Battle of Vella Lavella, 6 October 1943

Battle of Vella Lavella, 6 October 1943

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Battle of Vella Lavella, 6 October 1943

The battle of Vella Lavella (6 October 1943) was a Japanese naval victory that allowed them to evacuate nearly 600 men from the north-western coast of Vella Lavella.

The Americans landed on Vella Lavella on 15 August and at first encountered little resistance on land. The Japanese decided not to try and retake the island, but they did build a barge base at Horaniu (after avoiding an American attempt to intervene, action off Horaniu, 18 August 1943). The few Japanese troops on the island were steadily pushed back, until by 1 October around 600 men were trapped at the north-western corner of the island.

The Japanese decided to try and evacuate the trapped troops. Admiral Ijuin gathered a force of nine destroyers (Akigumo, Isokaze, Kazegumo, Yugumo, Shigure and Samidare, and the destroyer transports Fumizuki, Matsukaze and Yunagi) and twelve lighter craft (four submarine chasers, four motor torpedo boats and four landing craft). At 6.14pm on 6 October he split his fleet, sending Shigure, Samidare and the destroyer transports ahead to Marquana Bay, the evacuation point on Vella Lavella.

The Americans detected the Japanese force on the afternoon of 6 October 1943, and found themselves somewhat short of ships that they could use to intercept it. The only immediately available ships were three destroyers under Captain Walker (O'Bannon, Selfridge and Chevalier). They were ordered to head to a point ten miles north of the island, while three more destroyers (Ralph Talbot, Taylor and Lavallette) under Captain Larson were detached from a convoy that was then south of Vella Lavella and were ordered to head at full speed around the south and west coasts of Vella Lavella.

Walker arrived on the scene first and found himself outnumbered by three to nine. He decided to make a long range attack on the Japanese in the hope that he could drive them towards Larson's southern group. By this time the odds had been improved somewhat as the three destroyer transports had been sent back towards their base. This left the Japanese with six destroyers, as the two that had been detached to escort the destroyer transports returned to the main fleet.

The Americans detected the Japanese on radar at 22.31, while the Japanese lookouts spotted the Americans at 22.35. At first Admiral Ijuin thought they might be the sub chaser group, still heading towards the pickup point. He decided to move west then south around the coast of Vella Lavella, in an attempt to pull the Americans away from the evacuation. He would then turn back and defeat the small American force in less dangerous waters.

At 22.48 the Japanese turned to 207 degrees to head south/ south west. Four minutes later they turned left to 115 degrees (east/ south east). This meant that they were cutting across the front of the American line, crossing the 'T' in classic naval strategy. This would have been a valuable achievement if the Japanese ships hadn’t got in each others way. Instead of getting a chance to focus all of their firepower on the Americans, three of the four destroyers found their view blocked by the Yugumo. Soon afterwards the American ships opened fire. The Yugumo was their main target. She fired a spread of eight torpedoes, but at 23.05 she was hit by an American torpedo and fatally damaged. The remaining three ships in the main group turned south and began to pull away from the Americans, who were now heading west.

At 23.01 one of the Yugumo's torpedoes hit the Chevalier in the port bow, near a magazine. Both torpedo and magazine exploded, blowing the bow off the ship. A few seconds later she was rammed by the O'Bannon, which hadn’t had time to change course to avoid her. This actually made it easier to evacuate the wounded from the Chevalier, and efforts were then made to save her.

This just left the Selfridge. She opened fire on the Shigure and Samidare, which were then heading south-west. At 22.59 the two Japanese ships turned west and fired a salvo of sixteen torpedoes. At 23.06 one of these torpedoes hit the Selfridge at frame 40 on the port side. She was badly damaged, but no fires broke out and she remained afloat.

At this point the Japanese became aware of Larson's fresh destroyers, rapidly approaching from the south. Admiral Ijuin decided to abandon the fight and ordered all of his remaining destroyers and destroyer transports to retreat back to base. This left the sub chaser and transport group, but they successfully evaded the searching Americans. At 0.20am on 7 October Larson's destroyers abandoned the hunt and moved to help the damaged Selfridge and Chevalier.

It soon became clear that the Chevalier couldn't be saved. The O'Bannon launched two of her boats to evacuate the wounded, while the able bodied survivors swam to safety. 250 of her 301 crew were rescued. Once everyone had been evacuated she was sunk by an American torpedo.

