The Maine Potato Incident

USS O'Bannon

USS O’Bannon

USS O’Bannon (DD-450) Eye Witness Account — Ernie Herr

On 5 April 1943, DesRon 21 was returning from a night of shelling Japanese shore installations deep in the
New Georgia area of the Solomon Islands. Our destroyer, the O’Bannon, as part of this force, picked up a
radar contact that turned out to be a large Japanese submarine cruising on the surface and apparently
unaware of our presence. The Japanese lookouts undoubtedly were fast asleep.

We approached rapidly and were preparing to ram the sub. Our captain and other officers on the bridge were              trying to identify the type of sub and decided, at the last minute, that it could be a mine layer. Not wanting to                  blow up ourselves along with the sub, the decision was made that ramming was not a wise move. At the last             moment, the rudder was swung hard to avoid a collision and we found ourselves in a rather embarrassing situation           as we sailed along side of the Japanese submarine.

Plaque given to the O'Bannon

Plaque given to the O’Bannon

On board the sub, Japanese sailors, wearing dark shorts and dinky blue hats, were sleeping out on deck. In what could be considered a rude awaking, they sat up to see an American destroyer sailing along side. Our ship however, was far too close to permit our guns lowered enough to fire and since no one on deck carried a gun, not a shot was heard. Ditto on the Japanese sub, no one there had a gun either. In this situation, no one seemed sure of the proper course of action and it probably would not have been covered in the manual anyway. Therefore everyone just stared more or less spellbound.

POTATO3

The submarine was equipped with a 3-inch deck gun and the sub’s captain finally decided that now was probably a good time to make use of it. As the Japanese sailors ran toward their gun, our deck parties reached into storage bins that were located nearby, picked out some potatoes and threw them at the sailors on the deck of the sub. A potato battle ensued. Apparently the Japanese sailors thought the potatoes were hand grenades. This kept them very busy as they try to get rid of them by throwing them back at the O’Bannon or over the side of the sub. Thus occupied, they were too busy to man their deck gun which gave us sufficient time to put a little distance between our ship and the sub.

Finally we were far enough away to bring our guns to bear and firing commenced. One of our shells managed to hit the sub’s conning tower but the sub managed to submerge anyway. At that time our ship was able to pass directly over the sub for a depth charge attack. Later information showed that the sub did sink. When the Association of Potato Growers of Maine heard of this strange episode, they sent a plaque to commemorate the event. The plaque was mounted in an appropriate place near the crews mess hall for the crew to see. Well, it was the crew’s battle.

Spuds2

The story was picked up by the papers back in the States and, shortly thereafter, a full blown account of the event was covered by a story in the READERS DIGEST. Conversations with a crew member that served years later revealed that, while the plaque was still located in the crew’s mess hall, no one seemed to pay much attention to it nor knew much about it. I guess the crew was interested in making history but not particularly interested studying it.

This story was taken from The Destroyer History Foundation.

Click on images to enlarge and read.

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Military Humor – 

“I have to hold on a moment. I need to get rid of my sea legs.”

“I really need to update my black book better after each voyage.”

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Farewell Salutes – 

Robert Blagrove – NZ; NZ Army, WWII, 34th BattalionGeorge Cassman – Warsaw, MO; US Navy, WWII, KOrea & Vietnam, Chief Petty Off.

Kate (Golden) Dedick – Rumson, NJ; US Army Nursing Corps, WWII, ETO, 4th Aux. Surgical Grp., Bronze Star260637844_god_bless_them_all_xlarge

Elmer Du Bose – Montgomery, AL; US Army Air Corps/A.F. (Ret. 28 yrs), WWII, Korea & Vietnam, Chief MSgt.

Thomas Emery – Poway, CA; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, 11th Airborne

Calvin Ernst – Lexington, KY; US Army, Vietnam, MASH unit

John Murdock – Norton, MA; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, 675th Artillery

Pat Murphy – W.AUS; RA Army, WWII

George Schweitzer – Boston, MA; US Navy, WWII

Peter Tantillo – Tappan, NY; US Army Air Corps, WWII, PTO, 187th Reg/11th A/B

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About GP Cox

Everett Smith served with the Headquarters Company, 187th Regiment, 11th A/B Division during WWII. This site is in tribute to my father, "Smitty." GPCox is a member of the 11th Airborne Association. Member # 4511 and extremely proud of that fact!

Posted on November 2, 2015, in First-hand Accounts, WWII and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 100 Comments.

