A Tin Can Sailors
Destroyer History


USS O'BANNON was the second of the FLETCHER class ships to be laid down at the Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine. As became common practice in the days of "mass-produced destroyers," her construction began on the same day as her sister, USS NICHOLAS, and O'BANNON was launched on February 19, 1942, just like her sister. She would follow NICHOLAS into commission, on June 26, 1942.

The new destroyer's brief training period in the Caribbean ended in August with the order to report to American forces in the Southwest Pacific. The land and naval battles of Guadalcanal had reached the critical phase and control of the island, just over eight hundred miles from Australia, could decide the outcome of the war in the Pacific. The new destroyer was based southeast of the embattled island, at the American facility at Noumea, New Caledonia. Each time she sailed toward the battle zone, O’BANNON faced a new challenge.

On her first voyage to Guadalcanal, DD-450 served as an escort for USS COPAHEE (CVE-12) a "jeep" or "escort" carrier delivering replacement aircraft to the Marines at Henderson Field. Her escort duties took her all over the region, but her activities in November 1942, were among the most significant. On her approach to the island, defending a large convoy of reinforcements and supplies, O'BANNON spotted a large enemy submarine on the surface. The destroyer succeeded in forcing the sub to submerge, then, with an adroit application of depth charges, was able to hold the undersea attacker down while the convoy passed. Within days, after the convoy had arrived and begun to unload cargo and troops, O'BANNON's charges were attacked by fifteen Nakajima B6N2 "Jill" torpedo bombers. All but one of the enemy aircraft were shot down; O'BANNON engaging four herself. The battle seemed won, but heavier Japanese forces were moving south into the battle.

Early in the morning of November 13, 1942, heavy Japanese surface units steamed toward Guadalcanal. Two battleships, a light cruiser, and fourteen destroyers were supposed to bombard the American air base at Henderson Field, smash the concentration of troop transports reinforcing the Allied beachhead, and cover reinforcements of their own. Two heavy cruisers, three light cruisers, and eight destroyers stood between the marauding Japanese and victory at Guadalcanal. The American force, formed in a column with destroyers in the van and the rear guard, hit the lead destroyers of the Japanese unit in pitch darkness. The subsequent battle was bloody and critically important.

USS O'BANNON, fourth in line in the van of the attack, broke through the screen of destroyers and headed for the Imperial Japanese battleship HIEI. DD-450 passed so close to the Japanese battlewagon that the huge vessel could not depress her guns sufficiently to fire on the speeding tin can. Spraying the battleship with every weapon that would bear, the destroyer steamed past the KONGO-class behemoth, her 14-inch weapons impotent against the destroyer. Several other American destroyers took their chances with the Japanese battleship as well. The fire was so effective that HIEI was a sitting duck for American carrier planes, which sank the big battleship the following day. Henderson Field had been saved and the American reinforcements were landed successfully.

For the next several months, O’BANNON would have little rest. She helped sweep the Japanese from the Solomons Island group in a series of classic surface actions. Her anti-barge patrols were legendary. In a two-month period, she was credited with sinking or damaging more than a score of barges, two submarine chasers, an armed boat, and a gunboat. At the Battle of Vella Lavella, DD-445, in company with USS SELFRIDGE (DD-357) and USS CHEVALIER (DD-451), USS O’BANNON slashed at the final Japanese effort to evacuate the area. The three American destroyers took on six Japanese destroyers. The Imperial Japanese destroyer YUGUMO was sunk, but SELFRIDGE and CHEVALIER were heavily damaged. O'BANNON protected the stricken tin cans until help, in the form of three American destroyers, could aid the ships. SELFRIDGE would survive, CHEVALIER would not.

For the remainder of the war, O’BANNON would serve in a variety of roles. She would escort convoys, screen fast carriers, protect oilers providing fuel for the attacking task forces, and furnish gunfire support for landings from Vella Gulf to the Philippines and Borneo. The end of the war found her patrolling off the Japanese island of Honshu. She joined two other destroyers to escort USS MISSOURI (BB-63) into Tokyo Bay for the formal Japanese surrender. DD-450 sailed for the West Coast on September 1, 1945. She was decommissioned in the summer of 1946.

Strained relations between the United States and the Soviet Union prompted a recommissioning program which saw the re-equipping of a number of FLETCHER-class destroyers with the latest of anti-submarine weaponry. Relabeled DDE for destroyers fitted out as anti-submarine escort craft, the FLETCHERs would go to sea again. Under the program, O'BANNON became DDE-450.

With the beginning of the Korean War, O’BANNON found herself back in the Pacific. For the duration, she would alternate between screening carrier groups of both coasts of the peninsula and providing fire support United Nations forces. DD-450 also served as flagship of the Wonsan Element, East Coast Escort and Bombardment Group. Service off Korea alternated with all-too-brief training periods, centered around Pearl Harbor. At one point, the destroyer screened Atomic Energy Commission experiments at Eniwetok.

Following the cease-fire in Korea, O'BANNON began a cycle of deployment and training that marked the routine for many Cold War units. Service with the U.S. Seventh Fleet meant that the destroyer screened carrier forces and patrolled the trouble-spots of the Pacific rim, then rotated back to Pearl Harbor for training and refit.

The destroyer's third Pacific war began for O'BANNON in December, 1964 with her first combat tour off Vietnam. For much of her service, she served as plane guard and screen for USS KITTYHAWK (CVA-64), although, during the summer months off the coast of Southeast Asia, she was frequently found firing shore bombardment missions against Viet Cong base camps, troop concentrations, and coastal craft.

O'BANNON would also serve as capsule recovery vessel in the American space program and provide security for nuclear testing sites in the Pacific. DD-450 was finally stricken from the Navy List in 1970 and was sold for scrapping in 1972.

USS O'BANNON earned seventeen battle stars for service in World War II as well as three battle stars for Korean service and additional awards for service off Vietnam.


From The Tin Can Sailor, January 1998

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