The Selfridge was in better condition, and she was able to slowly move backwards while repairs were being carried out. With the surviving bulkheads reinforced she was eventually able to make ten knots and on 8 October she reached safety in Purvis Bay.

While the Americans concentrated on their damaged destroyers the Japanese transport group reached Marquana Bay at 1.10 on 7 October. They embarked all 589 of the isolated troops and just after 3am sailed for safety. The battle had been a clear Japanese victory - both sides lost one destroyer, but the Americans suffered serious damage to a second and minor damage to a third. The Japanese had also successfully carried out the evacuation, the main point of the exercise. As in most of the night naval battles in the Solomons both sides exaggerated their successes. The Japanese claimed to have sunk two cruisers and three destroyers. The Americans claimed three destroyers and believed that they had won the battle, unaware of the successful evacuation. They had also effectively won the wider campaign in the central Solomons.

Battle of Vella Lavella, 6 October 1943 - History

Wartime History
During the night of October 6, 1943 the Naval Battle of Vella Lavella occurred to the north of Vella Lavella. An Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) destroyer force was sent to evacuate Japanese assembled Horoniu (Horaniu) on the northern coast of Vella Lavella. The Japanese force included destroyer-transports: Fumizuki, Matsukaze, and Yūnagi escorted by six destroyers: Akigumo, Isokaze, Kazagumo, Yūgumo, Shigure, and Samidare.

At 11:30pm, the Japanese destroyer escorts spotted three USN destroyers approaching from Vella Gulf including USS Selfridge (DD-357), USS Chevalier (DD-451) and USS O'Bannon. During the battle, Yūgumo was hit and sunk. USS Chevalier was hit by a torpedo and sunk. Both USS O'Bannon and USS Selfridge were damaged.

The Naval Battle of Vella Lavella was considered a Japanese victory as they sustained less damage to their destroyers and were able to complete their evacuation mission.

Japanese Monograph 99 (Southeast Area Naval Operations)

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October 6, 1943 – This Day During World War ll – The Battle of Vella Lavella

