'It's too weird to have been made up'


PORTLAND, Maine -- Buried in the annals of naval history is the World War II story of a U.S. destroyer that defeated a Japanese submarine with a bombardment of potatoes, but the plaque commemorating the victory is missing.

The plaque was once housed in the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath but it now cannot be located.


A Navy officer with a penchant for unusual history said Thursday he is hunting for it along with the details of the story, which has a number of versions.

'When I first heard about the story as an ensign I thought it was quite amusing,' said Commander David Edwards, 37, of the Navy's office of legislative affairs in Washington. 'People have always told sea stories and I personally wanted to ensure this is remembered.'

The saga took place on the USS O'Bannon. The O'Bannon, manufactured in the Bath Iron Works shipyard, served with distinction in the South Pacific and was the only American ship at Guadalcanal to escape serious damage while still sinking a fearsome Japanese battleship.

According to the potato tale, the O'Bannon was on patrol off the Solomon Islands in April 1943 when it encountered a Japanese submarine. The O'Bannon's crew began firing on the submarine and shot off its conning tower, meaning the submarine would flood if it submerged.


But the captain of the sub brought it right next to the destroyer so that the crew of the O'Bannon could not aim its big guns at it. The Japanese submariners came topside and crew members of the O'Bannon then pelted them with potatoes from a storage locker.

But particulars of the story vary. One account says the Japanese thought the potatoes were hand grenades and threw their guns overboard. Another holds the submariners panicked and submerged the sub and it sank. And yet another holds that the potatoes kept Japanese at bay until depth charges were readied.

A less romantic version says the potatoes were just thrown by the Americans in anger.

Whatever happened, 'It's too weird a story to have been made up,' said Nathan Lipfert, curator of the Maine Maritime Museum, where the commemorative plaque was kept until the late 1970s.

When a new ship was being commissioned under the same name as the O'Bannon, the plaque was to have been transferred to it.

'It was sent to the Naval Historical Center in Washington but somehow never made it to the new O'Bannon,' Edwards said. 'Where it is now is completely unknown.'

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