On March 16, 1898 the USN Special War Plans Board, headed by Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Theodore Roosevelt, issued a report which contained the following, “... we respectfully, but most urgently, point out that the Spanish torpedo-boat
destroyers, now at the Canaries or preparing to come to Cuba, should not be allowed to come. They offer the only real menace to us, although, as I shall mention further, the Spaniards are rapidly accumulating a sufficient number of battleships to give
us cause for some concern. If these torpedo-boat destroyers are allowed to come into Cuban waters they render the problem we have to solve one of great danger. Without them the problem is comparatively easy, and its ultimate solution in our favor is
certain. We can, without difficulty, blockade Havana if there are no torpedo boats inside. If there are torpedo inside the blockade becomes one of very great hazard. Any European country would treat the mobilizing of an army corps on its boarders as a
cause for action, and it is much to be wished that these torpedo-boat destroyers, which of course can only be designed for use against the American Navy, shall be kept where they are or met upon the high seas....What we are most deficient in is torpedo
boats. We especially need torpedo-boat destroyers, and every effort should be made to procure them.
U.S. Destroyers by Norman Friedman, Naval Institute Press, 1982.

In 1865 the United States possessed a modern and sizable navy. Although she did not possess the large ocean going ironclads like the British
HMS Warrior, some of the larger monitors were formidable vessels in their own right. Of course the
development of the USN had been spurred by the crisis of the American Civil War. With the defeat of the Confederacy, the US Navy fell into a steep decline. There were no new ships and what the USN had in 1865 either rotted or rusted. With the
United States looking inwards, world events were basically ignored and a navy of any size was seen as a tool of colonialism. During this time the view of the average American citizen was that colonialism was the tool of Great Britain and other European
powers. As a consequence in two decades the United States had a navy in name only and was incapable of defending itself at sea even against some Latin-American powers and the ability to construct warships atrophied. In 1881 the naval advisory board
had looked into the possibility of the United States building an armored ship of up to 8,500 tons but had rejected the idea. The industrial infrastructure of the United States could not produce the armor plate, large caliber guns or other technologically
advanced features of a major warship. Not only was the technology required beyond American shipyards but existing slips and docks were too small. However, in 1881 the Naval Advisory Board recommended the building of torpedo-boats. The first true
torpedo-boat was built by Great Britain in 1877, the
HMS Lightning.
Germany and Russia all had over 100 torpedo-boats and France had over 200. The Naval Appropriations Bill of August 1886 was ground-breaking, as it for the first time provided for modern armored ships for the USN, the Maine and the Texas .
However, this bill and these ships were not the birth of the modern American Steel Navy. That occurred three years earlier in 1883. In 1881 the naval advisory board had looked into the possibility of the United States building an armored ship of up to
8,500 tons and light torpedo-boats but the navy rejected the ideas. The industrial infrastructure of the United States could not produce the armor plate, large caliber guns or other technologically advanced features of a major warship. Not only was the
technology required beyond American shipyards but existing slips and docks were too small. However, the Naval Appropriations Bill did fund the construction of the first USN torpedo-boat, the
USS Cushing.

The USN proceeded slowly in torpedo-boat development, while other navies were producing them by the bushel, Mostly, they were one offs of questionable quality. Larger torpedo-boats didn’t come about until 1894. Before the USN went to larger 142-
ton torpedo boats, the Royal Navy had already completed the next step, the destroyer, in 1893 and interest in construction of torpedo-boats almost dropped off the table. In 1895 the USN continued down the dead end of torpedo-boat development and
three 165-ton and two 220-ton torpedo boats were authorized. Almost all of the USN torpedo-boats participated in the Spanish American War. Their exploits in the short war hurt their reputation badly. The primary reason was their misuse by the Naval
Command. They were simply used on missions for which they were unsuited. Primarily their use was for patrolling and dispatch duties. These missions required sea-keeping and endurance, qualities which the torpedo-boat lacked. By this time the Royal
Navy was almost mass producing destroyers and other European navies had followed suite. These destroyers had the sea-keeping qualities that torpedo-boats lacked.. There was a last spasm of American torpedo-boat construction and but two of these,
the 279-ton
USS Farragut and 340-ton USS Stringham, were officially described as destroyers in spite of their torpedo-boat origins. The Stringham was poorly built by Harlan and Hollingsworth Company of Wilmington, Delaware. Between 1899 to
1902 she suffered four accidents, which damaged her machinery so that it never met her trial speed requirements. Finally the company threw up their hands and handed the
Stringham to the USN to finish as best as it could. The 255-ton USS
had a similar history. Built by Wolff and Zwicker Company of Portland, Oregon. Over a two year period, Goldsborough failed to attain the contracted speed in 15 separate tests. With her engines wrecked, Wolff and Zwicker forfeited the
contract on
Goldsborough and the ship was turned over to the Puget Sound Navy Yard, which basically rebuilt the ship and commissioned USS Goldsborough in 1908. The Royal Navy had tried farming out destroyer construction to numerous British
firms that had no experience in constructing destroyers and had already discovered that the best destroyers were built by specialist firms, such as Thorneycroft and Yarrow.        

