ACTION REPORTDD450/A16 U.S.S. O'BANNON (DD450)
Care of Postmaster,
San Francisco, California,
November 17, 1942.
From: The Commanding Officer.
to : The Commander in Chief, United States Fleet.
Via : The Commanding Officer, U.S.S. HELENA (Senior Officer, Task Force 67.4)
The Commander South Pacific Force.
Subject: Report of engagement with Japanese units on morning of November 13, 1942.
Enclosures: (A) Track Chart.
(B) Radar PPI Diagrams (1), (2) and (3).
(C) Report of Executive Officer.
1. The following is a report of the engagement with units of the Japanese fleet in the waters surrounded by Guadalcanal, Savo, Florida, and Tulagi Island in the early morning of November 13, 1942.
Our force steaming in column order as follows: CUSHING, LAFFEY, STERETT, O'BANNON, ATLANTA, SAN FRANCISCO, HELENA, PORTLAND, JUNEAU, AARON WARD, BARTON, MONSSEN, FLETCHER, entered the east end of Lengo Channel at about 0000 November 13, 1942, steaming on course 270°, speed 18 knots.
At 0030 the report was received from the director control that a torpedo wake was sighted ahead passing from starboard to port. This wake could not be seen by Conn. No offensive action could be taken by any ship at this time, therefore, no report was made of this probable torpedo. At this time the sky was quite dark, moon had become hidden behind dark clouds, a limited number of stars were visible, and there was a slight breeze from north northeast. The sea was smooth. The ship was in Condition of Readiness I and Material Condition ZED.
At 0100 course was changed to 280° True.
At 0130 radar contact was made with enemy units being reported directly ahead and on starboard bow. The formation course was immediately changed to 310° True.
At 0137 course was changed to 000° True. At about this time this vessel's radar screen showed contacts as noted on Enclosure (B-1). Targets were reported by TBS to be on port bow also.
At 0143 course was changed back to 310° True.
At 0144 torpedo battery and gun battery were ordered to stand by for action starboard.
At 0145 three to five ships were visible on starboard beam, distance about 4000 yards. Three units were heading on an opposite and parallel course at slow speed. See enclosure (B-2).
At 0148 order was received over TBS from O.T.C., "Odd ships fire to starboard, even ships to port". At this time the column was jamming up due to the turn to 310° True. This vessel was making many rudder and engine changes to avoid collision with ship ahead. The gun battery was given "Action Port". The enemy unit which had been visible on the starboard bow could not now be seen and the torpedo battery was ordered to stand by for action port.
At 0149 enemy vessel on port bow opened searchlight on CUSHING and commenced fire. Fire from our units was commenced immediately thereafter. Guns were ordered to shoot at the searchlight on port bow. It is believed that this searchlight was shot away by our fire for shortly thereafter several blazes were noted on enemy vessel under fire and the searchlight went out. Our tracers were definitely seen hitting the forward superstructure. The target's gunfire became sporadic. This target was thought to be a heavy cruiser.
At 0153 turned hard right and hard left to avoid collision with ship ahead (STERETT), then resumed course approximately 270° True to rejoin column astern of LAFFEY. At this time it was observed that CUSHING and LAFFEY were receiving many hits from cross-fire on port and starboard bows. Rejoined column shortly thereafter and continued fire on a target which now had been identified as a Kongo type battleship. The identification is considered certain because at this time there was a flaming enemy unit on the opposite side along our line of fire which silhouetted this battleship sharply. My impression at this time is that there were light enemy units drawing ahead to starboard.
At 0154 order was received over TBS to cease fire. This order was not authenticated. Check fire was given and the order given "pick up target on starboard bow". At about this time the two ships ahead, CUSHING and LAFFEY, were lost to sight to starboard, the LAFFEY apparently sinking. This vessel was then about 1800 yards from the battleship and in the lead of our column.
At 0155 there was heavy gun fire to starboard. No targets were visible to Conn but control said there were several vessels to starboard on westerly course, one of which could be identified as a three-funnel Tenryu class cruiser. Gun fire was opened on this cruiser. See Enclosure (B-3).
At 0156 the range to the Kongo type battleship on the port bow had closed to 1200 yards. There were numerous fires on this battleship and its gunfire had slackened. Its fire was all passing over this vessel. Two aimed torpedoes were fired deliberately at this battleship on the port bow. Each of these torpedoes were fired to hit, no spread. Before firing the remainder of torpedo salvo it was intended to await the results of shots 1 and 2. It was then decided to fire the remainder of a torpedo salvo. Just as the third torpedo was fired, a tremendous explosion was noted and the battleship was enveloped from bow to stern in a great sheet of flame. Burning particles fell on this vessel's forecastle. It was decided not to fire more torpedoes at this time, it being considered killed by these three torpedo hits. Torpedo five was checked.
