Naval Warfare

In 1945 USS Laffey destroyer was attacked by 22 kamikaze, was hit by 6 aircraft and 4 bombs. She survived, was repaired and reactivated.

USS Laffey destroyer

USS LAFFEY (DD-724) is the most decorated World War II era US Destroyer still in existence. DD-724 was named in honor of LAFFEY (DD-459), sunk during the Naval Battle for Guadalcanal (13 November 1942). Both ships were named in honor of Seaman Bartlett Laffey, a Civil War Medal of Honor recipient.

On Apr. 16, 1945 she was attacked by 22 Kamikaze killing 32 and wounding 71 of the 336-man crew. The heroic crew shot down 9 Kamikaze aircraft and saved the damaged ship earning her the nickname: “The Ship That Would Not Die.”

This view of Laffey shows severe exterior damage to the wardroom bulkhead on her starboard side.

Nevertheless, the ship was struck by at least 6 planes and 4 bombs.

Samuel J. Cox, Director Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC), lists the Japanese attacks in the article The Ship That Wouldn’t Die (2)—USS Laffey (DD-724), 16 April 1945;

The Japanese attacks

Comprehensive view of bomb damage on Laffey‘s starboard side abreast of her bridge.
  • First Kamikaze Hit. At 0839, an Aichi D3A Val dive-bomber came in from the port bow through 5-inch fire and was hit and slightly deflected by 20-mm gunfire. The Val grazed the top of Mount 53 from fore to aft and crashed just off the starboard quarter. The gun captain in Mount 53 was spared as he had just ducked inside the turret to deal with a misfire in one of the 5-inch guns, but one man in the mount was killed by wing fragments of the plane. The plane also spewed aviation fuel over the after parts of Laffey. (Some accounts count this as a kamikaze hit and others as a near miss).
  • Second Kamikaze Hit. At 0845, a Yokosuka DY4 Judy dive-bomber came in from the port beam and Laffey’s luck began to run out. Despite repeated 40-mm and 20-mm hits, the Judy just missed the port motor whaleboat and then crashed into the two 20-mm mounts (Group 23) on the starboard side abaft the after stack, spewing burning gasoline, destroying the guns, and killing three gunners outright while a fourth jumped over the side in flames. The fire overran the two 40-mm quad mounts (43 and 44) on top of the after deckhouse, significantly reducing Laffey’s defensive firepower. Fires also threatened Mount 44’s magazine below; fortunately, the protective cans for the 40-mm ammunition prevented a larger explosion. Clips of 40-mm shells around the gun tubs began to cook off even as crewmen were jettisoning them over the side (Mount 43 would be re-manned in local control when fires were extinguished). The crash also knocked out communication to the forward engine room, but the engineers would crank up speed to the max when they heard heavy and fast gunfire and slow down when it was quiet.
  • Third Kamikaze Hit. At 0847, a Val came in low from astern, strafing as it approached and, despite being hit by 20-mm fire from the fantail guns, crashed through the 20-mm mounts (Group 25), destroying all three and killing six gunners before hitting the starboard after corner of Mount 53 as flaming gasoline covered the fantail. The plane disintegrated and the bomb exploded, starting a major fire that threatened the aft 5-inch magazine, which Becton quickly ordered flooded. The gun captain of Mount 53, who was directing fire from the side hatch (because the top hatch had been jammed shut by the plane that had grazed the turret) was somewhat miraculously blown clear of the turret unharmed.
  • First Bomb Hit, Fourth Kamikaze Hit. Moments afterward, yet another Val (number 11) came out of the sun from astern, dropped a bomb that hit two feet inboard of the deck edge abeam Mount 53, and crashed into Mount 53, finishing it off and killing six men inside.
  • Second Bomb Hit. Less than two minutes later, another Val came in from astern and dropped a bomb that hit the ship on the starboard quarter just above the propeller guard. Although taken under fire by the 20-mm guns in Group 24 (by the after funnel on the port side), the plane flew on. The bomb exploded in the after 20-mm magazine and fragments ruptured hydraulic lines in the steering gear and jammed the rudder at 26 degrees to port. After this hit, Laffey steamed in a tight circle, with only acceleration and deceleration as a means to disrupt Japanese aim. Even though the ship was down by the stern, it was her good fortune that the watertight bulkheads and hatches to the aft engineering spaces held, which prevented severe flooding and also ensured that she had full power throughout the attack. At this point, Mount 53 and 40-mm Mounts 43 and 44 were out of action, along with five 20-mm mounts destroyed, making Laffey very vulnerable from astern.
  • Fifth and Sixth Kamikaze Hits. As the badly damaged Laffey steamed in tight circles, two kamikaze in quick succession came in from the vulnerable port quarter. The first one, a Val, crashed into the after deckhouse as damage control parties were fighting the fires. Moments later, a Judy crashed into almost the same spot in a big ball of fire, killing four crewmen and starting another major gasoline fire.
  • Third Bomb Hit. Using the sun and smoke from Laffey as cover, a Val approached from the destroyer’s undefended stern and planted a bomb on her fantail, blowing an eight-by-ten-foot hole in the deck just aft of Mount 53. Shrapnel from the bomb hit the emergency casualty aid station topside. The bomb also killed Ensign Robert Thomsen, who had left his station in the command information center after the radars were knocked out in order to take charge of a fire party aft (for which he would receive a posthumous Navy Cross), along with other members of the fire party. The Val clipped the starboard yardarm, but kept going until it was shot down by an F4U fighter (in the meantime 12 USMC Corsairs of VMF-441 “Blackjacks,” launched from Yontan Airfield on Okinawa, joined the fray, shooting down between 15 and 17 Japanese aircraft in the vicinity of Laffey) ahead of the ship. The 20-mm gunners in Group 21 (starboard forward) continued to fire on the Val to make sure it crashed.
  • Fourth Bomb Hit. Another Val came in from the starboard bow strafing. Despite fire from 5-inch, 40-mm, and 20-mm guns, the plane dropped a bomb and barely cleared the ship before it was shot down by a Corsair. Seaman Feline Salcido didn’t think Commander Frederick J. Becton Becton saw the bomb coming in and he shoved the skipper down as the bomb exploded in the 20-mm Group 21 (which had been firing to the last) just below the starboard bridge. Fragments penetrated the wardroom, which was being used as a casualty aid station, killing several of the wounded, the attending pharmacist’s mate, and wounding the ship’s doctor.
View of extensive damage to Laffey‘s aft 5-inch/38-caliber gun mount (Mount 53). The damaged frame of the destroyer’s starboard depth-charge rack is visible in the right foreground.

USS Laffey repaired and reactivated

Remarkably, Laffey survived. She was repaired and reactivated. She was decommissioned in 1968.

Laffey is currently a museum ship at Patriot’s Point, Charleston, South Carolina, and is a designated National Historic Landmark. In 2018, it was announced that Mel Gibson would direct the film DESTROYER which will be a real-time depiction of the attack.

USS Laffey (DD-724), photographed from USS PCE-851, on Okinawa Radar Picket Station Number 1 after being hit by kamikaze aircraftand bombs, and sustaining several near misses, Apr. 16, 1945.

Photo credit: US Navy

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