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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY -- NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER
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Laffey

 

Bartlett Laffey, born in Ireland in 1841, enlisted in the Navy 17 March 1862 and was assigned to stern wheel gunboat Marmora. On 5 March 1864, the Confederates launched a heavy attack on Union positions at Yazoo City, Miss. In the midst of heated battle Laffey landed a 12-pound howitzer and her crew. Despite enemy rifle fire which cut up the gun carriage and severed the rammer, Laffey bravely stood by his gun and contributed greatly to turning back the flerce Confederate assault. Seaman Laffey was awarded the Medal of Honor for his courageous stand. He died at Chelsea, Mass., 22 March 1901.

 

I

 

(DD-459; dp. 1,260; l. 347'10"; b. 36'1"; dr. 11'10"; a. 37.5 k.; cpl. 208; a. 4.5", 5 20mm., 3 21" tt., 5 dcp., 2 dct., cl. Bristol)

 

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 west 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 (CV7), 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 Guadacanal 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 flrepower, machinegunned the battleship’s bridge. With a battleship on her stern, a second on her port beam, and two destroyers on her port bow, Laffey fought 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 destroyers 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.