Warship Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023: A Hectic 133 Days
Here at LSOZI, we take off every Wednesday for a look at the old steam/diesel navies of the 1833-1954 time period and will profile a different ship each week. These ships have a life, a tale all their own, which sometimes takes them to the strangest places.- Christopher Eger
Warship Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023: A Hectic 133 Days
Above we see a rare photograph of the new Fletcher-class destroyer USS DeHaven (DD-469) passing North of Savo Island, which can be seen on the horizon, on 30 January 1943, immediately after the Battle of Rennell Island— the last major naval engagement of the Guadalcanal Campaign. Commissioned just the previous September in Maine, DeHaven would be sunk two days after this image was captured, on 1 February 1943 (80 years ago today) in these same waters by a Japanese air attack, sort of a parting shot to the Empire’s withdrawal from the embattled island.
Fletcher class background
The Fletchers were the WWII equivalent of the Burke class, constructed in a massive 175-strong class from 11 builders that proved the backbone of the fleet for generations. Coming after the interwar “treaty” destroyers such as the Benson- and Gleaves classes, they were good-sized (376 feet oal, 2,500 tons full load, 5×5″ guns, 10 torpedo tubes) and could have passed as unprotected cruisers in 1914. Powered by a quartet of oil-fired Babcock & Wilcox boilers and two Westinghouse or GE steam turbines, they had 60,000 shp on tap– half of what today’s Burkes have on a hull 25 percent as heavy– enabling them to reach 38 knots, a speed that is still fast for destroyers today.
LCDR Fred Edwards, Destroyer Type Desk, Bureau of Ships, famously said of the class, “I always felt it was the Fletcher class that won the war . . .they were the heart and soul of the small-ship Navy.”
DD-469 was the first Navy ship named in honor of LT Edwin Jess De Haven. Born in Philadelphia in 1816, he shipped out with the fleet age the ripe old age of 10 as a midshipman and made his name as an early polar explorer, shipping out with the Wilkes Expedition (1839-42), and looking for Sir John Franklin’s lost polar expedition as skipper of the humble 81-foot brigantine USS Advance in 1850 as part of the Grinnell expedition. Placed on the retired list in 1862 due to failing eyesight, he passed in 1865.
His aging granddaughter, Mrs. Helen N. De Haven, made the trip to Bath Iron Works in 1942 to participate in the destroyer’s launching ceremony.
De Haven spent four weeks on shakedown cruises and post-delivery yard periods then sailed from Norfolk, reaching the Tonga Islands, on 28 November 1942. There, she attached to escort a convoy of troopships filled with soldiers of the Army’s 25th Infantry (Tropic Lightning) Division headed to Guadalcanal to relieve the “Old Breed” of the 1st MarDiv who had been there since the invasion landings in August.
De Haven screened the transports off Guadalcanal from 7 to 14 December, then sailed out of Espiritu Santo and Noumea in the continuing Solomon Islands operations.
Then, attached to Capt. Robert Pearce Briscoe’s Tulagi-based Task Group 67.5 (known as the “Cactus Striking Force”) along with the destroyers USS Nicholas, Radford, and O’Bannon, she patrolled the waters of the Southern Solomons to stop the “Tokyo Express,” the nightly effort to supply the beleaguered Japanese troops still fighting on the invaded islands.
Cactus Force took part in two bombardments of Kolombangara Island in late January 1943. During the latter, DeHaven fired 612 5-inch shells, which is some decent NGFS.
Cactus Force was then sent on the night of 31 January/1 February to escort a scratch landing team of six small LCTs and the old converted “green dragon” fast transport (formerly a Wickes-class destroyer) USS Stringham (APD-6) to land the 2nd Battalion, 132nd Infantry Regiment and a battery of four 75mm pack howitzers near Kukum via Verahue Beach the other side of Guadalcanal, with the intention to outflank the Japanese who were rapidly evacuating the area.
However, they had the misfortune of being caught –in– Operation Ke-gō Sakusen, the Japanese withdrawal near Cape Esperance, and DeHaven became a victim to incoming waves of enemy aircraft screening that effort.
It was over in minutes. Four bombs– including one that hit the superstructure squarely, killing the commanding officer at once– sent the destroyer directly to the bottom as if on an elevator, taking 167 of her crew with her in the process.
