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Destroyer Arleigh Burke , lead ship of its class
Forbin (D 620), French Horizon-class destroyer
The destroyer Harbin (DD 112), Type 052, (NATO Code: Luhu- class ) of the Chinese People's Liberation Army , put into service in 1994 , during a visit to the US naval base in Pearl Harbor , Hawaii

The destroyer was originally a small and fast warship for the defense against torpedo boats , which is why this type of ship was initially also referred to as a torpedo boat destroyer . In the meantime, destroyers are among the larger units due to the elimination of battleships . In addition, the destroyer is the smallest type of warship that fulfills an all-purpose role and can therefore carry out operational missions in the context of naval warfare on its own without further support .


The term "destroyer" is a literal translation of the English word "destroyer", as the type was designed in Great Britain in response to the development of the torpedo and the torpedo boat . The leading British Navy at the time relied on large ships of the line , which with their large and cumbersome gun batteries could hardly repel fast approaching torpedo boats. To protect them, slightly larger and faster torpedo boats were built, which were supposed to fight attacking torpedo boats with their stronger armament with cannons. This type was called torpedo boat hunter or torpedo boat destroyer (or in France: Contretorpilleur, in Italy: Cacciatorpediniere). The cumbersome term torpedo boat destroyer was soon shortened to destroyer. For a counterattack they were also armed with torpedoes. That is why the line between torpedo boats and destroyers is fluid, especially in the early ships of this type.

During the Second World War , destroyers were used very universally and accordingly built in large numbers, over 600 units in the United States alone . At that time, they weighed 2,000 to 4,000 t and were 120 m long. They reached about 35  knots and were armed with four to ten torpedo tubes and about five guns with a 12.7 cm caliber . In addition, there were an even larger number of smaller destroyer escorts , which mainly served the purpose of anti -submarine defense and accompanied the convoy . The modern frigate emerged from these escort destroyers .

The large destroyers and flotilla leaders represented special developments, which , however, were overtaken by the standard destroyers in terms of their tonnage in World War II.

Today destroyers are up to 8,000 t in size and are equipped with missiles, guns and anti -submarine weapons as well as on- board helicopters . Apart from the aircraft carriers , today they are among the great ships of the navy alongside the cruisers .

Today, modern destroyers are mostly built in stealth construction , which gives them a smooth, flat appearance. The inclined arrangement of all (above water) surfaces reduces the radar reflection . The result is a smaller radar cross-section: The ship is more difficult and later to be recognized by the opposing radar . The USA is now a leader in destroyer construction. They build the Arleigh Burke- class destroyers , which are used for the anti-aircraft defense of their aircraft carriers. Most nations today rely on the cheaper, because more specialized and therefore smaller frigates.

historical development

The beginnings

Perkins , 1912

Forerunners of the destroyers were the torpedo cruisers from 1880 , which were developed as the first torpedo boat defense vehicles. They were armed with several torpedo tubes and guns up to 12 cm in caliber and still had light armor. They were supposed to accompany the ships of the line of the deep sea combat fleet and protect them from attacks by enemy torpedo boats. Because of their water displacement of up to 1,500 tons, they were sometimes also classified as fleet cruisers or 3rd class cruisers (in the latter case, the torpedo armament was often completely missing, but they were relatively heavily armored for their size). Due to the increasing use of faster and more specialized torpedo boat destroyers, a development of the British Royal Navy , the importance of torpedo cruisers steadily declined, so that after 1900 their construction was abandoned. Torpedo cruisers were mainly used in the fleets of Austria-Hungary , Russia , Great Britain , France , Italy and Japan . The term torpedo cruiser is sometimes (though not quite aptly) used for the large destroyers that were used in World War II.

The first torpedo boat destroyers

In 1892 the first "torpedo-boat destroyer" were introduced. taken into service as a defense weapon against torpedo boats. The first class to be designated in this way were the HMS Havock and HMS Hornet , built at Yarrow , which entered service with the Royal Navy in 1894. Up until the Russo-Japanese War in 1904 there were large, fast, heavily armed torpedo boats in almost all navies, for which the abbreviated designation destroyer prevailed

The French Navy, an intensive user of torpedo boats, built its first torpedo boat destroyer in 1899 as the Durandal class under the name "torpilleur d'escadre". After 55 destroyers of around 300 tons, the type was also enlarged from 1909 onwards.

In 1902, the United States launched the USS Bainbridge , Destroyer No. 1, their first destroyer in service and had 16 destroyers in service with the US Navy in 1906.

By the First World War , the destroyers grew from around 300 t to over 1,000 t. The most modern type of destroyer of the Royal Navy at the outbreak of war was the Laforey class with just under 1,000 t, which was specially designed for the conditions in the North Sea. The most modern destroyers in the French Navy were those of the Bisson class of 800 tons. When the war broke out, both navies took over even larger boats that were being built in their states for South American navies. The most powerful destroyers were procured at this time by the Russian Navy with the classes of over 1,250 tons developed from the Nowik with strong German participation.

Only Germany continued to refer to its destroyers as torpedo boats and only gave them manufacturer marks and numbers, but no names. The last boats completed before the outbreak of war belonged to the type Large Torpedo Boat 1911 ( V 1 - V 6 , G 7 - G 12 , S 13 - S 24 ) and displaced 700 to 750 t. During the war another boat of the type Large Torpedo Boat 1916 , the V 116 , of 2,400 t was completed, which was delivered to Italy after the war and sailed Premuda under the Italian flag until 1939 . The S 113 for France was built and delivered as Amiral Sénès by 1919.

Development of warship types before 1945

Z 4 Richard Beitzen , German Navy, 1937

Before 1945, the large surface warships of all naval powers were basically divided into destroyers, light and heavy cruisers, battle cruisers and battleships. This clear division had its origins in the 1922 Washington and London 1930s fleet agreements. In London, Great Britain, the USA and Japan committed themselves to maximum limits for boats of this type (150,000 ts USA / GB, 105,000 ts Japan) and maximum sizes of 1850 ts for flotilla leaders and 1500 ts for normal destroyers, whose strongest weapons were allowed to be 12.7 cm guns. This system resulted in the "classic" destroyer of the Second World War.

The large destroyers, especially those of the French navy and flotilla commanders, represented special developments, but the standard destroyers overtook them in terms of tonnage in World War II. The experience of World War II led to a radical rethinking of the purpose of destroyers. The classic task of the destroyer was the offensive and defensive naval service, i.e. the attack with torpedoes on enemy formations of battleships or cruisers or the defense against enemy destroyers.

War experiences

Fletcher , 1942

During the Second World War , this task was increasingly neglected compared to purely defensive tasks such as submarine hunting and defense against air raids. Although there were still warship versus warship battles above water between destroyers, these remained the exception. This tendency was already evident during the war when most of the destroyer classes were makeshiftly converted to the new tasks and threats.

The anti-aircraft and submarine hunting armament such as B. depth charges or hedgehogs were greatly enhanced in almost all pre-war patterns. To compensate for this additional weight, weapon systems for surface combat such as artillery and torpedo tube sets had to be removed.

In 1945 most American destroyers no longer had torpedo tubes, but the anti-aircraft armament had been quadrupled in some cases because of the threat posed by kamikaze planes. An additional weight factor were new sensors such as radar , which took up more and more space. During World War II, this was seen as a stopgap and new class of destroyers designed during the war, such as the British Battle Class or the American Gearing Class, still had torpedo tubes, but the main artillery was now always against both aircraft, surface and Land targets can be used. After the war, a radical rethink set in: the destroyer now primarily became a security ship for the aircraft carrier, which had taken on the role of the battleship as the core of the fleet. Carrier associations were threatened primarily by enemy aircraft and submarines .


Soviet Kashin- class destroyer

The destroyers of the 1950s took this new role into account, and the torpedo tubes have now completely disappeared. Submarine hunting played an increasingly prominent role in new designs , which led to a reduction in artillery, for example from 6 × 12.7 cm in the Gearing class from 1944 to three guns in the Forrest Sherman class from the 1950s .

