The ship had been named after the late Lt. Commander Zachary Lansdowne who had been killed in the crash of the navy dirigible Shenandoah in Ohio in 1925. Zachary Lansdowne, Annapolis ’11, had been assigned to various duties with Naval Aviation in England and Paris during World War I. After the war, he was a member of the crew of the British Airship R-34, which made the first successful non-stop voyage from England to the US, for which he was awarded the Navy Cross for “Distinguished service in the line of his profession.”
Margaret Lansdowne Hunt, the Lt. Commander’s daughter, had christened the ship in Kearny, New Jersey on February 20, 1942 and, on its Commissioning Day, the ship’s first skipper, W.R. Smedberg, III received Zachary Lansdowne’s prized class ring from his widow. The ring had been lost at the time of the fatal crash in 1925. Twelve years later, it had been found, around a mustard stalk by a woman weeding her garden in Caldwell, Ohio.
Writing to Lt. Commander Smedberg, the widow, then Mrs. John Caswell, said: “It is with deep pleasure and satisfaction that I present the ring to the ship that bears Commander Lansdowne’s name. I am sure that he would have wanted this done and that the two symbols of his beloved navy life—his class ring and a ship named in his memory should thus be united.”
The Lansdowne was one of the first ships with radar and when she arrived in Casco Bay, our first skipper and his executive officer, Lt. Comm. Frank Foley, proudly navigated her into Casco Bay in a very dense fog which had kept many ships outside the harbor for several days.
Our skipper had been warned to watch for German subs along the Atlantic during the maiden voyage. He had not been alerted that the Maine harbor had been heavily mined for the benefit of unwelcome German submarines! This experience was to possibly save the Lansdowne, her crew and a priceless cargo many months later when a shore lookout signaled her to enter Espiritu Santo Harbor in the South Pacific. Commander Smedberg, remembering the Maine experience, steadfastly refused to enter without a pilot. When a pilot finally appeared, it led the Lansdowne around the side of the island, safely to shore. The next day, a large ship, which had heeded similar shore signals, hit the mines and sunk in Espiritu Santo Harbor. We were to be lucky again!
On the third of July while cruising off Cape Hatteras in a search for survivors of ships sunk in the area, she made her first contact with the enemy—a German submarine. After several depth-charge attacks, oil and debris floated to the surface. After all evidence had been assembled, this attack was evaluated by a special hoard as “probably sunk.”
On July 13, The Lansdowne was designated flagship of Destroyer Division 24, and sailed for the Canal Zone where she operated under Commander Panama Sea Frontier until August 21. U-boat strikes on the Panama Canal approaches were taking a heavy toll in shipping. To end this murderous onslaught, the Navy mustered at Cristobal every A/S vessel available. But before these measures were completed, the Lansdowne teamed up with a PBY and a PC to wage her own private war.
On July 11, the U-153 attacked the net tender Mimosa off Almirante. She missed with a spread of five torpedoes, three passing under the ship, and was slow on the getaway. Early the next morning, a PBY picked up the sub by radar, dropped flares and straddled the U-boat with depth charges. Undoubtedly hurt, the sub went deep. A PC was ordered to the scene and dropped six depth charges; followed by more attacks from the PBY.
Meanwhile the Lansdowne had arrived at Cristobal as a convoy escort, and was ordered to join the sub-hunt at top speed. She reached the scene at 1830 in the evening of the 13th, and set to work to get contact on the target. Within a quarter of an hour she picked up a sharp sound contact. The destroyermen ran to battle stations as the ship maneuvered into attack position. A pattern of 11 depth charges was followed by an explosion under the sea. Then a great spreading swell of oil came up that covered the area. There were no survivors. Another “probable” sinking of a German sub was credited to the Lansdowne.
The operations in the Caribbean Sea escorting convoys between Colon, Canal Zone, and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba continued until August 10. On August 11, the ship proceeded through the Panama Canal to the Pacific Coast. After a short stay in Balboa, the Lansdowne in Company with the South Dakota, Juneau, Lardner and Duncan made the island of Tongatabu her first port of call in the South Pacific, arriving on September 3rd. Many, however, will remember the day of August 25 from this cruise for that was the day that King Neptune and the Royal Court first boarded the Lansdowne to cleanse the ship of that foul brood known as “Pollywogs” before permitting the ship to cross the Equator and enter the Royal Domain.