October 6, 1943 – The Battle of Vella Lavella was a naval battle of the Pacific campaign of World War II fought on the night of 6 October 1943, near the island of Vella Lavella in the Solomon Islands. The engagement occurred as a result of a Japanese effort to evacuate a 600-man garrison from the island of that name, in the Solomons. These men had been operating a barge base at Horaniu, on the northeast shore of Vella Lavella, since 17 August, assisting in the withdrawal of some 10,000 troops from bypassed Kolombangara. When Allied forces occupied Horaniu on 14 September, the garrison withdrew to Marquana Bay on the northwest tip of the island to await rescue by the navy, The force assembled for the task was somewhat out-sized considering the small number of men to be evacuated it was apparent that Rear Admiral Matsuji Ijuin was expecting a fight, and a force of nine destroyers, A support group—Akigumo, Isokaze, Kazegumo, Yugumo, Shigure, Samidare—And a Transport group—Fumizuki, Matsukaze, Yūnagi— left Rabaul early in the morning of the 6th and steamed south at high speed to rendezvous with a supplemental evacuation unit of some 20 barges and small craft from Buin. As they approached Vella Lavella, Captain Hara Tameichi’s Destroyer division (Japanese destroyer Shigure and Japanese destroyer Samidare) was detached to cover the Transport Group (and hopefully confuse the enemy as to Japanese strength) while Ijuin’s four remaining destroyers swept ahead to block out any intervening forces. Allied patrol planes spotted Ijuin early in the afternoon and six U. S. destroyers were sent northwards to intercept them. But Captain Frank R. Walker’s Northern Group —Selfridge, Chevalier, and O’Bannon, was about 20 miles ahead of Captain Harold O. Larson’s Southern Group —Ralph Talbot, Taylor, and La Vallette— and Walker chose not to wait for Larson’s support before attacking. This was the first of several impetuous decisions made by the U. S. commander. Perhaps, as the late Paul Dull has written, Captain Walker had “a little bit of banzai in him, too.” Admiral Ijuin also had aerial spotters up these reported the American forces steaming north, but exaggerated their strength as including four cruisers, an error which would taint Ijuin’s movements throughout the battle and help to rescue Walker from some of his own mistakes. The Japanese sighting reports led to the early withdrawal of Captain Kanaoka Yuzo’s three lightly-armed destroyer-transports, leaving Ijuin’s force operating eight miles to the west of Ijuin’s four ships when action was joined with Walker just after 2230, some 12 miles north-northwest of Vella Lavella. Ijuin’s best opportunity came early in the action when, turning due south, he was in an excellent position to cap the onrushing Walker’s “T.” But the Japanese admiral almost immediately commenced a series of complex maneuvers which not only lost him this advantage, but sent his own column skidding through dangerous waters, waters into which Walker’s ships at 2255 began unleashing 14 torpedoes. The American destroyers opened up with their guns 20 seconds later. Ijuin, his own ships masking each others’ fire while dodging shell-splashes, seemed in a fix. At this point Commander Oosako Azuma of Yugumo, at the rear of Ijuin’s column, apparently decided to take matters into his own hands, for at 2256 Yugumo suddenly broke formation and charged the Americans, opening gunfire and launching torpedoes as she went. The intrepid destroyer also promptly began taking hits, and was soon reduced to a battered wreck. But Yugumo’s bold attack had turned the tide of battle. At 2301 a Yugumo Long-Lance hit Chevalier’s forward magazine and the resulting explosion tore the destroyer’s bow off as far aft as the bridge. O’bannon, next in line, then plowed into Chevalier’s stern, thus quickly reducing Walker’s strength by two-thirds. This success was Yugumo’s last, for at 2303 the blazing destroyer took at least one American torpedo in return, blew up, and sank at 2310. Admiral Ijuin, observing Yugumo’s sacrifice from afar, disconsolately turned south and then west, making smoke to cover his withdrawal. But Captain Walker in Selfridge was not yet done: his flagship continued plunging ahead to engage Shigure and Samidare, now steering across his front at high speed to join Ijuin. Captain Hara’s destroyers got off a spread of 16 Long-Lances and at 2306 one of Samidare’s hit Selfridge on her port side forward, bringing her to a stop and bringing an end to the battle. By this time Captain Larson’s three-ship division was a mere 15 minutes away from joining in the fray, but Ijuin’s recon plane reported Larson’s position, and the admiral, not wishing to engage any more “cruisers,” ordered retreat. Thus unable to find any enemy to engage, Larson set about succoring Walker’s cripples. Both Selfridge and O’bannon, bows shattered, were able to limp home, but Chevalier was beyond salvage and Lavallette scuttled her with a torpedo at 0311 all but 51 of her crew had earlier been removed. PT-boats later rescued 78 Yugumo survivors while another 25 reached safety in an abandoned O’bannon lifeboat. Commander Oosako was not among them. While the above rescue operations were underway, Captain Nakayama Shigoroku’s little convoy of barges and sub-chasers chugged purposefully into Marquana Bay, took on the 589 evacuees, and sailed for Buin at 0305. Chevalier could not be saved and was sunk around 03:00. The Japanese completed their evacuation mission, ending the second phase of Operation Cartwheel with the Allied capture of the central Solomons after a three-month campaign that cost the Allies six ships the Japanese lost 16.

The destroyers USS Selfridge and O’Bannon at Nouméa after the battle.

4 thoughts on &ldquoJapanese destroyers prevail at Battle of Vella Lavella&rdquo

Hi Ray and Bob. The USS Selfridge could not have been patched up at Subic Bay after after the battle of Vella Lavella. Subic Bay is part of the Philippines, which were not invaded by US forces until October, 1944. Subic Bay was not under allied control until February, 1945. At the time of this battle forward bases that might have been able to do temporary repairs to the Selfridge were perhaps Espiritu-Santo in the New Hebrides, Noumea in New Caledonia, or maybe Australia. I hope this is some help in your research.

My Dad, Frank Lopez, was a Boatswain Mate on the USS Selfridge when it left Pearl Harbour. After the battle of Vella Lavella he was transferred to the USS Buchannan. I believe that the USS Selfridge was patched up at Subic Bay and then went back to San Diego to have a new bow fitted.

Herr’s detailed account of this battle is chilling. My Dad, Douglas Powell, was in the engine room of the USS Selfridge. I’ve been doing research on this battle and am glad I found this site and am very grateful to Mr. Herr. What I haven’t found yet is where the Selfridge and O’Bannon went for repairs and how long it took them. If anyone is aware of this, please email me.

Battle History of the Imperial Japanese Navy by Dull is an excellent source history for the fighting in the Solomons area.

