Updated: Oct 11, 2019
USS Laffey (DD-724) is an Allen M. Sumner-classdestroyer, which was constructed during World War II, laid down and launched in 1943, and commissioned in February 1944. The ship earned the nickname "The Ship That Would Not Die" for her exploits during the D-Day invasion and the battle of Okinawa when she successfully withstood a determined assault by conventional bombers and the most unrelenting kamikaze air attacks in history. Today, Laffey is a U.S. National Historic Landmarkand is preserved as a museum ship at Patriots Point, outside Charleston, South Carolina.
World War II
Upon completion of underway training, Laffey visited Washington Navy Yard for one day and departed on 28 February 1944, arriving in Bermuda on 4 March. She returned briefly to Naval Station Norfolk, where she served as a school ship, then headed for New York City to join the screen of a convoy escort bound for England on 14 May. Refueling at Greenock, Scotland, the ship continued on to Plymouth, England, arriving on 27 May.
Laffey immediately prepared for the invasion of France. On 3 June, she headed for the Normandybeaches escorting tugs, landing craft, and two Dutch gunboats. The group arrived in the assault area, off Utah beach, Baie de la Seine, France, at dawn on D-Day, 6 June 1944. On 6–7 June, Laffeyscreened to seaward, and on 8–9 June, she successfully bombarded gun emplacements. Leaving the screen temporarily, Laffey raced to Plymouth to replenish and returned to the coast of Normandy the next day. On 12 June, pursuing enemy E-boats that had torpedoed the destroyer Nelson, Laffey broke up their tight formation, preventing further attacks.
Screening duties completed, Laffey returned to England, arriving at Portsmouth on 22 June, where she tied up alongside the battleship Nevada. On 25 June, she got underway with the battleship to join Bombardment Group 2 shelling the formidable defenses at Cherbourg-Octeville. Upon reaching the bombardment area, the group was taken under fire by shore batteries; destroyers Barton and O'Brienwere hit. Laffey was hit above the waterline by a ricocheting shell, but it failed to explode and did little damage.
Late that day, the bombardment group retired and headed for Northern Ireland, arriving at Belfast on 1 July 1944. She sailed with Destroyer Division 119 (DesDiv 119) three days later for home, arriving at Boston on 9 July. After a month of overhaul, the destroyer got underway to test her newly installed electronic equipment. Two weeks later, Laffey set course for Norfolk, arriving on 25 August.
Laffey during World War II
The next day, Laffey departed for Hawaii via the Panama Canal and San Diego, California, arriving at Pearl Harbor in September. On 23 October, after extensive training, Laffey departed for the war zone via Eniwetok, mooring at Ulithi on 5 November. The same day, she joined the screen of Task Force 38(TF 38), then conducting airstrikes against enemy shipping, aircraft, and airfields in the Philippines. On 11 November, she spotted a parachute, left the screen, and rescued a badly wounded Japanese pilot who was transferred to the aircraft carrierEnterprise during refueling operations the next day. Laffey returned to Ulithi on 22 November, and on 27 November set course for Leyte Gulf with ships of Destroyer Squadron 60 (DesRon 60). Operating with the 7th Fleet, Laffey screened the big ships against submarine and air attacks, covered the landings at Ormoc Bay on 7 December, silenced a shore battery, and shelled enemy troop concentrations.
After a short upkeep in San Pedro Bay, Leyte on 8 December, Laffey with ships of Close Support Group 77.3 departed on 12 December for Mindoro, where she supported the landings on 15 December. After the beachhead had been established, Laffeyescorted empty landing craft back to Leyte, arriving at San Pedro Bay on 17 December. Ten days later, Laffey joined Task Group 77.3 (TG 77.3) for patrol duty off Mindoro. After returning briefly to San Pedro Bay, she rejoined the 7th Fleet, and during the month of January 1945 screened amphibious ships landing troops in the Lingayen Gulf area of Luzon. Retiring to the Caroline Islands, Laffey arrived at Ulithi on 27 January. In February, she supported TF 58, conducting diversionary air strikes on Tokyoand direct air support of Marines fighting on Iwo Jima. Late in February, Laffey carried vital intelligence information to Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz at Guam, arriving on 1 March.