The wardroom was used as a first aid station and the most severely burned and wounded men were taken to the officers’ rooms. Dr. Tom Walsh, two corpsmen from the Lansdowne and others rescued from the Wasp worked incessantly, giving blood plasma, tannic acid treatments and morphine injections to casualties. Their performance was exceptional. Though sixty of the men rescued were hospital cases, having had more than ten per cent of their bodies burned, there were only two deaths. (A more complete account of the treatment of casualties is given in “Sea Duty on a Destroyer” by Dr. Thomas S. Walsh, reprinted elsewhere in this book from the Alumni Bulletin of Albany Medical College, December 1043.)
The boat crews later received letters of commendation from the Navy Department for their courage in this work. Navy commendations also went to CPHM Alphonse William Pitner of the Lansdowne and to three of the medical corpsmen rescued from the water: CPh M Raymond David Murden, CPh M Leslie Lee Hall and PhMic. Raymond Francis McElroy, Jr. for their work in tending the wounded.
As the other ships of the force left the area, the Lansdowne stood by the twisted and still burning hulk of the carrier and at 2100—at sunset—fired five torpedoes at the Wasp, rendering the “Coup de Grace.”
The transport reached Lunga Roads without further incident and, on September 18, the 7th Marines began landing. On October 3, the Lansdowne participated in the unopposed landing of Marine Units on Funifuti Atoll. The approach was marked by a radical departure from the usual calm, sunny South Pacific weather with a storm that cost the ship two life rafts and a number of twisted stanchions on deck.
On October 24, the ship resumed patrol with a task force engaged in a search for enemy forces reported attempting to land troops on Guadalcanal. No contact was made, however.
Before dawn on November 7, the ship was anchored off Lunga Point and all hands including the ship’s cooks turned to unloading. Since the Jap “Bettys” from Rabaul usually bombed about mid-morning, the ship had to be cleared for action by that time.
When the unloading had been partially completed a periscope was sighted near the ship and, a moment later, two torpedo wakes, one heading for the USS Majaba, and the other passing just astern of the Lansdowne.
The Majaba was hit squarely amidships. There was a flash followed by an explosion that sent debris flying into the sky and throwing men off the ship as she whipped under the blast. A little farther forward or aft and her whole load of thousand pound of bombs would have gone off. She was beached, and most of her cargo and, eventually, the ship was saved.
At daybreak on November 30, while patrolling south of Savo Island with the Shaw to intercept any subs or ships trying to bring supplies to the besieged Japs in the vicinity of Coughlan Harbor on Guadalcanal, a number of enemy barges were seen between Bahi and Nisale on the northwest coast. It was too good an opportunity to let pass.
The Lansdowne closed the breach and started to break up the party with 494 rounds from her five-inch guns. Several of the Japanese supply barges were destroyed, and others damaged. Direct hits were scored on a beached enemy ship east of Cape Esperance, setting it ablaze. Another fire started ashore in a supply dump. It had been a very profitable morning!
On November 31, three anti-submarine attacks were conducted against a submerged target west of Koli Point, which brought diesel oil and slabs of cork bubbling to the surface.
During the night of December 1–2, the Lansdowne in company with the Shaw went out beyond Savo Island in the hope of meeting the “Tokyo Express,” usually Jap destroyers trying to sneak supplies into Guadalcanal. The night was pitch black, and the ship and her men were ready for the Japs.
A crisis arose about midnight when friendly PT’s, also after Japs, picked up the two destroyers and thought we were Japs. The torpedoes they carried made the situation far from humorous. The Lansdowne gave her identification signals but the PT Commander was hard to convince. Finally, he called “Cactus,” his base, and got an okay for the Lucky L. The remainder of the night was very dull, but that one incident had made it memorable.
The next week was spent around Guadalcanal and Espiritu Santo, escorting convoys, looking for subs and subject to night air raids. There were hot, sweltering days under the tropical sun and nights that brought no relief. An occasional day at anchor offered an opportunity to get a little sunburn to take off the heat rash that almost everyone was suffering and to see a movie on the fantail. During the seventh or eighth reel, there was usually a “forced intermission” when the Japs conducted their regular night air raids.
On Christmas Eve, amid Aussie cheers, the group arrived in Sydney, the city that all South Pacific men dreamed about. Over 100,000 Australians had lined the bridges and docks to welcome us. We had been informed that we were to be leaving immediately to escort the Chester out of Sydney. Christmas good will, however, gave us overnight in Sydney, and it was a night that few of the men will ever forget. The Australians were warm and magnificent hosts and no Lansdowne man could pay for his own drinks that evening. What a Christmas present!