At 0159 gun targets were lost to starboard. Fire was ceased and ship was swung right to reverse course to about 090° True. At this time there were five burning and exploding vessels on the starboard quarter and one explosion was noted at a long range off forward of the port quarter. Control reported that no definite targets could be picked up, Conn could see nothing.
At 0201 the ship was swung hard left to avoid the sinking bow of what is now believed to be the LAFFEY. Many personnel were sighted in the water and about 50 life jackets were thrown over from this ship.
Shortly thereafter, torpedo wakes, at least two, were seen to pass ahead. This vessel swung hard left.
At 0203 experienced a heavy underwater explosion which seemed to be close aboard on the port beam. This may have been depth charges from LAFFEY but since it was a single sharp explosion it is believed that, rather then depth charges, it may have a torpedo detonating at end of run. All light and power was lost. Light and power was regained very quickly but many electrical circuits had been ruptured. The gun and torpedo controls were reported available in local control.
This ship then broke off action at approximately 0204 and headed southeast attempting to locate either definite targets or definite friends.
At about 0215 a smoking vessel was sighted on the port bow. This vessel could not be identified. Torpedo battery was ordered to stand by for action. This vessel apparently was drawing away to northeast. Although this vessel could not be identified, torpedo fire was withheld. (From subsequent tracking by radar this smoking vessel was later identified as SAN FRANCISCO with HELENA close by). From its size and indistinct outline the vessel was believed to be a transport.
Thinking that transports may have gotten in, this vessel turned to the south and investigated the coast line about two miles west of Lunga Point where a light was visible on the beach. No transports were seen. At about this time the HELENA was heard on the TBS and information received that HELENA and SAN FRANCISCO were standing out Sea Lark Channel. This vessel then stood out Lengo Channel and joined as escort with HELENA and SAN FRANCISCO at 0415.
2. There were no personnel casualties:
(a) Large fragment of 8" shell hit right barrel of forward torpedo mount.
(b) Vibration of port engine believed misalignment or propeller damage due to underwater explosion or to passing through wreckage.
(a) Own forces:
(1) Sinking of LAFFEY (0154-0201) (Lat. 09°-15.6' S., Long. 159°-54' E.)
(2) Many hits on CUSHING, practically cutting her down to the waterline.
(b) To enemy forces:
(1) Fire throughout and heavy explosions in one Kongo type battleship. Location of this burning ship was approximately Lat. 09°-16.3' S., Long. 159°-54' E. It is believed that this battleship sunk. Several witnesses state that it was "sagged in the middle and going down". No witnesses can say it disappeared below the water surface.
(2) Small fire aft in Tenryu type cruiser fired upon by this vessel.
(3) At least five other burning vessels, one to the west and four to the southwest of above location.
(4) Two burning vessels, one to the north and one to the north northeast of above location.
3. Impressions of Commanding Officer and various personnel:
(a) There were heavy guns firing from long range, 10-16000 yards, from between Savo and Florida Islands, all during the engagement. This firing appeared slow and deliberately controlled. The Air Defense Officer and the Gunnery Officer both reported observing this fire and watching the tracers pass overhead.
(b) Aircraft flares were believed used by the enemy. Many flares were observed between 0205 and 0215 for which there was no corresponding gunfire. Some of these flares were dropped directly over this vessel and the gunfire noted above was believed at this time to be directed at this vessel as a hail of shorts and overs were noted.
(c) That the enemy units were not surprised in the main, although the enemy units that passed astern to starboard and then returned passing ahead to starboard, at high speed, were firing very few guns.
(d) That the enemy illuminated and opened fire first.
(e) That the enemy fire was extremely accurate and rapid in the very early stages of the action but that accuracy and volume decreased materially within a matter of 2-3 minutes from open fire.
(f) That in the latter stages of the action the enemy's center and left groups were firing at each other.
(g) That the use of searchlights for illumination and gun control is an invitation for accurate fire concentration and that tracer control is sufficiently accurate not to warrant use of searchlights.
(h) That SG radar is invaluable to the OTC and each individual ship for early and continued information of disposition of own and opposing forces.
4. The officer and men of this vessel handled the ship and themselves excellently. No praise can be too high for the expected manner in which they remained unflinching and steadfast at their posts with shells from all sides falling short and over. It is believed a tribute to the spirit and indoctrination of the Naval Service that a group of American men and boys, many of them never having seen a ship, could be welded into an organization that would stand up so calmly under fire in the short period of this vessel's official life, June 26 to November 13. The officers and men of this crew, each and everyone, handled themselves like veterans and are greatly deserving of all meritorious considerations.
E. R. WILKINSON.
Comtaskfor 62 (CTF-67)