The Ship That Would Not Die
By F. Julian Becton, RADM USN (Ret) with Joseph Morschauser III
Softcover, 279 pages, appendices, photographs, and index
Published by Pictorial Histories Publishing Company, April 1987
Dimensions: 6.0 x 1.0 x 9.3 inches
The USS Laffey (DD-724) was an Allen M. Sumner-class destroyer built for the U.S. Navy during the Second World War. At 2,200 tons, they were the largest and most heavily armed U.S. Navy destroyers to see combat during WWII, the Gearing-class was a derivative with a 14-foot hull extension amidships to increase range. Laffey was commissioned on 08FEB44.
The author was Laffey’s Captain from her commissioning through the end of the war. He was already an experienced officer, having seen combat aboard the USS Arron Ward (DD-483) in the Solomons, where he was with the original USS Laffey (DD-459) when she was sunk during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. He was assigned to the new Laffey as Prospective Commanding Officer during her construction and the training of her crew.
The Laffey had a busy war. She first saw combat off Normandy during the invasion, and shelled German defenses at Cherbourg. From there she sailed to the Pacific, joining Task Force 38 for the invasion of the Philippines. She first encountered the Japanese Kamikaze there, and was with the USS Ward (DM-16) when she was sunk at Ormoc Bay. She then escorted the carrier groups during strikes against the Japanese home islands and off Iwo Jima.
The Laffey is best remembered for her ordeal on the radar picket line screening the landings on Okinawa. On 16APR45 she was attacked by a large formation of Kamikaze aircraft, an estimated twenty-two singling out Laffey. Ultimately, she was hit by six Kamikaze and four bombs which caused extensive damage and fires, and also jammed her rudder. With the assistance of salvage tugs she was able control her flooding and was towed from the area. She returned to the States under her own power and was eventually repaired, but her war was over. Laffey served until 1975, and is currently preserved as a museum ship in North Charleston, South Carolina.
The book is written in autobiographical style. Becton describes the day-to-day operations of the ship and makes a special effort to mention as many of his crew by name as possible. I was surprised to see a number of factual errors which somehow crept into the narrative – some ships’ armaments are improperly described, aircraft mis-identified in a caption, apparent confusion between a Landing Ship, Dock (LSD) and a floating drydock (AFDB), and a US Navy officer said to have survived the sinking of HMS Hood. Minor issues in their own rights, but they call into question other details. In spite of that, this is an interesting story and well worth reading.