The first USN destroyer orders came with the war expansion program of 1898. The initial USN designs came from either foreign designs or from ramped up torpedo-boat designs. Sixteen ships were ordered under this program. There were four
different designs for these initial destroyers. Seven of the ships were built to three different designs by private firms. Harlan and Hollingsworth was trusted to build the
USS Hopkins and USS Hull, inspite of their problems with the Stringham. The Fore
River Engine Company of East Braintree, Massachusetts received the contract for
USS Lawrence and USS Macdonough, which were launched in 1900. The Maryland Steel Company was awarded contracts for three destroyers, the USS Truxtun, USS
and USS Worden. All seven of these ships were enlarged four funnel torpedo-boat designs, featuring the contemporary British feature of a turtle back forecastle.

The Bureau of Construction and Repair came up with a government plan for destroyers. This plan mashed features of British, French and American ships to produce a design used for the other nine destroyers of this program. The Neafie and Levy
Company of Philadelphia built the
Bainbridge, Barry and Chauncey. The Dale and Decatur were built in Richmond, Virginia by the William R. Trigg Company. On the west coast the Union Iron Works of San Francisco was awarded contracts for the
Paul Jones, Perry and Preble. The USS Stewart contact went to the Gas Engine and Power Company of Morris Heights. The designs varied and length ranged from 239-feet to 248-feet at waterline, a beam of 24-feet and a design displacement ranging
from 408-tons to 433-tons. Coal fired boilers produced steam for triple expansion engines developing 8,000 horsepower for a trial speed of 29-knots. Armament consisted of two 3-inch guns, five or six 6pdr guns and two torpedo tubes. Complement
was 3 officers and 69 crewmen. The government design had bilge keels to reduce the rolling of the ships and also had a high forecastle, instead of the wet turtle back design. All of these early destroyers served through World War One, except
, which sank after being accidentally rammed in a convoy near Gibraltar.
In February 1903 the General Board created a long term plan for warship construction. The Board wished for one large fast turning, seaworthy destroyer to be built for every battleship. That may not seem as much but the Board deemed they destroyer as
the highest priority for construction after the battleship. This plan fell on deaf ears and no new destroyers were authorized. In 1904 the Board requested six new destroyers and yet none were authorized.. When the action reports for the Russo-Japanese
War showed the very high value of the destroyer, new destroyers were authorized in 1906. There had been numerous reports generated by the desired characteristics of new destroyers, including one report to answer the questions of President Roosevelt.
All emphasized the extreme importance of sea keeping. Keeping up withe fleet in rough weather was of greatest importance. This characteristic was considered of far greater importance than the top speed of a destroyer in calm seas. These ships of 1906
were all around 750-tons and used a common design. They were called the
Flivvers, which was a term used for Henry Ford’s Model T automobile. It was a term used to connote cheapness, inferior quality and smallness. That definition would not be
applicable to the new destroyer design, as when they were built, the destroyers of the
Smith Class were the largest and most powerful destroyers in the world.

The first three ships of the
Smith Class were ordered on June 29, 1906. (USS Smith DD-17, USS Lamson DD-18, USS Preston DD-19) The class is sometimes called the Flusser Class because although laid down four and a half months after Smith,
USS Flusser DD-20 commissioned a month earlier than Smith. On March 7, 1907 two more of the ships USS Flusser DD-20 and USS Reid DD-21 were authorized. The Board of Construction approved the design of these five destroyers on the next
day. It allowed using either reciprocating engines of 10,000 hp or Curtis turbines of 9,000 hp with a maximum speed of 28-knots. The ships would carry five 3-inch guns, three on centerline and one on each side of the deck break. The torpedo
arrangement was less impressive with three single tubes, one on each side of the hull and a third centerline aft where the hull was narrower. There was a fear that the torpedoes fired from centerline mounts where the deck was wider would strike the deck
and not clear the ship. The design was to have stowage for one reload for each tube. The Navy used the model basin at the Washington Navy Yard to test the shape of the stern. As a result, the ships were to have a V shaped stern, which was used
through the Flushdecker design. This was a serious mistake, as the shape greatly increased their turning radius, about 50% greater than RN destroyers. Bids were opened in September 1907 and the results were surprising in that the lowest offer for a
reciprocating engine ship was more expensive than the highest price for a turbine propelled design. Bath Iron Works had a very low bid on one of their designs but it was rejected because Bath used its own hull form instead of the one created by the USN.
However, a high bid from Bath on the USN design was accepted because of Bath’s experience with light weight machinery and Bath received the contracts for USS Flusser DD-20 and USS Reid DD-21. Although there was a common design, details were
left to the builders. The result was that the appearances differed among these ships, usually determined by the boiler and funnel arrangements. Three different profiles appeared. Cramp Shipbuilding building of Philadelphia built the
USS Smith DD-17 and
USS Lamson DD-18. These ships had their two middle funnels closely spaced together because of the boiler arrangement. USS Preston DD-19 was built by New York Shipbuilding and her four funnels were equally spaced. The two Bath ships had the
forward two funnels spaced closely together and the aft two spaced closely together. All had three shafts with Parsons turbine engines. The Bath built
Flusser was the fastest of this first five, developing 11,541 hp for 30.41-knots on trials. Obviously,
when the Navy accepted Bath’s higher bid, they knew what they were doing.

Construction of the
Flivvers continued for the Paulding DD-22 Class, Perkins DD-26 Class, Trippe DD-33 Class and Henley DD-39 Class. The Pauldings increased horsepower and speed up to 32.8-knots and went to three dual 18-inch torpedo tubes
and dropped reloads. The General Board was thinking about a new destroyer design. They suggested that destroyers for FY12 be larger with a heavier gun armament and greater range. The idea was to replace the 3-inch guns of the
Flivvers with 4-inch
guns on a one to one basis. C&R prepared eight designs on this guidance and submitted the smallest of these, a 900-ton design with 4-inch guns based on the
Flivvers.  On March 4, 1911 Congress authorized the eight destroyers of the Cassin Class DD-
43-50. To appease the torpedo faction, a fourth twin 18-inch torpedo mount was added on a lengthened hull. The result was the 1,000-ton destroyer. Length was 305-feet 3-inches (93.04m) overall, and 300-feet at waterline. The beam was 30-feet 4-
inches (9.47m) and the hull depth was 17-feet one inch. Design displacement was 1,010-tons. Four Yarrow boilers developed 14,254 horsepower for a top speed of 29.14-knots at trials. Armament was four 4-inch/50 guns and eight 4x2 18-inch torpedo
tubes. Complement was five officers and 93 crewmen.
The General Board proposed going to the 21-inch torpedo for the following O’Brien Class DD-51 through 56, which were authorized on March 4, 1913. Dimensions were the same as the Cassin Class. Standard displacement was 1,050-tons with a full
load displacement of 1,171-tons. The propulsion layout changed considerably. In September 1911 William Cramp & Sons suggested a destroyer with two propeller shafts, instead of three, and a separate reciprocating engines just for cruising. Separate
machinery for cruising would save fuel and be more efficient. The
O’Briens were a mixed bag of layouts. O’Brien DD-51, Nicholson DD-52, and Winslow DD-53 had two separate reciprocating engines for cruising below 15-knots.  McDougal DD-54
Ericsson DD-56 had a single separate reciprocating engine that could be clutched to a single propeller shaft for cruising below 15-knots. Cushing DD-55 had two cruising turbines. Four White-Forster boilers fed steam to two Zoelly direct drive
turbines, which developed 17,000 horsepower for a top speed of 29.17-knots on trials. Armament was four 4-inch/50 (100mm) guns and eight 21-inch (533mm) torpedo tubes in twin tube mounts. The complement was five officers and 96 crewmen.

