A Tin Can Sailors Destroyer History
USS BARTON DD-599
The Tin Can Sailor, April 2005
The first BARTON (DD‑599) was launched on 31 January 1942 by the Bethlehem Steel Co., of Quincy, Massachusetts, and was commissioned on 29 May 1842, with Lieutenant Commander D. H. Fox as her captain. She left the East Coast on 23 August and steamed for the South Pacific. She arrived at Tongatabu in the Tonga Islands on 14 September, and saw her first action on 5 October when she participated in the Buin‑Faisi‑Tonolai raid. By 24 October, the U.S. Marines were struggling to hold on to Guadalcanal’s Henderson Field, and a Japanese armada lay in wait to stop the Americans from reinforcing their troops ashore. Meanwhile, Vice Admiral W.F. Halsey had his own armada on the scene. The two would soon meet in the Battle of Santa Cruz. The U.S. Task Force 61 was made up of two carrier groups. Task Force 16 included the carrier ENTERPRISE, the battleship SOUTH DAKOTA, two cruisers, and the destroyers PORTER, SMITH, CUSHING, PRESTON, MAURY, SHAW, MAHAN, and CONYNGHAM; Task Force 17, led by the carrier HORNET, consisted of four cruisers, and the destroyers BARTON, MUSTIN, HUGHES, RUSSELL, ANDERSON, and MORRIS.
The Battle of Santa Cruz began with the bombing of a Japanese carrier on the morning of 26 October followed by a battle in the air between planes from both sides. Then, at 1010, nearly thirty planes attacked the HORNET, which took hits from bombs, torpedoes, and two suicide planes. Antiaircraft gunners aboard the BARTON and other screening DDs brought down several of the attackers and covered efforts to save the badly damaged carrier. The destroyers MORRIS and RUSSELL moved in to fight fires, but by mid-afternoon, the RUSSELL and HUGHES were taking off wounded and about 875 of her crew. The effort to save the ship ended when six torpedo-bombers struck two fatal blows. Her captain ordered the rest of the crew to abandon ship, and after the six accompanying destroyers picked up remaining survivors, the MUSTIN and ANDERSON attempted unsuccessfully to sink the carrier with torpedoes and gunfire. The two destroyers barely escaped as an enemy force descended on the burning carrier, which two of their destroyers finally sank at 0135 on 27 October. The BARTON was back to more-or-less routine duties for another two weeks, during which she rescued 17 survivors of two downed air transports near Fabre Island.
By 11 November the BARTON was operating with Rear Admiral D. J. Callaghan’s landing support group, which included the cruisers SAN FRANCISCO, PORTLAND, HELENA, JUNEAU, and ATLANTA, and fellow destroyers AARON WARD, MONSSEN, FLETCHER, CUSHING, LAFFEY, STERETT, and O’BANNON. Their task was to prevent the bombardment of Henderson Field by a powerful enemy force. Led by two battleships, the Japanese striking force included a light cruiser and 14 destroyers, backed up by two aircraft carriers and a dozen more destroyers guarding a convoy of transports.
In the van of the American column were the CUSHING, LAFFEY, STERETT, and O’BANNON. Next came the cruisers, followed by the AARON WARD, BARTON, MONSSEN, and FLETCHER. Early on 13 November, a Friday, Callaghan’s support group was off Lunga Point, and the Japanese were approaching from the north. Both groups were headed for the same patch of Savo Sound and the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. The HELENA made the first contact with the enemy at 0124, and Callaghan turned his column toward the oncoming Japanese. In the lead, the division commander aboard the CUSHING caught sight of two enemy destroyers at 0141. The American DD made a sharp turn to port to avoid a collision and to bring her torpedoes to bear, but the order to fire was delayed because of communications failures within the U.S. group. In the interim, the enemy destroyers moved out of range and alerted the rest of the strike force of the presence of the American column, which had proceeded to forge ahead and into the Japanese formation. All semblance of order vanished, and the ensuing battle was one of ship versus ship. The BARTON’s gunners began firing at approximately 0148. She followed that with four torpedoes, but in the melee suddenly had to come to an emergency stop to avoid a collision. She was practically dead in the water, when two enemy torpedoes found their mark. The first torpedo tore into her forward fireroom, and a few seconds later, a second struck her forward engine‑room. Within seconds, the BARTON broke in two and plunged to the bottom, carrying with her an estimated 80 percent of her valiant crew. Forty‑two survivors were rescued by the PORTLAND (CA‑33) and HIGGINS boats from Guadalcanal. She was the first ship lost during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal.