Destroyers were an integral part of the Navy’s forces during World War II and continue until today to be the “work horses” of the fleet. They are fast warships that work as part of a larger fleet, typically in a carrier battle group. They are sometimes referred to as “Tin Cans” because of their relatively thin steel hulls. During World War II, the Navy built over 330 destroyers. These classes of ships played a crucial role in the overall war effort. They also contained many tons of asbestos insulating products.
World War II Destroyers
Fletcher Class Destroyers
In 1941, the U.S. Navy began building a large fleet of destroyers called the Fletcher class. The Fletcher class destroyers were extremely successful ships. In many cases, they incurred significant damage, but were able to remain in battle. By the end of the war, 175 of these 2,100-ton destroyers had been delivered to the Navy. While they were built for service in World War II, many served during the Korean War and into the Vietnam era.
Sumner Class Destroyers
The Sumner class destroyers were the next class of destroyers to be built. These new destroyers carried over many important engineering aspects of the Fletcher class, but proved to be more maneuverable. They also had some modifications to add to their stability, but in most respects the 58 Sumner class destroyers built during World War II were identical to the prior class of destroyers. After the war, many of these ships were modernization. This program was called the Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization (FRAM) MK II program. It allowed the Sumner class destroyers to be upgraded with more modern weapons and state-of-the-art equipment. With their lives extended by the FRAM program, these ships remained in service for many more decades.
Gearing Class Destroyers
The final U.S. destroyers of World War II were the Gearing class ships. Their design reflected the best aspects of the Fletcher class, and then went the next step. These destroyers were lengthened to carry more fuel and extend their range. By the end of the war, 98 Gearing class destroyers had been completed. These destroyers which had been built for World War II also needed upgrades and modernization by the mid 1950s. At this time, the Navy began the FRAM I program for about half of the Gearing class destroyers. After the lives of these ships were extended, they saw action in Korea, Vietnam, and other military conflicts.
World War II destroyers that contained asbestos insulation include:
• USS Fletcher DD-445
• USS Radford DD-446
• USS Jenkins DD-447
• USS O’Bannon DD-450
• USS Walker DD 517
• USS Wiltsie DD-716
• USS Epperson DD 719
• USS Carpenter DD/DDK/DDE 825
Asbestos on Destroyers
Literally tons of asbestos insulating materials were used on destroyers. According to the Navy’s insulation schedules for the Fletcher class destroyers, these ships required almost 30 tons of thermal insulation. This thermal insulation contained over 85% asbestos by weight. Shipyard workers who built these destroyers and Navy seamen who served on them were exposed to the asbestos dust generated from these tons of asbestos insulation.
The asbestos insulation was used to insulate the machinery and piping throughout the ship. Installation and removal of asbestos insulation creates airborne dust exposing anyone in the vicinity to the associated dangerous health risk. In an environment with tons of insulating materials, asbestos dust was released through the ongoing maintenance and operation of the ship and also by ship vibration and temperature changes during normal operations. Physical contact also caused the release of asbestos.
The shipyard workers and Navy seamen who worked on destroyers were exposed to asbestos dust and the dangerous health risk associated with that exposure, including the risk of contracting mesothelioma.
Asbestos Exposure on Destroyers
Many of our clients worked on Navy destroyers as they were overhauled and repaired in shipyards throughout the country. Many others have also served at sea on Navy destroyers. Their exposure to asbestos on these ships was the cause of their mesothelioma.
Wikipedia; Norman Friedman, U.S. Destroyers, an Illustrated Design History, U.S. Naval Institute; Destroyer History Foundation, http://www.destroyerhistory.org