Vella Gulf
July 13th — the O’Bannon as part of a quickly formed task force is back up in the northern Solomons off the island of Kolombangara. Replacing the cruiser Helena lost on the 6th is the New Zealand cruiser Leander. This is a bad sign to us since we rarely operate with ships of other countries unless the situation is desperate. In addition, tonight is the 13th day of the month and again, as in the battle of November the 13th, we have 13 ships in our task force. But, at least it isn’t Friday.

To: U.S.S. O’Bannon
September 13, 1943

This is just a short note to express the appreciation of the men on the island and of course me, for the splendid job you and that gang of yours did in getting us off. And also to thank you for the highest tribute, in my estimation, that could have been paid any of us—the expressed wish of your bunch to come back and pick us up. That to me means more than all the medals in the world. This appreciation comes from the bottom of my heart.

— Lieutenant Commander Chew, USN, one of the Helena survivors rescued off Vella Lavella Island.

Another bad sign is that Japanese planes spot and track us early on, but keep themselves at a safe distance. They hang on like vultures and drop flares occasionally. The Japanese are transporting troops from island to island using barges. We are now closing in on these barges and are preparing to sink them. Between the barges and our ships are ten Japanese destroyers that must make a stand or run the risk of losing the troops they are there to protect.

We soon pick up the Japanese ships on radar. Our torpedoes are swung out and fired. Once the torpedoes are off and running, we commence firing using the big guns. The delay between the firing of the torpedoes and the guns is done with the hope of catching the Japanese by surprise. Fat chance tonight.

The torpedoes are barely off when the Japanese illuminate the area with their searchlights and the battle is on. Initially, our side looks good as our gunfire cuts into the Japanese ships and explosions and fires erupt. But, we know their torpedoes are on their way. Our three heavy cruisers are hammering away with salvos of 8-inch guns but with a lot of misses. Within minutes the Japanese torpedoes find our cruisers along with two destroyers. The results are devastating.

We will certainly miss our new friends from New Zealand since the cruiser Leander and three American cruisers will be out of service for many months after this run-in with the Japanese Long Lance torpedoes. Of the ten Japanese warships we encountered this night, four are reported as sunk. But, as a result of this action, from this day on we will operate as a destroyer squadron without the benefit of cruisers. Our cruisers are either on the bottom or in repair docks. On the bridge of the O’Bannon, an officer remarks, “so from now on we’ll be the ‘big boys’ and maybe Halsey will throw us a couple of minesweepers to do our screening.”

July 15th — this night we are heading up to the island of Vella Lavella on a mission to rescue 175 survivors of the Helena who paddled there using rafts and rubber boats. We are to provide a screen for other ships that will move into the beach area to pick up the survivors. We will have to penetrate Japanese territory and be within thirty miles of a large Japanese base in the Shortland Islands. Our orders are not to return fire if attacked because this might reveal the rescue operation at the shoreline. Our ship is discovered by planes and bombed over a five hour period. Luckily, we are not hit and the rescue operation goes undiscovered by the Japanese. With the Helena’s survivors successfully recovered, we finally get permission to fire at our tormentors. They make a hasty exit.

August 15th — the Japanese troops are defeated on the island of New Georgia but are still entrenched of the island of Kolombangara. In the first instance of island hoping, we are covering the landing of our marines on the island of Vella Lavella. If successful, this landing will bypass the island of Kolombangara and the Japanese there will be placed in a precarious position.

Supplies for Japanese troops must be brought in by barges coming down from Rabaul at night. Our job is to intercept and sink these barges while dodging Japanese bombs. On this night eighty bombs are dropped on our force of four destroyers. No destroyer is damaged but one bomb is close enough to dent the steel plates on the starboard bow of our ship. Darkness and our ability to generate a lot of smoke is our best defense from the planes.

August 18th — our destroyer group DesDiv 41 encounters four Japanese destroyers accompanying the supply barges and we engage the destroyers with gunfire. The Japanese destroyers flee leaving the barges to the protection of the their planes. We manage to sink five barges but bombs from the protecting planes shatter lights in our fireroom.

August 20th — our destroyer group is again hunting enemy barges around Vella Lavella where we manage to sink two more barges but are hammered with no less that 60 bombs. These are dropped by the Japanese planes trying their best to protect the barges. Tired from many hours on duty, I am not required on watch this night and manage to sleep through most of the bombing while lying in the corner of main radio. I couldn’t see much difference between being blown up while asleep or while wide awake. Upon awaking, I receive the happy news that all bombs have missed. It’s this kind of news that can make your day.