A Tin Can Sailors Destroyer History
USS LA VALLETTE DD-448
The Tin Can Sailor, January 1998
USS LA VALLETTE was the fourth ship of the FLETCHER class to be laid down at the massive Federal Shipbuilding facility in Kearny, New Jersey. Her construction began on the same day as USS JENKINS (DD-447) and she was launched on the same day as well, June 21, 1942. Commissioning followed two months later and, after training and escort duty along the Atlantic coast and in the Caribbean, LA VALLETTE would transit the Panama Canal for her assigned role in the Pacific.
DD-448 was the second destroyer named for RADM Elie A. F. La Vallette, whose distinguished service ranged from actions in the War of 1812 to encounters during the Mexican War. La Valette was one of the first rear admirals appointed by President Abraham Lincoln when the new rank was created at the beginning of the Civil War. Unfortunately, he passed away four months after his new rank took effect, on November 18, 1862. He was seventy-two.
USS LA VALLETTE first found herself in action with Japanese forces on January 29, 1943, when, while protecting Task Force 18 units off Guadalcanal, the new destroyer obliterated three attacking Japanese aircraft. The following day, while screening the wounded heavy cruiser USS CHICAGO (CA-29), LA VALLETTE shot down six attacking Mitsubishi G4M2 “Betty” bombers. The two-engined torpedo-carrying aircraft, launched from naval air bases to the north, staged multiple attacks against the cruiser and her screen. Despite intense fire and the loss of ten of their original force, the Japanese succeeded. CHICAGO took two additional torpedo hits and sank in twenty minutes. DD-448 was also hit by an aerial weapon. With extensive damage to her forward engine room and twenty-two casualties, LA VALLETTE was towed to Espiritu Santo for repairs. She would require stateside attention before going back into action.
By August 1943, when the tin can was able to return to duty, Japanese barge traffic in the Solomons posed a threat to the Allies. Unable to effectively resupply garrisons using more conventional methods, the Japanese had developed a method of filtering barge convoys through. The groups of barges, hugging the coast, would travel only at night. Most were heavily armed against attacks from patrol torpedo craft. They were easy prey, however, for a marauding destroyer.
On the evening of October 1-2, 1943, LA VALLETTE was assigned to disrupt that traffic. Off the island of Kolombangara, she encountered a convoy. When the smoke cleared, four barges had been sunk and two heavily damaged. Several companies of Japanese Imperial Marines would not reach the Guadalcanal garrison.
As the action moved northward, LA VALLETTE found herself performing the escort and bombardment duties for which she had been designed. Roi, Aitape, and Noemfoor landing forces had the accurate gunfire support of DD-448. The destroyer was also called upon to escort convoys to the Philippine campaign.
DD-448 seemed to be everywhere in the island campaign. She protected fleet anchorages and clusters of transports, engaging and splashing kamikazes and trading fire with coastal batteries.
A support mission was to mark the effective end of LA VALLETTE’s combat career. Off the embattled beachhead in Mariveles harbor, the destroyer was screening sweeping operations when she struck a mine. With six dead and twenty-three wounded, DD-448 was towed to Subic Bay for temporary repairs. The damage was so extensive that she returned to the West Coast. Although fully repaired at the Hunters Point facility, she was decommissioned and entered the Reserve Fleet in 1946. She would remain in reserve for thirteen years, before being sold to Peru. DD-448 would be used to provide spare parts of two other FLETCHER-class destroyers operated by the South American nation for ten more years. The remains of LA VALLETTE were believed scrapped, along with the remainder of Peru’s FLETCHER fleet, in the early 1980s.