A Most Unbelievable Battle in World War II. A Battle Fought Using Potatoes.
If there was ever a class of vessels which truly made a name for themselves during the Second World War, the Fletcher-class Destroyers of the United States Navy would more than likely fallen into this category.
Designed in 1939 due to the U.S. Navy’s dissatisfaction with their earlier destroyer-classes, the Fletchers were by far one of the more innovative and capable warships to be developed at the time and up until that point, they were the largest Destroyer class to ever put to sea.
Despite still being dwarfed by the larger Cruisers, Battleships, and Carriers which were in service at the time, the Fletchers were armed to the teeth with a combination of Five inch cannons, 40 mm Bofors anti-aircraft guns, 20 mm auto-cannons, as well as torpedoes, and Depth charges. They may have been small, but they had one serious bite.
During World War II and particularly in the Pacific, Fletcher-class destroyers did everything which was asked of them and then some. Sometimes charging headlong into the fight against vessels which were much larger than themselves and bringing their crews back home. For the crew of one of these vessels, they would be engaged in one of the more unconventional battles of the Pacific, and would have to rely on something that most people would not even consider using to defeat their enemy.
On the night of April 5th 1943, the Fletcher-class destroyer U.S.S. O’Bannon (DD-450) was returning home to base after a night of harassing Japanese supply lines, when its radar picked up a contact on the surface, which turned out to be a large Japanese submarine that was running on the surface to recharge its batteries. Apparently the enemy vessel had not seen the American warship and the decision was made to ram the enemy submarine, but just as the O’Bannon was about to make “contact” with the enemy vessel, the Destroyer’s commander decided at the last moment to not ram, fearing that the collision could cause an explosion which could have sunk his vessel as well.
Image Credits: Tilemahos Efthimiadis. Creative Commons License. Destroyer “Velos II” of the Hellenic Navy. Former USS Charrette (DD-581) which was a Fletcher-class destroyer of the United States Navy.
The O’Bannon made an hard turn to avoid hitting the Japanese vessel, but in doing so the Destroyer came right alongside the submarine. Whose crew were now getting the shock of their lives. Due to the O’Bannon’s close proximity to the Japanese submarine, all of its mounted deck guns were rendered absolutely useless since they could not be aimed low enough to be effective, a problem the enemy submarine did not have since it sat lower in the water and its crew were now hastily trying to get the sub’s 3 inch cannon ready to fire on the destroyer. But what happened next could not have even been made up by the most creative of minds.
Seeing that they had no side arms of their own, a few of the crew members actually ran into the ship’s pantry came out with buckets of Potatoes (yes I said Potatoes) and proceeded to pelt them at the Japanese sailors.
Stunned by this, (and possibly thinking they were grenades) the Japanese crew picked up the potatoes and pelted them back at the Destroyer, to which the O’Bannon’s crew threw them back. For the next few minutes, elements of the United States Navy and the Japanese Imperial Navy had themselves a Potato fight.
Eventually both the O’Bannon and the Submarine were able get some distance between them and within a few minutes the O’Bannon was able bring it’s guns to bare and successfully sink the enemy vessel, but the story does not end there. The incident was released to the general public and was covered by the magazine “Reader’s Digest”, so it was not too surprising to learn that when a certain group in America heard about the “Potato Fight”, they decided to send a special gift to the crew of the O’Bannon.
Almost two months after the incident, the O’Bannon and its crew received a special plaque which read,
“A TRIBUTE TO THE OFFICERS AND MEN OF THE U.S.S. O’BANNON. FOR THEIR INGENUITY IN USING OUR PROUD POTATO TO “SINK” A JAP SUBMARINE IN THE SPRING OF 1943. PRESENTED BY THE POTATO GROWERS OF THE STATE OF MAINE, JUNE 14TH, 1943.”