destroyer, class of warship very fast relative to its length, generally equipped with torpedos, antisubmarine equipment, and medium-caliber and antiaircraft guns. The newest destroyers are equipped with guided missiles as their chief offensive weapon. The destroyer, originally called the torpedo-boat destroyer, was introduced in 1892 as an answer to the torpedo boat, but it rapidly replaced that type by taking over its functions. Later, its role as a torpedo launcher declined, and today destroyers have a mainly defensive role; they are used for convoying merchant ships and as escort vessels in a battle fleet. Destroyers were of great importance in World War II; equipped with new electronic devices, they proved highly effective as antisubmarine weapons and, hence, as escorts for convoys. Specialized types include the radar picket destroyer, designed for detection of enemy aircraft and control of friendly combat air patrol, and the minelaying destroyer. The USS Truxtun (launched in 1964) was the first of a class of nuclear-powered destroyer-type ships, officially categorized as frigates.
See E. Brookes, Destroyer (1962); E. J. March, British Destroyers: A History of Development 1892–1953 (1966); Jane's Fighting Ships (pub. annually since 1897).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.