She was the 15th American destroyer lost in the Guadalcanal campaign and had been in commission just four months and 11 days. The post-war analysis determined she was lost due to extreme and rapid flooding, specifically a “loss of buoyancy on relatively even keel” a fate only suffered by one other tin can in the war, sistership USS Aaron Ward (DD 483), also lost at a heavy air attack off Guadalcanal.
DeHaven’s six-page loss report is in the National Archives, submitted just four days after the ship took up her place on Iron Bottom Sound. As 10 of her officers were missing in action and three others seriously wounded on Navy hospital ships headed East, it was penned by her only unwounded officer, Ensign Clem C. Williams, Jr. Heady stuff for a 21-year-old O-1 to have to write.
As with the above-mentioned reports, DeHaven’s engineering drawings are in the National Archives.
She has a memorial at the National Museum of the Pacific War, located in Fredericksburg, Texas.
The man who wrote her loss report and compiled the names of her missing and dead, Ensign Williams, who was the son of a Washington dentist that had served in the Navy in the Great War, would survive his own war, become a physician in Indiana, and pass in 1992, aged 71.
Capt. Briscoe, leader of the Cactus Striking Force, would go on to command the fighting cruiser USS Denver (CL-58), earning a Navy Cross during the Northern Solomon Islands campaign from her bridge, then go on to lead the 7th Fleet during Korea. The Mississippian would conclude 41 years of service and retire in 1959 as a full admiral. He is buried at Arlington and a Spruance class destroyer, USS Briscoe (DD-977)— appropriately built in Pascagoula– was named in his honor.
When it comes to DeHaven’s fellow Fletcher-class destroyers, five of her sisterships– USS Pringle (DD-477), USS Bush (DD-529), USS Luce (DD-522), USS Little (DD-803), and USS Morrison (DD-560)— would go on to be sunk by kamikaze aircraft off Okinawa in a three week period. Life was not easy for Fletchers working the picket line in the Spring of 1945.
The rest of her surviving sisters were widely discarded in the Cold War era by the Navy, who had long prior replaced them with more modern destroyers and Knox-class escorts. Those that had not been sent overseas as military aid were promptly sent to the breakers or disposed of in weapon tests. The class that had faced off with the last blossom of Japan’s wartime aviators helped prove the use of just about every anti-ship/tactical strike weapon used by NATO in the Cold War including Harpoon, Exocet, Sea Skua, Bullpup, Walleye, submarine-launched Tomahawk, and even at least one Sidewinder used in surface attack mode. In 1997, SEALS sank the ex-USS Stoddard (DD-566) via assorted combat-diver delivered ordnance. The final Fletcher in use around the globe, Mexico’s Cuitlahuac, ex-USS John Rodgers (DD 574), was laid up in 2001 and dismantled in 2011.
Today, four Fletchers are on public display, three of which in the U.S– USS The Sullivans (DD-537) at Buffalo, USS Kidd (DD-661) at Baton Rouge, and USS Cassin Young (DD-793) at the Boston Navy Yard. Please try to visit them if possible. Kidd, the best preserved of the trio, was used extensively for the filming of the Tom Hanks film, Greyhound.
DeHaven’s name was quickly recycled for a new Allen M. Sumner-class destroyer (DD-727) that was building at Bath Iron Works in Maine– the birthplace of “our” destroyer. Sponsored by Mrs. H. N. De Haven– who also cracked the bottle on the bow of the first De Haven— she commissioned 31 March 1944 and was screening the fast carriers of TF38 striking Luzon in support of the invasion of Leyte by that November. In a much longer 49-year career, this second DeHaven received five battle stars for World War II service and in addition to her Navy Unit Commendation picked up a further six for Korean War service and decorations for 10 tours in off Vietnam between 1962 and 1971.
Transferred to the South Korean Navy in 1973, she was renamed ROKS Incheon (DD-98/918) (she was present at the landings there in 1950) and served under the flag of that country until 1993.
The USS DeHaven Sailors Association remembers both tin cans today and is very active on social media.
Ships are more than steel
And heart of burning coal,
For those who sail upon
That some ships have a
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