Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships
U.S.S. LAFFEY DD-459
LAFFEY (DD-459) was laid down 13 January 1941 by Bethlehem Shipbuilding Co.,
San Francisco Calif.; launched 30 October 1941; sponsored by Miss Eleanor G.
Forgerty, granddaughter of Seaman Laffey; and commissioned 31 March 1942, Lt.
Comdr. William E. Hank in command.
After shakedown off the wet coast, LAFFEY headed for the war zone via Pearl
Harbor, arriving Efate 28 August 1942. She steamed in antisubmarine screen
until she joined Task Force 18 on 6 September. When Wasp (CV-7), her
flagship, was sunk 15 September, LAFFEY rescued survivors and returned them
to Espiritu Santo. She sailed with Task Force 64 and touched at Noumea, New
Caledonia, 18 September.
LAFFEY saw her first fleet action in the Battle off Cape Esperance (also
known as the Second Battle of Savo Island) 11 and 12 October 1942. The
destroyer operated with Admiral Scott's cruiser group, guarding against enemy
attempts to reinforce Guadalcanal. On 11 October when the group formed into
single column, LAFFEY joined two other destroyers in the van. About an hour
later sailors ran to their battle stations, steel doors clanged shut, and all
made ready for battle. When the engagement began, LAFFEY raked AOBA with
three of her 5-inch guns. The furious gunfire roared on through the night. At
dawn, destroyer DUNCAN was sinking, destroyer FARENHOLT was badly damaged,
and cruiser BOISE, though hard hit, had weathered several powerful blows. On
the other hand, the Japanese losses were even greater. Cruiser FURUTAKA was
sinking, cruiser AOBA was badly damaged, and destroyer FUBAKI had sunk.
After the battle, LAFFEY rendezvoused with a group escorting transports from
Noumea 11 November, and sailed to Lunga Point, arriving the next day. The
disembarking operations were interrupted by a heavy air attack. On Friday 13
November LAFFEY was placed in the van of a column of eight destroyers and
five cruisers under Admiral Callaghan. Early in the mid-watch the radar
operator reported contact with the enemy. The naval battle of Guadalcanal was
just about to begin when the enemy force, a group of two battleships, one
cruiser and 14 destroyers appeared on the horizon. LAFFEY lashed out at the
enemy with gunfire and torpedoes. At the height of the violent battle, an
enemy battleship came slashing through the darkness and both ships headed at
full speed for the same spot. The destroyer unleashed her torpedoes and using
all her firepower, machine-gunned the battleship's bridge. With a battleship
on her stern, a second on her port beam, and two destroyers on her port bow,
LAFFEY ought the Japanese ships with the three remaining main battery guns in
a no-quarter duel at point blank range. Suddenly, from the battleship whose
bridge she had shot away, came a salvo of 14-inch guns, swamping the crippled
destroyer. Then a torpedo in her fantail put LAFFEY out of action. As the
order to abandon ship was passed, a violent explosion ripped the destroyer
apart; and she sank immediately. But her gallant skipper and crew had made
the enemy pay a fearful price of one battleship severely damaged, one cruiser
and two destroyer sunk.
LAFFEY was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for her gallant performance
in the South Pacific and three battle stars for World War II service.
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