John Kennedy Barton, born in Philadelphia, Pa., on 7 April 1853, was appointed a cadet engineer on 1 October 1871. He alternated tours of duty afloat and ashore through the 1880's, serving in such ships as Benicia, Saranac, Marion, and Shenandoah, before teaching steam engineering at the Naval Academy from 1882 to 1886. He then served three years on the Asiatic Station, on board Essex and Palos, before returning to the Naval Academy for another tour of duty as an instructor from 1889 to 1893.
After supervising the fitting out of the gunboat Castine and cruiser Columbia, Barton became a chief engineer on 15 January 1895. He served in the Pacific Fleet on board Mohican and Bennington until detached to shore duty in 1897. Barton returned to the Asiatic Station in 1900 and served in the cruiser Newark and the battleship Kentucky before becoming fleet engineer in 1903. Relieved shortly afterward, he again taught at the Naval Academy until 1905 and then did graduate work in engineering.
In 1907 Barton became head of the department of steam engineering at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. He assumed the title of Engineer-in-Chief as Chief of the Bureau of Steam Engineering on 21 December 1908. Only two days later, Barton was detached to return home due to illness and was simultaneously transferred to the Navy's retired list. He subsequently held a post on a Naval Examining Board in January 1909 and also served in the Civil Service Commission. He died at the Naval Hospital at League Island (Philadelphia), on 23 December 1921.
The first Barton (DD-599) was laid down on 20 May 1941 at Quincy, Mass., by the Bethlehem Steel Co.; launched on 31 January 1942; sponsored by Miss Barbara Dean Barton, granddaughter of Rear Admiral Barton; and commissioned at the Boston Navy Yard on 29 May 1942, Lt. Comdr. Douglas H. Fox in command.
Barton arrived at Newport, R.I., on 18 June 1943 and reported for duty with the Atlantic Fleet. Following a brief shakedown in Casco Bay, Maine, the new destroyer operated locally through late July escorting Salinas (AO-19) to Portland, Maine, on 29 June and the new battleship Massachusetts (BB-59) to Hampton Roads. On 2 August Barton reported to the Commander, Eastern Sea Frontier, for temporary duty. She carried out antisubmarine patrols between Point Lookout and Cape Henry from 4 to 8 August, before escorting New York (BB-34) to New York City. Barton then sailed to Boston and accompanied Savannah (CL-43) to Norfolk.
Convoying Massachusetts to Casco Bay, in company with O'Bannon (DD-450) and Nicholas (DD-449), Barton then rendezvoused with Nicholas Meade (DD-602), and Washington (BB-55) at New York, and sailed for the Pacific on 23 August. Transiting the Panama Canal at the end of August, Barton steamed with Task Group (TG) 2.12 to the Tonga Islands, arriving at Tongatabu on 12 September. Later, she moved on to Noumea, New Caledonia.
On 2 October, Barton stood out of Noumea with Task Force (TF) 17, formed around Hornet (CV-8) and which also included two heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and four other destroyers. A large concentration of enemy shipping in the Shortland Islands threatened American operations on Guadalcanal in the Solomons and prompted the dispatch of TF-17 on a northward sweep. Three days later, on 5 October, Hornet's air group, although plagued by bad weather, managed to damage two Japanese destroyers and to sink a transport and claimed to have damaged three other ships. It also scored hits on runways and buildings at the airstrip at Kieta.
Within a short time, the Guadalcanal campaign entered a new phase. On 13 October, the Japanese, in an effort to take Henderson Field, the valuable airstrip on Guadalcanal, began mounting daily air raids and nightly bombardments by surface warships. With the situation critical, the Japanese renewed their land campaign to take the airstrip on 23 October.
Barton was at sea with the task forces formed around Hornet and Enterprise (CV-6) when the Japanese engaged these forces on 26 October in the Battle of the Santa Cruz Islands. Barton screened Hornet during the attacks by Japanese planes that stopped that carrier dead in the water and uItimately forced her abandonment. Exhibiting "superb judgment and expert seamanship," Lt. Comdr. Fox maneuvered Barton expertly; and his ship rescued 250 men from the stricken Hornet.
A few days after the battle, Barton performed an unusual rescue operation. An Army C-47 had taken off from Henderson Field at 1930 on 20 October during an intense enemy artillery bombardment. Straying off course and becoming lost while attempting to reach New Caledonia or the New Hebrides, the plane ditched on a reef when its fuel ran out. Eight days later an Army plane discovered the wreck, and an Australian bomber dropped blankets, food, and cigarettes to the survivors. Three Navy PBY's arrived the following day and landed close to the reef in a rough sea.
The PBYs took on board the six crew members and 19 passengers from rubber rafts, but found that the sea state prevented them from taking off, and they radioed for help. Barton reached the scene on 30 October and, despite the “extreme darkness and adverse conditions,” maneuvered carefully in the vicinity of the dangerous reefs. Despite the imminent threat of enemy submarines, Barton rescued the stranded men without incident. The last of the PBYs to be unloaded collided with the destroyer and sank while being brought alongside. Some of its crew spent two and a half hours in the water before Barton located them in the darkness and brought them on board. The ship reached Noumea on 31 October, and put her passengers safely ashore.
