One problem of having a huge industrial base capable of turning out warships at comparatively lightning speed is that sheer numbers produced during a war inhibit further development of those types of warships after the war. Of course most countries would love to have the industrial base to allow mass production of warships but only in the United States was mass production of warships realized to its greatest capacity. At the end of both world wars the USN had a glut of new construction that in effect became a millstone for further development. After all, why should Congress want to fund any new aircraft carriers after WWII when the USN still had all of those fine Essex Class ships, not to mention the three big Midway Class already purchased.
In the 1920s the USN was in same situation when it came to new destroyer construction. Congress was not in the mood to fund new destroyer designs. Why fund new destroyer designs when the USN was sitting on 300 perfectly good flush deck destroyers purchased for World War One? After all, most were extremely low mileage and went from the builders straight to reserve, since they were delivered after the war was over. Congress was more than happy to just count numbers and not look a quality or what was being developed for other navies. The staff for the U.S. Navy could not afford to do so. As the 1920s progressed, it was clear that every major navy was making significant advances in destroyer design and capabilities. The Royal Navy, which had their own glut of late war V&W Class ships had started introducing newer more capable designs. France was building some large super-destroyers and most worrisome, Japan had introduced the Fubuki "Special Type" destroyer. Of course the Japanese special became the Japanese standard as Japan saw the manifest silliness of continued building of obsolete designs when you had a superior design on hand. The USN could only watch as Congress simply counted numbers and turned down destroyer construction.
However, the leadership of the USN could do something. If they couldn’t get Congress to fund new construction, at least they could get the different navy boards to submit the characteristics that they would like to see in a new destroyer design. The results were interesting as they reflected different theories of destroyer operations. In early 1927 a base or control design was developed. This design was of 1,600 tons, 34 knots and armed with four long barrel 5-inch/51, one 3-inch/50 AA and twelve 21-inch torpedoes. To get the torpedoes on centerline the base plan called for two six fish mounts with three tubes over and three tubes under in each mount. These plans were sent throughout the fleet to draw comment. Commander of Destroyers liked it and pressed for an immediate lobbying campaign on Congress. However, he wanted to change the guns to 5-inch/25 so that the torpedo fit could be four triple mounts and the main guns could provide AA coverage. Additionally that would free up space because a separate 3-inch AA gun would not be needed. The commander of the battlefleet also liked the concept of the 5-inch/25, the same gun as used on the Treaty Cruisers, as the main armament. He likewise saw that this would greatly augment the fleet’s AA capability. The Bureau of Ordnance also liked the 5-inch/25 as the 4-inch guns on the flushdeckers already could shoot farther than the ability of the destroyers to effectively direct their fire. There was no need for a long-range gun if it could not be accurately directed at long range. Ordnance did not like the six-torpedo mount. They considered it far too heavy and urged an improved three-tube mount or a new four-tube mount. Even the Bureau of Aeronautics chimed in with their preferred design. The Airedales wanted a modified flush-deck design with the entire stern dominated by a catapult turntable for two seaplanes. However, the whole exercise came to nothing as Congress turned a deaf ear to the pleas of the navy.
The inter-bureau discussion of optimum characteristics continued. Director of War Plans didn’t like the 5-inch/25 because he felt that ships so armed would be vulnerable to foreign destroyers in a gunfight. Director Fleet Training much preferred the AA abilities of the 5-inch/25 over the anti-surface capabilities of the 5-inch/51. Ordnance had made somewhat of a flip-flop. Now they wanted large destroyers with the 5-inch/51, able to take on the large foreign destroyer designs. However, throughout this there was a group of officers that thought the question of gun caliber was immaterial. For them the reason for the existence and prime power of the destroyer came with its torpedoes.
In 1930 new discussions had broken out concerning three possible designs. One was a destroyer leader of 1,850 tons with four 5-inch/25 guns and two quad torpedo mounts with reloads; a 1,500 design that dropped to two triple mounts and lastly a small 1,375 design that carried triple mounts at waist positions. Since the USN had fielded torpedo squadrons on their carriers, destroyer launched torpedo attacks were seen as much more remote and gunpower to match foreign designs was seen as the prime consideration. Finally in February 1931 Congress funded five new destroyers for the FY32 Program with another three for FY33. This resulted in the Farragut Class, which emphasized surface firepower with five 5-inch/38 as the perfect compromise between the 5-inch/25 and 5-inch/51 crowds as the 38 caliber weapon was exactly half way between the poles. Torpedoes would be carried in two quadruple mounts on centerline. It was with the Farraguts that US designers first started coming so close to the 1,500 ton London Treaty limit for standard destroyers, that further development of the design would be hindered.
