Tuesday, June 29, 2010
USS Benham (DD-397)
Figure 1: USS Benham (DD-397) off Kearny, New Jersey, 4 January 1939. Official US Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 2: USS Benham (DD-397) underway in New York Harbor, with the anchor detail assembled on her forecastle and the port anchor partially down, 1939. Donation of Lieutenant Gustave J. Freret, USN (Retired), 1972. US Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 3: USS Benham (DD-397) anchored in New York Harbor during a naval review in 1939. Donation of Lieutenant Gustave J. Freret, USN (Retired), 1972. US Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 4: USS Benham (DD-397) anchored in New York Harbor during a naval review in 1939. Note motion picture screen on her fantail. Donation of Lieutenant Gustave J. Freret, USN (Retired), 1972. US Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 5: USS Ellet (DD-398) at anchor in the Hudson River, off New York City, during a naval review in 1939. USS Benham (DD-397) is in the left center distance. Donation of Lieutenant Gustave J. Freret, USN (Retired), 1972. US Naval Historical Center Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 6: USS Benham (DD-397) anchored off New York City, 30 April 1939. Courtesy of Donald M. McPherson, 1969. US Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 7: USS Benham (DD-397) probably anchored off New York City in 1939. This does seem to be a pre-war photograph, although the exact date and location is not confirmed. US Navy photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 8: USS Benham (DD-397) off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California, 6 February 1942. Courtesy of Rear Admiral Joseph M. Worthington, USN (Retired), 1980. US Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 9: Destroyers stand by to pick up survivors as the carrier USS Yorktown (CV-5) is being abandoned during the Battle of Midway, 4 June 1942, following Japanese torpedo plane attacks. Destroyers at left are (left to right): Benham (DD-397), Russell (DD-414), and Balch (DD-363). Destroyer at right is Anderson (DD-411). This picture was photographed from USS Pensacola (CA-24). Official US Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the US National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 10: USS Benham (DD-397) during the Battle of Midway with 720 survivors from the carrier USS Yorktown on board. She is nearing USS Portland (CA-33) at about 1900 hrs on 4 June 1942. A report of unidentified aircraft caused Benham to break away before transferring any of the survivors to the cruiser and they remained on board her until the following morning. Note Benham's oil-stained sides. The abandoned Yorktown is in the right distance. US Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. Click on photograph for larger image.
Figure 11: Survivors from the destroyer USS Hammann (DD-412) are brought ashore at Pearl Harbor from USS Benham (DD-397), a few days after their ship was sunk on 6 June 1942, towards the end of the Battle of Midway. Note Navy ambulance in left foreground, many onlookers, depth-charge racks on Benham's stern, and open sights on her after 5-inch gun mount. Official US Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the National Archives. Click on photograph for larger image.
Named after Rear Admiral Andrew E.K. Benham (1832-1905), who helped the US Navy make the transition from the Old Steam Navy to the New Steel Navy, USS Benham (DD-397) was the lead ship of a class of ten 1,500-ton destroyers. The ship was built by the Federal Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company at Kearny, New Jersey, and was commissioned on 2 February 1939. Benham was approximately 341 feet long and 35 feet wide, had a top speed of 38.5 knots, and had a crew of 184 officers and men. The destroyer was armed with four 5-inch guns, four 50. caliber machine guns, 16 21-inch torpedo tubes, and two depth-charge tracks, but additional anti-aircraft guns were added once the United States entered World War II.
Benham served in the Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico until the spring of 1940. After that, she was transferred to the Pacific. When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, Benham was at sea escorting the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6) back to Hawaii. Later that month, Benham patrolled the waters to the west of Hawaii and then underwent a brief overhaul at Pearl Harbor, where she received additional anti-aircraft guns and depth-charge projectors. On 10 January 1942, Benham was about to return to San Francisco, California, for a more extensive overhaul when she was informed that the carrier USS Saratoga (CV-3) was torpedoed approximately 500 miles southwest of Oahu, Hawaii. Benham raced to the scene and, after reaching the stricken carrier, escorted Saratoga back to Pearl Harbor.