Barton remained at Noumea until 8 November, when she sailed for Guadalcanal as one of the escorts for four transports of TF 67 under Rear Admiral Richmond K. Turner. She rendezvoused with Rear Admiral Daniel J. Callaghan's TG 67.4 near the eastern end of San Cristobal Island on the morning of the 11th. Intelligence indicated that a major Japanese push was underway against Guadalcanal, and troops and equipment had to be landed by 12 November to meet the expected thrust.
At 0540 on 12 November, the transports of TG 67.1 anchored off Kukum Beach, Guadalcanal, while two cargo ships anchored off Lunga Point. Meanwhile, the cruisers and destroyers deployed in two protective semicircles. At 0718, enemy 6 inch shore batteries opened fire on the anchored transports, drawing counterbattery fire from Helena (CL-50) at 0728 and from Shaw (DD-373) and Barton at 0743. The fire from these ships joined that of Marine artillery to put the enemy guns out of action. Meanwhile, the disembarkation and unloading from the transports and cargo vessels continued.
That afternoon, Japanese planes swept in to attack the transports. Accurate and heavy antiaircraft fire from the screening ships met them, however, and destroyed all but one of the 21 attacking "Betties." That evening, knowing of the approach of the enemy, Rear Admiral Turner cleared out his transports, leaving the covering force under Rear Admiral Callaghan to oppose the expected Japanese night bombardment.
In deciding to send TG 67.4 northward to attack the enemy force; estimated to comprise at least two battleships and two to four heavy cruisers, with a proportionate number of destroyers, Rear Admiral Turner had concluded that this was the only way the enemy could be stopped. Even if the force was sacrificed entirely, their sacrifice would probably prevent the bombardment of the airfield and inflict enough damage on the enemy to thwart his attempt to land reinforcements.
At 1815 on the 12th, Rear Admiral Turner's transports and cargo ship steamed eastward out of Savo Sound. Meanwhile, TG 67.4 passed through Sealark Channel, turned northward through Indispensable Strait, and deployed in "Battle Disposition Baker One," a column of ships with four destroyers leading five cruisers followed by another four more destroyers, Barton among them. Task Group 67.4 entered Lengo Channel at midnight. The sky was overcast, the moon had set, and the night was utterly dark.
At 0124, near Lunga Point, radar picked up ships to the northwest, Japan's "Volunteer Attack Force" under Rear Admiral Hiroaki Abe, consisting of two battleships, a light cruiser, and 14 destroyers. Shortly thereafter, the word of "enemy forces in the immediate vicinity" was passed on board Barton. The action that ensued soon became a wild melee; ranges varied from 1,000 to 8,000 yards, with most firing being done at 5,000 yards.
At about 0145 Lt.(j.g.) Harlowe M. White,, USNR, observed the leading ships of the American column opening fire to port. Admiral Abe was not aware of the Americans until the Japanese destroyer Yudachi sighted Callaghan's warships at 0142. Task Group 67.4's opening fire took the enemy by surprise with his forces in disarray and with bombardment shells, rather than armor piercing ammunition, ready.
Barton opened fire with her forward 5 inch guns soon after seeing enemy searchlights illuminate American ships ahead of her. Her forward guns trained to port and fired about 60 rounds, while the after guns opened fire soon thereafter, hurling about 10 rounds from each gun before they could no longer bear upon the enemy.
Barton altered course to port, moving closer to the enemy column, and launched one torpedo in the direction of the leading Japanese ship, then followed it with four more a few seconds later. The destroyer's 5 inch battery delivered about seven more minutes of fire before Barton had to stop her engines to avoid a collision with an unidentified ship, possibly Aaron Ward (DD-433), just ahead of her. A few seconds later a torpedo from the Japanese destroyer Amatsukaze, one of eight fired at 3,000 yards range, tore into Barton's forward fireroom. A few seconds later, a second torpedo struck her forward engine room. The two "Long Lances" broke the ship in half. Fletcher (DD-445), bringing up the rear of the American formation, observed Barton explode at 0156. To Fletcher's lookouts Barton "simply disappeared in fragments."
Fletcher spotted the wake of a torpedo by the flames from the disintegrating Barton, altered course to avoid the "Long Lance" and escaped damage; but she passed through Barton's struggling survivors, injuring several. Forty two survivors were later rescued by Portland (CA-33) and by landing craft from Guadalcanal. Among the dead was the ship's commanding officer, Lt. Comdr. Fox, whose distinguished command of Barton was recognized in the naming of the destroyer Douglas H. Fox (DD-772) in his honor.
By their sacrifice, Barton and her sailors had helped to turn back the Japanese attempt to pound Henderson Field in a desperately fought action. The valor of the men of TG 67.4 won a victory against heavy odds and enabled the American Marines to hold Guadalcanal.
Barton (DD-599) earned four battle stars for her World War II service.
Robert J. Cressman
27 February 2006