The FY34 Program saw a greatly expanded naval program. With the country in a depression and FDR in the White House, the former Assistant to the Secretary of the Navy saw increased naval spending as perfect for not only increasing the navy but also adding jobs. FY34 called for 16 ships in the Mahan Class. The class added a third quadruple set of tubes so that one mount was on centerline and two in side positions. However, the raised centerline mount had problems. Torpedoes fired from that position would sometimes not clear the ship. They would strike the side deck before hitting the water, ruining the torpedo. The Mahan class made minor improvements to the Farragut design with one major improvement. The Mahans introduced an advance in propulsion.
It was decided to use the most advanced and powerful power plants available. This was partly prompted by a difficulty found in planning the Mahan class. Major builders wanted to stay with the old Parson’s turbine technology and did not want to use new fangled turbine technology based on Westinghouse designs for land based turbines. To overcome this foot-dragging, small firms with no preconceptions were chosen as the initial builders. They were just happy to get the contracts and would build anything the navy asked. Three builders were awarded contracts for the first six ships. Prior procedure was to select one of the builders to prepare working plans for all ships in the class. However, because of their small size, none of the three chosen companies had a sufficient in-house design staff. Accordingly, the navy entered into a contract with the design firm of Gibbs and Cox of New York. Since Gibbs and Cox had designed passenger ships incorporating advanced propulsion systems, the USN required that these be worked into the design. The maximum rotation of the Farragut’s turbines was 3,460 rpm, while the new design used in the Mahans was 5,850 rpm. The plant also utilized very high-pressure steam. The design was compact and allowed 50,000shp from a machinery space that former had produced 42,8000shp. Some critics thought that this powerful plant was too complex and would be a nightmare to maintain. The service of the Mahan class proved them wrong, as later it was said of the Mahans’ plant, "the most rugged and reliable of any main drive installation ever installed in the Navy up to that time." However, trial top speed jumped from 35-knots with Farragut to 38-knots with Mahan. Additionally the new machinery was more efficient than Parson’s turbines. Not only did maximum speed jump upwards, but new plants increased the cruising range to 8,730nm from the 7,400nm of the Farragut. From this point Gibbs and Cox became a prime design firm for the USN.
The Mahan class was also designed for greater stress than the Farragut class. This decision was also criticized. Many said that Mahan could not use her extra power because high/stress, light construction would permit too much vibration. They argued that the frame should be reinforced and the weight needed for this strengthening should come from reducing the gun armament to four 5-inch mounts or by reducing torpedo mount to three tubes, rather than four tubes. Other changes were cosmetic, including the introduction of a crew shelter located between the bridge and number 2 mount. In 1934 all 16 vessels in the class were laid down and they joined the fleet in 1936 and 1937. They were also initially given a light tripod foremast instead of the pole mast in the Farragut. This tripod was a design feature for that year because the large destroyers of the Porter class leaders of that year also used tripods. In theory the use of the tripod would enhance AA gun coverage. Pole masts required cable stays, which interrupted the lines of fire of the .50 machine guns and DP 5-inch guns. Tripods used the strength provided by the support legs rather than cable stays and the legs were closer inboard. To improve the efficiency of the gun crews, two crew shelters were worked into the design. One was forward in front of the bridge and the other was aft on the shelter deck between guns #3 and #4. These shelters also provided to be the base for light AA gun positions. Two .50 machine guns was mounted on top of each shelter.
Originally FY35 called for another twelve destroyers based on the Mahan design but it would work out differently. Two of the twelve were indeed slightly improved Mahans, as the Fanning and Dunlap, the big difference being totally enclosed forward guns. However, the other ten became the torpedo-man’s dream, designs that emphasized the torpedo over the gun. Bethlehem Steel of Quincy, Massachusetts developed a design that dropped the guns to four 5-inch/38 but in turn added a fourth quadruple 21-inch torpedo mounts with two mounts on each side. To increase deck space the design carried only one stack with massive trunks carrying the exhaust from the boilers to the stack. Bethlehem received an order for two of these ships, Gridley DD-380 and Craven DD-382. The Torpedo School had developed new combat theories to fire all sixteen torpedoes en masse. Called "curved ahead fire" the eight torpedoes on the unengaged side would have their gyros set to have the torpedoes run in a semicircle ahead or behind the firing ship, so that in theory, one of these torpedo-men’s delights could fire a massive volley of sixteen torpedoes. In theory it looked good but by the summer of 1942 with the defects of American torpedoes apparent, if I were the skipper of one of the four mount destroyers, I would have had a severe case of the willies in setting the torpedoes available at that time to circle ahead of my ship. But that was in the future, what mattered at the time was that the torpedo enthusiasts finally had the destroyer that they thought was optimized for offensive action. Further with all mounts positioned on the wings, there was no problem of torpedoes clearing the side of the ship.