The contract for
USS O’Brien DD-51 was awarded to the old shipbuilding firm of William Cramp & Sons of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and became Cramps Yard #404. She was laid down of September 8, 1913, launched July 20, 1914 and
commissioned on May 22, 1915. The shakedown cruise was between Newport, Rhode Island and Hampton Roads, Virginia. In November during fleet exercises,
O’Brien collided with the destroyer USS Drayton DD-23. There was only minor damage.
The following month
O’Brien was assigned to the 5th Division of the Atlantic Fleet Torpedo Flotilla. For the next year O’Brien operated with the Atlantic Fleet off the east coast and around Cuba. Early on October 8, 1916 reports were received of a U-
Boat attacking ships near the Nantucket Lightship off eastern Long Island. The
O’Brien and other destroyers were ordered to the scene at 12:30 after an SOS from the British merchant ship SS West Point was received. When the destroyers arrived at
1700 the
U-53 had already sunk three ships, the West Point, British merchant SS Strathdene and Norwegian tanker, SS Christian Knutsen and was in the process of stopping the Holland-America Line cargo ship, SS Blommersdijk, which was sunk
after being abandoned.  As the US was a neutral, the destroyers could only watch as the
U-53 went on with it’s rampage, stopping the British passenger ship, SS Stephano, which she sunk after allowing the crew and passengers to abandon ship, as she
had done with the previous four victims. The US destroyers rescued 226 survivors of the merchant ships.
As 1916 turned into 1917, O’Brien was in peak form.  In target practice in February 1917, one of the O’Brien’s 4-inch guns hit the target eight times with eight consecutive shots at a range of 5,000-yard (4,600m). Winter maneuvers were in the warm
water off Cuba in March 1917 and the
O’Brien was anchored in the York River on April 6, when the US declared war against Germany. She went into the Brooklyn Navy Yard for a refit and on May 15 left for Halifax, Nova Scotia,  with four other
destroyers. Their mission was to serve as convoy escort. They joined to convoy en route to Queenstown, which was reached on May 24, 1917. She was then assigned to the 6th Destroyer Division. Her mission was to patrol the Irish coast and to
escort eastbound convoys. On June 16, 1917 she was 14 miles off Queenstown escorting the merchant ship,
SS Elysia. A periscope was sighted.  O’Brien charged the submarine and the lookout in the crow’s nest saw the submerged submarine pass
close to the starboard side of the destroyer. A depth charge was dropped on
U-16 but no effects were observed. Three hours later an oil patch was reported and further confirmed the next day. The submarine was listed as probably damaged but after
the war, records showed that
U-16 completed her voyage. In the summer of 1918 the O’Brien was transferred to patrols off the coast of France. After the Armistice on November 11, 1918 the USS O’Brien was tasked with providing mail service
between Brest, France, and Plymouth, England. On January 8, 1919 she returned to New York City but in May she became part of the support package for picket duty in the first trans-Atlantic passage of three NC Type seaplanes. Later that year she
assisted in laying the Ambrose Channel pilot cable, a navigational aid in entering the Port of New York and New Jersey.
USS O’Brien DD-51 was decommissiond on June 5, 1922. She was placed in reserve at Philadelphia, where she remained until
March 8, 1935 when she was stricken.
USS O’Brien was broken up at the Philadelphia Navy Yard and the scrap sold on April 23, 1935.

