Development of Destroyer Escorts
The production of destroyer escorts was first seriously considered by the United States Navy in the spring of 1939. Even then, it was suspected that, in the event of war, there would be a need for a mass produced destroyer type capable of transoceanic convoy and anti-submarine warfare.
This concept was first tested during World War I, when Henry Ford's factories turned out a massed produced escort vessel known as the Eagle Boat. These steel ships incorporated a number of features that would be included in the destroyer escorts, including heavy armament and ease of assembly. The Eagle Boats came into use too late to see combat during World War I, but they proved the concept of a quick built escort vessel.
With the outbreak of World War II, the need for a mass produced escort vessel became acute. A number of designs were produced and rejected since production was not yet considered a matter of urgency. However, by the spring of 1941, a design by the firm of Gibbs and Cox was approved by the General Board. Their design was based on the British HUNT class destroyer, a small but rugged ship that could survive the pounding of frequent North Atlantic gales.
At about the same time, the need for escorts demanded immediate attention. The British suffered mounting losses to a foe under the sea as dangerous as the one in the air. Royal Navy Rear Admiral J.W.S. Dorling, Senior Officer of the British Supply Council in North America, impressed American Navy Secretary Knox with their urgent need for destroyer escorts, using Lend-Lease funds to defray the cost. Because of commitments for other types of craft, it was not until February 1943 when the first destroyer escort was delivered.1
The capability of submarines to interdict their enemy's supply lines and to destroy his ability to wage war was the single reason for the inception of the destroyer escort. Since the destroyer was the only surface fleet unit that could effectively locate, attack and destroy a submarine, it was logical that we should develop a destroyer type that would concentrate on the submarine and thereby release destroyers for fleet assignment. Hence, the destroyer escorts.
Destroyer escorts varied from 1140 to 1450 tons unloaded displacement, 300 tons more when fully loaded, and 290 to 306 feet in length. Complements ranged from 180 to 220 officers and men. They did not have the offensive armament and fire control of destroyers, nor the speed. They were, however, vastly more maneuverable than destroyers and had a much smaller turning circle.2
A number of different power plants were used for destroyer escorts due to the demands on naval construction. Because destroyer escorts were not the top priority for steam turbines, these being given instead to aircraft carriers, battleships and destroyers, the destroyer escorts were forced to utilize whatever type of power plant was available at the time they were ordered. Thus, there were destroyer escorts with diesel geared engines, diesel electric, steam turbo geared and steam turbo electric engines. In general, destroyer escorts with similar main engine plants were kept in the same operational divisions to simplify problems such as fuel type, speed, maneuvering capabilities and spare parts.
The destroyer escort was classified as a major combat vessel. In general, destroyer escorts were deployed in four types of operations. The first consisted of escort divisions of six or more destroyer escorts each, escorting merchant marine convoys, navy supply vessels, or troop transports. Convoy escort was a defensive operation designed to ward off enemy submarine and aircraft attacks on ships carrying men and equipment for the overseas war effort. The second grouping operated as part of "hunter-killer" teams in task forces, each consisting of a small aircraft carrier (CVE) and five or six destroyer escorts that went to sea for the specific purpose of locating and destroying submarines. A third operation, more common in the Pacific than the Atlantic, was antisubmarine and antiaircraft screening of capital ships as they bombarded enemy shore installations prior to amphibious assaults.
The fourth assignment developed in the Pacific in the later stages of the war. The destroyer escorts manned "picket" stations on the outer perimeter of fleet and landing operations to engage kamikazes and to warn inner perimeter vessels of their approach. This was very hazardous duty, and destroyer escorts suffered personnel and material casualties. In fact, there were few tasks destroyer escorts could not perform. They engaged shore batteries, suicide manned torpedoes and suicide speed boats. They guarded minesweepers while they performed their dangerous tasks. They even delivered personal mail to other fleet units, a highly important morale function.3
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