D.S. Sterrett, an Ensign aboard the USS Laffey DD 459
Courtesy of Ari Phoutrides

Correspondence written by D.S. Sterrett, an Ensign aboard the USS Laffey when she was sunk off Guadalcanal.  These letters were written as the result of someone wanting to obtain info on the 459 and somehow, Tom Fern got involved with this information.  At any rate, it is fascinating reading.

This is somewhat difficult to read so I have chose to re-type it.

Dear Jim, Thank you for your letter dated 4/9, which provides me with information that I didn't know.

Regarding ENS Williams' duties: I'm fairly certain he was a assistant engineering officer.  I'm also certain that he wasn't the Radar Officer, because we didn't have one.  We didn't have any radar operators, either.  There was one overworked radio-electrician who knew how to turn it on, (I'm speaking of our air search radar SC radar), but for radar operators, we used whatever manpower was available, namely the Boatswain's Mate of the Watch, the Messenger of the Watch, and the Junior Officer of the Deck, who use to rotate on 30 minute periods of operating the radar.  If you can picture an unhomogeneous group of watch standers, I would like to see them.  Yes, I use to stand watches on that radar when I was JOOD, and I didn't have any more training on it than messenger of the watch.  When I was at the Naval Academy, we had one lecture on Radar, but it was Classified, and even the word was classified so our depth of understanding was not great.  We did have some Fire control men who knew the workings of HK 4 fire control Radar, but there was no one cross training.  In fact, because it was so poorly understood, it was poorly used.  We also had a Sonar Recorder which was supposed to be used when making a sonar attack on a sub, but because the Skipper didn't know how to use it, he never did.  He just used his "Seaman's Eye" and we all know how faulty that was.   

The USS SAN FRANCISCO was firing armor piercing shells from her 6" guns that night which had green dye loads.  The purpose of the dye loads, as you perhaps know, is to permit visual identifications of your own shots in a daytime surface action.  The dye colors the splashes, and spotters can apply corrections to the gun orders to bring the fall of shot onto the target.  Of course, the dye serves no purpose at all in a night engagement.  The USS ATLANTA was badly shot up during the night actions, and when daybreak came, she was plastered with green dye, which didn't make the ATLANTA sailors too happy.  The SAN FRANCISCO returned to the San Francisco Bay area for repair of battle damage, and was received with a heroic welcome.  The ATLANTA HAD TO BE ABANDONED  and sunk by our own forces.

How did we possibly win the war?  Simple:  we just built 'em faster than the Japanese could sink 'em.  Good luck in your research.      D.S. Sterrett


Back to Home Page