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The First USS Laffey Sinks at Guadalcanal: November 13, 1942

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On 13 November 1942, the first USS Laffey (DD-459) was sunk by the Japanese during a night battle during the early stages of the naval battle of Guadalcanal, less than a year after being commissioned.

Fold3 Image - USS Laffey (DD-459)The USS Laffey—a Benson Class destroyer—was commissioned on 31 March 1942 and commanded by Lt. Comdr. William E. Hank. The Laffey was sent to the South Pacific to join in the naval operations around the strategically significant island of Guadalcanal, which Allied land forces were fighting to take from the Japanese.

In mid-September, the Laffey took part in rescue operations when the USS Wasp—an aircraft carrier involved in escorting troop transports to Guadalcanal—was sunk by a Japanese submarine. A month later, on 11–12 October, the Laffey and the rest of her cruiser group fought in the Battle of Cape Esperance, in which American ships successfully turned back a Japanese bombardment group that was headed to Guadalcanal.

A month after that, mid-November, saw the naval battle of Guadalcanal, in which Allied (mainly American) naval forces tried to prevent the Japanese from landing reinforcements on the island. To do this, American ships were deployed to stop the Japanese bombardment force that was coming to attack the island’s American-held airfield in preparation for the landings.

The Laffey was part of the task force sent to stop the Japanese, and in the early morning of 13 November, the Americans spotted the Japanese ships. However, because it was dark, and because of communications problems, theFold3 Image - Distribution of Japanese forces during First Naval Battle of Guadalcanal Americans were unaware that they were practically surrounded by the Japanese. A chaotic, close-quarters battle ensued, and just before 2 a.m. the Laffey was struck in the fantail by a torpedo. Combined with other damage she sustained, the Laffey was put out of action. The order to abandon ship was given, but soon her magazines exploded and she swiftly sank, with a loss of 59 officers and men (including Lt. Comdr. Hank) and 116 wounded.

Despite inflicting heavy damage on the Americans during the fight, including sinking the Laffey and other ships, the Japanese bombardment group decided to withdraw. Over the next few days, American naval forces would meet the Japanese in additional fights and would ultimately prevent the Japanese from delivering most of their planned troops and supplies to Guadalcanal.

For the bravery of her crew, the Laffey was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation, and the USS Hank was named after the Laffey’s commander. A second—more famous—destroyer named the USS Laffey (DD-724) would be commissioned just over a year later, in February 1944.

Do you know anyone who served on the USS Laffey? Tell us about them! Or discover more about the ship on Fold3.

71 Comments

  1. My father, James B. Guest, served on the Laffey and other ships for the duration of the war. He was stationed at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked and was present for the surrender of the Japanese at the end of World War II.

    • I thank him for his service, and to all the heroic sailers and marines that fought at Guadalcanal

    • Thanking your father for all his service and career his family should be proud of. God bless this American hero.

    • My great grandmother was named Mary Guest ! She came from England to settle in Ohio and married John Harry Ellery in about 1884-5. Any connection?

    • Thank you for your father’s dedication.

    • Mary, my dad was on d day I know how proud you are

    • I cannot fathom what war is like or the toll it takes on you then or later. I just can’t. Every person who put their lives in peril and their families on hold and gave so that I can be free today is my hero. We have, today, mostly taken our freedoms for granted and EXPECT so called rights. We are lazy, spoiled brats. We will never have a greater generation, ever.

    • We cannot give enough Honor a Praise for Mr. Guest, but I thank him for his service and sacrifice from the bottom of my heart. As with so many in that war, we’ll never really know what they saw or experienced. My father was sent by mistake to the area of the Battle of the Bulge, due to a confusion in names. After a few weeks on the front line, he went from private in the trenches, to Staff Sergeant in Marseilles, France. He would never talk about those few weeks he spent in the foxholes of that battle, but my mother told me of his dreams that haunted him the rest of his life. We owe these men and women everything.

    • What an amazing history of your Father. God bless him. I was 8 when the attack on Pearl Harbor happened. I still remember it vividly and watching my parents as they listened to the news on the radio. There was a lot of crying and fear. We children were afraid we would be bombed. Two of my cousins were killed in the war, One in the European Theatre and the other in the Pacific.

