Friday, March 10, 2023

Fullbore Friday

Many know about the second USS LAFFEY (DD-724), the "ship that would not die," but what about the first?

Put yourself in the shoes of its first, and only, Captain.

Your ship is only been commissioned seven months. Heck, she still smells of shipyard.

You don't care though.  

Sure, it took you 15-years after you graduated from Annapolis to make LCDR, but that's OK. Promotions were slow from 1925 to the buildup before the war. Two years later you get command of brand new destroyer, the USS LAFFEY (DD-459) just five months after Pearl Harbor.

You get through your shakedown cruise and five months in to command you bring your crew of 208 Sailors in to combat.

Less than a month after arriving in the southwest pacific, your crew had their first test at Battle of Cape Esperance. 

The action would not stop ... but the night of 13 November 1942 would make your ship legend;

LAFFEY sighted both Japanese battleships shortly after CUSHING came under fire. LAFFEY passed under the bow of HIEI at a range of 20 yards, blasting the battleship at point-blank range with 5” shells and 20mm fire (officers on the bridge of LAFFEY also fired their side-arms at the battleship.) RADM Abe and the captain of HIEI were both wounded and Abe’s Chief of Staff killed by fire from LAFFEY. Abe did not remember the rest of the battle after being wounded. The early hits from LAFFEY and CUSHING, set HIEI’s massive superstructure aflame (described by some as a like a burning high rise apartment building) with the result that HIEI drew fire and numerous hits (over 85) from almost every U.S. ship engaged in the battle, resulting in massive topside damage, but none which penetrated to her vitals. In the confusion HIEI also fired on several Japanese destroyers. LAFFEY escaped from HIEI only to run into the large anti-aircraft destroyer TERUZUKI, which scored repeated hits on LAFFEY and blew off her stern with a torpedo before a salvo of 14” shells from the battleship KIRISHIMA hit LAFFEY. TERUZUKI avoided using her searchlight and as a result avoided drawing fire. As fires raged out of control from more hits by three other Japanese destroyers, LCDR Hank gave the order to abandon ship, just before a massive explosion tore LAFFEY apart, killing Hank and many men.

Presidential Unit Citation. LCDR Hank awarded posthumous Navy Cross.

Out of that crew of 208?  57 KIA/114 WIA. That is an 82% casualty rate.


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