The battle

At 10:30 p.m., an American formation consisting of the three destroyers Selfridge , Chevalier , O'Bannon under the command of Captain Frank R. Walker discovered the Japanese ships. He did not wait for the second formation, consisting of the destroyers Ralph Talbot , Taylor , La Vallette , but went straight to the attack. Both sides fired torpedoes and opened artillery fire at 11:00 p.m.

The Yūgumo , the first ship in the Japanese line, was hit at the rudder, which made her unable to maneuver. However, one of their torpedoes hit the Chevalier , which caused the front ammunition chamber to explode. The O'Bannon collided with the damaged Chevalier due to the restricted visibility caused by the smoke from the guns and the two ships were entangled for a while.

Another torpedo struck the Selfridge and tore off the bow between the first and second turrets. With the remaining American destroyers still taking 15 minutes to arrive, the Japanese had enough time to escape.

Place: Vella Lavella

Vella Lavella Island is forty-two kilometres long and nineteen wide. It is mountainous, with its main peak 808 metres high. It is the most northwestern of the New Georgia Islands, and lies north of Gizo and Ranongga. Bougainville Strait is to its north with the Treasury Islands to the northwest. The island is often called simply 'Vella'. The people speak a language which linguists have named Mbilua, from the East Papua phylum. Mbilua is actually the name of one of four or five dialects of a language that Vella Lavella people call Vekalo. Only five Solomon languages are in this group: Vekalo, Baniata (Rendova), Lavukaleve (Russell Islands), Savosavo (Savo Island), and Kazukuru (North New Georgia). Vella people say that Vekalo is not the island's original language and that it was introduced from nearby Bava after outsiders, with the help of the Bava people, killed off most of the original Vella people.

Whalers and traders visited the area beginning in the early nineteenth century. One of the most powerful Vella Lavella leaders in the later decades of that century was Maghratulo from the Lingi Lingi clan, who gained power through feast-giving, head-hunting and trading turtle shell to Europeans. Judith Bennett records that he was supported by the major clans in the Mbilua district and gained privileges over the unoccupied islets of Ozama and Liapari in the south. Maghratulo's followers planted coconuts at Liapari and he allowed traders to use Ozama as an anchorage, eventually selling the islet to John Macdonald (q.v.) and Jesse Davis. He amassed weapons and was able to organise raids into other parts of the group and Choiseul and Isabel while keeping Vella Lavella peaceful. Maghratulo died in 1894 having established Vella Lavella as a trading and plantation base.

The Methodist Mission established its base on Vella Lavella in 1906 under Rev. Reginald Nicholson (q.v.) who remained in charge until 1920. Nicholson took early photos and also participated in the making of The Transformed Isle (q.v.), one the first films made in the Solomons.

Two of Nicholson's photographs show quaza (pronounced ngguaza), a fermented feasting food used widely in the Western Solomons. Voruku (a type of long taro) and ngali nuts (like almonds) were the ingredients. Puddings were cooked and wrapped in topa leaf (similar to banana leaf) to form beehive-shaped packages made from pandanus leaf, which could be up to ten centimetres thick. Inside were alternative layers of leaves and vines for binding. They stood on a platform (jari) and would last for at least a week. Each quaza stood on a pair of wooden skids shaped like the bows of a war canoe (niabara). They were ideal feasting food because they could be transported, cooked as a single package and each could feed many people. Quaza came in various sizes, the largest needing twelve to sixteen people to carry them on poles. They were transported to feasts each in its own canoe, and then broken up when the feast began.

Before the Second World War, European plantations were established at Mundi Mundi, Jurio, Turovilu Point, Malosova, Liapari, Joroveto and Ruruvai, and at Turovilu Island and Bagga Island just off west Vella Lavella. (Bennett 1987, 68, 82, 88, 89)

During the Second World War, on 6-7 October 1943, Vella Lavella was near the site of the naval battle of Vella Lavella. The Vella people helped rescue 174 survivors of the crew of USS Helena. The island became a target during the first Allied leapfrog operation of the South Pacific campaign. The Japanese were dug in at Munda and were establishing themselves on Kolombangara, but the Allies leapfrogged over these two bases to Vella Lavella, aided by local Vella scouts relying on information given to coastwatchers at Mundi Mundi. The Japanese responded with an air strike but decided against a counter-landing. A battle ensued in which the Allies were victorious, and they established an airstrip on the island. That fighter airstrip is now Barakoma airfield in the island's southern corner. (Information from Gina Tekulu, 14 July 2012, and Graham Baines 15 July 2012)

Battle of Vella Lavella in 1943.