Iron Shipwright 1:350 Scale USS O’Brien DD-51 - Jon Warneke, majordomo of Commanders/Iron Shipwright, was in the process of reorganizing his shop after he acquired all the material that rock star, Ted Paris had in his possession, after
Ted’s retirement from his shipbuilding career, when Jon ran across patterns that he had prepared for resin casting but didn’t get produced. One of these is the
USS O’Brien DD-51 in her 1917 fit. One of the first of the 1,000-tonners, the O’Brien is a
rather handsome ship with a deck break and raised forecastle. I personally like the appearance of the raised forecastle over then larger flush deck design that started with
USS Shaw DD-68. The model is full hull with resin parts and brass photo-etch and
brass rods. It also comes with a decal sheet. As a bonus the
O’Brien kit is rather inexpensive and for December 2020 at least, is discounted in direct orders from ISW. There are casting flaws and flash but certainly nothing that can’t be fixed.
The hull is cast in one piece with the four funnels integral to the hull casting. If you wish to build the O’Brien in a waterline format, you can request this from ISW. Jon will do a partial pour of resin and since the molds are cast with the keel up, the
partial casting will get you close to waterline. In most cases you will have to finish getting to waterline with some sanding because it is far better to cast the hull riding light, rather than showing it too deep in the water. The
O’Brien hull has a rather
handsome profile with very pleasing lines forward. The anchors were carried on deck and so there are no hull anchor hawse fittings. The forecastle extends strait back, creating angles in the raised both, which I find attractive. Two rows of portholes are
in the forecastle level. The first level of the bridge is cast integral to the hull and this has portholes on three sides with an access door on the aft face. At the deck break there are pleasing curved bulkheads running from the forecastle deck to the main
deck. Lower on the hull is a prominent horizontal strengthening strake. This starts just forward of the bridge and runs to underneath the aft deck house. Each strake in my copy had a couple of pinhole voids, which will need to be filled and sanded.
Towards the bottom of the hull, underneath the strengthening strake are the bilge keels. They may be a trifle thick but have only minor repairs, as on bilge keel had only a very small pinhole void and the other had a couple of small nicks. The portholes
pick up just forward of the aft deck house. The propeller shaft skegs and the rear keel extension are cast integral to the hull. One skeg and the keel had a few voids to fill. Lastly my copy had two medium size voids and a number of smaller voids along the
bottom of the hull, which are very easy to fill and sand.

ISW O’Brien has good deck detail. This starts right at the tip of the forecastle with slanting anchor beds. There are chain guides forward of the anchor beds and the windlass base plate and windlass aft. There is a small detailed access hatch to port
and four fittings that look like mushroom ventilators. Aft of the anchor apparatus the forecastle has two bollard plates on each side. The modeler will have to provide the actual bollard bitts. When bollards are part of the mold, they are natural air traps that
create voids. It is easier to cut the bollards from plastic rod, rather than to fix voids on bollards. Locater holes for the forward 4-inch gun and HA gun right in front of the bridge are on centerline. The last forecastle fitting appears to be a four hatch deck
access fitting. As a coal fired ship, there is plenty of detail provided by the numerous coal scuttles on the main deck. Four large circular plates are the base plates for the torpedo tubes. Five smaller circular plates are base plates for large ventilator cowls. A
number of locater holes are located midships. These are the attachment locations for two 4-inch guns right behind the deck break, and boat davits. There are several ammunition lockers midship as well as a raised fitting with ten ventilation hatches for the
machinery spaces. This fitting also has two location holes for smaller ventilator cowlings. As mentioned, the four funnels are integral to the hull. Each has a prominent top apron, steam pipes, and horizontal reinforcing bands. The aprons have a few nicks
for minor repair. Three small deck houses with door detail complete the detail midship. The aft deck house has sufficient detail with detailed doors on both sides, portholes, deck access hatches and ammunition lockers. On the quarterdeck are a couple of
deck access hatches and bollard plates, as well as the locater hole for the aft 4-inch gun.
With so many fittings cast as part of the hull, the count of smaller resin parts is rather small. The two largest of these parts are the bridge and navigation deck. The photographs show the bridge piece with thin resin in the windows. You can just paint these
windows or you can remove them creating open windows for glazing with MicroKlear after the bridge roof is attached. The front face of the bridge has an interesting angular design. You will also notice that there are locater holes for the fore mast. My
copy came with five 4-inch/50 guns, although you need only four and a single AA gun. I really like the detail of these guns although a couple of the 4-inch barrels had a slight warp that will need to be removed through heating. As with all of the smaller
resin parts, there is plenty of flash to be removed with a hobby knife. Likewise I received five twin tube torpedo mounts when only four are needed. These have good detail with banding and end detail. In the box were two resin foremasts with crow’s
nests. One of them has a warp to be removed. One is for the main mast, which is shorter from the fore mast. In addition to shortening it, you’ll have to remove the crow’s nest. It obviously would have better to have a separate mainmast casting. There
are nine ventilation cowls of different sizes included with the kit. Other smaller resin parts, including search light, signal lamps, anchors, ship’s boats, boat davits, binnacle, ship’s wheel base, galley stack, bridge roof support pillar, rudder, propellers and
propeller support struts. A couple of the propellers had blades broken off the hub, which can easily reattached to the hub with super-glue. The smaller parts are adequate in casting quality but will require various amounts of clean up. Clean up includes
removal of flash, reattaching and broken parts and removing any warp from masts and gun barrels. None of this is hard to do but will take a little time.
ISW will also supply more parts to replace broken ones if that is your wish.