The next day, Laffey arrived at Ulithi for intensive training with battleships of TF 54. On 21 March, she sortied with the task force for the Okinawa invasion. Laffey helped capture Kerama Retto, bombarded shore establishments, harassed the enemy with fire at night and screened heavy units.
On 16 April 1945, Laffey was assigned to radar picket station 1 about 30 mi (26 nmi; 48 km) north of Okinawa, and joined in repulsing an air attack which downed 13 enemy aircraft that day. The next day, the Japanese launched another air attack with some 50 planes:
At 08:30, an Aichi D3A Val dive bomber appeared near the Laffey for reconnaissance. When the D3A was fired upon, it jettisoned its bomb and left. Soon after, four D3As broke formation and made a dive into Laffey. Two of the D3As were destroyed by 20 mm guns and the other two low angle attacks crashed into the sea. Immediately afterward, one of Laffey's gunners destroyed a Yokosuka D4Y making a strafing approach on the port beam. Ten seconds later, Laffey's main gun battery hit a second D4Y on a bombing approach from the starboard beam. The D4Y's bomb detonated in the water, wounding the starboard gunners with shrapnel. The flames were quickly extinguished by the damage control team.At 08:42, Laffey destroyed another D3A approaching the port side. While the bomber did not completely impact the ship, it made a glancing blow against the deck before crashing into the sea, also spewing some lethal aviation fuel from its damaged engine. Three minutes later, another D3A approaching from port crashed into one of the 40 mm mounts of the ship, killing three men, destroying 20 mm guns and two 40 mm guns, and setting the magazine afire. Immediately afterward, another D3A made a strafing approach from the stern, impacted the after 5"/38 caliber gun mount, and disintegrated as its bomb detonated the powder magazine, destroying the gun turret and causing a major fire. Another D3A on a making a similar approach from astern also impacted the burning gun mount after being set afire by Laffey's gunners. At about the same time, another D3A on a bomb run approaching from astern dropped its bomb, jamming Laffey's rudder 26° to port and killing several men. Another D3A and another D4Y approached from port and hit Laffey.
Meanwhile, four FM-2 Wildcats took off from the escort carrier Shamrock Bay, attempting to intercept kamikazes attacking Laffey. One of the Wildcat pilots, Carl Rieman, made a dive into the kamikazeformation and targeted a D3A. His wingman took out that dive bomber while Rieman lined up behind another D3A, opened fire, and destroyed the enemy aircraft. Ten seconds later, Rieman pursued a Nakajima B5N torpedo plane, fired, and killed the Japanese pilot. Only five seconds later, Rieman lined up behind another B5N and expended the last of his ammunition. As Rieman returned to his carrier, he made diving passes at kamikazes, forcing some of them to break off their attacks. The other three Wildcats destroyed a few aircraft and then interfered with the enemy's attack runs after they exhausted their ammunition until forced to return to Shamrock Bay when their fuel ran too low to stay. The Wildcats were replaced by a group of 12 American Vought F4U Corsair fighters.
Another D3A approached the disabled Laffey from port. A Corsair pursued the kamikaze and destroyed it after forcing it to overshoot the ship. The Corsair lined up behind a Ki-43 'Oscar' making a strafing approach on Laffey from starboard. One of Laffey's gunners hit the Oscar, causing it to crash into the ship's mast and fall into the water. The pursuing Corsair also crashed into the ship's radar antenna and fell into the water, but the pilot was later rescued by LCS-51.
Another D3A came from the stern and dropped a bomb detonating off the port side. The D3A was later destroyed by a Corsair. The Corsair quickly lined up behind another D3A and fired; but the bomb from the second D3A hit and destroyed one of Laffey's 40 mm gun mounts, killing all its gunners. The Corsair lined up behind two Oscars approaching from the bow, took out one, and was shot down by the other. The surviving Oscar was then shot down by Laffey's gunners. Laffey's main battery destroyed a D3A approaching from starboard. The last attacker, a D4Y, was shot down by a Corsair.
Laffey survived despite being badly damaged by four bombs, six kamikaze crashes, and strafing fire that killed 32 and wounded 71. Assistant communications officer Lt. Frank Manson asked Captain Becton if he thought they'd have to abandon ship, to which he snapped, "No! I'll never abandon ship as long as a single gun will fire." Becton did not hear a nearby lookout softly say, "And if I can find one man to fire it."