SOMERS-Class Destroyer Leaders

By A. D. Jensen

The Somers (DD-381) class was the second group of destroyer leaders built by the U.S. Navy during the 1930s and followed the general characteristics of the preceding Porter (DD-356) class, which was ordered in 1933. These new destroyers were subject to the terms of the 1930 London Naval Arms Limitation Treaty, which regulated ship size. It limited destroyers to 1,500 tons, introduced the category of destroyer leader at 1,850 tons, and set the maximum caliber of the guns for both types at 5.1 inches. In most respects, the 1,850-ton Porters were enlarged versions of the 1,560-ton Farragut class. The additional weight and length of the leaders allowed a better arrangement of the machinery, an increase in the main battery, and limited protection in some areas of the hull and superstructure.

When additional leaders were ordered in 1934 and 1935, they were intended to be duplicates of the Porters, and they did retain the Porter's hull lines and identical main and antiaircraft armament. They had different machinery, however, and a different topside arrangement and thus were designated the Somers class.

The Somers' armament consisted of four 5-inch/38 caliber twin MK 22 single purpose, base-ring-type gun mounts They were limited to 35-degrees elevation and were useful only against surface targets. Their Mark 35 director was also single purpose designed for surface fire only. As a result, the ships were given two, 1.1-inch/70 caliber quadruple heavy machine gun mounts for defense against aircraft.

The raised forecastle provided protection from the weather for the officers wardroom and CPO quarters and the galley on the main deck. Accommodation for the officers and radio central were located in the deckhouse on the forecastle. The chart house and clipping room for the forward 1.1-inch mount were directly above radio central on the superstructure deck. The navigating bridge over the chart house had an enclosed pilothouse with open bridge wings where the torpedo directors were mounted. On top of the pilothouse were two searchlights and two range finders.

A slightly more powerful propulsion plant, similar to that used in the preceding 1,500-ton Mahan (DD-364) class, was adopted, and the uptakes were trunked into a single funnel. This arrangement freed up space for a third set of torpedo tubes. The forward set of tubes was mounted atop a barbette-like pedestal at the level of the after deck house just aft of the forecastle. The second set was aft of the stack over the midships torpedo workshop deckhouse, and the third set was on the forward end of the after deckhouse. The after deckhouse contained a general workshop and the crew's washroom and head. Atop the after deckhouse was a crew's shelter and clipping room for the aft 1.1-inch mount directly above. The after steering station was just forward of the 1.1-inch mount, and a searchlight platform was over the compass platform.

As originally designed and built the Somers class had the following characteristics:

Length Overall: 381'-0"
Extreme Beam: 36'-2"
Displacement: 1,850 tons Standard

Four boilers
Two sets geared turbines
Two shafts/screws
Shaft horsepower: 52,000 hp
Speed: 35 knots

Armament (as built)
Four, twin 5"/38 caliber gun mounts
Two, quadruple 1.1" gun mounts
Two, .50 caliber machine guns
Three, quadruple 21" torpedo tube mounts
Two, depth charge release tracks (for 600 pound charges)

Armament (typical 1944)
Two, twin 5"/38 caliber gun mounts
One, single 5"/38 caliber gun mount
Three, twin 40-mm gun mounts
Six, single 20-mm gun mounts
Two, quadruple 21" torpedo tube mounts
Two, depth charge release tracks (for 600-pound charges)
Four, single K-gun depth charge projectors (for 300-pound charges)

Officers: 16
Enlisted 278

By early 1942, a number of improvements in the armament of the Somers class were necessary. The limited elevation of their 5-inch single purpose main battery and the inadequate performance of their obsolete 1.1-inch and .50 caliber antiaircraft machine guns rendered all of the destroyer leaders defenseless against modem enemy aircraft. To correct this deficiency, the leaders needed to be fully rebuilt, converting their 5-inch battery to dual-purpose weapons and updating their antiaircraft battery with 40-mm and 20- mm guns. Because they couldn't be spared until some of the new destroyers began reaching the fleet, only modest alterations were made until 1944. These consisted primarily of replacing the No. 3, 5-inch gun mount with a quadruple 40-mm gun mount, removing the center torpedo tube mount, and adding six 20-mm gun mounts around the bridge, stack, and superstructure level aft.

The extensive reconstruction of the Somers class began in early 1944, and two, Davis and Jouett, emerged with a completely new look. The new main armament consisted of five 5-inch/38 caliber guns distributed in three dual-purpose gun mounts. Mounts No. 1 and No. 4 were replaced by twin Mark 38 mounts similar to those in the Sumners (DD-692) and Gearings (DD-710), mount No. 2 was eliminated, and a single Mark 30 mount similar to those in the Fletcher (DD-445) class was fitted in the position formerly occupied by mount No. 3. A Mark 37 dual-purpose director was selected to control the new 5-inch battery. These changes required that the bridge area be completely redone with an arrangement referred to as the British-style bridge, which was similar to that of the first Sumners then under construction. The new arrangement located the sonar shack forward of the open bridge with the pilot house and a full CIC below. The antiaircraft battery was also changed. A twin 40-mm gun mount replaced the original No. 2, 5-inch gun mount, and two additional twin 40-mm mounts were installed on the superstructure deck, one just aft and to port of the stack and the other to starboard just forward of the new single 5-inch gun. The six 20-mm guns were positioned with two on either side of the bridge, two just aft and to starboard of the stack, and two just forward and to port of the single 5-inch gun. The remaining Somers finished the war in this general configuration. They were decommissioned by the end of 1945 and all were stricken and sold by the end of 1947.

From The Tin Can Sailor, July 2000

Copyright 2000 Tin Can Sailors, all rights reserved.

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