    • What a history, and what heroes! Love and thanks to our servicemen forever. They are the best of America.
      I hope your Dad recorded his experience for posterity.

  2. Unlike Mary Guest, I had one uncle, and two great uncles at Pearl Harbor. Horror stories.

    • My father was in the U.S. army also stationed at Pearl Harbor and never had a furlough while serving. My uncle was a prisoner of the Nazis and my other uncle was killed, father of 2 little girls and drafted 2 wks before WWII was over.

  3. Will you be doing an article on the USS Cushing DD376 that was also sunk during the battle of Guadalcanal. It was sunk on November 13, 1942. My Uncle was on that Destroyer and I believe is still listed as Missing In Action. I have been trying to get information on that Destroyer and the men that were on that ship. Any help would be appreciated.

    I really like that you have these stories for the decendents of the people that were lost in the battles of the Pacific. These are histories that should not be forgotten, ever….

    • Try google USS Cushing DD376, there is a listing of the crew. Hope this will help.

    • Rebecca, Fold3 has some records from the USS Cushing such as anti-aircraft reports, reports of operations with carriers, as well as war diaries. It appears that most of these records are from after the Cushing was sunk, so it must have either been repaired or a new ship was christened the Cushing. If you have an account you can view the records by clicking “Browse Mitary Records”, select WWII, then you will need to scroll all the way down to the bottom and click on “War Diaries”, then click on the letter “U”, and finally scroll down and select “USS Cushing” to see the records. Hope this helps, enjoy.

    • The records you mentioned pertain to the new Fletcher class USS Cushing commissioned in 1944.

    • You might consider contacting the National Personnel Records Center and see if they may have his service record. Since your uncle is deceased I don’t know what they might have. Normally only a surviving direct relative can get records so if you know of living descendents they could apply. If not, an explanation that you are the only known descendent might help.

  4. For Mary Guest: What ship was your father on in Pearl Harbor and later in Tokyo Bay? My father was at Pearl Harbor on the USS Shaw and then in Tokyo Bay on the USS Sims.

    • Noted your father was on USS Shaw at Pearl…on 05 Nov 2017 Chief
      Radioman (retired) passed away at age 93 in East Machias Maine. He also was
      on the Shaw at Pearl Harbor and involved in shooting down a Zero that date.
      Probably..no…surely knew your father.

  5. My late father served as Pharmacist 1st Class on the 2nd U.S.S.Laffey (built & commissioned by Feb 1944) – his name was Jerry Liebertz..

  6. Although this is really a post about the USS Laffey, veterans who also served at Pearl Harbor have been mentioned here, so with the 76th anniversary of that momentous and bloody attack soon approaching, let me also note that my father, P. N. K. Englesby, of Mondovi, WI, was there as well. Just two weeks before the attack, he was transferred from the USS West Virginia, which was, of course, sunk during the attack, to shore as part of the Naval Mobile Hospital No. 2. He was a pharmacist’s mate. His medical unit, one of the very first MASH-type mobile hospitals in all of the military, served the wounded with distinction at Pearl Harbor. Later, he joined the submarine service, becoming a chief pharmacist’s mate, the “doc” on his boat(s). By the way, the USS West Virginia was later raised and restored and served in many battles, and at the end of the war, it was also in Tokyo Bay for the unconditional surrender. Lela Curtis, I believe that the Shaw was also raised and returned to service.

    • I noted that your father was a submariner at some point. There is an organization of submarine qualified submariners called USSVI that is nation wide. Google them and check for a group near you. They would be happy to hear from you.
      I am also a submariner.

    • Thank you, John Morgan, for replying to my post and for letting me know about this national submariner organization. I will check it out. Are you a WW2 veteran of the Silent Service? My dad was never a joiner, except of the Navy in 1939, and he never joined any submariner post-war organizations. I would like to connect with them, though, so that I can learn more about what his service was like. I have done much reading of the memoirs, however, of sub veterans of WW2. My brother-in-law is a sub veteran of the Cold War, circa 1971-77. He was involved in the nuclear propulsion side; my dad was a Chief Pharmacist’s Mate, the “doc” on his boats.

