USS Norfolk (DL 1).
Below: the five DLs. Click on any image to view it in more detail.
USS Norfolk (DL 1) USS Norfolk (DL 1) USS Mitscher (DL 2) USS Mitscher (DL 2) USS John S. McCain (DL 3) USS John S. McCain (DL 3) USS Willis A. Lee (DL 4) USS Willis A. Lee (DL 4) USS Wilkinson (DL 5) USS Wilkinson (DL 5)
The first five “frigates” began life as destroyer leaders (DL).

Length: 540' overall; 520' waterline.

Beam: 53' 6".

Draft: 26'.

Displacement: 5,600 long tons standard.

Armament: Guns: 8 x 3-inch/70 caliber (4x2); 18 x 20mm (8x2); ASW: 4 x Weapon Able (Alfa); 8 x 21" torpedo tubes.

Propulsion machinery: geared steam turbines, 80,000 shp; 2 shafts.

Design speed: 33 knots.

Endurance: 6,000 nm @ 20 knots.

Design complement: 28 officers; 345 enlisted.

One-of-a-kind Norfolk was conceived as an all-weather anti-submarine hunter-killer cruiser (CLK) and authorized in F/Y 1947. Built at New York Shipbuilding on a modified Atlanta-class hull and thus named for a city, she was designated DL (destroyer leader) 1 and referred to as a “frigate.” In commission 1953–73, she spent her career as a test bed for ASROC, sonar and radar installations but was not duplicated because of her high cost. A planned sister CLK, New Haven, was canceled in 1951.


Length: 490' overall; 476' waterline.

Beam: 47' 6".

Draft: 14' 8".

Displacement: 4,855 long tons full load.

Initial armament: 2 x 5-inch/54 caliber RF (2x1); 4 x 3"/50 (2x2); 8 x 20mm (4x2).
ASW: 2 x Weapon Alfa; 4 x 21" torpedo tubes, 1 depth charge track.

Propulsion machinery: geared steam turbines, 80,000 shp; 2 shafts.

Design speed: 36.5 knots.

Endurance: 4,500 nm @ 20 knots.

Design complement: 28 officers; 345 enlisted.

“Large destroyer” discussions that led to the Mitscher class had originated in 1942, but not until 1949–50 were four keels laid down for DD 927–930, all named for admirals who had served in the Pacific war and died in 1945–47: Mitscher and John S. McCain at Bath and Willis A. Lee and Wilkinson at Bethlehem Quincy. Redesignated DL 2–5 in 1951, they commissioned in 1953 and 1954.

The four frigates were intended as fast task force escorts. Fifty feet shorter than Norfolk but 100 feet longer than the preceding Gearing-class “long-hull 2,200-tonners”, they were large enough to maintain station in a seaway to defend fast carrier task forces from air and submarine attack. Their design incorporated new 950-degree 1,200 psi boilers. All four were used for testing sensors and weapons:

  • The two Bethlehem ships were the US Navy’s first ships modified to mount bow-mounted sonar. Their complex engineering plants proved unreliable, however, and they decommisioned in 1969 after only 15 years’ service;
  • The two Bath ships were fitted with missiles launchers and redesignated DDG 35 and 36 in 1968–69. Reboilered, they remained in commission until 1978.

Sources: Bauer & Roberts, Friedman, Silverstone; Global Security.