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USS O'Flaherty DE 340

 

In Memory of Robert K. Larrabee USS O'Flaherty DE 340 Executive Officer

 

THE "LUCKY" USS O'FLAHERTY DE-340

From The Slater Archives
By Patricia Perrella, volunteer – USS SLATER DE-766

View 18 photos of the O'Flaherty and her Crew


Among the many Destroyer Escort items received at SLATER we see descriptions referring to
"LUCKY ships". Upon investigation of ship's histories the LUCK usually refers to a ship having avoided casualties from various engagements with the enemy purely because of the fate that placed the ship out of harms way.

"LUCKY" has been used many times in reference to USS O'FLAHERTY DE-340 and particularly to her "IRISH LUCK". Not only does this ship fall into the category as determined by her history but
also because there was a young ensign aboard who managed to photograph most of the crewmembers and ship areas and has left a legacy for O'FLAHERTY that is most unique for any WW II ship, and especially Destroyer Escorts.

Ensign Sidney R. Morrow joined the DE 340 crew on 26 October 1944 at Pearl Harbor. Sid had a
natural aptitude for photography from his high school years. As soon as he received the "OK" from Cmdr. Paul L.Callen, he proceeded to photograph the ship and crew. This was no small task either as he needed to secure developing supplies, arrange artificial lighting to properly illuminate the dark, interior ship areas and also find a place to develop the film. Of course, he was not allowed to photograph any highly classified areas of the ship.

During his visit to SLATER during the DESA Convention last September, Sid brought his photo
album consisting of hundreds of photos and explained how he accomplished these tasks. All the photos were taken with the ship's camera, a Kodak Medalist; using 620 roll film. While on shore leave in Guam he spent his "liberty" hitchhiking about the island and visiting various medical facilities to scrounge enough chemicals to use for developing his films. A supply of film was already on the ship so Sid then appropriated the After Officers Head for his "Darkroom" and developing studio. This also required a "lights out" directive to the surrounding compartments but his shipmates gladly complied with the request. Sid also had to rig hand held lighting powered by batteries as he took photos in many ship areas that are even difficult to photograph today because of the dark lighting conditions.

His photos are well focused and properly developed. They contain incredible detail that has been useful to SLATER's restorers. There is a "fiddleboard" by the bulkhead in the CPO's that was used to secure dinnerware during rough seas, compartment designation stencils on the various bulkheads, and placement of articles on the ship. We can study the uniforms and work clothing worn by the men and also, view the riggings used for the motor whaleboat, for breech's buoy and stretcher transfers to carriers. There is a seaman getting a haircut on the fantail deck, crew at their duty stations in after steering, wheelhouse and engine rooms. We can see the ship's officers during mealtimes and on the flying bridge. There are groups of men from the various divisions on the deck with their CPO's. One of the mascots adopted by the crew is perched upon a 5"gun barrel. Sid was also quite careful to include descriptions as well as the names of the men and officers with all the photos and this detail also adds to their historical significance.

Chief Machinist Mate Richard J. Sider served aboard O'FLAHERTY from commissioning – until decommissioning and has put together a 56-page manuscript that recollects his experiences. Sider had also commissioned USS CHARLES LAWRENCE DE -53 at the Beth-Hingham shipyard in Boston, MA, in May 1943, and served with her until November 1944, before his orders to commission DE-340. A few years back he obtained the ship's logs from O'FLAHERTY and began his painstaking work to complete the historical record of his experiences. He has donated his manuscript to the SLATER Archives and it contains much detail about the events it describes and were also photographed by his shipmate Sid Morrow.

The "Luck of the Irish" seemed to always "steam" with O'FLAHERTY and her crew. O'FLAHERTY narrowly missed being in the line of fire when SAMUEL B ROBERTS DE-413 was sunk at Leyte and OBBERRENDER DE-344 was hit by kamikaze at Okinawa. When BISMARK SEA CVE-95 was hit and sunk off Iwo Jima on 21 February 1945, O'FLAHERTY had been detached from the Task Unit only the evening before.

Despite her luck, O'FLAHERTY experienced some very difficult moments. She shot down a Japanese "Zeke" fighter on 2 April 1945, during picket duty in support of the Okinawa landings. Two weeks later, O'FLAHERTY experienced bad vibrations on what appeared to be the starboard shaft. After evaluation by the engineers, the starboard engine was secured and that shaft locked. Using only her port engine, DE-340 was assigned to an escort group enroute to Guam. After arriving at Guam on 4 May 1945, Chief Engineer Lt. P. V. Guyton and several divers went down to discover that both rudders had substantial parts of their port sides corroded and sea water was entering the cavities thereby causing the vibration. While awaiting dry-dock facilities, O'FLAHERTY was assigned limited patrol duties in the area, lame or not! This was also the time Lt. Sid Morrow used to locate his photo-developing chemicals on Guam.

