JANUARY 1942–SEPTEMBER 1942
Before, during, and just after World War I, the American Navy commissioned about 300 new four-stack destroyers. Many of these were scrapped or laid up in order to comply with ship limitations in various naval treaties in the 1920s and 1930s. Commencing in 1934 with Farragut (DD 348), the Navy began commissioning a fleet of modern destroyers that by 12/31/41 numbered about 100 vessels.
After the United States entered the war on December 8, 1941, the British formed the impression that Admiral King stripped the Atlantic Fleet of most destroyers capable of antisubmarine warfare or convoy escort in the first nine months of 1942 to fight the Japanese in the Pacific. This impression has gradually assumed the status of “fact,” but it is not true.1
When the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor, there were ninety-two commissioned American destroyers in the Atlantic theater. In the nine months to September 1, 1942, nineteen of these (21 percent) were sent to the Pacific, along with nine capital ships: carriers Hornet, Wasp, and Yorktown; battleships Idaho, Mississippi, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Dakota, and Washington.
In the same nine months, the Navy commissioned a total of forty-six new destroyers, forty on the East Coast and six on the West Coast. Fourteen of those commissioned on the East Coast and all (six) commissioned on the West Coast were sent to the Pacific theater, a total of twenty. The other twenty-six were sent to the Atlantic Fleet, raising the number of destroyers assigned to the Atlantic theater in this period to ninety-nine, but four destroyers were lost (Ingraham, Jacob Jones, Sturtevant, Truxton), leaving a net force of ninety-five destroyers in the Atlantic theater on September 1, 1942. That was three more than the count on December 7, 1941, virtually no change.
When the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor, there were eighty-five commissioned American destroyers in the Pacific and Far East: fifty assigned to the Pacific Fleet, thirteen to the Asiatic Fleet, and twenty-two to the 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th, and 15th Naval Districts. In the nine months to September 1, 1942, thirty-nine destroyers were added, raising the total number assigned to the Pacific in this period to 124, but ten were lost, leaving a net force of 114 destroyers on September 1, 1942, in the Pacific theater, compared to ninety-five in the Atlantic theater.
From this data it is clear that Admiral King did not strip the Atlantic Fleet of most destroyers capable of antisubmarine warfare or convoy escort in the first nine months of 1942. The size of the Atlantic Fleet destroyer force remained fairly constant. Details: