Gearing-class Destroyers

gearing dd710

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 The Gearing class was a series of 98 destroyers built for the U.S. Navy during and shortly after World War II. The Gearing design was a minor modification of the Allen M. Sumner class, whereby the hull was lengthened by 14 ft (4.3 m) at amidships, which resulted in more fuel storage space and increased the operating range.

The first Gearings were not ready for service until mid-1945 and thus saw little service in World War II. They continued serving, with a series of upgrades, until the 1970s. At that time many were sold to other nations, where they served many more years.

Nine Gearing-class ships still exist. ARM Netzahualcóyotl (ex-Steinaker) was active in the Mexican Navy until 2014 and is slated to be sunk as an artificial reef. As of April 2012 two were laid up in non-operational condition in Kaohsiung, Taiwan: ROCS Chien Yang (ex-James E. Kyes) and ROCS Sheng Yang, (ex-Power). The other six are museum ships: TCG Gayret, (ex-Eversole), in Izmit, Turkey; ROKS Jeong Buk, (ex-Everett F. Larson), near Gangneung, South Korea; ROCS Te Yang, (ex-Sarsfield), in Tainan, Taiwan; USS Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. in Fall River, Massachusetts; ROKS Jeong Ju, (ex-Rogers), near Cheonan, South Korea and USS Orleck in Lake Charles, Louisiana. ROKS Kang Won (ex-William R. Rush), formerly a museum near Busan, South Korea, was scrapped as of December 2016.

The first ship was laid down in August 1944, while the last was launched in March 1946. In that time the United States produced 98 Gearing-class destroyers. The Gearing class was a seemingly minor improvement of the Allen M. Sumner class, built from 1943 until 1945. The main difference was that the Gearings were 14 feet (4.3 m) longer in the midship section, allowing for increased fuel tankage for greater range, an important consideration in Pacific War operations. More importantly in the long run, the Gearings' increased size made them much more suitable for upgrades than the Allen M. Sumners, as seen in the wartime radar picket subclass, the 1950s radar picket destroyer (DDR) and escort destroyer (DDE) conversions, and the Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization (FRAM) conversions 1960-65. As designed, the Gearings' armament was identical to that on the Allen M. Sumner class. Three twin 5-inch (127 mm)/38 caliber Mark 38 dual purpose (DP) mounts constituted the main battery. The 5-inch guns were guided by a Mark 37 Gun Fire Control System with a Mark 25 fire control radar linked by a Mark 1A Fire Control Computer stabilized by a Mark 6 8,500 rpm gyro. This fire control system provided effective long-range anti-aircraft (AA) or anti-surface fire. Twelve 40 mm guns in two quad and two twin mounts and 11 20 mm guns in single mounts were also equipped. The initial design retained the Sumners' heavy torpedo armament of 10 21" (533mm) tubes in two quintuple mounts, firing the Mark 15 torpedo. As the threat from kamikaze aircraft mounted in 1945, and with few remaining Japanese warships to use torpedoes on, most of the class had the aft quintuple 21-inch (533 mm) torpedo tube mount replaced by an additional 40 mm quadruple mount (prior to completion on later ships) for 16 total 40 mm guns. 26 ships (DD-742-745, 805-808, 829-835, and 873-883) were ordered without torpedo tubes to allow for radar picket equipment; these were redesignated as DDRs in 1948.

Following World War II most of the class had their AA and anti-submarine warfare (ASW) armament upgraded. The 40 mm and 20 mm guns were replaced by 2-6 3-inch (76 mm)/50 caliber guns in up to two twin and one single mounting. One depth charge rack was removed and two Hedgehog ASW mortar mounts added. The K-guns were retained. Nine additional (for a total of 35) ships were converted to radar picket destroyers (DDR) in the early 1950s; these typically received only one 3-inch/50 caliber twin mount to save weight for radar equipment, as did the wartime radar pickets. Nine ships were converted to escort destroyers (DDE), emphasizing ASW. Carpenter was the most thorough DDE conversion, with 4 3-inch/70 caliber guns in twin enclosed mounts, two Weapon Alpha launchers, four new 21-inch torpedo tubes for the Mark 37 ASW torpedo, and one depth charge rack.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s 78 of the Gearing-class destroyers underwent extensive modernization overhauls, known as FRAM I, which were designed to convert them from an anti-aircraft destroyer to an anti-submarine warfare platform. FRAM I removed all of the DDR and DDE equipment, and these ships were redesignated as DDs. FRAM I and FRAM II conversions were completed 1960-65. Eventually all but four Gearings received FRAM conversions.[6]

The FRAM I program was an extensive conversion for the Gearing-class destroyers. This upgrade included rebuilding the ship's superstructure, electronic systems, radar, sonar, and weapons. The second twin 5" gun mount and all previous AA guns and ASW equipment were removed. (On several ships the two forward 5-inch mounts remained and the aft 5-inch mount was removed.) Upgraded systems included SQS-23 sonar, SPS-10 surface search radar, two triple Mark 32 torpedo tubes, an 8-cell Anti-Submarine Rocket (ASROC) box launcher, and one QH-50C DASH ASW drone helicopter, with its own landing pad and hangar. Both the Mk 32 torpedo tubes and ASROC launched Mk. 44 homing ASW torpedoes. ASROC could also launch a nuclear depth charge. On 11 May 1962, Agerholm tested a live nuclear ASROC in the "Swordfish" test.[7][8][9]

