The evolution of the Benson and Gleaves classes perpetuated a pattern established with the 1500-ton classes, i.e., similar designs prepared by two competing sources, Bethlehem and Gibbs & Cox, with small numbers of ships authorized in
each fiscal year.
Built on a hull of the same dimensions as the preceding Sims class but with a strengthed hull to carry an extra 50–60 tons of machinery, the major innovation of the concurrently-designed 1620-ton Benson (DD 421) and 1630-ton Gleaves (DD 423) classes was machinery arranged in two units—each unit consisting of a fireroom with its own stack and an engine room—to reduce the risk that a single torpedo hit could cripple a ship
. This alternating fireroom-engineroom arrangement was incorporated in all future destroyer designs and was proved viable in October 1941 when USS Kearny DD432 was torpedoed by a German Uboat.
The Bensons were built in Bethlehem yards in San Francisco, Quincy, Massachusetts and Staten Island, New York. Externally, they were most easily identified by their “flat”-sided stacks.
Ships of the Gleaves class (which was initially known as the Livermore class because the design was standardized with Livermore, DD 429) used Westinghouse, GE and Allis-Chalmers turbines and could be identified by their “round” stacks.
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At a glance, therefore, the Bensons and Gleaves appeared as two-stack versions of the Sims class. The streamlined sheer strake on the raised forecastle deck was the same, as was the bridge on all except the last 10 ships built at Federal Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co. Kearny, New Jersey, and the 10 ships built at Seattle-Tacoma (see chart, above), which received square bridges due to the time saved in the building process over building the curved style. While the new ships also carried two quintuple centerline torpedo tube mounts rather than the problematic quadruple mounts carried on the Sims class, this was not a recognition feature—and the only easy way of differentiating the two new classes from one another was that the Bensons had flat-sided stacks while the Gleaves’ were round.
Eight ships were authorized in each of three fiscal years, 1938, ’39 and ’40. Four ships were initially ordered: DD 421–422 (the future Benson and Mayo) were designed and built by Bethlehem Quincy; DD 423–424 (the future Gleaves and Niblack) were designed by Gibbs & Cox and built by Bath Iron Works. Bethlehem, the low bidder, was awarded a contract to draw up detailed plans and to build the four remaining ships from the FY 38 appropriation, DD 425–428.
All these ships were expected to incorporate a proven turbine arrangement originated in the Mahan class—until Bethlehem, which had an excellent track record but no experience with this machinery, asked to use its own design which, it claimed (and subsequent analyses confirmed), would prove equally efficient. Shocked, however, Bureau of Ships balked at the prospect of two designs and relented only in light of the alternative of unacceptable delay. Thus, of the FY 1938 ships (DD 421–428), six were built to the Bethlehem (Benson) design and two (DD 423–424) to the Gibbs & Cox (Gleaves) design.
Meanwhile, the Bureau of Engineering requested a design change of its own—increasing temperature from 700° to 825° for follow-on ships from Gibbs & Cox, initially known as the Livermore class for the lead ship, DD 429. But Bath, acting quickly, was also able to incorporate this change in its first two ships. Thus, Gleaves emerged as the class leader for all the Gibbs & Cox-designed ships, which included all sixteen of the FY 1939 and 1940 ships (DDs 429–444), as Bethlehem’s follow-on bid to build more ships with its own machinery was rejected.
This might have been the end of orders for these classes: for FY 1941, eight much larger destroyers were initially authorized—DDs 445–452, the first ships of the 2100-ton Fletcher class. But beginning in December 1940, as war became imminent and as Fletcher production could not be accelerated rapidly enough, repeat Gleaves (and, as needed for rapid mobilization, repeat Bensons) were authorized in three more groups, their hull numbers mingling with those for follow-on Fletcher orders.
All these repeat ships were ordered with only four 5-in./38s, due to severe topweight problems with the initial ships. Thus differentiated, they were launched as the Bristol (DD 453) class—but this distinction, too, disappeared when the first 24 Bensons and Gleaves were modified to match as follows:
• Ships assigned to DesRon 7 (the FY 1938 ships plus Plunkett, DD 431) landed their after torpedo tube mounts and added four .50 cal machine guns.
• Ships in DesRon 11 (DesDiv 21’s DDs 429, 430, 432 and 440, which remained in the Atlantic, and DesDiv 22’s DDs 433–436, the first ships of the class deployed to the Pacific)—and DesRon 13 (DDs 437–439, 441–444 plus Bristol, DD 453) retained ten torpedo tubes but landed their No. 3 5-inch mount, while increasing their .50 cal armament to twelve guns.
Today, therefore, all these ships are most often referred to as the Benson and Gleaves classes. Some of them were converted as destroyer-minesweepers (DMS) later in World War II, most of which remained in service after the war. While only five unconverted ships, Livermore, Eberle, Ludlow, Nicholson, and Woodworth, remained in service as training ships, many were sold to foreign navies, where Lardner lasted in Turkish service till 1974.