I have digressed somewhat from the recounting of my experiences onboard the O’Bannon to follow the final outcome of the struggle for Guadalcanal because of its monumental importance to our country. For us, cruising just off shore, we pay little attention to the demise of the Japanese since we know there are many more islands in the Solomon chain where they are firmly entrenched. And after the Solomons, what next? From our vantage point, we see many islands between our ship and the islands of Japan.
With the end of the Guadalcanal campaign, comes a lull in the fighting as both sides gird for the next operation. From February through March, things remain relatively quiet for the O’Bannon as we perform routine escorting operations, occasional shellings and what are called fleet maneuvers and training exercises, or training and more training.
February 15th — we move north to cover the landing of Marines on the Russell Islands. No enemy opposition is encountered except for an occasional enemy aircraft.
March 6th — after some lull, we return to the job of bombarding shore installations at Munda Point in the New Georgia Islands.
April 5th — returning from a night shelling deep in the New Georgia area, the sound gear picks up a contact that turns out to be a large Japanese submarine cruising on the surface and apparently unaware of our presence. The Japanese lookouts must have fallen asleep. We approach rapidly and are preparing to ram the sub. Those on the bridge are trying to identify it by type and decide at the last minute that it is a minelayer. Not wanting to blow ourselves up along with the sub, a quick decision is made not to ram the sub. At the last moment, the rudder was swung hard to avoid a collision and we find ourselves, rather embarrassed, sailing along side the sub.
On board the sub, sailors in dark shorts and dinky blue hats are sleeping on deck and awaken to see an American destroyer along side. Our ship is too close to the sub to allow any of our guns to be depressed enough to fire at the sub and of course no one on deck ever carries a hand gun. Ditto on the Japanese sub, no one there has anything to fire there either. This is the kind of event that, at the time, no one seems to have any idea of what to do and everyone just stares and seems spellbound.
The Japanese sailors do have a gun a 3-inch deck gun and finally decide to use it. Seeing this our deck parties grab potatoes out of the storage bins that are located close by and throw them at the Japanese on the deck of the sub. A potato battle ensues. Apparently the Japanese sailors think the potatoes are hand grenades so they keep busy throwing them back and over the side. This keeps them from manning their deck gun until we can put enough distance between our ship and the sub. As we move away, our guns are now able to be brought to bear. One of our shells manages to hit the subs conning tower but the sub is able to submerge anyway. At this time we are able to pass directly over the sub for a depth charge attack. Later information shows that we did indeed sink the sub. When the Association of Potato Growers of Maine heard of this episode, they sent a plaque to commemorate the event. The plaque was mounted in an appropriate place near the crews mess hall for all to see.
May 5th — attached to Task Force 18, we proceed to the northern Solomons to lay mines in Blackett Strait. Enemy warships proceeding through this narrow channel run the risk of hitting one of our mines. Shortly after this operation, three of Japan’s finest destroyers (DesDiv 15) sink after hitting these mines.
May 11th to 14th — we are underway with task force 18 to shell Japanese positions at the Vila-Stanmore Plantation in Kula Gulf and expend 901 rounds of 5-inch shells. Then we take part in more mining laying operations by providing protection for the minelaying ships as they sow their deadly seed.
May 16th to June 7th — underway to Sydney, Australia for rest and relaxation. Though our memories of Guadalcanal are unhappy ones this visit does much to give us the feeling that we are helping to protect a very wonderful people and our sacrifices were truly appreciated. We find the Australian girls especially attractive. Back in the States American girls ask, “What do the Australian girls have that we don’t have?” And the answer is quickly given, “Nothing, but they have it here.”
June 9th — back from Australia and a return to the boredom of training exercises with Task Force 18.
June 11th to June 14th — we are detached for escort duty to bring supply ships from New Caledonia to Guadalcanal.