The Fletcher-class destroyer, the legendary USS O’Bannon (DD-450). This military vessel has seen a lot of action from 1942 to 1970, from fighting the Japanese in the Pacific and taking part in operations with the 7th Fleet during the Korean and Vietnam War. The “Lucky O” as she was affectionately called by her crew amassed a nearly unmatched 17 battle stars and a Presidential Unit Citation.

The Fletcher-class may have been the best destroyer produced by any navy in WWII, she combined high speed, fast turns, good endurance underway, five rapid-fire 5″ guns, torpedoes, and ample anti-aircraft guns with outstanding automatic fire-control systems. In one particular encounter with a Japanese submarine, this Greyhound of the Fleet, the O’Bannon was reduced to fighting an action close aboard with potatoes.

Heavily Armed… With Potatoes

Yes, it sounds implausible but WWII was chock full of implausibles that were true nevertheless.  A Fletch-class destroyer armed to the teeth with every gun that could be welded to her deck(making them a bit topheavy actually), but they didn’t end up using their guns or torpedoes to fight this Japanese submarine, at least not at first.

The story begins in 1942 when the O’Bannon was en route to Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. This was a particularly nasty battle of attrition as both the U.S. and Japanese refused to concede control of an island nobody had ever even heard of before. Japan wanted to establish an airfield on the island to interdict U.S. supply lines to Australia, while the U.S. was determined not to have its supply lines cut. The Marines landed on the island and drove the Japanese garrison and construction troops into the jungle on August 7th, 1942. What followed was a grueling slugfest between the U.S. and Japanese navies to take and hold the island.

While operating in the Solomons campaign the O’Bannon proved herself not only a sturdy ship but a lucky one, she fought in numerous engagements without loss to her crew.

Sinking The Submarine With Potatoes

The USS O’Bannon had been on patrol looking for Japanese supply ships headed to Guadalcanal in the predawn darkness of April 4th, 1943. She was scrambling to make it back under the protective air cover of Henderson field before daylight and the customary air raids by Japanese planes when she made radar contact with what they thought might be a submarine.

U.S. subs were also in the area and the O’Bannon turned onto an intercept course to identify the contact before opening fire.

A Japanese RO-31, which would have looked like the RO-34. (日本語: 日本海軍 English: Imperial Japanese Navy, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

For some reason the Japanese submarine failed to react to the approaching destroyer boiling along at nearly 40kts, which further perplexed the crew of the destroyer if she tried to dive, then she was an enemy, if she flashed the recognition signal she was friendly, but the dark low shape in the water did neither, she just kept sailing along on her course. Due to strict rules of radio silence, the O’Bannon could not send her a signal so she just continued to bore in closer and closer.  If she was an enemy vessel, then they would ram her.