All was not routine aboard O'FLAHERTY during these Pacific days. This was "wartime cruising" and the ship was called on many times to leave the screens to rescue downed pilots or crewmembers from CVE's that had been hit by enemy gunfire or torpedoes. These men were then transferred back to their carriers by "breech's buoy" so they could fly other missions. Several severely injured flyers were brought aboard following their rescue and one TBF flyer died aboard the ship on 16 November 1944. As the body of Sylvester J. Palsulski, AOM 2/c, USNR was transferred to his ship USS CORREGIDOR CVE-58, the National Ensign was flown at half-mast for one-half hour by all ships in the Task Group. This was obviously a very sobering experience for the youthful DE-340 crew.

During an operation to refuel O'FLAHERTY and also to load munitions from BLOCK ISLAND CVE-106, to transfer to SANTEE CVE-29 on 14 June 1945, a sudden swell of ocean waves pushed O'FLAHERTY into BLOCK ISLAND and rammed the barrel of the forward 5" Gun through a sponson. The ships were locked together for several moments while the orders were issued by bells to stop the engines so the gun could be disengaged. Several crewmembers have recollected their memories of the collision – CMM Rich Sider was in the Chief's quarters where the deck was peeled aside giving him a view of the sky! He immediately rushed to the forward Engine Room where "all hell was breaking loose". Lt. (jg) Sid Morrow was in the 5" director and recalls how the officers immediately ordered the munitions removed from the location to avoid an explosion. The real hero was Gunnery Officer Lt. Robert A. Poore, from Butte, MT, whose quick thinking to remove the loose powder and live ammunition from the gun area and throw it over the side, averted a possible explosion with resulting damage and loss of life. Crewmembers are still wondering how he got there so quickly to handle this emergency detail. Harry Mais was at his station on the bridge and saw Lt. Poore "act immediately on the spur of the moment when someone is in peril". Mais also recalls that Cdr. Callen who was at the conn expressed his dismay at the thought, "I'll probably get sent to an LST!" As another crewmember Ralph Bailey recalls, "I was in the 5 inch when we had the collision . . .we were lucky the gun did not fire as the barrel was compressed down against the shell and powder case". K. C. Sinnett relates, "My big thing was to keep the refrigerators working to keep our food cold so I was not in the know of a lot that was going on."

There was no blame placed over the collision with BLOCK ISLAND. These types of maneuvers were very difficult at most and this particular one had been halted and resumed a few times so CVE-106 could dispatch flyers and continue the refueling procedure, not only with O'FLAHERTY but also with SANTEE.

O'FLAHERTY was dispatched to Kerama Retto to await repairs in July 1945, and the crew was called to General Quarters numerous times as the Japanese suicide bombers stuck several ships in the outside harbor.  The O'FLAHERTY'S young crew watched while anchored in Berth K-104, as kamikaze hit and sunk the four-stacker USS BARRY, converted to APD-29 and also sunk USS LSM-59. Again at General Quarters, DE-340 also witnessed the strikes on USS KENNETH WHITING AV-14 and USS CURTISS AV-4. These incidents also served to remind the crew of their "luck" and bring them closer together as shipmates.

Finally, "Destroyer Tender" CASCADE AD-16 took O'FLAHERTY and began the 5" gun repairs. USS OBERRENDER DE-344 was also in port with her damage considered beyond repair. An Order was issued to all ships of her class to board her to salvage any parts that were needed. CMM Sider then received permission to board with a party of men and removed a 6-inch high-pressure steam valve that was sorely needed on DE-340. While aboard OBERRENDER, Sider recalls the ship damage was unbelievable and the men marveled over how she managed to stay afloat and the courage of the survivors who brought her to Kerama Retto.

OBERRENDER continued to serve however; as her 5" gun was transferred to O'FLAHERTY and she was towed in place as a decoy on the picket line. Finally, she was sunk by US naval gunfire in November 1945. The O'FLAHERTY crew considered DE-344 as truly a "sister ship" not only because she was also built in the Consolidated Yards at Orange, TX, but also because her parts were used to repair their ship.

O'FLAHERTY DE-340 then became part of Escort Division 64 and steamed with "Flag Ship" JOHN C. BUTLER DE-339, RAYMOND DE-341, HOWARD F. CLARK DE-533, SILVERSTEIN DE-534 and LEWIS DE-535 during maneuvers off Ulithi Atoll during August 1945. Many photos also include these Div 64 ships forming a line of bearing and are quite impressive with their detail.

The SLATER Museum is very fortunate to have this historical collection of photos and written material from USS O'FLAHERTY DE-340. These items will continue to stand as a legacy to the impact this "Lucky" Ship and her young crew had on so many lives. DE-340 served well as she protected the "Baby Flattops" entrusted to her care, rescued men, fought off Japanese kamikazes, and proudly steamed back to USA with her homeward bound pennant flying high. These records will continue to tell the story of one small ship; a Destroyer Escort, during those terrible years of World War II.

View 18 photos of the O'Flaherty and her Crew


Additional Notes:
A selection of the O'FLAHERTY DE-340 photos has been added to the website of USS FRANCIS M. ROBINSON DE-220 by Webmaster Billy F. Johnson, Jr. Visit the web site 

Special Thanks to the following for providing assistance with this article:
Sidney R. Morrow, Richard J. Sider, Billy F. Johnson, Jr., Todd Willmarth and numerous DE-340
crewmembers.

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