However, the other eight 1,500-tonners of the FY35 Program were to be built to plans prepared by the Bureau of Construction and Repair. These plans, although they generally agreed with the Bethlehem plans had some differences. This group of a slightly different design created some confusion. Were they to be in the same class as the Gridley and Craven or were they to be a different class. The navy determined that the eight units of the Bagley Class DD-386 through 393 were listed as a different class from the Gridley. In appearance the Gridleys had much less prominent uptakes or trunks and they were configured in an asymmetrical arrangement. In contrast the Bagleys had a huge set of symmetrical uptakes, trunked very high at the stack. The Gridley stack was also slightly wider and flatter. The Bagleys had the most prominent stack trunking of any USN destroyer. As it turned out there were other significant differences in stability between the two variants, that played a large role during World War Two. The FY36 Program added another twelve 1,500-tonners this time in two variants. Another two ships of the Gridley design were built by Bethlehem, San Francisco with McCall DD-400 and Maury DD-401. This completed the Gridley Class with a total of four units.
The other ten 1,500-tonners were of a new design of Gibbs and Cox based on the same hull lines as the Gridley and classified as the Benham Class DD-397-399 and DD-402-408. The Benhams had exactly the same gun and torpedo armament as the Gridley and Bagley designs. However, appearance changed in that the size of the stack trunking and stack decreased because only three boilers were shipped rather than the four of the two earlier designs. With the Benham Class the reign of the torpedo-men ended. For two years, through three classes, there were 22 destroyers built by the USN that featured the same armament arrangement of four 5-inch guns and sixteen 21-inch torpedoes in four quad wing mounts, four Gridleys, eight Bagleys and ten Benhams. Before the war the Benhams appear to have had the open spaces between their uptake trunks faired over to present a solid pyramid structure for the base of the stack.
The next design was the Sims class. This design used the Benham design as the starting point but significantly reduced the size and height of the superstructure. This saved weight, which could be used for other purposes, as well as reducing wind resistance. Since the standard destroyer design was already at 1,500-tons, any new design could emphasize gun power or torpedoes but not both. The Gridley, Bagley and Benham designs had emphasized torpedo batteries. However, the Sims design shifted away from the emphasis on the torpedo battery of the three prior designs. The FY37 design went back to a compromise between the gun school and the torpedo school. The Sims Class reverted to the three quadruple tube arrangement of the Mahan Class (one centerline and two wing mounts) and reintroduced the fifth 5-inch gun position. However, as a sop to the torpedo-men provisions were made for limited reloads.
Also with the signing on the London Treaty in 1935 a more robust hull could be provided than the earlier designs that had been constrained by the 1,500-ton limit. Although, there was an overall cap, the individual designs were now allowed to go up to 3,000 tons. The Sims class did retain the characteristic one funnel of the three preceding classes and there was a comparatively slight rise in displacement from the Benham class with the Sims coming in at 1,570-tons. Twelve Sims class were built and could be distinguished from other on stackers by their five guns, fewer torpedoes and rounded bridge, another stream-lining feature to reduce wind resistance. All were completed by 1940. Even with the reduction in superstructure the class was still top heavy. The wing torpedo mounts were landed and a second centerline quadruple mount added.
