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News from a wargamer with a special interest in the military history of the Balkans. It mainly covers my current reading and wargaming projects. For more detail you can visit the web sites I edit - Balkan Military History and Glasgow & District Wargaming Society. Or follow me on Twitter @Balkan_Dave
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Saturday 2 December 2023

US Navy Gun Destroyers 1948-1988

 This is a new Osprey Vanguard book by Mark Stille looking at the post-war gun US destroyers before the missile became the primary weapon system for this class of surface warship. They are the forgotten warships of the Cold War, as most were built in WW2 and at least partially modernised to meet new threats. Even after leaving USN service, the Fletcher, Sumner, and Gearing classes continued serving worldwide in many foreign navies. My particular interest is in the ships that transferred to the Turkish and Hellenic navies.

The Fletcher class was the most successful, with 175 built. They had adequate room to retain a main battery of five 5in guns and ten torpedo tubes and accept an increase in 40mm and 20mm anti-aircraft guns. Most were deactivated after WW2 but brought back and modernised after Korea. Successor to the Fletcher class was the Sumner–Gearing class. The Sumner class kept the same dimensions as the Fletcher class but possessed a slightly larger beam. This allowed the fitting of a heavier main battery arranged in triple twin gun turrets. 58 of these warships were built as an interim design. The ultimate USN World War II destroyer design was the Gearing class. These were simply Sumner-class units with the addition of a 14ft section, used primarily for fuel bunkerage. 98 Gearings were built, and they operated into the 1980s. The Forrest Sherman class was the last USN all-gun destroyer, and many were converted into missile destroyers during the late 1960s. They were faster with better seakeeping qualities.

By the late 1950s. Many ships had been in constant service since 1945. Cost precluded replacements, so the USN rebuilt many of them, mostly Sumner and Gearing classes, to extend their service lives. This became the Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization (FRAM) program. FRAM I work focused on the Gearings, improving the ships’ ASW capabilities – two Mk 32 triple torpedo launchers were added along with an ASROC launcher and other electronic ASW equipment. FRAM II focused on the Sumners with similar ASW upgrades but without the ASROC launcher because they didn't have space being shorter ships.

These ships fought in the Korean and Vietnam wars. Several also took part in the Cuba blockade and the intervention in Lebanon. During the early phases of the Cold War, carrier escort duties were performed predominantly by the gun destroyers built during and in the immediate aftermath of World War II. There was no real surface fleet threat, so they focused on anti-submarine and anti-aircraft warfare. However, their main fighting role remained shore bombardment.

Five Fletcher Class destroyers transferred to Turkey in the late 1960s and served until the 1980s. Two Sumners transferred in the early 1970s, just before the Cyprus conflict, and these served into the 1990s. Ten Gearings came to Turkey during the 1970s and early 1980s. This included the TCG Kocatepe (D-354), which was sunk by friendly fire in 1974 off Cyprus. The friendly fire incident occurred because the Hellenic Navy also received the same class of ships. These included six Fletchers and eight Gearings. Most of these ships served until the 1990s.

This book covers all the gun destroyers built for the US Navy. It describes each class and their armament and roles. It doesn't cover their service in other navies, which is a shame, but I suspect space constraints are the main reason. As expected in this series, it is profusely illustrated with drawings and colour plates. 

My Turkish fleet in 1/3000 for the Cyprus conflict includes Gearing and Fletcher classes.

And the matching Hellenic fleet for 'what-if' actions. 

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