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A Family Saga: Flush-Deck Destroyers 1917-1955

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A Family Saga

Flush-Deck Destroyers 1917-1955
  • A Study by John L Dickey, II, Lieutenant Commander, USN (Ret.)
  • Revised Edition Edited by David W. McComb, Destroyer History Foundation
    • Merriam Press Naval History Series
    • Revised Edition 2013
    • 272 8.5x11-inch pages
    • 87 photos and drawings
    • This edition features a full-color cover, with better photo reproduction, and an all-new professional format
The outbreak of World War I in Europe in 1914 produced a construction race for European powers, but not for the U.S. Navy. The United States’ first torpedo boat destroyers had commissioned in 1902 and a second generation began to arrive in 1909, but construction lagged over the next eight years as commissionings fell to only six per year.

Circumstances changed in 1916, when Congress authorized 50 destroyers of a new “flush deck” design as part of a program intended to make the United States a player on the world stage, no matter who won the war. Deliveries commenced after the United States entered World War I in 1917, and although only 41 flush deckers joined the fleet and only 27 made it to the war zone before the Armistice in November 1918, construction continued until 273 ships were completed.

Circumstances changed again in 1922, when the Washington Naval Treaties freed the U.S. Navy to place more than half of its destroyer force in reserve. By the end of the 1930s, about 100 flush deckers had been lost or scrapped. Even after 50 went to the United Kingdom in 1940, however, the U.S. Navy’s 120 remaining flush deckers formed more than half of its destroyer force.

During World War II, these aging destroyers were a poor match for modern enemy ships and aircraft, but they proved invaluable when converted as transports, minecraft, seaplane tenders and escorts. They operated in nearly every campaign and while one in four was lost, one in four was also decorated. Thus, in proportion to their numbers, these last flush deckers became the most sacrificed and honored destroyers in the United States Navy’s proud history.

In 2000, the late John L. Dickey II published a first edition of A Family Saga: Flush-Deck Destroyers 1917–1955, which provided previously-unavailable details on these ships. Now, historian David McComb of the Destroyer History Foundation has integrated Dickey’s own errata and addenda in a revised edition, with new tables and twice as many photos, to give destroyer enthusiasts an easy-to-read, definitive reference for the largest group of destroyers ever operated by the United States Navy.

  • About the Author
  • Foreword to the First Edition
  • Foreword to the Revised Edition
  • Acknowledgments
  • Notation
  • Introduction
  • A Family Saga
    • The Building Program
    • Hull and General Arrangement
    • Fuel Capacity
    • Propulsion Machinery
    • Armament
    • Guns
    • Fire Control
    • Torpedoes
    • Searchlights
    • Ship’s Boats
    • Compasses
    • Steering
    • Living Conditions
    • Hull Numbers and Camouflage
    • Miscellany
    • Shipmates
  • Post-World War I
    • DM Conversions
    • Destroyers to the Near East
    • Chronology, 1920–1923
    • Asiatic Fleet
    • The Point Pedernales Disaster
    • First Aerial Circumnavigation
    • Transpacific Flight
    • Chronology, 1924–1929
    • The Dole Flight
    • Fueling at Sea
    • The 1929–1930 Rehabilitation Program
    • The 1930 London Treaty
    • Radio-Controlled Targets
    • Coast Guard Service
    • Chronology, the 1930s
    • Conversions
    • Conclusion
  • World War II
    • Recommissioning and Modernization
    • Destroyers to the U.K., 1940
    • The Greer Incident
    • Loss of Reuben James
    • Chronology
  • Epilogue
  • Appendix
    • Evolution of the Destroyer
    • World War I Background
      • Conflict in Europe, 1914
      • The Beginnings of the Family Saga
      • The Building Program
    • Conduct of the War, 1917–1918
      • Early Underwater Sound Detection
      • Mines and the North Sea
      • U.S. Destroyers in European Waters
      • Submarines
      • Anti-Submarine Measures
    • The “In-Between” Years, 1919–1939
      • Forces Afloat Save the Day, 1929–1930
      • Naval Limitation Treaties
      • Ships Sold in 1930–1934
      • Ships Sold in 1935–1939
    • The World Moves Toward a New War
      • Radar
      • Sonar and Anti-Submarine Warfare
    • Transfers
      • United Kingdom
      • USSR
      • Norway
    • Enemy Submarines and Weapons of World War II
    • “Enigma”
    • Torpedo Problems
    • World War II
      • Flush Deckers and Neutrality
      • Flush Deckers in World War II
    • Losses and Decorations
    • Resurrections
    • Loss of Edsall
    • The Oldest Four Stacker
    • Relics and Artifacts
  • Statistical Tabulation
  • Bibliography
  • Index
  • Tables
    • Table 1: The Family
    • Table 2: Builders
    • Table 3: Fuel Capacity
    • Table 4: First Trans-Atlantic Flight
    • Table 5: Flush-deck Light Minelayers (DMs)
    • Table 6: Flush Deckers Deployed to the Near East, 1919–24
    • Table 7: Flush Deckers Deployed to the Far East, 1920–44
    • Table 8: DesRon 11, 8 September 1923
    • Table 9: Flush Deckers Deployed during the First Aerial Circumnavigation
    • Table 10: Ships Deployed during Fleet Problem No. 5, 1925
    • Table 11: Flush Deckers Attached to the Central American Special Service Squadron
    • Table 12: Atlantic and Pacific Fleet Flush Deckers in October 1941
    • Table 13: Asiatic Fleet in December 1941
    • Table 14: Destroyer Squadron 29 in December 1941
    • Table 15: TransDivs 12, 14 and 16 in the Leyte operation
    • Table 16: Flush Deckers Retained as AGs in 1945
    • Table 17: Pre-Flush-deck Torpedo Boat Destroyers in World War I
    • Table 18: Flush Deckers Completed during World War I
    • Table 19: Flush Deckers Decommissioned in 1922
    • Table 20: Flush Deckers Decommissioned and Recommissioned in 1930
    • Table 21: Flush Deckers Sold in 1930–34
    • Table 22: Flush Deckers Sold in 1935–39
    • Table 23: Flush Deckers Transferred to the United Kingdom in 1940
    • Table 24: Flush Deckers Transferred to the Soviet Union
    • Table 25: Flush Deckers Transferred to Norway
    • Table 26: Reconnaissance Flights by Submarine-launched Japanese Aircraft
    • Table 27: Flush Deckers Reactivated in 1939
    • Table 28: Flush Deckers Reactivated in 1940–41
    • Table 29: U.S. Navy Flush Deckers on 7 December 1941
    • Table 30: Flush-deck Fast Transports (APDs)
    • Table 31: Flush Deckers at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941
    • Table 32: Submarine Sinkings
    • Table 33: Flush Deckers Lost During and After World War II
    • Table 34: Flush Deckers Decorated for Action in World War II
Reviewed by Samuel Loring Morison
[Review on the Naval Historical Foundation web site.]