Eight destroyers were authorized for the FY-1938 program. This was to be a further refinement of the Sims class. The basic Sims hull was used but another fifty tons were added to the displacement to strengthen the hull. It was in the realm of the machinery plant that this new class, the Bensons, diverged significantly from the Sims. The USN knew that the Japanese warships generally featured a heavy torpedo battery. The machinery plant on previous designs had boilers forward of the turbines. A torpedo hit to the boiler room would deprive the steam to the turbines, rendering the ship dead in the water. The same result would happen with a hit to the engine spaces. In order to better survive a single torpedo hit the Benson class used the separated the boilers and engines and paired one set of boilers with one turbine. With this staggered arrangement of boiler-engine and a second set of boiler-engine it was reasoned that a single torpedo hit would only disable on of the units, with the surviving boiler-engine unit still providing power to the ship. This layout stretched out the machinery spaces and with the Bensons, USN destroyers went back to a two-funnel design. Instead of two quadruple torpedo mounts, the Benson class introduced a quintuple mount with two centerline mounts. Light AA defense jumped from four .50 machine guns to six, which would still prove hopelessly inadequate. There was an internal argument over which firm would draw up the working plans, which would be uses for the entire class. The Bethlehem proponent won out and they in turn requested a departure from the engineering plant design. This only made the losing side who favored high temperature Bath Ironworks/Gibbs and Cox machinery, even more unhappy. This intramural fight over engineering plant design would spin off another, almost identical class, which would have more ships built to this design than any other prewar class. Two of the Benson class were built by Bath with the high temperature machinery.
The following design was the Gleaves class, whose major external difference with the Benson class was the stack appearance. The Bensons had flat-sided funnels and the Gleaves class had round funnels. Originally the 1939 Program called for only eight of these ships. Protection against machine gun fire was to be given to the bridge and gun director. Internally the new design had a new high temperature 850-degree steam plant, which generated a higher pressure for the steam for the turbines, which had been the Bath Ironworks/Gibbs and Cox proposal for the Benson class. On December 19, 1938 another eight ships of the Gleaves class were approved for the FY1940 Program. The next summer World War Two erupted in Europe and in the Pacific Japan became even more aggressive. Already in preparation was a new design, which would be much larger and a clear break from Farragut to Gleaves designs. This design would eventually become the Fletcher class but it wasn’t ready for production yet. With the deteriorating political situation the USN could not wait to begin mass production of destroyers. The Gleaves design, as the latest available, was reordered and reordered and reordered. In the summer of 1940 twelve more Gleaves were ordered. Other Gleaves orders followed with fifteen in September 1940, 41 in December 1940 and a final four in February 1941.
By early 1940 early war reports from Europe indicated that the machine gun defenses of the Benson/Gleaves classes was hopelessly inadequate against low-level attack. The USN had been studying the Swedish designed Bofors 40mm gun since 1939 and recognized that it was superior to the US 1.1-inch or RN pom-pom. However, it wasn’t until June 1941 that a contract was signed authorizing US production of the Bofors, as well as US production of the Swiss 20mm Oerlikon. In the meantime it was recommend that 1.1-inch and additional .50 machine guns be added to the Gleaves design until the Bofors and Oerlikons became available. Starting with the USS Bristol DD-453 of the summer 1940 order, the Gleaves was redesigned to carry only four 5-inch/38 mounts to allow a heavier AA armament. This mix and match of armament plants and armament there was some uncertainty about class names. The FY1938 Bethlehem designed ships were always the Benson class but the FY1939 Bath high temperature design ships were originally called the Livermore class. However, two of the FY1938 ships were built with the high temperature plants so the round funnel high temperature design eventually came to be called the Gleaves class after the FY1938 ship. With the reduction to four guns, the Bristol class designation was used for this sub-variant for awhile but by late in the war most Benson and Gleaves destroyers were down to four turrets for more AA, so the final class designations became Benson and Gleaves classes.
This short fall between the AA ordnance desired and the AA ordnance available led to a bewildering variety of fits for the Gleaves class in 1941 through 1943. Some four gun ships had their torpedo armament reduced to one quintuple mount but added a 1.1-inch Chicago Piano and up to six 20mm Oerlikons. Early five gun ships had less flexibility and just added Oerlikons and some just added more machine guns. For the five gun ships the second torpedo mount was removed to allow for the installation of a Y-gun, extended depth charge racks and four more .50 machine guns. In August 1941 the paper requirement for all completing four gun Gleaves class destroyers war: four 5-inch/38 DP guns; one quintuple 21-inch torpedo tube mount; two twin 40mm Bofors and four 20mm Oerlikons, which by 1943 was a standard of two tin Bofors and seven Oerlikons. This looked great on paper but the new weapons weren’t ready. Therefore completing ships whatever was handy slapped onto them. In 1944 a kamikaze fit for the Benson and Gleaves classes called for the landing of all torpedo tubes and any fifth 5-inch gun turret. This allowed for two 40mm twins, two quadruple 40mm mounts, plus a mixture of single and twin 20mm Oerlikons. Of all of the prewar destroyers, only the Benson/Gleaves design continued into service after World War Two.
