When fast torpedo boats
became a threat to the Battleship at the end of the 19th Century, a new class of vessel was created to defend the battle line. The 1886 Spanish
was the world's first Torpedo Boat Destroyer; a small, fast vessel armed with multiple guns for use against attacking boats and a few torpedoes
of her own for use against larger warships. The rest of Europe would soon follow this example, and by the turn of the 20th Century Torpedo Boat Destroyers were becoming a common class of warship in all major navies.
In the years before World War One
, Destroyers grew larger as they gained missions and the introduction of Steam Turbines
allowed larger ships to still be fast. By the outbreak of the war Destroyers were scouts, screening vessels, messengers, and at least as much of a torpedo threat to the enemy as were the torpedo boats. But the War would add another mission: hunting submarines
. The exstensive use of U-Boats
by the German Navy
posed created a real menace for the Allies. But the fast, agile Destroyers could sail right over deep-running torpedos and attack a surfaced submine before it could dive. Hydrophones (early passive sonar), depth charges
, and hulls strengthened for Ramming
would become mainstays by War's end. As more time was devoted to concerns other than Torpedo Boats, the class become known simply as the Destoryer.
Between wars, Destroyers moved to focus on their strengths. More and larger torpedoes were added, as was active sonar. The classic Torpedo Boat was now gone, replaced with the smaller MTB
, so guns grew to a size useful against other destroyers (around 5 inches). These additions, and a desire for greater range, caused the class to grow still more. The primary mission if the Destroyer was still to escort other ships, but now it had to protect anything from battle lines to merchant convoys from threats as varied as Submarines, Battlecruisers, MTBs, and other Destroyers.
As in WW1, another mission would greatly change the Destroyer during World War Two. Aircraft had been in use on ships since before the First World War, but in WW2 they became the primary instrument of fleet-versus-fleet combat. To maintain their escort role, Destroyers would now have to add rapid-firing dual-purpose weapons useful against both aircraft and surface threats, as well as get their first intoduction to Radar
After WW2, Destroyers would continue to grow as they maintained their multi-threat escort role into the Nuclear Age
superceeded both torpedos and guns as the offense and defensive weapons of choice, and as radar became more sophisticated it would also become a more prominent component of the class. After a failed flirtation with Nuclear power
, the propulsion of choice for Destroyers would become the marine gas turbine
. At-sea refueling would finally allow the Destroyer to operate as freely as larger warships, and advanced defensive systems would replace thick and heavy armor.
By now, greatly larger and harly recognizable as descendants of the Torpedo Boat Destroyer, the class had become the Guided Missile Destroyer.
Eventually, with the Aircraft Carrier
supplanting the Battleship
and the Guided Missile Cruiser
becoming too expensive for most navies, the Guided Missile Destroyer became the primary Capital Ship of many nations. The present standard by which all other nations' Destroyers are measured is the United States
Navy's Arleigh Burke
-class guided missile destroyers. Armed with guns, defensive missiles, torpedos, Helicopters, cruise missiles, and the incredible AEGIS combat system, the Arleigh Burkes
can attack subs, ships, boats, planes, missiles, land targets, and even satellites
. Over 500 feet long and displacing over 9,000 tons, they're also nearly as large as the Battleships their ancestors once protected.