Not since the U.S. Naval Institute published Commander John Alden’s famous Flush Decks and Four Pipes in 1965 has such a study been published. A Family Saga is twice the length of Commander Alden’s study.  Lt. Cdr. John L. Dickey and editor David W. McComb discuss the 278 flush deck destroyers of the Caldwell and Clemson classes in rich detail.  This is a worthy addition to one’s library as a supplement to Alden’s book. The appendix alone has data unseen in the earlier work. A Family Saga, for example, occasionally lists two dates for disposal of a ship. Dickey and McComb did this because they may have uncovered two official documents with two different dates. Typos aside, one document may come from the Navy saying the ship has been sold to the buyer on the date indicated, while the second document may come from the purchaser with an entirely different date.  Anyone experienced in the study of U.S. naval ships and their history knows this type of error can and does happen.

There are small typos in the book that should be brought to McComb’s attention for correction in the next edition. Otherwise, the late Lt. Cdr. Dickey and Mr. McComb are to be heartily congratulated for their epic work.

Samuel Loring Morison has written nine books and over 350 articles on naval and military affairs.

Reviewed by Warship International

Many members will recall seeing advertisements in Warship International about a decade ago for a new, privately-printed book entitled A Family Saga: Flush Deck Destroyers 1917-1955. This book, a true labor of love, was some 280 pages long and packed with all the facts that the author—LCDR John L. Dickey ll USN (ret.)—could find on the U.S. Navy's famed "flush-deck" (also styled "four-piper") destroyers. A very unusual book, broken into two roughly equal parts, an historical narrative and an appendix, it brought together much more information on these ships' storied careers than previously available in one place. It is not a scholarly work in the sense of having source notes or comprehensive archival origins. but its author strove mightily to make it as good and complete as possible, reasoning carefully as he wove together many sources to create a single narrative. He did have a good many authoritative official sources available to him, some never before used by historians, and the net product is an impressive compilation that will be of significant value to anyone interested in these famous ships. LCDR Dickey's book remained rather obscure in his lifetime, and he passed away in 2005 (see Warship International, 47, no. 1 (2010): 41-42 for a biographical sketch of Dickey.)

Not satisfied with the initial published book, Dickey continued to amass newly-found information on the "flush-deckers—in a long series of "errata" pages that he circulated to a few fellow enthusiasts, up until the time of his death. Among the things included in the errata was a comprehensive index, of considerable value in using this study. In recognition of the unique value of this compendium of work, David W. McComb, head of the private Destroyer History Foundation, took the initiative recently to argue for the production of a new edition of "Dick" Dickey's work, integrating all the many errata sheets into a new, more easily readable account. Recruiting assistance from fellow enthusiasts appreciative of LCDR Dickey's work (including some INRO [International Naval Research Organization] staff members), McComb has edited a revised, updated and expanded edition of the book, and found a publisher, Merriam Press of Bennington, Vermont. McComb added numerous excellent photographs and recast the format somewhat, reducing the type font size to keep the new book at 252 pages. The book can be obtained via standard commercial outlets such as or via the publisher, Merriam Press ( McComb is to be congratulated for his determination and persistence in recreating this book in a final form that its author would find, no doubt, very pleasing.

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