Operational History of USS Laffey
Battle of Cape Esperance
On October 11, 1942 Admiral Goto was making another run down the slot. Rear Admiral Scott was in command of the allied ships awaiting Goto’s force. Scott, now with his flag on San Francisco, had four cruisers and the DesRon 12 composed of five destroyers. Goto had three heavy cruisers and eight destroyers. Scott formed his force in a single column with three destroyers in the van, then his cruisers and at the rear, the other two destroyers. Laffey was the last of the three van destroyers behind Farenholt and Duncan. The flagship San Francisco was following behind Laffey. Helena with her SG radar, last in line of the four cruisers, was the first to pick up Goto at 2325. Scott wasn’t even using the SC radar of San Francisco for fear of radar interception revealing his location. This would not be the only time that Scott failed to appreciate the abilities of the new SG radar equipped ships. At 2332 Scott ordered his force to reverse course. The cruisers two aft destroyers formed one unit and the van three destroyers made a wider turn to catch up with the cruisers to their north before again resuming their place ahead of the cruisers. Boise, also equipped with SG radar, had also picked up Goto’s force and the destroyer Duncan, 2nd in the van destroyers, had also picked up the Japanese with her radar. As the destroyers started their turn towards the north Duncan thought the squadron commander in the leading Farenholt was going after the Japanese. So Duncan worked up to 30-knots and charged in, while Farenholt followed by Laffey continued their turn to run parallel with Scott’s cruisers.
Scott, who by now received separate messages from Helena and Boise of radar contacts, was uncertain as to the identity of the contacts. Were they Japanese or were they the three van destroyers trying to catch up? The commander of Helena was certain that these were Japanese, as his radar had made this contact before the turn. He eagerly requested to open fire with the radio message "Interrogatory Roger", which was a code for permission to open fire. Unfortunately the code also had another meaning, which was confirmation that Helena’s previous message of radar contact was received. Scott replied "Roger", which Scott sent to acknowledge receipt of the prior message but which Helena interpreted as granting permission for Helena to blaze away with her fifteen six-inch guns. Finally one of the gun slinging Brooklyn class could show what she could do with her fifteen rapid firing six-inchers. Just to be sure Helena repeated the request with the same answer. At 2346 both the six-inch main guns and 5-inch secondaries of Helena erupted in flame as she sent her initial wall of steel down range at the Japanese. Salt Lake City was only seconds behind Helena in opening up, followed by Boise. Even though range was down to 4,000-yards Goto was caught by surprise as none of his ships had radar. Farenholt and Laffey were caught in the middle with friendly shells screaming overhead from port and the Japanese close by to the starboard. Farenholt pressed on to get ahead of the cruisers but Laffey peeled back to fall astern of the US column. As Laffey made her turn, three of her 5-inch guns were pumping shells into Aoba, while the 4th gun lit up the Japanese heavy with star shells. Meanwhile Duncan had charged into the Japanese formation at a range of one mile.
One minute after Helena opened fire Scott ordered cease-fire. Scott was convinced that the targets were the three destroyers of the van. Goto too made the same mistake. He also ordered cease-fire as he thought that he was under fire by the Japanese supply force. By now Aoba and Furutaka were on fire and within seconds more American steel smashed into the Aoba’s bridge, killing Goto. American gunners were very slow in complying with Scott’s order and some never did and though Scott did not know it at the time, he had crossed the Japanese T. It took four minutes for Scott to verify the van destroyers positions. Now, certain the targets were Japanese, although Duncan and Farenholt had taken American hits, Scott ordered his ships to resume firing. Scott now eager to bag all of the Japanese swung his column to the northwest to parallel the retiring Japanese. Fubuki was sighted close inboard and was illuminated by American searchlights. She was then plastered by all of Scott’s ships. She went dead in the water, exploded and sank at 2353. Laffey participated in the mugging of the Fubuki. After that target was gone, Laffey charged off after Hatsuyuki, until that destroyer pulled out of sight in the darkness. At 2354 Furutaka took a torpedo hit, either from Buchanan or Duncan. At midnight Scott again ordered cease-fire. At this point only Farenholt and Duncan had suffered damage, while Fubuki was gone, Furutaka mortally wounded and Aoba on fire. Boise found a target, probably Aoba, and turned on her searchlight but this made an excellent aiming point, as Aoba and Kinugasa opened up on Boise. Salt Lake City deliberately came between the Japanese cruisers and the Boise, allowing the damaged Boise to retire. Boise was severely damaged as shell hits had ignited charges in her A turret. Both A and B turrets were lost as flames shot into the sky. Only the incoming seawater saved the ship by flooding her forward magazine. Scott terminated pursuit at 0028. By 0100 Helena, Buchanan and Laffey were back astern of San Francisco. The Battle of Cape Esperance had ended in an American victory with the Duncan the sole American loss, while the Japanese lost Furutaka and Fubuki. However, the victory could have been greater. In another month the same failure to place the cruisers with the best radar at the head of the line would cost Scott his life on Friday November 13. 1942. Laffey had come through with flying colors. Untouched, she had plastered Aoba and Fubuki and chased a second Japanese destroyer from the field.
