Although the operations of the U.S. Navy's aircraft carriers and submarines in the Second World War have attracted great attention over the years, it was the ubiquitous destroyers that actually provided the backbone of the fleet when their were few carriers available and the submarines were plagued by faulty torpedoes. In Osprey's US Destroyers 1934-45, destroyer specialist David McComb provides a wealth of information on the U.S. destroyer classes built between 1932-1942. These pre-war destroyers, comprising 169 ships in 11 classes, are not as well known as the war-time Fletcher-class, but these are the destroyers that formed the cutting edge of both the Atlantic and Pacific fleets in the early years of the Second World War. Overall, this is a very effective and concise summary which should prove very useful for naval buffs.
After a brief introduction that discusses the development of American inter-war destroyers and the post-World War One building holiday until 1932, McComb begins with a class by class synopsis. For each class, the author provides a brief summary of its development and lists all ships and hull numbers in a table. The author also makes several interesting comments about the pre-war destroyers, such as the superior quality of construction used, the decision to add Main Battery Directors and the risky decision to use high-pressure steam plants. Throughout these concise sections, the author's insight on the development of American destroyers is quite clear. The author then goes into a few pages on modernization of these destroyers, including radar and improved anti-aircraft defenses, but this section is a bit thin on detail. The actual offensive and defensive capabilities of these destroyers are listed in statistical terms, but a graphic showing the anti-aircraft umbrella would have been more useful.
Fully half the volume covers the major combat operations of the pre-war destroyers during the Second World War, but this only gives a flavor of destroyer operations. Also, the emphasis is on destroyer operations in 1942-45, with much less on the early war period when these ships were virtually the only game in town. Graphically, this volume is very appealing: there are two battle scenes (USS Tillman versus German glide bombs off Naples in November 1943; Moosbrugger's Task Group 31.2 enroute to Vella Gulf, August 1943), eight side profiles (USS Wainwright of Sims-class, 1944; USS Hilary P. Jones of Benson-class, 1944; USS Ralph Talbot of Bagley-class, 1943; USS Sterett of Benham class, 1943; USS Dewey of Farragut-class, 1944; USS Smith of Mahan-class, 1944; USS Landsowne of Gleaves-class, 1945; USS Ellyson, 1945) and a cutaway color profile of USS Morris, Sims-class, 1942. However, there are no depictions of any of the destroyers in pre-war colors or configurations (e.g. no radar) and certain classes such as the Porter- and Somers- class are not well represented here. The author includes multiple tables (Pre-WW2US Navy Destroyer Classes by Fiscal Year; Design specifications for each class and recognition features, plus several on Pacific/Atlantic Fleet destroyer squadrons formed in 1942-44), which has quite a bit of useful data. Yet there is no mention of how much individual destroyers cost and I would have liked to known why the cost of each class doubled between 1932 and 1937 (my guess would be the high pressure steam plant played a large role in driving up the cost). There is also no discussion about how naval intelligence data on foreign destroyer programs influenced American destroyer design, but this would have been useful as well. Nevertheless, this is an excellent summary of U.S. prewar destroyer classes and once the author completes the next volume on wartime classes, these should prove to be handy references.