  7. For those that are interested in the history of the naval surface conflict around Guadalcanal, including stories about DD-459 USS Laffey, I highly recommend James Hornfischer’s book, Neptune’s Inferno.

    It covers the ships and the conflicts around Guadalcanal during late 1942 in great detail.

    • Thank you. I plan to purchase the book and maybe it will shed some light on my Uncle’s ship and possibly some of the men aboard these ships.

    • A great book!

    • Yes I agree. Neptune’s Inferno is a great book. It reads like a thriller

    • There is also a new book that was just published entitled “phalanx against the divine wind” by marty irons. It tells about the destroyer Haynsworth and other destroyers that provided cover to aircraft carriers. Lots of great stories!

    • I’ll look to get that book. My Uncle ,Eddy Rodecker, was a plank owner on the USS Aaron Ward DD-483, which was heavly damaged with loss of lives in a Naval Battle Guadalcanal in Nov. ‘43.
      After repairs and replacements at Tulagi it returned to the area . In April ‘43 she came under heavy attack by air, was severly damaged with loss of lives and while being towed out of the area she sunk in 165’ of water. She was discovered by a group that searches for WWII ships that had been sunk during the war, there are several pictures of her that show her guns in a firing position.My uncle survived but did lose his left leg from the knee down. The ship had quite a history, you can find all of it if you go to Wikipedia.org

  8. Thank you to you all!! Words cannot express.
    Scottie

  9. My Uncle’s name was Burt M Sparks. He served on the USS Cushing DD376 and was on that Destroyer when it went down in Guadalcanal on November 13, 1942. I believe he is still listed as MIA. All of the men that were killed in Guadalcanal deserve being remembered for their bravery….

  10. When I was on Guadalcanal this past August for the 75th Anniversary of the Battle. I had a chance to cross Iron Bottom Sound, twice in a day and I left a sentiment to those who fought there.

    “May your exploits, your dedication to duty and your sacrifice for the greater cause of peace never be forgotten. In Loving Memory of those who rest in these deep waters of Iron Bottom Sound, with undying gratitude, we salute you”

    https://www.facebook.com/inthecitypete/videos/vb.1173177437/10213332591327282/?type=3

  11. My friend and classmate, George McKee, was the skipper of the new Laffey which one can visit in Charleston. NC.

  12. One should note also the sinking of the Cruiser Juneau with the loss of the five Sullivan brothers during that series of battles. (Savo Island). Their deaths had a profound impact on the War Effort.

    At least two destroyers were named after the Sullivans.

  13. MY FATHER SERVED IN ARMY WW TWO IN PACIFIC. HE RAN AAY FROM HOME AND JOINED. HE SAID SINCE HE WAS OLD ENOUGH HE WANTED TO FIGHT FOR HIS COUNTRY AND FAMILY. HE WAS AT A FIGHT AT GUADALCANAL AND MANY OTHER BATTLES.
    WAR MUST BE HECK. BECAUSE AFTER TELLING US ABOUT THE BATTLES HE WAS IN. HE STOPPED TALKING ABOUT WW TWO. IF WE ASKED HIM ABOUT IT WHEN HE RETIRED HE HAD A LOOK OF SUCH HATRED. I COULD NEVER TELL WHAT TO SAY TO HIM SINCE I. IGNORED HIM WHEN I TURNED SIXTEEN YEARS OLD.
    THE DAY HE PASSED HE DIED IN MY DAUGHTERS ARMS. SHE TOLD ME HE ACTED AS THOUGH HE WERE IN BATTLE AGAIN. I NEVER GOT TO TELL HIM I WAS SORRY AND LOVED HIM
    SO ON HIS BEHALF TO THOSE WHO NEVER CAME HOME AND THE ONES WHO DID. GOD BLESS FOR SERVING YOUR COUNTRY THE WAY YOU ALL DID.
    TO DAD I LOVE YOU AND I KNOW YOU RAN AWAY FROM HOME THEN FOR THE RIGHT REASON AND GOD AND THOSE MEN KNOW IT TOO