The anti-aircraft missile played an increasingly important role in air defense . These initially very large weapons could only be used on cruisers at first. The guided missile destroyer was developed in the mid-1950s, the main task of which is to protect other ships using guided missiles . This is where the developmental strand of all naval powers is divided, and there are the following differences:

United States

  • conventional destroyer for submarine hunting with the designation DD
  • Guided missile destroyer with the designation DDG
  • particularly large destroyers called DLG, which could perform both tasks

Great Britain

  • Anti-aircraft destroyers with guided missiles
  • fast, large frigates for submarine hunting, some larger than destroyers


  • both as a guided missile ship and as a submarine hunter


  • The traditional designation "destroyer" was given up entirely and the ships were designated as "large rocket ship" or "large submarine hunter" according to their function.

Destroyer of the German Navy

The first six destroyers Destroyer 1 to Destroyer 6 ( Class 119 ) of the newly established German Navy were taken on loan from the USA at the end of the 1950s. They were built there as Fletcher- class units during World War II . They were in the 1980s by frigates of Bremen class ( F122 replaced).

The ships of the class 101 / 101A ( Hamburg -class), four new destroyers from the Hamburg shipyard H. C. Stülcken Sohn ( Hamburg , Schleswig-Holstein , Bavaria and Hesse ) put into service in the 1960s, were replaced by four frigates of the Brandenburg class ( F123 ) replaced.

The three US-built Class 103 units ( Lütjens class: Lütjens , Mölders and Rommel ) entered service in 1969/70 and were modified ships of the American Charles F. Adams class . They were decommissioned in 1999 ( Rommel ) and 2003 ( Mölders and Lütjens ). The decisive factors were high, age-related maintenance and operating costs, some of which resulted from the outdated steam boiler drive systems and the high costs for the procurement of spare parts.

The three frigates of the Sachsen -class ( F124 ), which were commissioned from 2004-2006, replaced these last ships of the German Navy, which were designated as destroyers . Due to its equipment and the ability to complete orders single-handedly, many specialist books classify the Saxony class de facto as a destroyer. Nevertheless, she is listed as a frigate.

Modern types of destroyers

The destroyer USS Arthur Radford ( Spruance-class ) alongside the aircraft carrier USS George Washington
A stern view of the
USS Mustin

The classic type of destroyer, which developed from the torpedo boat, lasted until the 1970s. Even if American and Russian guided missile destroyers played a different role at the time, their design was still a further development of the old type, recognizable by the steam turbine drive and a very slim hull.

Gradually the realization took hold that a speed of 30 knots is sufficient for today's tasks. This speed could also be achieved with gas turbines , diesel or mixed propulsion ( CODOG or CODAG ). The renunciation of high speed in turn enabled a less slender hull and thus a final departure from the slender destroyer line.

A first design of this kind was the American Spruance class , a design that many traditionalists classified as extremely ugly and also far too big: These ships displaced 9,100 tons and thus came within the range of a cruiser, had gas turbine propulsion and one for their size relatively light armament. For reasons of tradition, this new submarine hunter was given the name "Destroyer", although in principle it was a completely new type. But the basic ideas were taken up in new ships so that all newer American ships (and many designs by American allies) are based on it. These are called either "guided missile destroyers" (e.g. the Arleigh Burke class) or "guided missile cruisers" ( Ticonderoga class ), but are ultimately variants of the same type with different roles, which they, however, also in the border area between Pushes destroyers and frigates. The last “classic” type of destroyer in the US Navy was the Charles F. Adams class. Ultimately, the terms cruiser, destroyer and frigate are now only traditional names that are only used for z. B. NATO mission definitions provide information about role and size, although the boundaries between the terms are becoming more and more blurred and the transitions are very fluid.

Tasks of modern types of destroyers

The tasks of modern destroyers are usually quite specialized. Most modern destroyers have an emphasis on long-range air defense (AAW), such as. B. in the Arleigh Burke class. In addition, the classic naval war scenarios from the Cold War , such as ASW (submarine hunting) and ASuW (combat against ships), are not entirely ignored. The Spruance class, for example, is another such Cold War design. In the meantime, there is also a trend towards equipping weapons for land targeting ( Arleigh Burke class). With the retirement of the battleships, which could provide excellent fire support with their huge guns, this ability has largely been lost. Cruise missiles are now trying to regain this ability.

