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, March 17, 2021: Shamrock Cans
In deference to the date, St. Patrick’s Day, we are departing from our normal Warship Wednesday format and instead are touching on the U.S. Navy’s interesting shamrock-carrying destroyers– the Spru/Kidd-Cans USS O’Brien (DD-975) and USS Callaghan (DDG-994). If you want a more Irish WW experience, I’ve covered the story of the doomed Irish schooner Cymric and the Irish Naval Service’s Long Éireannach (LÉ) Cliona (03) in years past.
Also, yes, I know about the three-time battlestar earning Casablanca-class jeep carrier USS Shamrock Bay (CVE-84) and Sea Control Squadron 41 (VS-41) “The Shamrocks,” but today we are talking about destroyers.
O’Brien was named in honor of old-school swashbuckling patriot, Capt. Jeremiah O’Brien, of the Massachusetts Colonial Navy– effectively one of the first American naval heroes. The skipper of the armed sloop Unity, who flew the Appeal to Heaven pine tree flag, he captured the British schooner HMS Margaretta off Machias, Maine, just two months after Lexington and Concord, the first naval battle of the Revolutionary War. Several ships were later named for the legendary Irish-American before DD-975, including a 1900s torpedo boat (TB-30), an early class-leader four-piper destroyer (DD-51) that served in the Great War, a Sims-class destroyer (DD-415) that was sunk by a Japanese torpedo in 1942, a Liberty Ship and an Allen M. Sumner-class destroyer (DD-725) that received 14 battle stars across WWII, Korea and Vietnam.
Our Spruance, like all the others of her class, was built at Pascagoula and commissioned 3 December 1977 and, during the Cold War and follow-on unrest in the Med and the Persian Gulf, would complete seven WestPac cruises and another seven in the Persian Gulf.
It was while in the Sandbox that O’Brien took part in one of the few naval surface actions since WWII, being part of the surface action group that sank the Iranian guided-missile frigate Sahand during Operation Praying Mantis in 1988. She would later go on to be front and center for Desert Sheild.
Unloved by Big Navy in the end, O’Brien would be decommissioned in 2004 after 26 years of faithful service and disposed of in a SINKEX less than two years later.
A better-armed offshoot of the Spruance-class, the Kidd-class guided-missile destroyer USS Callaghan (DDG-994) was commissioned at Pascagoula on 29 August 1981. She was the second ship named for RADM Daniel Judson Callaghan (USNA 1911), a naval hero who was killed on his flagship San Francisco in 1942 when his cruiser/destroyer task force intercepted and spoiled the attack of two Japanese battleships headed to plaster the Marines on Guadalcanal. Sadly, the first warship named in honor of the late admiral, Callaghan (DD-792), was also lost in WWII, sent to the bottom off Okinawa after being struck by a kamikaze.
The second (and so far final) Callaghan was much luckier, spending much of her career in sometimes tense but relatively bloodless Cold War service in the Pacific. She circumnavigated the globe with the Kitty Hawk Battle Group in 1987, escorted reflagged tankers in the Persian Gulf during the Iran-Iraq war, and missed the first Gulf War due to spending a year in New Threat Upgrade (NTU) overhaul.
In 1994, while in the Persian Gulf enforcing sanctions against Saddam, her embarked helo spotted something strange in a floating fishing net.
In a most “unusual yet fulfilling” search and rescue (SAR) mission, Cmdr. Joseph J. Natale, Callaghan’s commanding officer, led a team in the ship’s boat to assist the trapped mammal. Crewmembers cut through the fishing line, and the dolphin, dubbed “Shamrock” by the crew, swam free.
On 31 March 1998, Callaghan was decommissioned at age 17, stricken from the Naval Vessel Register, and laid up at Bremerton. Five years later, she was transferred to Taiwan along with the rest of the Kidds.
There, she still serves as ROCS Su Ao (DDG-1802), although her crew likely doesn’t celebrate St. Patrick’s Day.
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