USS Allen M. Sumner (DD 692).
Had a twin, dual-purpose 5-inch/38 caliber gun mount been available in 1941, the US Navy’s next destroyer design after the Benson and Gleaves classes might well have incorporated it instead of five single mounts, attempted unsuccessfully in those classes though successful in the larger Fletcher class that followed.

The first 2,200-ton Allen M. Sumner-class hull was laid down at Bath Iron Works 24 May 1943, two weeks after that yard’s last Fletcher (a normal time interval within its Fletcher-class production schedule). Changeover was easy because the basic Fletcher propulsion machinery and hull were retained with only a 14-inch increase in beam and adoption of twin rudders for greater maneuverability.

In contrast to the eleven yards that built Fletchers, only six builders retooled for the new construction. Sixty-nine ships were ordered 7 August 1942, with one group of hull numbers assigned to each builder (a 70th, Bristol, DD 857, was numbered and ordered from Bethlehem, San Pedro as the first of its block of Gearings but completed as its last Sumner). As with the Fletchers, Federal Shipbuilding & Dry Dock Co. was assigned the low-numbered ships, DDs 692–709, and thus the lead ship of the class, Allen M. Sumner.

Federal, Bath and Bethlehem, Staten Island each launched their first Sumners only a month after their last Fletchers, again the normal production interval. As with the Fletchers, Bath was first to complete the changeover beginning with Barton (DD 722), commissioned 30 December 1943.

A strength of the Sumners was the enormous firepower that could be directed forward—four 5-inch barrels or even six at longer ranges, as the after mount could be trained forward to fire over the mast. Another strength was the layout of the engineering plant and the increase of generating capacity to 800kW plus 200kW standby diesels. As displacement rose, speed fell: on trials, Barton made 34.2 knots at 2,880 long tons.

An initially-perceived weakness was that they were bow-heavy—the effect of a dispersed 5-inch battery was more weight nearer the ends, making the bows slower to rise in comparison with the Fletchers. Another weakness was the original bridge structure, which proved cramped. Several ships were completed before a change was made to the bridge configuration; those with the earliest bridge design were refitted.

Fifty-eight Allen M. Sumners were completed as destroyers—55 of them (all except John W. Thomason, Buck and Henley) before the war ended. The other twelve were converted as fast minelayers, omitting torpedo tubes and fantail 20mm mounts in favor of rails for 120 mines, though they were never called upon to lay mines.

One division of Sumners served first in the Atlantic—including support of the D-day invasion, where Meredith was lost. Thereafter, they like the subsequent “long-hull” Gearings went to the Pacific where three more were lost—Cooper to a destroyer torpedo in Ormoc Bay (on the west coast of Leyte), and Mannert L. Abele and Drexler to suicide planes at Okinawa, where Hugh W. Hadley and minelayers J. William Ditter and Aaron Ward also were damaged beyond repair, leaving 63 ships available for postwar service.

Today, one Sumner is preserved—Laffey, the “ship that would not die”—at Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum, Mount Pleasant, South Carolina.

Sources: DANFS, Friedman, Reilly, Sumrall, Whitley.