Modern destroyer classes

Onami (Japan)
Ashigara (Japan)

Future destroyers

Stealth technology

Caio Duilio (Italy) Horizon class

Most destroyers currently being procured or planned are built according to the stealth principle. This means that the ships are built in such a way that they are difficult to locate. The most important thing is to reduce the radar reflection. For this, all outer walls must be inclined and specially coated. Rocket launchers, guns, dinghies, etc. must also be disguised accordingly. A second point is to reduce the heat radiation, as this can be located by IR sensors. The main problem here are the exhaust gases, which are therefore mixed with air in a complicated process and cooled before they are emitted. Sometimes even entire outer walls of the ship are cooled with cold water. The advantage of these many expensive techniques is that the ships are more difficult and can therefore only be located later by the enemy. After the location, the ship should only be visible to the enemy as a very small object; well below the real size. A disadvantage is that the ships are relatively expensive due to the technology required. For reasons of cost, many navies are therefore procuring a smaller number of ships than the previous class, which should be compensated for by the increased performance of the new destroyers.


Most of these modern destroyers have the armament focus on far-reaching air defense, so-called AAW destroyers ( Zumwalt class , Daring class , Horizon class , F124 ). In addition, some of them also have ASW (submarine hunting) and ASuW (ship combat) capabilities (Horizon, F124). The US destroyers of the Zumwalt class have, in addition to their AAW equipment, extensive land attack capabilities ( Tomahawk - cruise missiles and two 15.5 cm guns). Almost all modern destroyers have one or two helicopters with them when hunting submarines. The US Navy also plans to equip its ships with drones in the long term.

Future destroyer classes

See also


  • Harald Fock: Z-before . 2 volumes. Koehlers Verlagsgesellschaft, Herford 1998, ISBN 3-7822-0762-9 .
  • Rolf Güth: Destroyer Z 34. A war diary from everyday life during the naval war from 1943 to 1945 . 2nd revised edition. Koehlers Verlagsgesellschaft, Herford 1992, ISBN 3-7822-0567-7 , ( Men, Ships, Fates 5).
  • Wolfgang Harnack: The destroyer flotilla of the German Navy from 1958 until today . Koehlers Verlagsgesellschaft, Hamburg 2001, ISBN 3-7822-0816-1 .
  • Robert Jackson: Destroyers, Frigates and Corvettes . Gondrom Verlag, Bindlach 2001, ISBN 3-8112-1873-5 .
  • Alexander Kent: The Destroyers . Ullstein Buchverlage GmbH Co. KG / Ullstein Tas, Berlin 1997, ISBN 3-548-24301-0 .
  • Gerhard Koop, Klaus-Peter Schmolke: The German destroyers 1935-1945 . Bernard & Graefe, Bonn 1995, ISBN 3-7637-5940-9 , ( classes and types of ships in the German Navy 6).
  • David Lyon: The First Destroyers , Chatham Publishing, London (1996), ISBN 1-55750-271-4 .
  • Hans Mehl: Torpedo Boats and Destroyers . Publishing house for traffic, Berlin 1983.
  • Richard V. Simpson: Building The Mosquito Fleet, The US Navy's First Torpedo Boats , Arcadia Publishing, Charleston (2001), ISBN 0-7385-0508-0 .
  • Stefan Terzibaschitsch : Destroyer of the US Navy from the Farragut class to the Forrest Sherman class . Bechtermünz Verlag, Augsburg 1997, ISBN 3-86047-587-8 .
  • Mike J. Whitley: Destroyer in World War II. Technology - classes - types . 2nd Edition. Motorbuch Verlag, Stuttgart 1997, ISBN 3-613-01426-2 .

Web links

Commons : Destroyer  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Destroyer  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Lyon, p. 8
  2. ^ Lyon, p. 53
  3. Lyon, p. 8 f.
  4. Simpson, p. 151
  5. Image and data of the Premuda ( Memento from October 18, 2013 in the Internet Archive )
  6. ↑ Dates of the Amiral Sénès ( Memento of October 18, 2013 in the Internet Archive )
  7. Eric W. Osborne: Destroyers: An Illustrated History of Their Impact. ABC-Clio Inc., 2005, ISBN 1-85109-479-2 , pp. 174 .
  8. ^ Anti Air Warfare
  9. ^ Anti Submarine Warfare
  10. ^ Anti Surface Warfare