Benham then returned to the west coast by escorting a convoy to San Francisco, arriving on 28 January 1942. She was sent to the Mare Island Navy Yard that same day for her long-overdue overhaul. During the overhaul, the ship received a new sonar dome, new radar equipment, and four 20-mm anti-aircraft guns. Benham left San Francisco on 16 February and escorted a large convoy back to Pearl Harbor, arriving there on 1 March. After a few weeks of patrol duties around Hawaii, Benham was assigned to the Enterprise carrier group, which left Pearl Harbor on 8 April. The Enterprise rendezvoused with the USS Hornet (CV-8) carrier group and together they participated in the famous Doolittle Raid on Japan, which took place on 18 April 1942. After the raid, the Enterprise carrier group returned to Pearl Harbor on 25 April.
Benham continued escorting Enterprise in the South Pacific, although the carrier missed the Battle of the Coral Sea, which took place from 7 to 8 May 1942. However, Benham and Enterprise did participate in the next great fleet battle of the Pacific war, the Battle of Midway. The battle, which took place from 4 to 7 June 1942, was probably the most decisive confrontation during the Pacific war. The US Navy sank four large Japanese aircraft carriers, but the Japanese crippled the carrier USS Yorktown (CV-5) on 4 June. Benham and several other destroyers rushed to the assistance of the severely damaged American carrier. Benham fired her 20-mm guns while trying to protect Yorktown from further Japanese aerial attacks and she assisted three other destroyers in forming an antisubmarine screen around the carrier. But Yorktown was in terrible shape after being hit by both bombs and torpedoes and the order to “abandon ship” was given. Benham picked up 725 survivors from Yorktown and transferred most of them to the cruiser USS Portland (CA-33) the next day. Miraculously, Yorktown was still afloat the following day and Benham and the destroyer Hammann (DD-412) transferred some repair parties back on board the carrier to see if it could be salvaged. Unfortunately, before the carrier could be saved, the Japanese submarine I-58 snuck into the area and fired four torpedoes at the American warships. One torpedo hit Hammann, breaking the ship in half and sinking her with heavy loss of life. Two other torpedoes hit Yorktown, sealing her fate. Benham resumed rescue operations with Yorktown and this time pulled 200 men from the water. Yorktown eventually rolled over and sank and all of the surviving warships quickly left the area and returned to Pearl Harbor, where all of the survivors were brought ashore on 9 June.
Benham then was placed in dry dock at Pearl Harbor and some repairs were made to the ship. After her overhaul was completed, Benham participated in some training exercises. On 15 July 1942, Benham left Pearl Harbor and once again joined Enterprise, this time heading for the Solomon Islands and Guadalcanal. For the next few months, Benham played an active role in the naval struggle for Guadalcanal. Her primary duties included escorting carriers and other major warships, but she was occasionally used in convoys to escort merchant ships as well. On the night of 14-15 November 1942, Benham was attached to Rear Admiral Willis A. Lee’s task force, which was made up of two battleships and four destroyers (including Benham). They were patrolling the narrow waters just north of Guadalcanal, searching for Japanese warships. At 2300 hours on the evening of 14 November, they found them. A Japanese force of one battleship, four cruisers, and nine destroyers was approaching Guadalcanal from the west.
During the battle that followed, Benham was hit in the bow by a Japanese torpedo. It blew off the entire bow of the ship, all the way back to the Number One gun mount. Incredibly, Benham remained afloat. She tried to continue steaming forward, but heavy seas weakened the ship’s hull and she slowly split in two. Miraculously, the entire crew was transferred to the destroyer USS Gwin (DD-433) and not a single man was lost. However, the two sections of Benham remained afloat and had to be sunk by 5-inch gunfire. Thus ended the brief but extremely active career of USS Benham, which received five battle stars for her service in World War II.
Posted by Remo at 8:52 AM