USS Laffey (DD-724) Destroyer Warship
Through World War 2, the Korean War and the Cold War, nothing - it seems - could sink the USS Laffey.
Authored By JR Potts, AUS 173d AB; Content ©www.MilitaryFactory.com
The USS Laffey (DD-724), a United States Navy Allen M. Sumner-class destroyer, was named for seaman Bartlett Laffey who was assigned to a 12-pound howitzer gun crew on the stern wheel gunboat, the USS Marmora. During a Confederate attack in 1864, he was awarded the Medal of Honor (MOH) for staying by his gun under a sustained heavy attack (at this time, the only medal the Union had was the MOH). Soon after, the war department began creating the medal structure still in use even today, saving the MOH for actions "above and beyond". Laffey's award stands as a tribute to his actions occurring on March 5th, 1864, this at Yazoo City, Mississippi.
The USS Laffey had her keel laid down in Bath, Maine at the Bath Iron Works on June 28th, 1943 and, following completion, she was commissioned on February 8th, 1944. The class was often referred to simply the "Sumner-class", this class characterized by their twin 5-inch gun turrets (each guided by a Mark 37 fire control system), dual rudders, additional anti-aircraft weapons and many of the other advancements incorporated into the previous Fletcher-class such as its Mlk6 8,500 rpm gyro. Additional armament included 10 x 21-inch (530mm) torpedo tubes, 6 x depth charge projectors and 2 x depth charge tracks. Her displacement of 3,316 tons did not stop her from accomplishing cat-like turns due to her speed of 34 knots and the aforementioned dual rudder arrangement.
The ship received her crew and completed her trials over the next 20 days in Caribbean waters and returned to the Washington Naval Yard to receive her sailing orders. She was ordered to Norfolk to serve as a school ship and, in mid-May, a convoy was forming in New York harbor - Laffey called to proceed there for escort duty to England. The crossing was uneventful but gave Laffey's crew time to drill and get into a destroyer escort's anti-submarine warfare (ASW) role. After the escort to England, USS Laffey received new orders to make ready for the invasion of mainland Europe. Additional supplies and ammunition were loaded in all available spaces as extended shelling and ASW requirements were expected. On June 3rd, 1944 she steamed for the Normandy beaches escorting a flotilla of slow tugs, two Dutch gun boats and some large landing craft. At dawn on D-Day, the sixth of June, Laffey arrived with her charges off of Utah Beach, France, along with over 5,000 other ships of all types.
Between June 6th and 12th, Laffey was ordered to screen and bombard gun emplacements onshore. Laffey also was placed on ASW duty and pursued enemy submarines which had torpedoed the destroyer Nelson. She was assigned to the battleship USS Nevada and Bombardment Group 2 in shelling German strong points in France. She arrived in Belfast on July 1st, 1944 and sailed for home, arriving in Boston on July 9th. She remained in repair dock for a month and received new electronic equipment. On August 25th she arrived back in Norfolk. There she received supplies and some crew changes and within 24 hours, she departed for Pearl Harbor, Hawaii via the Panama Canal. On October 23rd, after training, she left for the Pacific Theater, arriving at Ulithi on November 5th. There, Laffey joined Task Force 38 in attacking Japanese shipping and airfields on the Philippines Islands.
Laffey returned to Ulithi on November 22nd and set a new course for Leyte Gulf with Destroyer Squadron 60. Operating with the 7th Fleet, the destroyer screened the battleships against enemy submarine and air attacks and covered the amphibious landings at Ormoc Bay. She was docked in San Pedro Bay, Leyte for a refit in early December and joined Close Support Group 77.3, departing for Mindoro in early December to help support additional landings. After the beachhead had been established, Laffey escorted empty landing craft back to Leyte, arriving at San Pedro Bay in mid December. In February, the ship supported TF 58 while the carriers conducted air strikes on Tokyo and air support of Marines fighting on Iwo Jima. In March of 1945, she was transferred to TF 54 at Ulithi and prepared her crew for training for the invasion of Okinawa.
On April 14th, 1945 Laffey was assigned to radar picket station duty some 30 miles (48 km) north of Okinawa, Japan. She was to repulse any air attacks against Task Force 54, it now conducting support missions for the Okinawa invasion force. During the first day on picket duty, Laffey joined other destroyers in repulsing Japanese air attacks. The result netted 13 enemy aircraft shot down. On April 16th, Laffey and her support ships - LCS 56 and LCS 151 - were ordered to a new picket station 50 miles off of Okinawa.
The Landing Craft Support ships were designed to supply firepower during amphibious landings. They were called the "Mighty Midgets" and were small craft crewed by 71 officers and men. The ship was fitted with heavy armament; a single 3-inch gun forward, twin 40mm bow guns plus two 40mm deck guns - one forward and one aft - and four 20mm cannons - two port and two starboard. Additionally, there were four .50 cal heavy machine guns and ten MK7 rocket launchers. After supporting the landings the LCS ships, not having radar, moved off shore to support destroyers on picket duty.
The new tactic ad become a radar "screen" of destroyers forming a circle around the invasion force to act as an early warning system against enemy aircraft, submarines and surface ships. On this day, Laffey and her support craft were manning radar picket station # 1, the closest to the Japanese mainland. The last four destroyers that were assigned to this station were attacked by Kamikaze aircraft. At 7:45AM her radar picked up a single aircraft six miles out from the port quarter. Laffey's 5-inch, radar-directed guns opened fire. At three miles out, the Japanese "Val" aircraft dropped its bomb and turned tail back to Japan.
Soon after, at 8:39am, fifty Japanese planes appeared on radar. The flight included "Val" and "Judy" dive bombers as well as "Kate" torpedo planes. These were older Japanese military aircraft now relegated to suicide attacks and packed with high-explosives. The first attack began with four Vals; two attacked bow-on so Captain Beckman ordered a hard left, 30-degrees to allow the Laffey to fire a broadside at the oncoming aircraft. First the 5-inch opened up followed by the 40mm cannon. In turn, the 20mm lit up and the action concluded with a single .50 caliber firing. Both Vals were shot down but the other two enemy aircraft managed an attack from the stern - however, both attackers were "splashed" without the ship being hit. A Judy attacked from starboard but was similarly shot down - in all, total enemy aircraft downed in this single action was already numbering five. From port, another Judy attacked and strafed the ship but was eventually shot down very close to the Laffey.