  14. Did we miss USS Mount Hood sunk November 10, 1944? My uncle died on it. Family was notified on Thanksgiving day.

  15. For those who lost family in the Navy during WWII, if they were listed as MIA they were declared missing, presumed dead 1 year plus 1 day later, their official death date. My stepmother’s father was missing when the Astoria went down in the Battle of Savo Island. He is memorialized on the Tablets of the Missing at the US Cemetery in Manila,Philippines. More than 36,000 are on these tablets. It is a beautiful place. I have an acquaintance there that went out on a gorgeous day and took photos for me. He says the residents of Manila find great joy and quiet pride from maintaining the site and honoring those who perished, not only on their behalf, but the many societies affected by the war in the Pacific.

  16. Donald Elisburg, you may know already that after the loss of the five Sullivan brothers on that one ship, the Juneau, the military started a policy of deliberately not putting multiple brothers together on/in the same ship/unit/assignment. The loss of all the Sullivans also became one of the impetuses/ideas behind the plot of the Tom Hanks movie “Saving Private Ryan”.

  17. Wow! They really were the greatest generation. Nobody took a knee, or deserted their post. XMarine

  18. This is a great web site. You should do articles on all Navy ships that served in WW II. God Bless all of these brave men for their service to the United States of America. No greater sacrifice could be laid on the Alter Of Freedom.

  19. My Dad served on a much smaller ship, a wood-hulled mine-sweeper, YMS477. I know that his home port was Honolulu, Hawaii. I have obtained deck logs of his ship, which are limited to attendance, watch and provisions. He was in a severe storm (Halsey’s hurricane?). Was strafed by Japanese pilots and went to Midway, Iwo Shima, and eventually went to Okinawa at war’s end.

    Does anyone know what, where, how I can find out which fleet and what groups this small ship was involved in? Dad would not talk about the war. I took this to mean they were engaged in some of the battles, would like to piece his story together.

  20. My 9th grade music teacher Eugene Trowbridge was a F4F pilot atHenderson Field in ‘42. A real Citizen Soldier.

  21. We just toured the Laffey in Charleston, SC a couple of weeks ago while visiting the USS Yorktown. The stories told were amazing. God Bless all who served.

  22. My dad served on the MS Boschfontein troop shio for the invasion of Iwo Jima.

  23. My husband, John Metcalfe, served in the Normandy invasion and in the Battle of Okinawa. If there had been a Battle of Japan he probably would have been killed in it. But the atomic bombs were dropped and the war was ended.

  24. Fills me with rage when I think about the heroes who died in combat under the United States flag so the idiots of today who reject the flag could do so freely. I thought that if they knew what was going to happen, they wouldn’t have done it. Then I came to my senses and realized they would have. That makes them even more heroic in my book. Stand tall for them! Shame on those who take a knee!

    I got to visit the memorial at Pearl. A moving experience.

  25. My father was too old for service for WW11, but was an electrician. He helped by taking special courses to examine propellers on the troop ships in N.Y. before transportation to England. I know he examined the QE11 or QE1 (I think). Then was supposed to go to Hawaii for the same work but Pearl Harbor was attacked. I have always had an interest in WW 11 since. He also had a cousin that died in the first wave landing on the beach in France. They were so young and brave. The dead and living were all too young in every war.

  26. My uncle served on the USS Ralph Talbot, DD390, which was damaged at Savo Island. Later participated in most of the major actions of the Pacific War.

  27. My Uncle Bernard Hunt seamen 2/c served on the Juneau which was sunk and part of the task force the Juneau was the same ship that the 5 sullivan brothers were on

  28. A time to kneel
    Written by Ted Nugent

    Take a little trip to Valley Forge in January. Hold a musket ball in your fingers and imagine it piercing your flesh and breaking a bone or two. There won’t be a doctor or trainer to assist you until after the battle, so just wait your turn. Take your cleats and socks off to get a real experience.

    Then take a knee.

    Then, take a knee on the beach in Normandy where man after American man stormed the beach, even as the one in front of him was shot to pieces … the very sea stained with American blood. The only blockers most had were the dead bodies in front of them, riddled with bullets from enemy fire.

