Destroyer warships were originally drawn up as counters to the "Torpedo Boat" which directly threatened capital ships of the late-19th and early-20th centuries. Indeed the new type of warships were first known as "Torpedo Boat Destroyers" before the group came to be known simply as "Destroyers". Through a period of naval evolution, their design graduated to become one based on speed, maneuverability and range - making them capable of operating independently of the main fighting force or alongside it.
During World War 2 (1939-1945), the Fletcher-class formed the bulk of the muscle making up the USN destroyer force in the Pacific Theater. Again these ships were designed with speed, good inherent endurance and maximum firepower for their displacement and all these qualities were needed when going toe-to-toe against the formidable Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN). The class was led by none other than USS Fletcher (DD-445) herself and the new class followed the Benson-class which served to evolve American "small" shipbuilding some.
Even before the Benson-class had wrapped up its program, the design already showcased limitations as it related to destroyer operations in the deep waters of the Pacific and this led to the design of an improved form which became the succeeding Fletcher group. In all there would be 175 vessels completed in the class and, beyond its service with the USN during World War 2, the group would be operated in foreign hands in the period following. The last examples were not retired until 2001 and these with the Mexican Navy.
USS Fletcher was constructed by Federal Shipbuilding (founded 1917) of Kearny, New Jersey and saw her keel laid down on October 2nd, 1941. She was officially launched to sea on May 3rd, 1942. By this time, the United States was at war with Japan and Germany following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (Hawaii) on December 7th, 1941. The warship was formally commissioned on June 30th, 1942.
In profile the warship exhibited a twin, inline smoke funnel arrangement found near midships. The bridge superstructure was held forward of this and aft of a pair of turreted gun systems. Nearer the stern lay the secondary superstructure and another three turrets to help provide for a strong broadside attack. As completed, USS Fletcher was given a displacement of 2,100 tons (standard) and a running length of 365.5 feet, a beam of 39.7 feet and a draught of 13.9 feet. Power was from geared steam turbines producing 60,000 horsepower to 2 x shafts. Speeds reached 36 knots in ideal conditions and range was out to 6,500 nautical miles. A crew of 273 were carried.
Armament centered on 5 x 5" (130m) /38 caliber Dual-Purpose (DP) main guns seated in five single-gunned turrets, two forward and three aft of midships. Air defense was handled through 2 x 40mm Bofors Anti-Aircraft (AA) guns as well as 6 x 20mm Oerlikon AA systems. To this was added 10 x 21" (530mm) torpedo tubes, 6 x K-guns and 2 x Depth Charge racks - the latter critical to sub-hunting sorties.
In service for 1942, Fletcher arrived at New Caledonia off the eastern Australian coast during November and was placed immediately into active patrolling and escort duties particularly as the Allies pushed ahead with the Guadalcanal Campaign (August 1942 - February 1943). From there her career saw her participate in many of the major and minor actions of the war including the retaining of the Solomons and the Philippines. She was able to used her gun, close-in and torpedo armament to good effect and claimed several warships, aircraft and submarines fielded by the enemy.
She ended her World War 2 tenure along the American West Coast while on a scheduled overhaul and then placed in Commission-in-Reserve for August 1946. She was officially placed Out-of-Commission in January of the following year. In 1949 she was recommissioned to begin service as an Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) platform and underwent the necessary modifications for the role: the RUR-4 Weapon Alpha rocket launcher replaced the original torpedo tube fit, three of her five twin-gunned main turrets were removed and 4 x 3" guns replaced the original Bofors/Oerlikons. Because of her revised role, her design type was changed from DD-445 to "DDE-445". She joined the 7th Fleet in Pacific Waters in May of 1950.
Tensions on the Korean Peninsula then exploded into Total War to begin the years-long Korean War (1950-1953) of which Fletcher became a veteran of. She arrived in the region in early July 1950 and was part of the force present at the Battle of Inchon (September 10-19, 1950). Her final Southeast Asian tour stop was in November 1953 and from 1954 until 1962 she joined the 7th Fleet wand continued to train crews in the fine art of ASW. She was decommissioned for the last time on October 1st, 1969 and her name was struck from the Naval Register. The stripped hulk of USS Fletcher was sold off in February of 1972.
In all, USS Fletcher was - in a career spanning two major wars - was awarded twenty Battle Stars for service in World War 2 (15) and the Korean Conflict (5). This wartime record alone was not enough to save the storied warship from the scrap heap.