The 1st Naval Battle of Guadalcanal
Helena, as at Cape Esperance, was again the first to catch the Japanese on her radar. The report was sent at 0124 reporting contacts at 27,000 and 32,000 yards. Three minutes later Callaghan ordered his column to turn to starboard to cross ahead of the Japanese at an angle, rather than run parallel to the Japanese port side. Callaghan kept asking for radar updates from the O’Bannon, fourth of the van destroyers, and Helena, fourth of the cruisers. Instead of masking them behind other ships, they should have been out front. With no radar the Japanese were unaware of the Americans’ presence. This all changed when the lead US destroyer, Cushing, sighted the two lead Japanese destroyers at less than two miles (3,000 yards) distance. At 0141 the van destroyers swung to port to free their torpedo tubes for a salvo of fish. This slowed the column and created a pile up. The lead cruiser was Atlanta, which could not turn as quickly as the four van destroyers. Callaghan, still clueless, signaled Atlanta, "What are you doing?" "Avoiding our own destroyers." Was the quick reply from Atlanta. The American formation was confused and jumbled but now alert to the presence of the Americans, the Japanese were calm and prepared for action.
The first American ship to be painted was Atlanta, which was lit up at 0150 by Japanese searchlights at 1,600 yards. Atlanta now found enemy ships on both sides and all of her turrets blazed away. However, she was the target of every Japanese ship that could reach her. Additionally when San Francisco, right behind her, opened up, one salvo of eight-inch shells hit Atlanta’s bridge, killing Scott and all but one of his staff. One or two torpedoes also struck and she was finished, dead in the water and mortally wounded. With this all attempts to have coherent formations disintegrated, as Japanese and American ships became intermingled. Cushing, the lead destroyer had her power controls knocked out, but when Hiei appeared to port used hand maneuvering to swing and fire six torpedoes at the Japanese battleship at the range of half a mile. In spite of the extremely short range, all torpedoes missed. Cushing was bathed in light and quickly reduced to a sinking wreck. Laffey passed the Hiei even closer than Cushing. It was so close that a collision between the American destroyer and Japanese battleship was barely averted. When she launched her torpedoes, she was too close, as the torpedoes did not have sufficient length of run to arm. They hit the Hiei but harmlessly bounced off. The 20mm Oerlikons and the quadruple 1.1-inch Chicago Piano of the Laffey blazed away at the Hiei’s pagoda soaring above them. Laffey’s future was short, two salvos of 14-inch shells slammed into her as well as a torpedo in her stern. Quickly abandoned, many of the surviving crewmen of Laffey were killed when the depth charges or magazines of Laffey exploded as she went under.