During the trip from Sydney to Nouméa, the Lansdowne was relieved as escort and proceeded to Auckland, New Zealand to pick up and escort the West Point to Nouméa. Again the ship was granted overnight in port. It, too, was a liberty well remembered by all.
January 1943 was rather uneventful consisting of routine escort details between Nouméa, Espiritu and Tulagi. Early February was spent with a carrier, battleship task force covering Guadalcanal.
On the 21st, the Lansdowne and other destroyers escorting the LCT’s began the landings in the Russells. Although the Japs had been expected to engage us in fierce defensive battles, there was little opposition. The operation settled down to routine escorting, and the first of 9,000 men went ashore unopposed.
The following night while escorting five LCT’s, a sub was detected near Savo Island. Two attacks were made. On the first attack two six hundred-pound depth charges left the racks at the same time, and the resulting double charge going off simultaneously was a memorable one. The fantail went up and the mast whipped, but best of all there was oil on the water.
After a quick second attack, it was necessary to immediately return to the primary job of escorting the landing craft. Passing over the spot the next day, oil was still rising and spreading, a good sign, but not conclusive proof of a sinking.
On the morning of the 26th, just before dawn, the Lansdowne was threading her way between the small islands and shoals of the Russell Group in a heavy storm. There was a jar and the ship listed a little to port. The engines were reversed and the ship came off the sand bar, but her screws and one shaft had been badly damaged. On March 10 the Lansdowne left the South Pacific temporarily, proceeding to Mare Island for emergency repairs.
On April 26, the Lansdowne left San Francisco for Pearl Harbor, escorting two transports, the Henderson and Republic, and arriving in Hawaii on May 3.
After a period of training at Pearl Harbor, the ship left on April 10 for Kuluk Bay, Adak Island. Upon arrival in the Aleutians, the ship participated in the “occupation of Attu,” operating with various fleet units covering the sea approaches to the Aleutians and the bombardment of Kiska on July 6. This period will be remembered for the dull, dreary days that followed one on the other, continuous fog that covered the area and the sun setting after midnight.
On July 20, the Lansdowne returned to Pearl Harbor and after a few necessary repairs left on July 30 for the South Pacific. Neptune again had to cleanse the ship of Pollywogs on August 3.
On August 11, the Lansdowne entered Havannah Harbor, Éfaté Island. After a short time there, the ship went to Espiritu Santo, Vila Harbor, Éfaté and finally back to Guadalcanal on September 3.
Purvis Bay, the Florida Island anchorage, had not changed very much. There was now a strip of sandy beach designated as the Des Slot Club where destroyermen could drink their beer, but the same “condition red” prevailed during the movies every night.
From September 11 to October 23, the Lansdowne escorted landing craft to Vella Lavella Island, made several trips up the “Slot” and left for short stops at Nouméa, New Caledonia; Suva, Fiji Islands; and Fila, Éfaté to escort transports to the Guadalcanal area.
On November 26, the Lansdowne took aboard 85 Marine casualties from Empress Augusta Bay, Bougainville, for transfer to the Base Hospital on Vella Lavella Island.
On the 30th, the ship fired 676 rounds of ammunition at Japanese positions on the eastern perimeter of the Empress Augusta Bay beachhead. Upon completion of this bombardment of Bougainville, 81 Marine casualties were taken aboard for transportation to Tulagi.
November 1943 was the busiest month of the Lansdowne’s history. During this month, the ship traveled 12,038 nautical miles. While covering landing operations at Empress Augusta Bay, the ship expended 47 rounds of 5-inch ammunition in repelling an enemy attack.
On December 5, the Lansdowne participated in a destroyer bombardment of enemy installations in Tarekekori Village. Lansdowne later took part in a cruiser-destroyer bombardment at Kieta and Numa Numa, Bougainville Island on December 27.
New Year’s Day of 1944 found the Lansdowne operating with other destroyers of DesRon Twelve, about 40 mules off Empress Augusta Bay protecting the beachhead and approaching LSTs from any surface attacks by fast Jap forces. On the night of January 4–5, the Squadron made a fast run up past Buka and Green Island in hopes of finding Jap forces operating from Rabaul, but, in spite of a long night at battle stations with all hands alert, not a Jap was found.