    Take a knee in the sweat soaked jungles of Vietnam. From Khe San to Saigon … anywhere will do. Americans died in all those jungles. There was no playbook that told them what was next, but they knew what flag they represented. When they came home, they were protested as well, and spit on for reasons only cowards know.

    Take another knee in the blood drenched sands of Fallujah in 110 degree heat .. Wear your Kevlar helmet and battle dress. Your number won’t be printed on it unless your number is up! You’ll need to stay hydrated but there won’t be anyone to squirt Gatorade into your mouth. You’re on your own.

    There are a lot of places to take a knee where Americans have given their lives all over the world.. When you use the banner under which they fought as a source for your displeasure, you dishonor the memories of those who bled for the very freedoms you have. That’s what the red stripes mean. It represents the blood of those who spilled a sea of it defending your liberty.

    While you’re on your knee, pray for those that came before you, not on a manicured lawn striped and printed with numbers to announce every inch of ground taken … but on nameless hills and bloodied beaches and sweltering forests and bitter cold mountains .. every inch marked by an American life lost serving that flag you protest.

    No cheerleaders, no announcers, no coaches, no fans … just American men and women … delivering the real fight against those who chose to harm us … blazing a path so you would have the right to “take a knee.” You haven’t any inkling of what it took to get you where you are … but your “protest” is duly noted. Not only is it disgraceful to a nation of real heroes, it serves the purpose of pointing to your ingratitude for those who chose to defend you under that banner that will still wave long after your jersey is retired.

    If you really feel the need to take a knee, come with me to church on Sunday and we’ll both kneel before Almighty God. We’ll thank Him for preserving this country for as long as He has. We’ll beg forgiveness for our ingratitude for all He has provided us. We’ll appeal to Him for understanding and wisdom. We’ll pray for liberty and justice for all…because He is the one who provides those things. But there will be no protest. There will only be gratitude for His provision and a plea for His continued grace and mercy on the land of the free and the home of the brave. It goes like this … GOD BLESS AMERICA!!!!!

    • Thanks Ted for writing that, if I knew how I would have that read in every classroom ,on every news station, published in every newspaper and every sports magazine. What you wrote is spot on and needs to be heard by everyone. I have to admit thinking about what you wrote and thinking of my family members who have served has brought tears of pride to my eyes.

    • Thank you so much for sharing such a poignant and expressive piece regarding this latest disrespectful act. I especially like your solution of inviting them to take a knee in church with you. You honor God and the brave Americans. As the daughter of a WWII vet that fought through the Phillipines and participated in the Occupation (New York 33rd, the Golden Cross) stationed at Honshu, I sincerely thank you from the bottom of my heart. Let us also remember our police and emergency personnel. My son is an inactive Marine serving in law enforcement. The circumstances in their daily lives can be as horrific as combat. Evil knows no boundaries. May God have mercy. Brenda

    • My error, written by Ted posted by Bill, and I thank you I’ll for posting that

    • My mistake, written by Ted Nugent , posted by Bill Pascucci, and I thank you Bill for posting
      that

  29. Thanks for your dad’s service to this great country. My dad was on Saipan in WWII and I am a Vietnam Veteran.

  30. During WWII I was a Destroyer sailor serving in the Atlantic aboard USS Badger DD126. We sunk two German submarines. In the Pacific I served on USS John W. Weeks DD701. Much of that experience is told in Martin Iron’s recently published book “Phalanx Against the Devine Wind”. Though a couple days late, I spent this afternoon celebrating Veterans Day with many veterans from WWII right up to the present as well as activity duty personnel.

  31. I was a friend of Bob Welch who consulted for the McKinsey Company of Cleveland OH. In WW2 he was a marine fighter pilot on Guadacanal until his plane was shot up after which he became a marine company commander until the island was secured. The Japanese still had capacity to wage air attacks as well as sea attacks and infantry charges, most often at night. The combination of these attacks plus the heat, humidity, disease and poor rations made victory in doubt, especially when the Navy took the main aircraft carriers to attack the Japanese bait away from the island so the other Japanese bombardment group could sneak in and finish the supply destruction. There has been little said about the effect the few warplanes on the small “jeep carriers’ which were cargo ships converted to short deck carriers suitable for mostly fighter launches. The fighters gave the Japanese great concern that the big US Carriers had not swallowed the bait so the Japanese gradually backed off.

