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Destroyers are some of the faster warships, both of the past and in the current U.S. Navy. The original purpose of a destroyer was to defend the fleet against an enemy’s smaller torpedo boats that approach quickly, deploy torpedoes, and retreat. Rather than evolving from older ships, destroyers were created as an entirely new type of ship for this purpose. Over time the destroyers evolved and were adapted to be able to handle a more diverse range of defensive and offensive operations.

The destroyers of today’s U.S. Navy, which number 65, are some of the more technologically advanced of all navy ships. While current ships are advanced, those of the past used the now dated asbestos in many components. U.S. Navy veterans that served on these older destroyers were likely to have been exposed to asbestos and may have developed mesothelioma or lung cancer as a result.

About Destroyers and Destroyer Classes

Destroyers were designed to be both fast and maneuverable. They escort larger ships that are vulnerable because they are slower and less maneuverable. A destroyer can deter or defend against attacks from smaller, torpedoed vessels. Destroyers are also endurance ships, which although fast can also go long distances, protecting a fleet. The first destroyers were developed in the late 1800s immediately after the development of torpedo ships.

The basic designation for a U.S. Navy destroyer is DD, but there are two additional destroyer types. These are the destroyer leader (DL), and the destroyer, guided missile (DDG). Frigate, guided missile and frigate, guided missile, nuclear propulsion are two destroyer types that were abolished in the 1970s. Within these types are several classes of destroyers

History of Destroyers

In the U.S. Navy, the history of destroyers can be traced back to Theodore Roosevelt during his tenure as the assistant secretary of the navy. At that time, about 1898, the navy had determined that the biggest threat to the fleet were Spanish torpedo boats. These small, fast boats could come in close to larger ships, fire torpedoes and speed away before any return fire could be given. To defend the fleet against these kinds of attacks, Congress approved the funding needed to build 16 destroyers.

The first destroyer in the U.S. Navy was commissioned in 1903 as the USS Bainbridge. It was designed to be fast enough and maneuverable enough to defend against torpedo boats and to endure long voyages escorting larger fleet vessels out at sea. During World War I, destroyer design and construction had been significantly improved and these vessels were able to escort and defend the fleet but also find and attack submarines. During the war the destroyers engaged in over 250 battles with German submarines and also transported personnel across the Atlantic Ocean.

Destroyers were also important in World War II and many more were commissioned to once again defend against and attack the German fleet. During the war, destroyers targeted submarines, cleared shore batteries, rescued fallen airmen, and took out enemy planes. During the Korean and Vietnam Wars the destroyers were instrumental in navigating shallower waters. Destroyers have proved to be versatile tools for the U.S. Navy and they are still in use today with more being built and commissioned.

Asbestos Use in Destroyers

The U.S. Navy used asbestos extensively in most of its ships, especially those built from about the 1930s through the 1970s. Hundreds of materials were made with asbestos and placed in ships, including destroyers. Asbestos was used for its ability to insulate and to fireproof and also because it was accessible, inexpensive, and lightweight. All of these properties were important for materials that would be used on navy ships.

In destroyers asbestos was in hundreds of items and materials, including insulation around pipes, insulation in the boiler and engine rooms, in pumps, valves, and gaskets, in fireproofing materials, on heaters, and in many other locations. Gunners manning the guns on destroyers had to wear asbestos gloves to protect their hands. Deck matting, flooring material, tiles, and other components on these ships contained asbestos.

Personnel Exposed to Asbestos

Any personnel, including sailors and officers, who were stationed on destroyers built before the late 1970s were likely to have been at risk for asbestos exposure. These ships were laden with asbestos and working around it put people at risk. Those at the most risk were sailors who worked in the engine or boiler room, or who performed maintenance or repairs on materials that contained asbestos. These men and women would have been exposed if the asbestos was disturbed and fibers came loose, a common occurrence during maintenance work.

U.S. Navy veterans have some of the highest rates of mesothelioma because of this exposure. Those that served on destroyers with asbestos were also at risk for developing lung cancer and a type of lung scarring called asbestosis. Also at risk were any workers that were based in the shipyards and that worked on or near the destroyers while they were being built or repaired.

