How to Sink a Sub with Potatoes – Insane WWII Sea Battle Food Fight


It’s early spring, 1943, and the US is at
last finding its footing in the war in the Pacific. Devastated by the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor,
the US Navy was forced to concede territory after territory to the superior Japanese Navy. For a year, the American Destroyer USS O’Bannon
has been on the front lines of the second world war, doing its best to buy time for
America’s new fleet to be built and launched. The Battle of Guadalcanal has proven pivotal
for American forces, and though the Americans lost the greater number of forces, it resulted
in a strategic victory for the US Navy which saw attempts to reinforce Japanese bases repelled. For some, the war is officially in an upswing,
and the momentum of battle is shifting across the war-torn Pacific. America’s sleeping giant is well and truly
awoken. Little of that matters though to the war-weary
sailors of the USS O’Bannon. Early in the morning of April 5th, 1943, the
O’Bannon and the rest of Destroyer Squadron 21 is returning to resupply and refuel after
shelling Japanese installations on the Solomon islands. As the O’Bannon is cruising along though,
her radar picks up a contact somewhere near a small set of islands called the Russel Islands. While both the Japanese and American navies
make use of radar, American radar is better integrated into their ship’s systems and more
well developed than the Japanese’s own. This is largely thanks in part to the close
cooperation with British researchers and an agreement between the US and Britain that
gave America access to British radar technical know-how. Another reason for the better performance
of American radar is that the Japanese navy placed a greater emphasis on traditional ‘combat’
postings over support and logistical personnel, so the more talented and experienced officers
would end up in combat positions rather than behind radar monitors where they could further
refine and develop both techniques and technology. On that fateful day, American radar superiority
would prove fatal for a submarine full of Japanese sailors. The O’Bannon’s destroyer squadron is pretty
confident that the single radar hit is not a sizable Japanese ship- likely something
small like a corvette or even a submarine as air assets would have spotted larger Japanese
ships in the area. Perhaps even, it was a Japanese resupply ship
trying to speed through the naval blockade on Japanese island strongholds. Either way- sub, corvette, or supply ship-
it was a tempting target, and the O’Bannon immediately changed course to intercept the
contact. As the American destroyer approached its lookouts
on the deck quickly identified the radar contact- it was a Japanese sub, cruising along the
surface and completely oblivious to the incoming destroyer. Incredibly the Japanese crew had failed to
post a lookout- either that or the sub was desperately low on battery power and could
not afford to submerge. Either way, this was not an opportunity the
O’Bannon’s Captain was about to give up, and as he ordered the ship to increase speed he
set the big destroyer on a collision course with the submarine. Given the much greater tonnage of the destroyer
versus a small Japanese sub, ramming the sub would completely destroy it while leaving
the O’Bannon relatively unharmed. As the O’Bannon bore down on the Japanese
sub, it became clear that there were no lookouts posted, and as the ships got closer to each
other the O’Bannon’s lookouts were stunned by what they see: over a dozen Japanese sailors
splayed out on the deck of the sub, apparently napping! By now the O’Bannon was within a few hundred
feet of the submarine when the Captain feared that this sub might be full of sea mines. If that were the case then ramming it would
set off the mines in the ship’s hull and send both vessels to the bottom. Frantically, the Captain called out for a
course change, and the O’Bannon barely managed to change course in time to avoid running
straight into the Japanese ship. Now both ships were running side by side,
and the Japanese crew was very much alerted to the presence of the American ship. In a panic, the Japanese sailors began to
prepare the three-inch guns on the deck of the sub to fire on the destroyer. The O’bannon meanwhile couldn’tt bring her
own deck guns to bear on the sub because she was too close, if something wasn’t done quickly
the sub would seriously damage the O’Bannon and potentially even escape! The crew of the O’Bannon realized that they
were in serious trouble, and they immediately began grabbing at anything they could get
their hands on to throw at the Japanese sailors. There was nothing on hand though except for
several barrels full of potatoes, and the men began pelting the Japanese crew with potatoes. For their part, the Japanese were so confused
by the potato attack, that they began to throw them right back at the Americans! Perhaps the Japanese thought that the Americans
were throwing grenades, or that the Potatoes were secretly explosives of some kind cleverly
designed to simply look like potatoes. Whatever the case, the two crews- bitter enemies
of the second world war- began an epic food fight as both ships struggled to flee from
each other. Preoccupied with throwing the potatoes back
at the Americans, the Japanese sailors never got a chance to man their guns, and the O’Bannon
successfully pulled far enough away to start lowering her formidable guns on the sub. For its part, the sub had begun to descend,
the above-deck crew rushing to get below decks before they were caught out and drowned. The sub slipped below the waves, but not before
the O’Bannon let loose with a volley of fire that smashed into the sub’s conning tower. The shot through the conning tower likely
doomed the ship immediately, but to ensure its kill, the O’Bannon returned and delivered
a depth charge attack directly over the sub’s location. Japanese records after the war confirmed that
the sub was in fact lost to the O’Bannon’s attack. Hearing of the crew’s exploits, the Association
of Potato Growers of Maine had a plaque commissioned and sent to the crew of the O’Bannon (use
plaque photo from www.historybyzim.com/2012/03/the-maine-potato-episode/). The plaque would be hung in the mess hall
and read: A tribute to the officers and men of the USS
O’Bannon, for their ingenuity in using our now proud potato to “sink” a Jap submarine
in the spring of 1943. Presented by Potato Growers of the state of
Maine, June 4th 1945. While an incredible story though, the O’Bannon’s
commander, Donald MacDonald, would later say that no potatoes were ever actually thrown
by the ship’s crew. Rather, upon nearly ramming the Japanese ship,
the ship’s cook commented that it was so close he was sure he could throw a potato at it
and hit it. The potato story however was a hit with the
American media, who was perhaps looking for some levity in a war that brought so much
horror to so many. The story became nationally famous and the
great potato battle of the O’Bannon remains the stuff of naval legend to this day. Thats it! Now go watch Rent An Army: How Much Does It
Actually Cost! Thanks for watching and don’t forget to
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