By Robert L. Orleck
See also History
Just try to find a model of a Gearing Class Destroyer in any hobby shop. They just aren’t there! You will find Battleships and Aircraft Carriers, but no Gearing Class Destroyers. But while they are not in hobby shops, they were there during a time in American history when they were needed most and they are still steaming oceans of the world, a testimony to the soundness of their design that has endured for almost a half a century.
The need for the Gearing Class destroyer grew out of the fast changing nature of modern sea warfare. Born at the end of the World War with Germany and Japan, destroyers such as ORLECK were designed to operate with a battle fleet as carrier escorts and front line defense against like enemy vessels. The ships needed to have destructive capabilities but as carrier escorts they also had to be fast to keep up with those fast ships. (ORLECK was known to do 38 knots.) Air threats to carriers required them to be armed to destroy the enemy from above. They also had to have the firepower for shore bombardment. A threat of a Soviet submarine buildup loomed on the horizon after the 50’s, therefore, they had to be modified to reflect an anti-submarine role. In other words, they had to be mean and lean and adaptable. The accomplishments of ORLECK type destroyers show they were all of these.
The USS ORLECK was the last Gearing Class destroyer commissioned during World War II. She was the last of the largest buildup of destroyers in our nation’s history. It ended the program that began with the Fletcher Class Destroyers, continued through the Sumner Class and ultimately to the Gearing Class Destroyer. Most of these ships just plain wore out and were retired in the 60’s and early 70’s. I strongly recommend the reading of THE GEARING CLASS DESTROYER, by Norman Friedman, Arnold S. Lott and Robert F. Sumrall. By using the USS JOSEPH P. KENNEDY, JR. (DD 850) as its example of a Gearing Class Destroyer, it documents the evolutionary history of this tremendous class of warships. Copies of this book are available by writing USS MASSACHUSETTS MEMORIAL COMMITTEE, INC., BATTLESHIP COVE, FALL RIVER, MASSACHUSETTS 02721. In the book it states: “for a ship completed in 1946 to remain active thirty-two years and two wars later is quite remarkable-especially as traditionally destroyers have been thought of as relatively flimsy.” If that is “remarkable”, the 37 years of service to the United States by USS ORLECK is nothing short of “amazing”. Commissioned about the same time as KENNEDY she was the last active FRAMed destroyer in the Pacific and served longer than any other such ship. During this time she saw action in Korea and Vietnam, achieved such accomplishments as being named “Top Gun” of the Seventh Fleet in Vietnam, and becoming a charter member of the “Train Buster Club” in Korea when she knocked out military transport trains on two different occasions. Her final United States port was in Tacoma, Washington, where she was a vital part of the Naval Reserve Forces. Over the years she was decorated many times and the men of the ship developed a pride and loyalty to her and her namesake, Lieutenant Joseph Orleck. She was decommissioned and transferred to the Turkish Navy on 1 October 1982 and operated there as TCG YUCETEPE (D 345) until her decommissioning 1 April 1998. There was conflict in the “of and on” decision to decommission her even then and the only reason she was ultimately put out of service was to make way for more modern ships. At the time of her decommissioning in Turkey she was fully operational.
USS ORLECK/TCG YUCETEPE was in service for a total of almost 54 years. If her service to the United States was “amazing”, then her service to the world was “a miracle”. At the decommissioning ceremony, she looked like a new ship ready to leave for her first shakedown cruise.
The Gearing Class Destroyer authors discuss in detail the design, armaments, torpedoes, ASW weapons and sensors, radar, propulsion, and the FRAM (Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization) modifications. As the USS ORLECK went through basically the same changes as did the KENNEDY, the reading of this book provides much information about our beloved ship. The subjects covered therein are not the present purpose of this attempt at history. What is important to understand is that the ORLECK did go through the evolution and experienced FRAMing and other modifications. Because of the change in warfare tactics she ultimately became a ship that had equipment for not only anti-aircraft but for anti-submarine warfare as well.
USS ORLECK was an excellent bargain for the United States. America got as much “bang for the buck” that could be imagined. Can you visualize what our military might look like if all weapons programs had been as successful? In this day of astronomical weapon’s costs, cost over-runs and quick obsolescence, the USS ORLECK gives some of us the same feeling as remembering the 5 cent loaf of bread of days past.