U.S. Navy Destroyers with Asbestos

There have been hundreds of U.S. destroyers over the years, as these ships have played important roles for the navy, both in war time and during peace time. Many of them, especially those built before and in the few decades after World War II, were built using asbestos. This is a partial list of some of the destroyers that are known to have contained asbestos and that may have caused veterans to later develop asbestos-related illnesses.

  • USS Aaron Ward, commissioned 1944, scrapped
  • USS Abbot, commissioned 1919, transferred to Great Britain
  • USS Abner Read, commissioned 1943, sunk
  • USS Agerholm, commissioned 1946, sunk
  • USS Albert W. Grant, commissioned 1943, scrapped
  • USS Alden, commissioned 1919, scrapped
  • USS Alfred A. Cunningham, commissioned 1944, sunk
  • USS Allen M. Sumner, commissioned 1944, scrapped
  • USS Arnold J. Isbell, commissioned 1946, transferred to Greece
  • USS Ault, commissioned 1944, scrapped
  • USS Bache, commissioned 1942, scrapped
  • USS Basilone, commissioned 1949, sunk
  • USS Bausell, commissioned 1946, sunk
  • USS Bigelow, commissioned 1957, sunk
  • USS Black, commissioned 1943, scrapped
  • USS Blandy, commissioned 1957, scrapped
  • USS Brownson, commissioned 1945, sold
  • USS Burrows, commissioned 1911, scrapped
  • USS Caron, commissioned 1977, sunk
  • USS Carpenter, commissioned 1949, transferred to Turkey
  • USS Charles R. Ware, commissioned 1945, sunk
  • USS Comte de Grasse, commissioned 1978, sunk
  • USS Conolly, commissioned 1978, sunk
  • USS Corry, commissioned 1946, transferred to Greece
  • USS Cotten, commissioned 1946, scrapped
  • USS Du Pont, commissioned 1957, scrapped
  • USS Eugene A. Greene, commissioned 1945, transferred to Spain
  • USS Gainard, commissioned 1944, scrapped
  • USS Gearing, commissioned 1944, scrapped
  • USS Hawkins, commissioned 1945, transferred to Taiwan
  • USS Hull, commissioned 1958, sunk
  • USS Ingersoll, commissioned 1943, sunk
  • USS James C. Owens, commissioned 1945, transferred to Brazil
  • USS James E. Kyes, commissioned 1946, transferred to Taiwan
  • USS Keppler, commissioned 1947, sold to Turkey
  • USS Kinkaid, commissioned 1976, sunk
  • USS McCaffery, commissioned 1945, scrapped
  • USS McKean, commissioned 1945, sold to Turkey
  • USS Noa, commissioned 1945, loaned to Spain
  • USS O’Brien, commissioned 1944, sunk
  • USS O’Brien, commissioned 1977, sunk
  • USS Oldendorf, commissioned 1978, sunk
  • USS Perry, commissioned 1946, scrapped
  • USS Peterson, commissioned 1977, sunk
  • USS Robert L. Wilson, commissioned 1946, sunk
  • USS Shields, commissioned 1945, sold to Brazil
  • USS Steinaker, commissioned 1945, sold to Mexico
  • USS Theodore E. Chandler, commissioned 1946, scrapped
  • USS Thorn, commissioned 1943, sunk
  • USS Vesole, commissioned 1945, sunk
  • USS Vogelgesang 1945, sold to Mexico
  • USS Walke, commissioned 1944, scrapped
  • USS Willis A. Lee, commissioned 1954, scrapped
  • USS Wren, commissioned 1944, scrapped

Hundreds of destroyers were built for use in the U.S. Navy over the decades during which it was common practice to use asbestos in ships of all types. This means that thousands of sailors and officers were put at risk of developing mesothelioma and related illnesses. Today these veterans are suffering and can seek support and resource through the Veterans Administration.

Page edited by Dave Foster

Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available.

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