Aboard the Farragut Class Destroyers in World War II: A History with First-Person Accounts of Enlisted Men - Leo Block Recommended by a GR friend, this turned out to be a fascinating look at the Farragut Class destroyers built between 1930 and 1935. They had a distinct advantage over the older flush deck destroyers in that they mounted dual action guns, i.e., those which could be used for both surface and airborne attackers. They were not without flaws and the idea of moving from the front to the stern of the ship during bad weather made my hair stand on end. Crew quarters were toward the stern so moving from one end to the other had to be done on a regular basis and northern climates, as waves washed over the mid-section, guide-ropes and nets were a necessity to keep sailors from being washed over the side. They were urged not to run, but to hold on, the theory that getting wet was better than slipping, falling and leaving the ship in an unintended manner.

The destroyer was the short name for torpedo boat destroyer showing its intended purpose: having speed and firepower to chase and sink attacking small torpedo boats, which had become a huge threat to capital ships following development of reliable torpedoes that could be carried on small and fast speedboats.

What makes this book particularly interesting is the number of little stories and anecdotes. The disappearing food from the locked storage refrigerators. Only a couple of people had a key but despite their best efforts , the officers could not determine how the thefts occurred. Turns out a machinist's mate would switch padlocks on them when they were getting food out, then replace the padlock with the correct one after he swiped his food at night. He was discovered only after returning one night after liberty, drunk, and forgot to switch locks. One wag suggested his punishment should be four years at the Naval Academy since he was already a genius at strategy.

The "head," naval-speak for bathroom was primitive at best, consisting of a trough with constantly running sea water on one side of the room used as a urinal, and 6 toilets along the other wall. Each toilet had a lip around the inside to prevent sea water from splashing up on one's backside (or should they have been called bidets?) In heavy weather, water would slosh up and over the lips, hence "it's not really rough weather unless you have to stand up to shit." All waste water was simply run over the side untreated.

Something I never would have guessed was that the fire-room, which contained the boilers, had to be kept at a higher air pressure than the outside so those wishing to enter the boiler area had to pass through an airlock. Should air pressure drop, there was danger of a blowback of flame, risking injury or death to anyone close by.

The author has included a judicious number of personal letters recounting assorted aspects of destroyer life. The most pertain to their (and his own) experiences at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. The destroyers were all nested together, moored to their tender, the USS Dobbin. None of the destroyers was damaged despite the magnificent target presented to the Japanese airmen. Several bombs missed completely despite the substantial target they presented. As one sailor noted, all it would have taken was a near miss close to the depth chargers and the whole nest of destroyers would have gone up. Since all of the destroyers were being powered by the tender, the minute they all went to general quarters and tried to operate their guns, all the breakers tripped as the Dobbins could not supply enough power to all at once. Getting steam up in each ship required many badly needed minutes before they could respond to the attack in anything but manual mode. On another ship they discovered they were shooting with dummy ammunition; they became so frustrated they started throwing potatoes that had spilled from a food locker at the planes.


Seven Farragut destroyers were operating in the Central Pacific during the time of "Halsey's Typhoon." (See my review of Halsey's Typhoon.Several modifications had been made to the superstructure of the class resulting in a noticeable change in stability. While it was agreed that stability had deteriorated, it was decided that it was still within acceptable limits. (Stability is related to center of gravity and the ability of a ship to right itself, much like a rocking chair will go back and forth but always want to return to the upright position.) Four of the Farraguts, including the Hull, the Aylwin, the Dewey and the Monaghan joined Halsey's Task Force 38 charged with support for MacArthur's campaign in the Philippines. Refuleing was supposed to be accomplished on December 17, but because of high seas and winds, fueling was aborted. The assumption had always been that if enough ballast (sea water) was taken on to compensate for low fuel, the ships would not be in danger of capsizing. This proved to be incorrect. By the 18th, winds were measured at 73 knots (about 85 mph.) The Dewey at the edge of the storm moving in its direction and was beginning to roll beyond 75 degrees (think about that!), the maximum on the inclinometer. There are several riveting testimonials from crewmen on the Dewey which barely managed to survive. Several others did not. Crew members of the USS Tabberer a destroyer escort, commanded by a naval reserve Lt. Commander performed heroic feats rescuing men from the capsized destroyers. In two instances the swimmers actually had their ship roll on them. They managed to swim under the ship, surface, and then went back in the water to rescue other comrades. The ship rescued 55 sailors, her captain showing extraordinary seamanship.

The five Farraguts that made it through the war were decommissioned in 1945.

Other personal memoirs of destroyers I recommend:
Bluewater Sailor: The Memoirs of a Destroyer Officer and Destroyer Skipper: A Memoir of Command at Sea