Archive for the 'Destroyers' Category

Nov 13

Eugene A. Barham: A JO Steps Up to the Plate

Sunday, November 13, 2011 12:01 AM

During combat, situations often arise that cause junior officers to step up to the plate, testing their mettle.

Eugene A. Barham’s critical moment came during the Guadalcanal campaign. “Slim” Barham had graduated from the Naval Academy in 1935 and had become engineer officer of the destroyer Laffey at her commissioning on 31 March 1942. The Laffey spent the next 228 days in the Pacific, escorting aircraft carriers and trying to stop the “Tokyo Express” from delivering reinforcements down “the Slot” to Guadalcanal.

On Friday 13 November 1942, the Laffey and seven other American destroyers and five cruisers fought eleven Japanese destroyers, one cruiser, and two battleships in a naval melee that one U.S. skipper likened to “a barroom brawl after the lights had been shot out.” The Laffey nearly got sliced in two by the Japanese battleship Hiei when she crossed the Hiei’s “T,” her stern clearing the battleship’s bow by less than 20 feet. As the Laffey moved off she poured fire from every available gun into the Hiei’s tall, pagoda-like superstructure, which seemed to collapse like a house of cards. A few minutes later, shells from three Japanese destroyers and the battleship Kirishima ripped into the Laffey while a torpedo blew off her stern. In an instant the once taut ship became a blazing, sinking wreck.

Barham was below at his post in the engineering spaces when the torpedo struck. All the lights went out and the temperature suddenly shot up as steam poured in. Barham ordered the spaces evacuated. All the men got out. Barham grabbed a flashlight and tried to return below to inspect the damage, but the engineering spaces were so hot that water pouring in began jumping up and down and boiling as soon as it hit the steel floor plates.

Barham returned topside and made a quick survey. The ship was strewn with dead and injured Sailors, some with their legs severed. One young Sailor, still conscious, lay on the deck, his broken legs pinned under twisted steel. Fires raged in the space below, heating the deck plates and scorching his flesh. Two torpedomen worked frantically to free him before he was cooked, blown away by incoming shells, or drowned by rising water.

Barham went to the bridge. He told the skipper that they had to abandon ship. The captain argued, but then gave Barham permission to get the men organized. The executive officer, who should have been performing this duty, had frozen. The men got the boats and rafts in the water, climbed on board when their turn came, and shoved off. Barham led the “swimming party” of twenty-five men, for whom there was no room on the boats and rafts. The swimming party jumped into the oil-covered water and swam for their lives. They got only about fifty to one hundred feet away when the destroyer exploded. With debris falling around him, Barham dove down under the water. When he could hold his breath no longer, he returned to the surface and watched the Laffey’s bow rear up and plunge beneath the surface.

Barham turned to look for the others in swimming party, but didn’t see anyone. He remained still and listened. Soon, he heard the chugging of a small motor. He pulled his flashlight from his pocket and flashed it in the direction of the sound. A boat appeared and the sailors on board fished him out of the water. As ranking officer, Barham took charge of the boat. He picked up several swimmers, put five life rafts under tow, and began pulling them toward Guadalcanal.

As the raft chain drew near the island, Higgins boats full of U.S. Marines picked up the Sailors and took them ashore. Most of the wounded survived. For his conduct that night Barham received the Bronze Star and command of his own destroyer. In 1958 he retired from the Navy at the rank of rear admiral.

Despite fires raging and enemy fire pouring on the Laffey, Barham managed to assess the situation, quickly determine what needed to be done, and take the steps necessary to save his men. Somehow he remained unafraid and stayed focused on the job throughout the ordeal. It was an innate courage, the kind that can’t be taught, that enabled him to keep his cool under the most intense stress imaginable and to put saving lives above taking a chance at glory.

Admiral Arleigh A. Burke, himself a World War II destroyerman, once said that an officer has only seconds to make decisions in combat. “If he waits too long,” Burke declared, “he’s useless, which is worse than being dead.” Eugene A. Barham had mustered his courage in the nick of time.

 
Nov 13

Sullivan Brothers Lost at Guadalcanal, 13 November 1942

Sunday, November 13, 2011 12:01 AM

On 13 November 1942 the light cruiser Juneau (CL 52) sank off Guadalcanal, with the loss of all but ten of her crew. Among the dead were all five brothers of the Sullivan family from Waterloo, Iowa. Albert, Francis, George, Joseph, and Madison Sullivan had enlisted together on 3 January 1942, with condition that they be allowed to serve on the same ship. News of the deaths of all five brothers became a rallying point for the war effort, with posters and speeches honoring their sacrifice, extensive newspaper and radio coverage, and war bond drives and other patriotic campaigns which culminated in the 1944 movie, “The Sullivans.”