  32. I had an uncle, Carl Eric Holmquist, who was at Pearl Harbor when it was attacked, then was on a ship in the Nov. battle at Guadalcanal. He was severely wounded and spent a year in a San Francisco hospital recovering. He did survive, but was one of only a few on his ship. Unfortunately, I don’t know the name of his ship. I would love to find out more about his service, if anyone out there has this name in their information. I can’t even imagine the hell those men must have experienced during that horrible battle. I am grateful that he survived, but sorry I didn’t understand him or what he had been through, when I was a 10-year-old child.

  33. My father Albert OCHOA fought in Guadalcanal and fortunately he returned back with sertain wounds. I am not so sure but perhaps he survived from the USS Lafey or the USS Saratoga. Can someone tell me where to reach information from the crews? I would really appreciate any help.

  34. Jennifer T. Morrison wanted the service history of the mine sweeper, YMS477. Usually you can just type in a search for a ship by name and find it’s history from keel to final decommissioning. I’ve usually had success doing this.

    Though I was an officer in the 101st Airborne in the ’50s, (I made more jumps as a Smokejumper), I always thought of WW-II as My War. As a kid, I followed it and made toy tanks and gun emplacements. My uncle was the chaplain for an AA Battery in New Guinea and the Philippians. My father built B-24s at Willow Run, MI. My in-laws built destroyers at Bath Iron Works in Maine.

    At 17 I worked in a USFS camp in Idaho. On the crew was a vet who served on a destroyer in the Pacific. He told of being hit in the bridge by a Kamikaze plane. They spread coffee grounds on the deck so they would not slip on the blood. I can not name his ship.

    In recent times, our Japanese-American choir director was a child in Honolulu who watched the Dec. 7th attack from her front yard.

    If you want to ride on a WW-II ship, a few years back I rode a ferry from New London, CT to Long Island, NY. It was an LST that was involved in the Normandy D-Day invasion. It includes a display of its war service. It’s claim to fame was as being the only U.S. ship to sink a British ship inside a British harbor, by collision.

    During 15 years running history museums, I have done exhibits related to WW-II and own many books on the subject. Later I was the tech illustrator for a company designing and building training simulators for the military. One related to operating catapults on aircraft carriers. I have a half dozen relatives who have been in or are still in military service. After I got out of the Army in KY, I taught school on an Army post in Alaska.

  35. Veterans Day is a bittersweet day for me as I hear the Marines Hymm at school for our Veterans event. My father was a paratrooper in the 1st division who fought at Guadalcanal. He rarely wanted to talk about it but in later years would write and tell me stories of his photos from the war. I wish I could listen to him now.
    My grandfather was also in the war ( he was in WW1 and WW11) and was MIA in the Mediterranean after the sinking of his ship,the Rohna.

  36. The USS Juneau was sunk that day also. The Fightning Sullivans were on that ship.

  37. Joseph H Tiedemann, Jr served on the ship but it is not clear when he actually came aboard.

  38. Speaking of subs, I designed the emblem for the SSN-710, USS Augusta, and got to stand on deck as it was launched at Electric Boat in Groton, CT. (another story.)

    Also, my brother-in-law spent most of his working life employed as an engineer at the Norfolk Navy Shipyard. His oldest son joined the Navy and volunteered for submarines. At well over 6′, he got a bit claustrophobic on his first cruise and spent the rest of his naval career on a sub tender. The son’s wife was also in the Navy when they met.

  39. Every message here has brought me to tears to think that so many descendants, of all the brave men and women who gave all for a country and way of life that they both honored and respected, still honor their memory. If those who disrespect the FLAG of our great country also realized that to us, those whose families who were touched in some way by the lost of a loved one in WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Iraq and Iran, Afganistan and all of the other conflicts we have served in, realize they are disrespecting the life that was given so that they could turn around and disrepect our FLAG and in doing so disrespect our Country. They do not deserve the rights that the service and sacrifice made possible for them. They should “take a knee” and pray for this country and salute the FLAG every day!

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