First DeHaven DD-469

 

USS DeHaven DD-469After the completion of her battle-readiness exercises off the coast of New England, the USS DeHaven (DD-469) departed Norfolk, Virginia, for the South Pacific on November 8, 1942. Arriving at Guadalcanal on December 7, DeHaven, was assigned to escort duty and made several voyages between Guadalcanal and Espiritu Santo, until she was assigned to Task Group 67.5 on January 20, 1943.

On the night of the 24th, DeHaven, in company with two destroyers and two cruisers, arrived off Kolombangara Island to bombard enemy installations on the Villa-Stanmore Plantations. Afterwards, the ships raced out of Kula Gulf and were soon chased by an infuriated enemy, primarily a flock twin-engine bombers. Thanks to a heavily overcast sky, as well as an occasional rain squall, DeHaven's group could not be found, despite the enemy attempt to locate the ships by dropping flares. On February 1, DeHaven, in company with the destroyers O'Bannon (DD-450), Nicholas (DD-449), Radford (DD-446) and a seaplane tender, was escorting six landing craft to establish a beachhead at Morovovo, Guadalcanal. With the assistance of Marine fighters from Henderson Field, the landings were achieved without difficulty However, an enemy scout plane pilot had sighted the activity and notified his base.

After the landing craft disembarked their troops, DeHaven and Nichol were ordered to escort them back to their station, while Radford remained offshore to provide bombardment if necessary. Meanwhile, a dispatch was received warning of an impending air attack.

The 469 just after launchAt 1445, DeHaven's crew rushed to their battle stations. While lookouts scanned the skies and the horizon, gun crews were standing by their weapons, tensely waiting. In the confines of the sweltering engineering spaces, the heavily perspiring "black gang" checked their machinery, watched water levels on their boilers and scores of water, air and steam gauges, and stood by to "answer all bells."

Throughout other parts of the destroyer, damage control parties closed watertight doors and hatches and nearby, within easy reach, was all the equipment needed to fight fires, flooding and shore up bulkheads; axes, lumber, portable pumps, battle lanterns, fire hoses and more. In the wardroom and after living spaces, Pharmacist's Mates grimly stood by for casualties that were expected to be certain to arrive. All that could be done was accomplished within a few moments. Now DeHaven and her crew were ready.

At about 1457, a swarm of 14 aircraft was sighted off DeHaven's starboard beam at a distance of 25,000 yards. At first, it appeared as though the enemy had not seen the tiny convoy and, for a time, the aircraft remained on their original course. Then, suddenly, six aircraft broke away from the formation and streaked toward the destroyers and their charges.

DeHaven's guns, as well as Nicholas' and those on the landing craft, opened up. Fiery tracers stabbed into the oncoming flock, with bursts of flak blossoming about the planes. Three of the aircraft were sent spiraling in flames into the sea. The remaining three bolted through the heavy mantle of flak and AA fire and, for some reason, singled out DeHaven as their choice target.

The 469 off Savo IslandFour bombs plunged down upon the destroyer, one of which struck the bridge, killing and wounding all personnel within the structure. Lying dead among the ruins was her captain, Commander Charles E. Tolman. Two bombs smashed on her bow and another exploded below her waterline, splitting open her hull plating.

Severely crippled, DeHaven lost all power, came to a halt and began to settle swiftly by the bow. Five minutes after the last bomb had hit, the destroyer's bow was well under, her stern high out of the water. Ensign C.L. Williams, the only officer who was not wounded, realized that DeHaven was going down and passed the word to abandon ship. While the personnel below decks were scrambling to escape from out of the topsy-turvy hell in the lower compartments, DeHaven suddenly upended and plunged to her watery grave, taking 167 members of her crew down with her, to rest forever on the floor of "Iron Bottom Sound."

From Blood on the Sea-American Destroyers Lost in World War II by Robert Sinclair Parkin.

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