Their sister Genevieve enlisted in the U.S. Naval Reserve as a Specialist (Recruiter) Third Class and, with her parents, visited more than 200 manufacturing plants and shipyards under the auspices of the Industrial Incentive Division, Executive Office of the Secretary, Navy Department. According to a 9 February 1943 Navy Department Press Release, the Sullivans “visited war production plants urging employees to work harder to produce weapons for the Navy so that the war may come to an end sooner.” By January 1944 the three surviving Sullivans had spoken to over a million workers in sixty-five cities and reached millions of others over the radio.

On 10 February 1943 the Navy officially canceled the name Putnam (DD 537) and assigned the name The Sullivans to a destroyer under construction. Sponsored by Mrs. Alleta Sullivan, mother of the five Sullivan brothers, and commissioned 30 September 1943, The Sullivans served the Navy until decommissioning on 7 January 1965. In 1977 the destroyer was donated to the city of Buffalo, New York, as a memorial in the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Servicemen’s Park. The second The Sullivans (DDG 68) was laid down on 14 June 1993 at Bath, Maine, by Bath Iron Works Co. and launched on 12 August 1995 sponsored by Kelly Sullivan Loughren, granddaughter of Albert Leo Sullivan. Commissioned on 19 April 1997 at Staten Island, New York, under the command of Commander Gerard D. Roncolato, the ship’s motto, “We Stick Together,” echoes the determination and dedication of the brothers for which the ship was named.

 
Nov 6

Neutrality Patrol Seizes German Prize, 6 November 1941

Sunday, November 6, 2011 12:01 AM

While on neutrality patrol in the Atlantic Ocean near the Equator on 6 November 1941, the light cruiser OMAHA (CL 4) and the destroyer SOMERS (DD 381) sighted a suspicious vessel.

Although flying the American flag and carrying the name WILLMOTO of Philadelphia on her stern, the freighter refused to satisfactorily identify herself and took evasive actions. The Americans ordered the stranger to heave to. As OMAHA’s crew dispatched a boarding party, the freighter’s crew took to life boats and hoisted a signal which indicated that the ship was sinking.

When the OMAHA party pulled alongside they could hear explosions from within the hull, further arousing their suspicions. Upon boarding they soon discovered that their quarry was the German blockade runner ODENWALD. Only one of the ship’s generators was operating and selected watertight doors were open, clearly indicating that the crew was attempting to scuttle her. In spite of the dangerous conditions, in short order the men from OMAHA salvaged the vessel, rendered her safe, and had her underway for Puerto Rico.

In 1947 the crews of SOMERS and OMAHA were awarded salvage money by the United States District Court for Puerto Rico for their prize.

 
Oct 31

First U.S. Ship Lost in WWII, 31 October 1941

Monday, October 31, 2011 12:01 AM

Commissioned on 24 September 1920, the destroyer REUBEN JAMES (DD 245) served in the Atlantic Fleet, operating in the Adriatic, Mediterranean, and off Nicaragua, before decommissioning at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on 20 January 1931.

She recommissioned on 9 March 1932, and upon the outbreak of war in Europe in September 1939 she joined the Neutrality Patrol, guarding the Atlantic and Caribbean approaches to the American coast. In March 1941 REUBEN JAMES joined the convoy escort force established to promote the safe arrival of war materials to Britain. This escort force guarded convoys as far as Iceland, where they became the responsibility of British escorts.

Based at Hvalfjordur, Iceland, she sailed from Argentia, Newfoundland, on 23 October 1941, with four other destroyers to escort eastbound convoy HX-156.

At about 0525 on 31 October 1941, REUBEN JAMES was torpedoed by German submarine U-562. Her magazine exploded, and she sank quickly. Forty-four of the crew survived, and 115 died. REUBEN JAMES was the first U.S. Navy ship sunk by hostile action in World War II.

 
Dec 16

USS Charles R. Ware – On Navy TV

Thursday, December 16, 2010 8:38 AM

Now on NAVY TV – The story of the USS Charles R. Ware (DD-865).

USS Charles R. Ware (DD-865) was named for Lieutenant Charles Rollins Ware, a hero of the Battle of Midway. She sailed the seas for 36 years until the Navy scuttled her on November 15, 1981. This is her story as told by the men that sailed her and remember her as they gather annually at the ship’s reunions. Produced by John Bailey

Take a tour of the ship, and listen to the sea stories of her days at sea.


 
 
7ads6x98y