A Tin Can Sailors
Destroyer History


Lt. Commander John Joseph Shea was lost in a devastating explosion on 15 September 1942 as he fought the fires raging out of control on the carrier WASP (CV-7). Launched on 20 May 1944 as DD-750, the SHEA was subsequently modified. Redesignated DM-30, she was commissioned at the New York Navy Yard on 30 September 1944.

A unit of Mine Division 8, the SHEA transited the Panama Canal in late December and arrived in San Francisco on the last day of 1944. On the 4th of January 1945, she steamed west to Pearl Harbor. While there, she was converted to a fighter director ship, expanding the team working in CIC. She continued her westward course to Ulithi, where ships of the Fifth Fleet were spread out as far as the eye could see. The SHEA sailed from Ulithi on 19 March as part of the Pacific mine fleet, the "advance armada" that would clear enemy mines from the way to the beaches of Okinawa for the landings soon to take place. By 24 March, the SHEA was off the island.

In addition to protecting and assisting the minesweepers, she also stood radar picket duty. From 24 March to 4 May, the men in CIC kept busy contacting and tracking bogeys while her gunners added to their score of kills, and began building the reputation of the "Shootin' Shea." On 16 April, she was attacked by eight enemy planes and in the space of ten minutes, her gun crews splashed no less than six of them. With the aid of the HARDING (DD-625), her guns brought down a seventh. That did not stop one of the kamikazes from crashing into the HARDING causing considerable damage and injuring a number of her crew. The SHEA stood by and took aboard five injured men for transfer to a nearby hospital ship.

On 22 April, the SHEA's gunners scored several hits on an incoming kamikaze. Calling for swift evasive action, the captain maneuvered the ship out of harm's way. The disintegrating aircraft passed overhead, raining gasoline, debris, and parts of the plane on topside personnel before it crashed off the port bow. Six days later, an enemy plane dropped a single bomb that exploded twenty-five yards off the port quarter, causing minor damage to the fantail area and leaving one sailor with superficial wounds.

On the morning of 4 May 1945, the SHEA was en route to radar picket station Number 14, fifty miles northwest of Okinawa. Her radar screens were showing more enemy contacts at one time than they had thus far seen. Along the way, she fired on two attacking Japanese planes, possibly splashing one. The report of the approach of large Japanese air formations sent the SHEA's crew to general quarters. Shortly thereafter, a "considerable smoke haze blew over the ship from the beaches of Hagushi. Visibility was at a maximum of 5,000 yards," wrote QM3c James E. T. Carrigan. "Reports of ships in the SHEA's vicinity being hit and sunk flowed steadily over the circuits and the crew waited at general quarters.

At 0854, the SHEA's radar picked up a single enemy Betty six miles distant and four minutes later, the destroyer's radar crew directed Combat Air Patrol planes in bringing it down." Then, at 0859, five minutes after the initial sighting, a lookout spotted a Japanese human-piloted baka bomb on the SHEA's starboard beam closing on the ship at better than 450 knots. SC2c John V. Brown, a watch captain in the galley, was manning a .50-caliber machine gun. He saw the deadly baka moments before it struck and was the only one to fire at it with a few short bursts before it came down on him. The baka struck the SHEA, plowing into the starboard side of her bridge, "entering the sonar room, traversing the chart house, passageway, and hatch" and exploding over the water on the port side of the ship. "Fire broke out in the mess hall, CIC, chart house, division commander's stateroom, No. 2 handling room, and compartment A-304-L."

One officer and thirty-four men were killed by concussion, shrapnel, burns, and shock. Eleven officers and eighty men were wounded. The SHEA lost all communication; her No. 1 and No. 2, 5-inch gun mounts were out of commission; and her forward port-side 20-mm guns were damaged. The main director was jammed, and the gyro and computer were rendered useless. The forward magazines were in great danger until they were flooded. Repair parties and survivors from the damaged areas sprang into action, helping the wounded and fighting the fires. In the Medical Department, the "docs" performed many miraculous, life-saving feats working on the fantail, which became a field hospital that day. In less than fifteen minutes, the Black Gang had the steam up and it was all ahead, full power again. Listing five degrees to port, the crippled ship limped to Hagushi Beach and medical assistance. She arrived at 1052, and her crew transferred the most seriously wounded to the CRESCENT CITY (APA-21). They removed the twenty-seven bodies of their fallen crew members for burial on Okinawa, and then continued on to Kerama Retto for repairs.

While tied up alongside the repair ship OCEANUS (ARB-2) in Kerama Retto's so-called grave yard, the ship was defenseless, shielded from air attack only by a protective cloud laid down by the smoke boats. Wrote James Carrigan, "all will remember the constant rat-tat-tat of rifle fire as the crew, on edge, sought to stave off the attacks of suicide swimmers." Enduring harrowing days and nights, the SHEA's crew offloaded all but 10 percent of her ammunition as well as much of her gear, particularly radar and fighter direction equipment, which was transferred to Destroyer Squadron 2 for distribution to less severely damaged ships. The SHEA was out of the fighting. After a memorial service for their dead shipmates on 11 May and the removal of some armament, the remainder of the crew got their ship underway. They joined a convoy headed for Ulithi on 15 May and were on their way home on 9 June 1945. The SHEA arrived at the Philadelphia Navy Yard on 2 July. Following extensive repairs, post-repair trials, and a shakedown cruise to Casco Bay, Maine, she began operations with the Atlantic Fleet.

From her home port in Charleston, South Carolina, the SHEA ranged along the Atlantic seaboard, with cruises south into the Caribbean. She had one deployment to the Mediterranean in 1950. Finally, in September 1953, the destroyer was reassigned to the Pacific where she spent the remainder of her active service.

Based at Long Beach, California, the SHEA operated from Mexico north to British Columbia and west to Hawaii. Her only return to the waters of the Western Pacific was in the spring of 1954 when she took part in the atomic tests at Eniwetok. The destroyer operated out of Long Beach until 9 April 1958 when the navy placed her out of commission in reserve. On 1 September 1973, she was stricken from the navy list and sold for scrap.


From The Tin Can Sailor, April 1999

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