On the eighth of January, the Lansdowne proceeded up the “Slot” with DesRon 12, the Honolulu and St. Louis for a bombardment of the Shortland Islands. Shortly before 2200 the Lansdowne opened fire on enemy positions on Faisi Island in the Shortland Group. Several fires were started and the aroused Japs soon began illuminating the ships with starshells and then sent out a few shells. Their firing was not too accurate and only succeeded in throwing up a few splashes near the ships.
About midnight the Lansdowne and another destroyer left the main force to take a quick run up to the Buka area again. No enemy ships were found and at dawn the Lansdowne entered Blanche Harbor, Treasury Island for fuel and possibly to rest. The same afternoon, however, it was decided to make a sweep of the Buka-Green lsland area that night. There was one contact this time but it proved to he a friendly plane!
The ship continued to operate off Bougainville during the day and running up to the Buka area at night but always without satisfaction of catching the enemy. On January 13, after the regular nightly run, the ships went down the northeast coast of Bougainville and at dawn bombarded the Japs in the Sierra Village and Umum River Area.
The Lansdowne and other destroyers of DesRon 12 continued these operations covering the Empress Augusta Bay sea approaches, operating from Hathorn Sound, New Georgia Island. Then the ships returned to Purvis Bay to conduct training exercises with the cruisers. At this time Commander William L. Maddow relieved Commander Foley.
These exercises completed and having had a day at anchor, the Lansdowne in company with a cruiser-destroyer task force left Purvis Bay to cover the Green Island landings. At dusk on February 14, while south of Green Island the force was attacked by six dive bombers. Coming in over the ship, they were taken under fire and damaged. The combined fire of the ships brought down two and possibly three planes. More planes showed up in the area and managed to keep all hands on edge until just before dawn when several groups attacked the formation. The Lansdowne accounted for one which came down and crashed just off the port bow.
The evening of February 17 found the Lansdowne in company with other destroyers of Squadron 12 proceeding up St. George’s Channel to attack Rabaul. Everyone was keyed up as the ships entered the channel but the night was dark and the Japs sleepy, no shore batteries opened up, no mines went off, no planes snooping around and not another ship in the channel. Unable to find any targets in the channel, the Squadron opened up on the town and harbor area. The surprised Japs, not believing there were actually enemy ships just outside their own stronghold, opened up at the supposed bombers. They soon discovered their error and a few shore batteries opened up. Their aim was not very good and they were quickly silenced by our own guns. Two Jap destroyers started out of the harbor, but after being taken under fire, turned quickly and rushed back to shore. After completing a very successful bombardment and firing of torpedoes in Karavia Bay the ships retired, unchallenged, down the channel.
On the evening of February 23 the ship again in company with DesRon 12 commenced an anti-shipping sweep between Kavieng, New Ireland and Truk. About midnight an unidentified plane made a few runs on the formation and dropped three bombs but was driven off by AA fire.
At dawn on February 25, the Squadron stood in toward Kavieng to bombard shipping, shore batteries, air-fields and supply dumps. It was full daylight when the bombardment started to rake the enemy positions. Shore batteries opened up and soon the splashes were coming too close for comfort. The ships were obliged to maneuver sharply and radically to throw the Japs’ aim off, and one Division of Destroyers started to search out the Jap guns. A number of shore batteries were silenced in this duel, but not before they had managed to do some damage. The bombardment continued, however, and the Lansdowne turned her guns on the shipping in the harbor. Two ships were sunk, one left blazing, and a few heavy fires started along the docks. The Japanese were still shooting well and, about eight o’clock, it was decided we had done sufficient damage and had pushed our luck far enough. Two destroyers had been hit, two grazed by shrapnel, but the “Lucky L” had come through untouched. Kavieng, however, was in flames and columns of smoke were still rising from explosions as DesRon 12 proceeded to Purvis Bay.
On March 8, the Lansdowne and Lardner took a slow convoy to Green Island, returning to Guadalcanal on March 14.
On March 24, the Lansdowne left Purvis Bay and operated with various supporting units of the Fifth Fleet operating north of New Ireland and Manus Island.
On April 16; the ship again took off from Purvis Bay to join the Seventh Fleet and, until May 7, operated with escort carriers supporting Allied landings in Aitape-Hollandia-Tanahmerah Area of the northern New Guinea coast.
After a short stop at Pearl Harbor, the ship sailed on May 30, for Majuro Atoll where Task Force 58 was forming for the next step to the west, the capture of Saipan, Tinian and Guam.