With American ships intermingled with his own, Admiral Abe on Hiei ordered a withdrawal. This was not the end of the battle as Hiei continued to be the target of concentrated American fire. San Francisco was mauled by gunfire and Portland took a torpedo. Of the four USN destroyers in the rear two were lost. Barton was blown in two by two torpedoes and Monssen was reduced to a wreck by gunfire. Eventually the fighting ended as the Japanese withdrew northward, except for Hiei, which had damaged steering and the damaged Japanese destroyer Yudachi. The Hiei was finished off the next morning just north of Savo Island by the Cactus Airforce of Henderson Field. As dawn broke the crippled Portland, which was steaming in circles sighted the burning Yudachi south of Savo at 12,500 yards and opened up. Six salvos consisting of 36 eight-inch shells screamed down range and at least one of them detonated in the Japanese destroyer’s magazine to the cheers of swimming US survivors. The Japanese had lost the Hiei and destoyers Yudachi and Akatsuki but the US lost Atlanta, Cushing, Laffey, Barton and Monssen, Admirals Callaghan and Scott and the cruiser Juneau sunk by the I-26 during the withdrawal from the battle. (History from: History of the United States Naval Operations in World War Two, various volumes, 1958, by Samuel Eliot Morison; United States Navy Destoyers of World War II, 1983, by John C. Reilly, Jr.; U.S. Destroyers, An Illustrated Design History, 1982, by Norman Friedman)
The Dragon Laffey
This is the 3rd of the line of Benson/Gleaves destroyers in 1:350 scale produced by Dragon. The first two were the Gleaves class USS Buchanan in 1942 and then 1945 fits. This is the first DML production of the Benson class variant. Although the square stacks of the Bethlehem design are the most noticeable distinguishing characteristics, there are other differences between the Buchanan and Laffey kits.The Laffey kit show her in her Guadalcanal appearance in the fall 1942 with an ad hoc AA armament of 20mm Oerlikons and a single quad 1.1-inch Chicago Piano, placed asymmetrically to port with a single Oerliokon to starboard on the aft shelter deck. With individual bulkheads and decks, you’ll have a lot of seams to smooth but the result should be fantastic. The differences between the 1942 Laffey and 1942 Buchanan are: (1) square vs round funnels with different aprons and caps; (2) open trunking to 2nd funnel vs trunking concealed by deck house; flat face 02 level vs rounded face 02 level; (4) Oerlikon positions on 01 deck, no overhang vs overhang.
Superstructure – Sprue A
The A sprue concentrates on superstructure. It has the forward shelter deck and bulkheads, as well as the bridge pieces. If you look at the photographs of the bulkhead parts, you’ll see why I have such a high opinion of this kit. Although the portholes are not completely open, they are very crisply executed, well defined, deeply recessed with the individual rigole or eyebrow. That same treatment is extended to bulkhead doors, whose openings are rimmed with a raised coaming. Doors are provided as separate parts. Bulkhead detail also includes gear of various types that were stored there. The decks are not just smooth plastic. They have an almost textured appearance. Splinter shields for the shelter deck Oerlikon positions are thin. The platform on the aft face of the bridge has support bracing underneath. Dragon includes optional funnels. The options have one set of funnels with molded on vertical ladder on sprue B and the other set without the cast-on vertical ladder for those wishing to use separate brass ladder. The second set of these funnels is found on sprue A. Stack detail includes steam pipes raised lips at the top and bottom. Separate flanged base fittings are also here. Other parts found on this sprue are ventilators, deck coamings and hatches, anchor windlass and other anchor deck fittings, bulkhead lockers, shelter deck breakwaters, binnacle and other navigation deck fittings, and the deck edge bulkheads running aft from the deck break with the characteristic drainage slots running along the bottom edge.
Shelter Decks - Sprue B
Main/Weather Deck – Sprue C
Torpedo Tubes and Anti-Aircraft Guns – Sprue D
Forget the four tube torpedo mount that is obviously for a kit planned for future release. The Gleaves class mounted quintuple tubes. The 1942 Buchanan has only one such mount, as enhanced AA mounts took up the other space and weight formerly occupied by the second mount, which was landed for most of the ships in the class. The torpedo mount has superb molded on detail. The anti-aircraft mounts are also on this sprue. Tired of telephone pole Oerlikons? Face it most Oerlikons found in plastic kits have a straight barrel the diameter of a telephone pole. With the DML Buchanan the Oerlikons are tapered and fine with separate solid pedestal mounts. Dragon provides optional plastic or brass gun shields. These guns even have individual ammunition canisters, another first. The 1.1-inch gun is nice but not quite as nice as the single Oerlikons. Other parts are the torpedo loading gear, bulkhead and deck lockers, and the three parts for the practice loader.
Radar and Guns - Sprues E, F, G, & J
A number of smaller sprues provide the detail for radar and guns. Sprue E has various solid radars but using photo-etch parts would be better. The gun director has multiple parts with separate front/top face and aft face. Separate mounting brackets and centerline bar for the included brass radar are included. Sprue F is very unusual. This sprue provides plastic forms for bending photo-etch. Two pieces allow bending ladders and other brass parts with crisp angles and the other two forms are for propeller guards. Two identical G sprues provide the main gun mounts. Each of these has two gun mounts with excellent detail on front, sides, rear and crown. Separate parts are for the mount base with support ribbing underneath. Two optional sets of guns are included. One set has blast bags and the other doesn’t. The small clear plastic J sprue has only two parts but it further reflects upon the great lengths to which Dragon went with this kit. These parts are the search light lenses.