ISW O’Brien comes with two brass photo-etch frets and brass rods for propeller shafts. The large brass fret has a lot of goodies. This fret is probably used in all of the ISW models of Flivvers and 1,000-tonners, since all of the brass parts on the
fret are not used on the
O’Brien. In the parts laydown of the instructions, ISW shows which of the specialized brass parts go into the O’Brien. These specialized parts include bridge wing support lattice work, depth charge racks, funnel grates, ship’s
davits, boat position details, bow anchor davit, ship’s wheel, yards, propeller guards, aft davit, streaming anchor with chain and inclined ladders with safety railing and poseable treads. None of the brass parts are relief-etched. Also included on the main
fret are various runs of railing of different patterns, although the instructions fail to show which pattern goes where. The main fret also has plenty of runs of vertical ladder. The second photo-etch fret has standard railing and vertical ladder. This fret
provides four long runs of four bar railing with widely spaced stanchions, two runs of four bar railing with closely spaced stanchions, two runs of three bar railing with widely spaced stanchions, one run of three bar railing with closely spaced stanchions
and two runs of vertical ladder. I like this form of railing in which the bottom bar serves as a the bottom gutter. I find it far easier to attach railing in this format than attaching railing with separate stanchions.

The instructions are adequate but have some major gaps. By far the biggest cloud is the placement of the railing, especially the specialized types. There are notes on railing, which state “Bottom run used on bow”,”Middle runs used amidships for torpedo
tubes”, “2-bar rail used for bridge top and top of aft deck house”. These make sense when you study the fret but are initially confusing. They don’t mention anything about railing at the stern. I assume that the railing on the smaller fret would be used here.
I think that a better approach would be to include them railing in the assembly drawings. The instructions are six single sided pages on thick paper stock. Page one has general assembly tips. Page two has the resin parts laydown. This shows the mainmast
as a resin part, which I assume means the second resin mast could be used for the main mast once the crow’s nest is removed and the mast shortened. Page three is the main brass fret laydown with specialty parts lettered and the above mentioned notes
on the railing. Page four has bow assembly with a profile and a plan view. With the small amount of resin parts in the kit these drawings can be followed without significant problems. Page five has two midship plans for attaching the fittings and
equipment there. There is also an inset showing detail of boat launch facilities, including notes on plastic rod to be cut for this location. Page six has a plan and profile for the stern from the aft deck house through the quarterdeck. This includes dimensions
for cutting propeller shafts and main mast boom.
Are those Flivvers getting you down with their puny 3-inch guns? Are they too slow? Do their anemic 18-inch torpedoes make you cover your face in shame? Cheer Up Bucko! The cure is here! Thanks to Iron Shipwright, you can build a big bruiser in
1:350 scale, the 1,000-ton
USS O’Brien DD-51, bristling with power with 4-inch/50 guns and whopping 21-inch torpedoes.

Steve Backer
Huntsville, Alabama