This 28 page newspaper has a five column headline on the front page: "U.S. SHIPS SINK JAPANESE CRUISER AND 2 DESTROYERS IN SOLOMONS" with subheads that include: "2 More Enemy Ships Hit and Others Flee From Vella Gulf Carnage" and more. (see)

Tells of the naval battle of Vella Lavella in the Solomon Islands with the Japanese during World War II.

Other news of the day throughout. Rag edition in nice condition.

wikipedia notes:
At 22:30 they spotted a U.S. force of three destroyers (Selfridge, Chevalier, O'Bannon) commanded by Captain Frank R. Walker, approaching from Vella Gulf. A second division of three U.S. destroyers (Ralph Talbot, Taylor, and La Vallette) was also sailing up the west coast of Vella Lavella. Walker did not wait for his other three destroyers to come up but attacked immediately. Both sides launched torpedoes and opened fire at about 23:00.

Yugumo, first in the Japanese line, was hit several times, knocking out her steering, and she was finished off by a torpedo and sunk at about 23:10. However, one of her torpedoes hit the Chevalier, detonating the forward magazine. O'Bannon then collided with the crippled Chevalier, and for some time the two ships were locked together. Selfridge attacked alone and was hit by a torpedo at 23:06 and disabled. All three ships were severely damaged, and reinforcements still fifteen minutes away. However, the rest of the Japanese turned away, having perhaps misidentified the three approaching destroyers as cruisers.

Tag Archives: battle of vella lavella

The USS Fletcher DD-445

If ever a class of warships can define a ship type the destroyers of the Fletcher Class were that. The most numerous of all United States Navy destroyer classes the Navy commissioned 175 of these ships between June 1942 and February 1945. There were two groupings of ships the 58 round or “high bridge” ships and the 117 square or “low bridged” ships. It was a sound design that would be modified for use in the later Allen M. Sumner and Gearing Class destroyers. Eleven shipyards produced the ships fast, heavily armed and tough the ships would serve in every theater of the war at sea but would find their greatest fame in the Pacific where many became synonymous with the courage and devotion of their officers and crews.

USS Stevens one of the 6 Fletchers equipped with an aircraft catapult

The ships were a major improvement on previous classes of destroyers and were equal or superior to the destroyers of our allies and our enemies in the war. At 2050 tons displacement and 2900 tons full load the ships were significantly larger than preceding classes and were designed to mount a superior anti-aircraft armament to compliment their main battery of five 5” 38 caliber dual purpose guns and ten 21” torpedo tubes. 376 feet long and flush decked they were an exceptionally tough class of ships which was demonstrated often in the brutal surface battles in the South Pacific, Leyte Gulf and in the battles with Kamikazes off the Philippines, Iwo Jima, Okinawa and the Japanese mainland. They were the first destroyers of the US Navy which were built with radar as part of the initial design.

USS O’Bannon DD-450 in 1961

The anti aircraft armament was increased throughout the war. Initially this was composed of: 4 x 40mm Bofors in two twin-mounts and 6 to 13 x 20mm Oerlikon in single-mounts. By June of 1943 new ships of the class mounted 10 x 40mm Bofors in five twin-mounts 7 x 20mm Oerlikon in single-mounts. As the Kamikaze threat became dire ships returning to the United States for refit lost one of their torpedo tube mounts and had their AA armament increased to 14 x 40mm Bofors in three twin and two quad mounts and 12 x 20mm Oerlikon in six twin mounts. One of the more unusual experiments was to equip six ships with a catapult for a float plane. This eliminated some of their AA guns and one torpedo tube mounting. It was not successful and the mounts were removed before the end of the war.

USS Nicholas in action at Kula Gulf

The first ships of the class saw action in the Solomons during the Guadalcanal campaign. Fletcher and O’Bannon took part in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal where O’Bannon was one of several destroyers that ganged up on the Japanese Battleship Hiei at ranges as low as 500 yards causing heavy damage to the Battleship which was sunk by naval aircraft the following day. The O’Bannon would be awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for her actions around Guadalcanal which read:

