For the remaining weeks until she was lost, she was often in company of Laffey and Lansdowne. On 15 September 1942, the three destroyers were escorting Wasp (CV 7), when she was torpedoed by Japanese submarine I-19. (Shortly afterward, a few miles distant, O’Brien was hit by a torpedo from the same spread or from sister submarine I-15, intended for nearby Hornet (CV 8). When it became apparent that Wasp could not be saved, the three DDs and cruisers Helena and Salt Lake City rescued 1,946 carrier sailors.
Thereafter, Duncan escorted carriers and transports reinforcing Guadalcanal, then rejoined her squadron attached to Rear Admiral Norman Scott’s Task Group 64.2.
Approaching midnight on 11 October, she was second in line behind Farenholt (flagship) followed by Laffey, cruisers San Francisco, Boise, Salt Lake City and Helena, and rear destroyers Buchanan and McCalla, which found themselves “crossing the ‘T’” of three approaching Japanese cruisers and two destroyers, intent on bombarding Marine positions on Guadalcanal.
The resulting Battle of Cape Esperance began with the American force reversing course. During this maneuver, Duncan made radar contact with and mistakenly closed the enemy rather than following Farenholt’s complete turn. Her solo run brought her to within a mile of heavy cruiser Furutaka, which she took under torpedo and gunfire, and which later sank.
Hit first by friendly fire in her forward fireroom and thereafter unable to escape further damage, however, Duncan began to burn. Eventually her power failed, thwarting damage control efforts. Arriving too late to save her, McCalla picked up 195 survivors as Duncan sank about six miles north Savo Island at noon on the 12th.
Duncan earned one service star for the Battle of Cape Esperance.
Survivors were reassigned. Commander Taylor took command of Bennett (DD 473), commissioned the following February, with several Duncan and O’Brien shipmates in the crew; XO LCdr. Louis Bryan took command of Shubrick (DD 639) with other Duncan survivors.
A third USS Duncan, Gearing-class DD 874, was built by Consolidated Steel at Orange, Texas and commissioned there 15 February 1945.
Sources: Naval Historical Center Photographic Section; Office of Naval Records and Ships' Histories Section, Navy Department; Roscoe; http://members.aol.com/LilHoke/USSDuncan.html.