Sea History 073 - Spring 1995

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Th e photograph ar leji of rhe USS Laffey was probably raken at ahout rhe time the ship wenr rh roug h the Panama Canal in the late summer of 1944 .

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The usual softening- up prelude in late from a concentrated fo 1mation, destroy- one mu st be totally focused on killing March was contested but went well , and ers were fav ored as kamikaze targets. In the foe: any other attitude would mean when gro und fo rces were landed on 1 addition, their destruction he lped e limi- sure death. Focused , calm but cursing, April , there was no signifi cant Japanese nate the communi cations system to the fro m the ship 's captain , Comm ander F. res is ta nce. M ovi n g in la nd , thin gs more des ired targets, the aircraft carri - Juli an Becton , to the most junior ra ting changed dra mati ca ll y and it was soon ers . A nd , as in ea rli e r battl es off severa l decks be low, the men of the apparent that the well -entrenched Japa- G uadalcanal, tying ships to a restri cted Laffey stood by the g uns and at battle nese wo uld have to be ex term inated area depri ved them of the mobility es- stati ons to meet the enem y pl anes low yard by yard , body by body. At sea, senti al fo r the defense of naval units. The on the hori zon. At a ra nge of over fo ur kamikaze pl anes and Japanese surface price fo r vio lating thi s nava l axio mmiles , the six 5- inch gun s on the rac ing uni ts became more acti ve. Overp rotected even though necessary-was the loss of destroye r opened up , the ir prox imi ty 15 US Navy wars hips o f which 12 we re fu sed she ll s bouncing the attackers. At a for most of her life, the giant Ja panese superbattleship Yama to was fu e led fo r a destroye rs or small er and slower de- littl e over a mil e the 40mm g un s, mostl y in twin mo unts, began the ir rh ythmi c one-way voyage to beac h herself on the stroyer escorts. The kamikaze attacks caused Laffey's di sc harge and at 800 ya rd s the 20mm shores of Okinawa and use her 18- inch guns to re pe l the in vader. Far short of crew to ex peri ence fee lings of many guns began the ir staccato barking . For her o bjecti ve, she was caught in the other sailors durin g that time, amoun t- the nex t hour and ten minutes there open sea and sunk by pl anes from T as k ing to a state of anomie-a loss of norms, would be no time to think , onl y time to Force 58-some from the USS Yo rk- loss of knowledge of one's pl ace and act and react. Fo r 32 men it wo ul d be town , C V- I 0 , a carrier whi ch today is on pu rpose in the wa r. The rul es of war their time to meet death . A battle is fo ught as much with the seemed to change : where one used to exhibit with the Laffey. Before the cam paign fo r Okinawa have a fi ghting chance of surviva l by brain as with brawn. Full y ex posed to was over, nearl y 5,000 sa il ors were dead, dodging an attacke r or shooting him both enemy and hi s own ship 's ordthe chief instru ment of Japanese destruc- down at hi gh altitude, now ships we re nance, Commander Becto n raced the ti on being the kami kaze. While many of being hit by pilots who aimed their planes bridge, spotting the severa l kamikazes the kamikaze pil ots demonstrated a lack d irectl y at the ta rgets w ithout tho ught in their final di ves and ordering the he lm sof tra ining by miss ing their seaborne fo r their ow n surviva l. T here we re no men to turn hard to port or starboard as targets by onl y fee t, others wrought more nervous jokes to US pil ots to let the moment demanded . One pl ane that havoc . Not all ka mikazes were poorl y one enemy plane come th ro ugh, " so appeared to have taken pe rfec t aim could trained ; documents fo und on the bodies we ' ll have something to shoot at. " To not compensate fo r Becton 's las t-secof some pil ots indicated they we re well many Ame ri can sa il o rs it no longer ond mamrnver; it did carry away a portrained, even fli ght leaders. A 550kg seemed a q uesti on of whether or not ti on of the mas t before strik ing the water bes ide the ship, spl attering pl ane and bomb cou ld do considerabl e damage by they wo uld di e , but when. itse lf, but when it slammed into a ship, Such attitudes di sappeared for the bomb parts aga in st Laffey, wo unding the bl ast and fire usuall y ignited other men of the Laffey on 16 April 1945. That severa l men but killing onl y fi sh. Anfl amm abl es such as ordnance, oil , paint, mo rning, there wo uld be no time fo rfear other radi cal maneuve r at the last second wood and mattresses. S uic ide attacks or to ponder anomi e; there was onl y spoiled the aim of another kamikaze, aga inst battl eships usua ll y did little dam- time to fi ght. Even tho ugh the battle off and he died after inflicting only minor age to the vessel, but took a severe toll of Okin awa was onl y days o ld , the crew of damage. But there were too many and anti -a ircraft gunners. Again st destroy- the Laffey full y understood that in battle now radical moves that spo iled aim for one s uic ider onl y pl aced the ers, bombs were ex treme ly lethal as the thin pl ating and Bartle damage to rile USS Laffey (DD-724) off Okinawa on 16 April 1945. destro ye r in the path of anothe r. Bo mbs and pl anes, narrow beam left little marg in bombs w itho ut pl anes and of safety fo r the ships where pl a nes without b o mb s speed was the ir first line of smas hed aga in st the defiant defense . Any hit on the enship. A 20mm and 40mm g ines was like ly to be fatal, mount amid shi p we nt up in since loss of power meant infl ame, a bomb smas hed into suffi c ient capac ity to remove the after deckhouse and two water or fi ght fire. ka mi kazes s tru c k 5 - in c h Destroye rs we re exceedmount number three, the lone ingly vulnerabl e o ff Okinawa, 5-inch mount aft, killing six since they were used as picko f the seven men within . ets-s hips set out on the peHo led , burning and with riphery of the fl eet to help 7 1 of her living men bleeddetect enemy pl anes fl ying too in g, Laffey steamed on at low to be picked up on radar. hi gh speed . Wh at few guns Being the first Ameri can ship th at could operate continued sighted, and appearing from to fi re , damage control parthe a ir to be an eas ier target ti es-seri ously dimini shed than one protected by tho udue to casualti es-fou ght the sand s of anti -a ircraft g un s SEA HI STORY 73 , SPRING 1995

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