“For outstanding performance in combat against enemy Japanese forces in the South Pacific from October 7, 1942, to October 7, 1943. An aggressive veteran after a year of continuous and intensive operations in this area, the U.S.S. O’BANNON has taken a tremendous toll of vital Japanese warships, surface vessels and aircraft. Launching a close range attack on hostile combatant ships off Guadalcanal on the night of November 13, 1942, the O’BANNON scored three torpedo hits on a Japanese battleship, boldly engaged two other men o’ war with gunfire and retired safely in spite of damage sustained. During three days of incessant hostilities in July 1943, she gallantly stood down Kula Gulf to bombard enemy shore positions in coverage of our assault groups, later taking a valiant part in the rescue of survivors from the torpedoed U.S.S STRONG while under fierce coastal battery fire and aerial bombing attack and adding her fire power toward the destruction of a large Japanese naval force. In company with two destroyers, the O’BANNON boldly intercepted and repulsed nine hostile warships off Vella Lavella on October 7, 1943, destroying two enemy ships and damaging others. Although severely damaged, she stood by to take aboard and care for survivors of a friendly torpedoed destroyer and retired to base under her own power. The O’BANNON’s splendid acheivements and the gallant fighting spirit of her officers and men reflect great credit upon the United States Naval Service.

Fletcher’s composed DESON 23 the Little Beavers” commanded by Commodore Arleigh “31 knot” Burke. The squadron which covered the initial landings at Bougainville in November 1943 fought in 22 separate engagements during the next four months. During this time the squadron was credited with destroying one Japanese cruiser, nine destroyers, one submarine, several smaller ships, and approximately 30 aircraft. Under Burke the squadron was composed of USS Foote (DD-511), USS Charles Ausburne (DD-570), USS Spence (DD-512), USS Claxton (DD-571), USS Dyson (DD-572), USS Converse (DD-509) and USS Thatcher (DD-514). At the Battle of Cape St. George the squadron intercepted a Japanese force of 5 destroyers sinking 3. At the Battle of Empress Augusta Bay the ships were in action as part of Task Force 39 based around Cruiser Division 12 comprised of the Cleveland Class Light Cruisers Montpelier, Cleveland, Columbia and Denver the took part in the sinking of the Japanese Light Cruiser Sendai and a destroyer. For their efforts DESRON 23 would be awarded the Presidential Unit Citation which stated:

“For extrordinary heroism in action against enemy Japanese forces during the Solomon Islands Campaign, from November 1, 1943, to February 23, 1944. Boldly penetrating submarine-infested waters during a period when Japanese naval and air power was at its height, Destroyer Squadron TWENTY THREE operated in daring defiance of repeated attacks by hostile air groups, closing the enemy’s strongly fortified shores to carry out sustained bombardments against Japanese coastal defenses and render effective cover and fire support for the major invasion operations in this area. Commanded by forceful leaders and manned by aggressive, fearless crews the ships of Squadron TWENTY THREE coordinated as a superb fighting team they countered the enemy’s fierce aerial bombing attacks and destroyed or routed his planes they intercepted his surface task forces, sank or damaged his warships by torpedo fire and prevented interference with our transports. The brilliant and heroic record achieved by Destroyer Squadron TWENTY THREE is a distinctive tribute to the valiant fighting spirit of the individual units in this indomitable combat group and of each skilled and courageous ship’s company.”

USS Johnston DD-557

Fletcher’s served heroically with “Taffy-3” in the Battle of Samar at the Battle of Leyte Gulf. Taffy-3 which was composed of 6 escort carriers, the Fletcher Class destroyers Hoel, Johnston and Heermann and 4 destroyer escorts was assigned the task of providing close air support for troops ashore and anti-submarine protection for transports. On the morning of October 25 th Admiral Halsey took Third Fleet north to engage a Japanese carrier force believing a Japanese surface force of battleships and cruisers to have withdrawn after being heavily hurt by submarine and air attacks. The carrier force had few aircraft and was considered a decoy by the Japanese. This left the San Bernardino Strait unguarded and the Japanese surface force which by now was comprised of 4 battleships including the Yamato as well as 6 heavy and 2 light cruisers and 11 destroyers doubled back going through the strait during the early morning hours of the 25 th . Just before dawn a patrol aircraft spotted the Japanese force and at 0659 Yamato opened fire on the task group.

