The prewar Gridleys were built under tonnage treaty restrictions, yet they packed an incredible potential whallop of 4 dual purpose 5" guns and no less than 16 21" torpedo tubes. One of the often overlooked strengths of American warship design was the power and efficiency of our superheated steam boilers, which produced higher power in less weight and space, to the point that some of our ships had to have ballasting weights put in their keels.
The Gridleys could have been devastating -- think of it: 64 torpedoes could be fired from a single division of 4 ships! -- but for one of the worst scandals on any side in World War II: our malfunctioning torpedoes. At the very outset of war, naval ordnance specialists pulled the old contact fuses and replaced them with Rube Goldberg magnetic/contact fuses that would break up rather than detonating, if they hit a moving target perpendicularly. Worse, the Navy Department's prewar testing had been in shallow waters, and in the deeper waters of the Pacific, the torpedoes ran deeper and often passed beneath their targets.
Early reports/complaints by frustrated submarine captains were typically rejected as excuses for timidity. The Navy Department could do no wrong.
Finally, in 1943, Admiral Nimitz -- a former submariner himself -- in Pearl Harbor helped convince Washington that there was a problem and helped formulate a solution. After that, particularly in the intense destroyer battles in the Solomons, American torpedoes and radar were a deadly combination which took back the night from the Japanese.
The Gridleys and their Bagley near-sisterships were at Guadalcanal from the very outset, but their lack of radar and uncompetitive night optics usually led the Americans into being surprised. Even worse, our torpedoes occasionally turned back on our launching ships, which could cause great excitement. On the other hand, it appears that one of these ships did manage to mistakenly torpedo our Australian ally's heavy cruiser HMAS Canberra in the first Guadalcanal Battle of Savo (Island, 7/8 August 1942)!
It is a pity these ships were never able to be properly deployed at the right time, but such what-ifs are what naval miniatures wargaming is all about.
There is an exquisite 1:700 plastic waterline model kit of the Gridley class destroyers manufactured by the American model company Midship Models. You might also want to see the "2-D models" of the ships I created, at 1:700, 1:1200, and 1:1800 scales.
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