class
Fiscal year 1935: the Dunlap, Bagley, and Gridley classes
Fiscal year 1936: the Benham class and two more Gridleys

• The Treaty Classes: 1,850-Ton Destroyer Leaders
Fiscal year 1934: the Porter class
Fiscal years 1935 and 1936: the Somers class

• The Post-Treaty Classes
Fiscal year 1937: the Sims class
Fiscal years 1938-40: the Benson and Gleaves classes

Toward a Two-Ocean War
The next chapter “Toward a Two-Ocean War” begins with a publicity stunt to show off the Navy’s engineering accomplishments. In June of 1939, two months before her commissioning, the destroyer Hammann (belonging to the as of yet untested Sims class) embarked with members of the press in New York Harbor. Her boilers were fired up to an operating temp of 850 °F, then the Hammann proceeded to flawlessly execute a run up to 40 knots, came to a complete stop in 50 seconds, reversed and proceeded 22 knots in reverse in only 20 seconds. The stunt successfully ended any criticisms of the Navy’s destroyer program. As the various destroyer classes evolved, each succeeding class became a little more top heavy. Modifications were done such as adding ballast and lightening top weight. Some of the Sims class had their 3rd 5-inch gun removed and the wing torpedo tubes replaced with centerline mounts. Some of the Destroyers had modifications done to their rear turrets all in the interest of lightening top weight. The developments in radar technology and anti-aircraft defense are discussed. When Germany invaded Poland September 1, 1939, President Roosevelt declared a limited emergency and Congress passed the “Two-Ocean Navy” Act of July 19, 1940 which authorized the construction of an additional 115 destroyers. This section is organized as follows:

• Modifications
Antiaircraft defense

• Mobilization
Fiscal years 1941 and 1942: repeat Benson and Gleaves classes

Destroyers in Action
The biggest chapter in the book, “Destroyers in Action”, goes into detail on various significant Destroyer actions in the Atlantic, Mediterranean and the Pacific. There are some great charts which list the Destroyer Squadrons, divisions and the destroyers in each during 1942-43. Key encounters are mentioned along with some of the nuances particular to each campaign. This chapter is organized as follows:

• The Atlantic and Mediterranean
The Battle of the Atlantic
North Africa and Europe

• The Pacific
New Georgia
Vella Gulf
The Aleutian Islands
Across the Pacific

There are 8 beautiful color profiles in the book:
1. USS Wainwright (DD419) 1944
2. USS Hilary P. Jones (DD427) 1944
3. USS Ralph Talbot (DD390) 1943
4. USS Sterett (DD407) 1943
5. USS Dewey (DD349) 1944
6. USS Smith (DD378) 1944
7. USS Landsdowne (DD 486) 1945
8. USS Ellyson (DMS 19) 1945

There are several beautiful color prints included. One depicts the USS Tillman under attack from an Hs.293 radio-controlled glider bomb launched from a Dornier Do. 217. Another is of six 1,500 ton destroyers maneuvering into an anti-aircraft circle en route to Vella Gulf.

There is a nice two page layout of USS Morris (DD417) as she appeared in 1942 with cutaway views and key components and areas of the ship.

Looking Back
The final chapter “Looking Back” summarizes the vital role these early destroyers played in World War II, especially as test beds for advances in technology and development of the tactics that helped make the later classes of US Destroyers so successful. Many were lost during the dangerous early years of the war but many persevered all the way to the end distinguishing themselves admirably.

The book wraps everything up with a bibliography and a table in an appendix that lists the dimensions and design specifications of each of the destroyer classes covered in the book along with another table that lists the key recognition features of each class.


I found this book to be an excellent introduction to the pre-war classes of US Destroyers. The information on their design, development and operational use will be of interest to anyone wanting to learn more about US Destroyers in WWII. The book is well organized, attractive and contains an amazing amount of information in just 48 pages. I highly recommend this book.
Highs: Excellent quality, loaded with information, nice pictures and artwork.
Lows: Some may consider the Osprey books a little pricey.
Verdict: It’s an interesting read and packs in a lot of great information on US Destroyers.
Percentage Rating
  Scale: Other
  Mfg. ID: ISBN 978-1-84603-443-5
  Suggested Retail: MSRP $17.95 US
  Related Link: Official Company Website
  PUBLISHED: Feb 11, 2010
  NATIONALITY: United States

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About Scott Espin (Spiff)

I have been an avid student of military history for over 35 years, especially World War II with my focus mostly on German military equipment (tanks and aircraft). I'm especially interested in anything relating to the Eastern Front and North Africa. My Dad ignited my passion for modeling when I...

Copyright ©2020 text by Scott Espin [ SPIFF ]. Images also by copyright holder unless otherwise noted. Opinions expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of Historicus Forma or Silver Star Enterprises. All rights reserved.


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