Life on a Fletcher Class Destroyer in the 1950’s

Life on a Fletcher Class Destroyer in the 1950’s

The author served in USS Halsey Powell (DD 686), shown here in an undated post-World War II photo. NHHC image NH 91903.

Life on a Fletcher Class Destroyer in the 1950’s

This is the first of a series of articles describing life in the 1950s on a World War II built Fletcher Class Destroyer. My connection to these ships began as I was approaching graduation from the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in August of 1956. Due to a change in legislation it was suddenly announced that all of my class would be required to serve on active duty in the Navy for 3 years upon graduation. My orders turned out to be to the USS Halsey Powell (DD 686), a Fletcher Class Destroyer home ported in San Diego, California. At the time I had not quite reached my 21 st birthday.

The Fletcher class destroyers were authorized as part of the 1941-42 Shipbuilding Program. They incorporated many lessons learned from earlier classes of destroyers built during the 1930s and in the early stages of World War II, particularly relating to stability and sea keeping ability. During the 1930s, the Navy had produced a succession of “step deck” destroyer designs with raised forecastles. But the Fletcher Class reverted to a “flush deck” design like the destroyers of World War I. Most of the ships were initially assigned to the Pacific Fleet where they were to play a major role in the war.

A total of 175 Fletcher Class Destroyers were commissioned between 4 June 1942 and 22 February 1945. The lead ship of the class was USS Fletcher (DD 445). Hull numbers ranged between 445 and 691 plus an additional block between 792 and 804. The ships were built in 11 different shipyards. A total of 19 ships of the class were lost to war action and 6 more were damaged beyond repair. My ship, USS Halsey Powell (DD 686) was built at Bethlehem Steel, Staten Island. It was commissioned in October 1943.

  • Length – 376.5′
  • Beam – 39’7”
  • Draft – 18′
  • Standard Displacement – 2150 Tons
  • Screws – 2
  • Rudders – 1
  • Power – 60,000 HP
  • Design Speed – 36 Knots
  • Range – 4790 nautical miles at 15.8 knots

The Main Battery consisted of five single dual purpose (Surface to surface and Anti-Air) 5”/38 Gun Mounts. Two mounts were located forward and three aft. Mounts were numbered consecutively from forward to aft (51, 52, 53, 54, and 55). These mounts had a firing rate up to 18 rounds per minute. Effective range was 17,306 yards at 45° elevation and altitude of 32,250 feet at 85° elevation. The total crew for reach mount was approximately 20, counting personnel in the mount, upper and lower handling rooms, and projectile & powder magazines. The guns used semi-fixed ammunition (projectile and powder loaded separately). Guns could be fired using radar, computer generated, or visual information. All training, elevation, and firing was normally controlled from the Mk 37 Director on top of the pilot house. However all loading functions were accomplished manually. There was a 5 inch loading machine on the main idships that replicated the loading mechanism of the guns. These were used for training gun crews.

Occasionally I was assigned duties as check sight observer during live firing exercises. My purpose was to look through a telescope and ensure that the gun was pointed where it should be. This was an assignment that I absolutely loathed.

The destroyer was originally conceived as a counter to high speed torpedo boats around the turn of the century. The first US Navy destroyer was USS Bainbridge (DD 1), which entered service in 1903. By the time of World War I, the destroyer had become a major part of the fleet. During that war its primary duties were convoy escort and antisubmarine patrol. Originally, the primary purpose of the ships was to deliver torpedoes against surface targets and this thinking carried over into World War II. Therefore, the Fletchers were originally fitted with two five tube surface to surface torpedo mounts, each located immediately aft of one of the stacks. As the threat imposed by aircraft became more apparent, one of the mounts was later removed and replaced with anti-aircraft protection.

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