Sunday, December 11, 2011

The "Potato Battle"

Courtesy of a link at CDR Salamander's place, I learned of "The Maine Potato Episode". It involved USS O'Bannon, a Fletcher class destroyer of the US Navy during World War II. The Destroyer History Foundation tells the tale.

On 5 April 1943, DesRon 21 was returning from a night of shelling Japanese shore installations deep in the New Georgia area of the Solomon Islands. Our destroyer, the O’Bannon, as part of this force, picked up a radar contact that turned out to be a large Japanese submarine cruising on the surface and apparently unaware of our presence. The Japanese lookouts undoubtedly were fast asleep.

We approached rapidly and were preparing to ram the sub. Our captain and other officers on the bridge were trying to identify the type of sub and decided, at the last minute, that it could be a mine layer. Not wanting to blow up ourselves along with the sub, the decision was made that ramming was not a wise move. At the last moment, the rudder was swung hard to avoid a collision and we found ourselves in a rather embarrassing situation as we sailed along side of the Japanese submarine.

On board the sub, Japanese sailors, wearing dark shorts and dinky blue hats, were sleeping out on deck. In what could be considered a rude awaking, they sat up to see an American destroyer sailing along side. Our ship however, was far too close to permit our guns lowered enough to fire and since no one on deck carried a gun, not a shot was heard. Ditto on the Japanese sub, no one there had a gun either. In this situation, no one seemed sure of the proper course of action and it probably would not have been covered in the manual anyway. Therefore everyone just stared more or less spellbound.

The submarine was equipped with a 3-inch deck gun and the sub’s captain finally decided that now was probably a good time to make use of it. As the Japanese sailors ran toward their gun, our deck parties reached into storage bins that were located nearby, picked out some potatoes and threw them at the sailors on the deck of the sub. A potato battle ensued. Apparently the Japanese sailors thought the potatoes were hand grenades. This kept them very busy as they try to get rid of them by throwing them back at the O’Bannon or over the side of the sub. Thus occupied, they were too busy to man their deck gun which gave us sufficient time to put a little distance between our ship and the sub.

Finally we were far enough away to bring our guns to bear and firing commenced. One of our shells managed to hit the sub’s conning tower but the sub managed to submerge anyway. At that time our ship was able to pass directly over the sub for a depth charge attack. Later information showed that the sub did sink. When the Association of Potato Growers of Maine heard of this strange episode, they sent a plaque to commemorate the event. The plaque was mounted in an appropriate place near the crews mess hall for the crew to see.

Sounds like both sides were in a vegetative state for a while!

There's much more about US Navy destroyers at the Destroyer History Foundation. It describes its mission thus:

The purpose of the Destroyer History Foundation is to perpetuate interest in US Navy destroyer history by preserving and making accessible records, accounts, images and other artifacts that might otherwise be lost when US Navy destroyer veterans pass on. It is an outgrowth of this web site, an on-line collection prepared in collaboration with shipmates, organizations, active duty naval officers and others. Some items too large to present on the web such as the complete Fletcher-class engineering drawings from Bath Iron Works are available on disk.

I highly recommend the Destroyer History Foundation's Web site to all navy buffs. I can see I'll be spending many hours over there, reading through its collection of sea stories.



Arthur B. Burnett said...

Greetings from Texas,
I love it! You can't make stuff like this up.

trailbee said...

What a great story. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the history lesson and smile

Anonymous said...

Definitely a story
with a peel.
Anon, Don

Old NFO said...

Typical do what you gotta do mentality :-)