  1. The article didn’t appear correctly, but I understood the stories and read the clips. Great post! All the Way!

    Like

  2. That is one great piece of history gp, I have heard numerous short snippets of the same incidents of irony, that occurred in wars over the years, including Vietnam, Think I actually wrote a story on one that happened with me in Vietnam, drinking with the enemy during a ceasefire.
    These short incidents as you posted gp, really bring the Human side of Man to life during wars turmoils.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The Twentysomething Social Recluse

    Great story! 😀

    Like

  4. Great post GP. Have a wonderful rest of the week. Hugs!

    Like

  5. What a fascinating story! I’ve always thought potatoes are one of the most versatile foods, and this confirms it! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Maybe this is how the game of “hot potato” began…

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Reminding us of the human nature of all involved 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Reblogged this on My Daily Musing and commented:
    I enjoyed GP Cox’s post. It was kind of ingenious and comical about throwing spuds at the enemy, :).

    Like

  9. Don would have loved this story 😀 😀 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I can relate to that. In that situation, what else could you do but chuck spuds?

    And on the sub, what else could you do but chuck ’em back?

    Well done, all hands …

    Liked by 1 person

  11. You always bring attention to aspects of the war I would never otherwise have known about. That was some incredibly fast and creative thinking to start throwing potatoes at them!

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Something related to the luck of the Irish here , I think . O’Bannon and the potatoes .

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Since potatoes are one of my favorite things, I always enjoy hearing stories of times they have been put to strange use. The sailors were very quick thinkers and inventive.

    Like

  14. The USS Georgia used peaches.

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  15. Great post. I find it amusing that the Japanese sailors thought that the potatoes were hand grenades. They would’ve been shocked to find out that these “grenades” taste better than the rice that were accustomed to.

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    • They didn’t get a chance to find out, but few of them had even seen a potato. I’m sorry for the format of the post today, I don’t have a clue to the problem.

      Like

  16. I am thinking about the imagination of the guy who decided to launch the potatoes. But then given the distance and the drop, a potato could be a pretty serious weapon, especially a full-sized Idaho potato. –Curt

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I’d love to read the ships log and see how the captain described the action, I’ll bet a penny to a pound that he omitted the potato bit for fear of the ribbing he’d get from his fellow officers when the word got out.
    I can almost imagine this as a movie /comedy with a young Ernest Borgnine as the captain, I’d have paid to see that 🙄 😀
    Great story which only goes to prove further that truth is stranger than fiction.

    Like

  18. I wish all our modern wars could be fought with potatoes.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I find this rather a sad story as it is almost like the WWI football match on Christmas Day… but with an unhappy ending for one side.

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  20. Great story…Can you imagine?

    Liked by 1 person

  21. What a story – You couldn’t make it up!

    Liked by 1 person

  22. What interesting story! Thanks GP! 🙂

    Like

  23. Great story for a Monday morning. Wouldn’t have expected to read about a potato battle!

    Like

  24. GP, the story is cut off… the sentences trail off and don’t wrap around,,is that a formatting issue?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t know what happened today!! While putting it together, the only issue I had was getting both Cartoons in. But even after trying to edit – it got worse. Hope Thursday’s post won’t have this happen!!

      Liked by 1 person

  25. It has to be true. Nobody could make up a story like that. Thanks for such a good one.

    Like

  26. The potato incident! Great story.

    Like

  27. Reblogged this on Aquilon's Eyrie and commented:
    A great story about how the USS O’Bannon fought off a Japanese sub in WWII.

    Liked by 1 person

  28. I can understand the crew not wanting to talk about it much. I can just picture the scene in a San Diego bar:

    “So you guys sunk a sub. How did you manage it?”

    “Well, we started by throwing potatoes…”

    I would imagine that the resulting laughter in the bar would stop any further telling of the story.

    Like

  29. I can only imagine the shock both crews felt at the unexpected proximity to an enemy vessel! The potato defense was inspired, and the Japanese reaction a reasonable one considering! I wonder if the Americans contained their laughter?

    Like

    • I don’t know if it was ingenuity or confusion with everyone yelling different orders and being so close to an enemy – who knows what went through their minds????? 🙄

      Like

  30. Quite an incredible story! If it hadn’t come from you,I would have descried it as an extraordinary tall tale.

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  31. That was a great story.

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  32. I guess in war you have to make use of any weapons at hand. Great story!

    Like

  33. One of those ‘you had to be there’ stories, GP, and very humourous too.
    (The right hand edge of the text was obscured by your sidebar, just for info)
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

  34. If you can set aside the gravity of the situation for a few seconds, that’s pretty funny.

    Liked by 1 person

  35. That’s a great story!

    Liked by 1 person

  36. I like these arcane bits of oddness.

    Liked by 1 person

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