In Navy slang, the modified destroyers were called "FRAM cans", "can" being a contraction of "tin can", the slang term for a destroyer or destroyer escort.[citation needed]

The Gyrodyne QH-50C DASH was an unmanned anti-submarine helicopter, controlled remotely from the ship. The drone could carry two Mark 44 homing ASW torpedoes. During this era the ASROC system had an effective range of only 5 nautical miles (9.3 km; 5.8 mi), but the DASH drone allowed the ship to deploy ASW attack to sonar contacts as far as 22 nautical miles (41 km; 25 mi) away.[10] However, DASH proved unreliable in shipboard service, with over half of the USN's 746 drones lost at sea. This was possibly due to inadequate maintenance support, as other services had few difficulties with DASH. By 1970 DASH had been withdrawn from FRAM I ships, though it was retained into the early 1970s on FRAM II ships, which lacked ASROC. A limitation of drones in ASW was the need to re-acquire the target at ranges beyond the effectiveness of the controlling ship's sonar. This led to shift to the LAMPS program of manned helicopters, which the Gearing class were too small to accommodate.[11]

An upgraded version of DASH, QH-50D, remained in use by the United States Army until May 2006.[12]

FRAM I "A" Ships: Removal of aft twin 5 inch/38 caliber Gun mount (Mount 53). Group A ships also received two MK10/11 Hedgehogs fitted on each side of the bridge at the O-1 level and had the MK-32 triple torpedo launchers aft of the second stack. FRAM I "B" Ships: Kept their forward 5 inch mount (Mount 51), lost the second mount (Mount 52) and kept their aft 5 inch mount (Mount 53). In place of mount 52, a practice 5 inch reloading machine was installed with the MK-32 triple torpedo launchers aft of the loader. Group B ships also received greater ASROC and torpedo storage areas next to the port side of the DASH hangar.

The FRAM II program was designed primarily for the Sumner-class destroyers, but sixteen Gearings were upgraded as well. This upgrade program included life-extension refurbishment, a new radar system, Mark 32 torpedo tubes, DASH ASW drone, and variable depth sonar (VDS). Importantly, it did not include ASROC. FRAM II ships included six DDRs and six DDEs that retained their specialized equipment (1960–61), as well as four DDRs that were converted to DDs and were nearly identical to the Allen M. Sumner class FRAM IIs (1962–63). The FRAM II ships retained all six 5-inch guns, except the DDEs retained four 5-inch guns and a trainable Hedgehog in the No. 2 position. All FRAM IIs retained two Hedgehogs alongside either the No. 2 5-inch mount or the trainable Hedgehog mount. The four DDRs converted to DDs were armed with two new 21-inch torpedo tubes for the Mk. 37 ASW homing torpedo. Photographs of the six retained DDRs show no markings on the DASH landing deck, as well as a much smaller deckhouse than was usually provided for DASH, so they may not have been equipped with DASH.

Many of the Gearings provided significant gunfire support in the Vietnam War. They also served as escorts for Carrier Battle Groups (carrier strike groups from 2004) and Amphibious Ready Groups (Expeditionary Strike Groups from 2006). DASH was withdrawn from ASW service in 1969 due to poor reliability. Lacking ASROC, the FRAM II ships were disposed of in 1969-74. With ASROC continuing to provide a standoff ASW capability, the Gearing FRAM Is were retained in service for several years, with most being decommissioned and transferred to foreign navies 1973-80. They were replaced as ASW ships by the Spruance-class destroyers, which were commissioned 1975-83. These had the same ASW armament as a Gearing FRAM destroyer, with the addition of improved sonar and a piloted helicopter, initially the Kaman SH-2 Seasprite and from 1984 the Sikorsky SH-60 Seahawk. Some Gearings served in the Naval Reserve Force (NRF) from 1973, remaining in commission with a partial active crew to provide training for Naval reservists. The last Gearing-class destroyer in US naval service was William C. Lawe, a FRAM I, decommissioned and struck 1 October 1983 and expended as a target 14 July 1999.

After the Gearing-class ships were retired from USN service, many were sold abroad, including over a dozen to the Republic of China Navy (ROCN) in Taiwan. These ships, along with Fletcher-class destroyers and Allen M. Sumner-class destroyers also acquired then, were upgraded under the Wu Chin (Chinese: 武進) I, II, and III programs and known throughout the ROCN as the Yang-class (Chinese: 陽字號) destroyers as they were assigned names that all end with the word "Yang". The last batch of 7 WC-III program vessels, all of them Gearing class, were retired in the early 2000s.[16]

Under the most advanced Wu Chin III upgrade program, all World War II vintage weapons were removed and replaced with four Hsiung Feng II surface-to-surface missiles, ten SM-1 (box launchers), one 8-cell ASROC, one Otobreda 76 mm (3 in) gun, two Bofors 40 mm (1.6 in)/70 AA, one 20 mm Phalanx CIWS and two triple 12.75 in (324 mm) torpedo tubes. The DASH ASW drones were not acquired, but hangar facilities aboard those ships that had them were later used to accommodate ASW versions of MD 500 Defender helicopters.

After the Yang-class destroyers were decommissioned, the SM-1 launch boxes were moved to Chi Yang-class frigates to improve their anti-air capability.