USS Hoel DD-533

The three Fletcher’s and the Destroyer escort Samuel B Roberts were launched into a suicidal counter-attack against the Japanese force. Led by Johnston under the command of Ernest E. Evans the little ships engaged their vastly superior foe as the escort carriers edged away as they launched and recovered their aircraft to keep a continuous air assault on the Japanese force. Johnston scored numerous hits with her 5” guns on the Heavy Cruiser Kumano and when she reached torpedo range launched her 10 “fish” one of which blew off Kumano’s bow and another of which crippled Kumano’s sister Suzuya before she was hit in quick succession by a 14” shell from the Battleship Kongo which hit her engine room and three 6” shells from Yamato which struck her bridge. Evans kept the crippled ship in the fight drawing fire away from other attacking destroyers and fending off a Japanese destroyer squadron that was trying to flank the carriers. Johnston continued to be hit and was abandon at 0945 sinking 25 minutes later with 186 of her crew. Evans did not survive and was awarded the Medal of Honor.

USS Heermann DD-532 in action at Samar

Hoel under the command of Commander Leon S. Kintberger took on the Battleship Kongo and a column of cruisers lead by the Heavy Cruiser Haguro. Hoel’s torpedo attack on Kongo forced that ship to turn away and torpedo hits were claimed on the Haguro, although that ship remained in action and the Japanese denied any torpedo damage from the attack. The Japanese concentrated on Hoel sinking her at 0855 taking all but 86 of her crew to a watery grave.

Heermann under Commander Amos Hathaway threw herself into the fight engaging Japanese battleships and cruisers. Heermann engaged Heavy Cruiser Chikuma with her guns while mounting a torpedo attack on Haguro. She then attacked the Japanese battleships directly engaging Haruna and forcing Yamato to head away from the action for 10 minutes as she was bracketed by two of Heermann’s torpedoes running on a parallel course. She engaged the other battleships at such close range that they could not hit her and broke off to intercept a column of cruisers. Once again she engaged Chikuma in a bloody duel with both ships taking heavy damage. Crippled by a series of 8” shell hits from the heavy cruisers Heermann was down heavily at the bow, so much so that her anchors dragged the water. Carrier aircraft joined the battle and Chikuma withdrew from the fight and sank during her withdraw. Heermann then engaged Heavy Cruiser Tone before that ship, also damaged by air attack withdrew from the fight. Though she was heavily damaged the Heermann was the only destroyer to survive the action. Despite their terrible losses the ships and aircraft of Taffy-3 sank 3 heavy cruisers and a destroyer and heavily damaged 3 battleships and 3 heavy cruisers.

Just a bit wet, USS Halsey Powell unrep with USS Wisconsin

For their heroic actions which kept the Japanese from getting to the vulnerable transports Taffy-3 including the valiant destroyers Johnston, Hoel, Heerman and Destroyer Escort Samuel B Roberts was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation which read:

“For extraordinary heroism in action against powerful units of the Japanese Fleet during the Battle off Samar, Philippines, October 25, 1944. Silhouetted against the dawn as the Central Japanese Force steamed through San Bernardino Strait towards Leyte Gulf, Task Unit 77.4.3 was suddenly taken under attack by hostile cruisers on its port hand, destroyers on the starboard and battleships from the rear. Quickly laying down a heavy smoke screen, the gallant ships of the Task Unit waged battle fiercely against the superior speed and fire power of the advancing enemy, swiftly launching and rearming aircraft and violently zigzagging in protection of vessels stricken by hostile armor-piercing shells, anti-personnel projectiles and suicide bombers. With one carrier of the group sunk, others badly damaged and squadron aircraft courageously coordinating in the attacks by making dry runs over the enemy Fleet as the Japanese relentlessly closed in for the kill, two of the Unit’s valiant destroyers and one destroyer escort charged the battleships point-blank and, expending their last torpedoes in desperate defense of the entire group, went down under the enemy’s heavy shells as a climax to two and one half hours of sustained and furious combat. The courageous determination and the superb teamwork of the officers and men who fought the embarked planes and who manned the ships of Task Unit 77.4.3 were instrumental in effecting the retirement of a hostile force threatening our Leyte invasion operations and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”

USS Isherwood (DD-520) underway in heavy weather as she comes alongside the heavy cruiser USS Tuscaloosa (CA-37) in August 1943. National Archives and Records Administration. Photo # 80-G-79429. [Navsource]

During the war 19 of the class were lost and 6 damaged so badly that they were not repaired. 44 of the ships were awarded 10 battle stars or more while 19 were awarded Naval Unit Commendations and 16 Presidential Unit Citations. Following the war all were decommissioned and placed in reserve. Many were re-commissioned during the Korean War and served through Vietnam. Some of these ships were modernized with newer ASW weapons and re-designated Escort Destroyers (DDE) while others had their air search radar modernized and were re-classified as Radar Picket Destroyers or (DDR). The last Fletcher in US Service decommissioned in 1971. 52 were sold or transferred under military assistance programs to other navies in the 1950s. The ships served well and the last one in active service the Mexican Navy Destroyer Cuitlahuac the former USS John C Rodgers DD-874 was decommissioned in 2001.