Fittings – Sprue K
This large sprue provides all of the various fittings found on the ship. Lets start with the depth charge racks. If you look at the photographs, you’ll see that they have amazing detail. The end plates on the charges are convex with raised center boss, there are openings between the charges and raised detailed rack provides the relief for truly amazing plastic parts. Look at the carley rafts with float support ribbing and detailed grid bottom. OK, how about this, floater net baskets with the floats inside. You can make out the individual floats in each basket! How about the multiple pieces of the stern smoke generators. I will concede that the searchlight tower would be better if replaced by photo-etch, as the parts are solid without the open latticework of the short tower or railing around the position. How many other plastic kits provide separate closed chocks? Different pattern doors with dog detail or open portholes are on this sprue. Three-piece ship’s boats duplicate their appearance with canvas weather covers. Other parts are: davits; signal lamps; binocular mounts; flag bags; navigation lights; deck lockers; mainmast; yards; cable reels; and individual depth charges for the depth charge throwers.
Hull – Sprue L
This sprue has two parts, the upper and lower hull halves divided along the waterline. As mentioned earlier, the hull anchor hawse are open so you can attach the anchor chain to the anchors, run them through the open hull hawse, out the open deck hawse, around the windlass and into the chain locker. The top of the hull at the forecastle has a very slight knuckle, which flattens a little further back along the deck. The short run of portholes along the forecastle are shallower in their depth than those found on the superstructure parts. The interior of the upper hull has lateral and lengthwise supports to provide a rigid frame for attachment of decks. Instead of providing a flat bottom to the upper hull, it is recessed from the edge. This feature allows for a perfect mating with the lower hull part without any detriment to those building the ship in waterline form. The lower hull has thin bilge keels molded on, a centerline keel or skeg and remarkable recessed panel detail fore and aft of the rudder location. The lower hull also has lateral supports in the interior. Two other sprues included in the box are for the stand. The plastic base is separate from the two pedestals. The interior of the hull has two locator holes, which can be opened for mounting a full hull version on the pedestals. However, on the underside of the stand base has three additional optional mounting positions, so the modeler can adjust the positioning of the pedestals. As a bonus DML includes six 1:350 scale crew figures with outstanding detail.
Specific Benson Class Parts – Sprues L & M
The Dragon Laffey 1942 fit contains two specific sprues for Benson class parts. In addition to the hull being listed as sprue L, there is an additional sprue, which contains the square stacks and associated parts. The stacks come in two forms, one with vertical ladder molded onto the stack and one set without for addition of brass vertical ladders. In addition there are different parts for the stack caps, aprons, bases and steam pipes. Sprue M has Benson specific parts for superstructure differences. The forward 01 deck has the Oerlikon splinter shields set inboard on the deck edge, as opposed to the Buchanan deck, which has these positions overhanging the main deck. The Laffey 02 level has a flat forward face as opposed to the round Buchanan architecture. The Laffey has a slanting trunk rising from the main deck rising into the aft base of the 2nd funnel. In Buchanan this area is concealed by a deckhouse. There are also different superstructure bulkheads and a catwalk around the funnel trunking.
Brass Photo-Etch Fret & Decals
As usual with Dragon, brass photo-etch frets are provided. Two frets are provided along with two separate director radars already preformed to the correct shape. No deck railing is included. The larger fret has: carley storage racks; end caps for the director radar; Oerlikon hand wheels; Oerlikon sights and shoulder rests; Oerlikon optional brass gun shields; Chicago Piano sights, seats and wheels; splinter shields for observer positions; relief-etched stack platform; galley stove pipe; anchor chain; vertical ladder; and inclined ladders. The second fret is composed exclusively of optional brass doors, most of which have relief-etched dogs. Three different patterns are included. For decals there is a small sheet of flags with ensign, jack and some signal flags. However, the big-ticket item is the large sheet of anti-skid deck panels. Frequently traveled pathways along decks open to weather were given anti-skid panels to prevent crewmen from slipping on wet metal decks. Dragon provides a very large, comprehensive decal sheet with these anti-skid panels. The unique walkway patterns are provided for all decks open to the weather.
Dragon has dropped the next shoe in their 1:350 scale USN WWII destroyer lineup. Now you can have a square-stacked, flat faced, 1942 fit Benson class USS Laffey DD-459 in 1:350 scale to join the round stack, round face, 1942 fit Gleaves class USS Buchanan, as they both fought at the Battle of Cape Esperance on October 11, 1942. Of course the Laffey comes with all of the superb detail found in the preceding two Buchanan kits.