Saipan had been the key to the inner defenses of Japan. Our assault there on June 15, 1944 forced the Japanese to engage our fleet for the first time since the Battle of Midway. When US submarines forced the Japanese Fleet to sea, their progress was reported by others who sank two of their carriers on June 19. Admiral Spruance had wisely decided to cover the Saipan landings rather than search out the Japanese Fleet, and he dispatched Admiral Mitcher’s powerful Fast Carrier Force to the west.
Battleships, cruisers and destroyers were deployed on a line 1.5 miles in advance of the more vulnerable carriers to meet the brunt of the expected air attack with their powerful anti-aircraft batteries. US fighters broke up raids 50 miles ahead of our surface units. Those that broke through were decimated by ship’s gunfire. By the day’s end, US fighters had destroyed 366 Japanese planes in the air and 17 on the ground. Nineteen more were shot down by ships’ gunfire. Our own strike groups sank a carrier and damaged four others plus battleships and cruisers, thus breaking the back of the Japanese Fleet, which did not again seriously challenge our fleet until the Battle of Leyte Gulf.
The Lansdowne continued to operate with the carrier task group refueling and provisioning at sea until July 22. when detachment orders were received.
The Lansdowne departed the Marianas area on July 24, proceeding via Eniwetok and Pearl Harbor, arriving at Puget Sound Navy Yard on August 12 for leave, liberty and overhaul.
Forty-seven days later, on September 29, the Lansdowne left for Pearl Harbor and a short training period. On October 18, she left Pearl Harbor and during the remainder of the year was engaged in patrol and escort duty in the Western Carolines. The new 2,100- and 2,200-ton destroyers that were coming out to the fleet in greater numbers were forcing the older destroyers to take a less active part in the war, but only temporarily. The greater part of this period was spent in the Palau Islands as ComScreen in the Anguar-Peleliu Area.
The Lansdowne became “big brother” to the various YMSs and Xs stationed there by supplying them with fuel, water, ice cream, and other supplies and even performing emergency repairs occasionally. This period would have been a wonderful vacation except that after a certain length of time even a vacation can get monotonous, and the war was moving far ahead toward the Japanese Home Islands.
On May 19, the Lansdowne joined the bombardment group off Naha on Okinawa. During the next week the ship bombarded the Japanese positions on the island conducting day and night firings on gun positions, supply dumps and troop areas. The firing went on continually until at night the off-duty gun crews could sleep with the guns going off a few feet away.
On May 27, the Lansdowne joined the escort carrier group which was conducting strikes on the Sakishima Islands, to deny the Japs the use of these bases. This duty continued until June 16 when the group departed for Leyte for rest and routine repairs.
On July 3 the Lansdowne left Ulithi with the Logistic Support Group, consisting of fleet oilers, provision ships and ammunition ships, which was to support the operations of the Third Fleet conducting strikes against the Japanese Empire.
The Lansdowne finally joined Task Force 38 on August 13 and finished the war operating with the first team. The days that followed August 15 were busy preparing for the occupation and the destroyers were kept hustling from ship to ship delivering passengers and mail.
On August 20 the Lansdowne left the task force and proceeded to Buckner Bay, Okinawa, where she joined the old battleships and with them entered Sagami Wan on August 27 and anchored that night with Fujiyama in the background.
At dawn on August 20 the Lansdowne in company of the Buchanan and Lardner escorted the South Dakota through Urago Suido and entered Tokyo Bay at 0945. Here the ship was assigned to the Prisoner of War Rescue Group. For the next three days the ship brought out Allied POWs from Omori and other camps to the hospital ships in the bay.
On September 3, the Lansdowne left for Hamamatsu to pick up another group of Allied POWs and returned to Tokyo Bay on September 7. The ship then moored in Yokosuka Naval Base remaining there until October 8 when she left for Wakayama, Japan.
On October 15, the Lansdowne in company with the California, Tennessee, Chemung, Stevenson, Stockton, Thorn, Lardner and, later the Nelson, left Japan to return to the US via Singapore, Colombo and Capetown. The Lansdowne thus finished her last cruise in New York, the same port she had started from in June, 1942.
The Lansdowne became known as the “Lucky L” early in the war and lived up to her name throughout. There were many close calls and dangerous moments but despite the best efforts of the enemy neither the ship nor the crew were ever so much as scratched by bomb, shell or torpedo.