Ex USS Twinning in Republic of China Navy Service, note weapon modifcations

Zerstörer Z-1 Rommel

USS Kidd as Museum and Memorial

Four are currently open as memorial ships the USS Cassin Young DD-793 at Buffalo NY, the USS The Sullivans DD-537 at Boston MA and USS Kidd DD-661 at Baton Rouge LA can be seen in the United States. The Cassin Young is berthed at the old Charlestown Naval Yard in Boston across the pier from the Frigate USS Constitution. The former the Greek destroyer Velos the ex-USS Charette DD-581 is located in Athens. The John Rodgers has been purchased by a group in the US but is currently laid up in Mexico and her fate is undecided. I hope that she too will be saved for future generations.

The Fletcher Class really symbolizes more than any class of destroyer the classic look of what a destroyer should be. Their clean lines and classic design are iconic not just in this country but in the 15 other countries that they would serve in during the following years. Their amazing record and service in World War Two and in the following years in both the US Navy and the navies of our Allies is one that will probably never be surpassed.

I have visited the Cassin Young in Boston it is well worth the time to see. I hope that I might see The Sullivans and Kidd in the coming years.

The Zerstörer Z-4 ex USS Dyson in heavy seas

I salute the ships of the class and the officers and sailors that served on them in peace and war.

Defeat into Victory

Often overlooked now, the first American destroyer action of World War II proved a resounding success. Off Balikpapan, Borneo, on 24 February 1942, four elderly “four-pipers” of the Asiatic Fleet slashed through an anchored Japanese convoy at night, sinking four transports and a vintage destroyer reclassified as a patrol boat. 1 But thereafter until August 1943, the Allies posted a dismal record in Pacific destroyer-versus-destroyer fights.

As the imperfect evidence best indicates, in encounters involving only destroyers or destroyer exchanges within other battles, destroyers flying the Rising Sun ensign and bearing poetic names for weather phenomena probably sank or played the key role in sinking at least 12 Allied destroyers as well as 2 converted destroyer transports. In return, not one Japanese destroyer was sunk wholly by its U.S. (or Allied) peer, although American destroyers apparently contributed to the destruction of four of the enemy ships. 2

This Day in Navy History: October 6 to 9

October 6
1884 - Department of the Navy establishes the Naval War College at Newport, RI (General Order 325).
1940 - Fourth group of 8 U.S. destroyers involved in Destroyers for Bases Deal are turned over to British authorities at Halifax, Canada.
1943 - In night Battle of Vella Lavella, 3 U.S. destroyers attack 9 Japanese destroyers to stop evacuation of Japanese troops from Vella Lavella., Solomon Islands
1958 - USS Seawolf (SSN-575) completes record submerged run of 60 days, logging over 13,700 nautical miles.
1962 - Commissioning of USS Bainbridge (DLGN-25), first nuclear-powered frigate
1987 - Destruction of 3 Iranian small boats
1997 - NASA Astronaut CDR Wendy B. Lawrence, USN returns from mission of STS-86: Shuttle -Mir 7 when Atlantis docked with Mir Space Station. The mission began on 25 September.

October 7
1864 - USS Washusett captures Confederate raider CSS Florida in harbor of Bahia, Brazil.
1924 - Rigid airship Shenandoah commences transcontinental flight.
1975 - President Gerald Ford signs law allowing admission of women into service academies (Public Law 94-106).
2001 - Operation Enduring Freedom begins with carrier air strikes, and ship and submarine Tomahamk strikes.

October 8
1812 - Boat party under Lt. Jesse D. Elliott captures HMS Detroit and Caledonia in Niagara River.
1842 - Commodore Lawrence Kearny in USS Constitution addresses a letter to the Viceroy of China, urging that American merchants in China be granted the same treaty privileges as the British. His negotiations are successful.
1950 - 1st Marine Division commences embarkion at Inchon for landings at Wonsan, Korea.
1961 - USS Tulare (AKA-112) and USS Princeton (CVS-7) rescue seamen from an American and a Lebanese merchant ship, which were aground on Kita Daita Jima.


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