Against all odds – The Story of the USS Barton at Guadalcanal
On January 31, 1942, the USS Barton was launched in Quincy, Mass. At the Bethlehem Steel Co. shipyard. She was a capable ship designed to provide anti-aircraft services for herself and larger ships as well as provide a platform for launching torpedoes. Her armament included:
4 × 5 in (130 mm)/38 guns
4 × 1.1-inch/75 AA guns
7 × 20mm AA guns
5 × 21 in (533 mm) torpedo tubes
USS BARTON (DD-599) was a BENSON CLASS destroyer
Displacement 2395 Tons (Full), Dimensions, 348′ 4″(oa) x 36′ 1″ x 13′ 2″ (Max)
Machinery, 50,000 SHP; Westinghouse Geared Turbines, 2 screws
Speed, 35 Knots, Range 6500 NM@ 12 Knots, Crew 208.
Operational and Building Data
Laid down by Bethlehem Steel, Quincy. May 20 1941.
Launched January 31 1942 and commissioned May 29 1942.
The Benson class was a class of destroyers of the U.S. Navy built 1939–1943. The thirty 1,620-ton Benson-class destroyers were built in two groups. The first six were authorized in fiscal year 1938 (FY38) and laid down at Bethlehem Steel, Quincy, Massachusetts, and three naval shipyards. The remaining 24 “repeat Bensons” were authorized in 1940–42 and built at four Bethlehem Steel yards. They were laid down after the first group was commissioned. These plus the “repeat Livermores” (also known as “repeat Gleaveses”) were also known at the time as the Bristol class. During World War II the Bensons were usually combined with the Livermores (more correctly the Gleaves class) as the Benson-Livermore class; this persisted in references until at least the 1960s. In some references both classes are combined and called the Benson class. The Benson- and Gleaves-class destroyers were the backbone of the pre-war Neutrality Patrols and brought the action to the enemy by participating in every major campaign of the war.
The Benson class was designed as an improved version of the Sims class with two stacks and a new “echeloned” machinery arrangement that featured alternating boiler and engine rooms, designed to give the ships a better chance at surviving torpedo damage. Loss of one compartment, or even two adjacent compartments, would no longer disable the entire propulsion system. They also introduced quintuple torpedo tube mounts. Their scantlings, or framing dimensions, were increased to carry the weight of the new machinery. This increased the ships’ displacement by about sixty tons, to 1620 tons standard displacement.
The Bensons were all completed with “M”-type boilers, 600 psi (superheated to 750 °F, single-reduction gearing, and no cruising turbines. The main steam turbines were designed and built by Bethlehem Steel.
The first Barton (DD-599) was launched 31 January 1942 by Bethlehem Steel Co., Quincy, Mass.; sponsored by Miss Barbara Dean Barton, granddaughter of Admiral Barton; and commissioned 29 May 1942, Lieutenant Commander D. H. Fox in command.
Barton departed the east coast 23 August 1942 and steamed to the Pacific, arriving at Tongatabu, Tonga Islands, 14 September 1942. During October she participated in the Buin-Faisi-Tonolai raid (5 October) and the Battle of Santa Cruz (26 October). On 29 October she successfully rescued 17 survivors of two downed air transports near Fabre Island.
Against great odds on 13 November Barton, in company with Rear Admiral D. J. Callaghan’s landing support group, took part in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal.
Arriving off Guadalcanal on 12 November 1942 having safely escorted a supply convoy to the island, Barton was ordered to join up with Rear Admiral Daniel J. Callaghan’s force of five cruisers and seven other destroyers to repel a force of Japanese warships reported by recon aircraft to be heading down the body of water known as ‘The Slot’ towards Guadalcanal. Assuming her position in the eleventh spot of the US force just before sundown, Barton’s crew settled into their battle stations to wait out the Japanese, expected to arrive around midnight.
As darkness overspread the body of water known as Ironbottom Sound, several tropical rain storms and squalls began to cross the area, limiting visibility for both the Americans and the Japanese as they steamed towards each other, however several American ships were equipped with long range radar systems which began to detect the approaching Japanese ships at approximately 00:30hrs (12:30 am). Consisting of two battleships, one cruiser and eleven destroyers, the Japanese fleet rounded the northwestern coast of Savo Island and entered Ironbottom Sound at approximately 01:10hrs (1:10 am) and shaped their course for Henderson Field; the American airbase they were sent to destroy. Steaming through a heavy rain squall, the Japanese ships were totally unaware of the presence of the American force directly ahead of them, and the heavy rain prevented the US fleet from sighting the Japanese ships for over an hour after the first radar contact.
At approximately 01:30hrs (1:30 am), both sides finally made visual contact with each other as the first Japanese ships emerged from the squall line only 3,000 yards (2,700 m) away from the entire US formation. Despite the Americans having steamed directly into the middle of the Japanese force, neither side opened fire for almost ten minutes as they passed by each other, with the Japanese ships enveloping the American battle column as they emerged from the darkness in three separate groups. In the second position of the rear, US Destroyer van USS Barton began to train her deck guns and torpedo tubes on several Japanese ships in her immediate area and awaited the order to open fire from the flagship. At 01:48hrs (1:48 am) the order to open fire was precluded when Akatsuki lit its searchlights onto the cruiser Atlanta, causing both sides to immediately open fire on each other and starting the First Naval Battle of Guadalcanal.
Now fully enveloped by Japanese battle lines, Barton and Monssen steaming astern, broke to the northwest into the main group of Japanese ships while firing at point blank range on nearby Japanese destroyers and making violent maneuvers to avoid collisions with both friendly and enemy ships in the melee. Barton had just fired a full spread of torpedoes at the battleship Hiei when the light cruiser USS Helena appeared suddenly out of the darkness and cut directly across the bow of Barton. Making an emergency stop to avoid colliding with Helena, Barton found herself at a dead stop as her engineering crew tried to get her engines back into gear to get her moving again. However, before she could get underway two ‘Long Lance’ torpedoes fired by the Amatsukaze slammed into the midsection of Barton; one in her boiler room and one in her engine room. The massive explosions broke the Barton in two, and both sections sank only minutes after the first torpedo struck, carrying with her 164 men: 13 officers and 151 of her crew. Forty-two survivors were rescued by USS Portland and twenty-six by Higgins boats from Guadalcanal.
Barton received four battle stars for her service during October and November 1942.
Fate Sunk by Japanese Destroyer Amatsukaze off Guadalcanal November 13, 1942.
175 of her crew were lost with the ship and remain on duty.
The forward section of the wreck of Barton was discovered in 1992 by Robert Ballard, with only the hull section and superstructure ahead of the boiler room found intact. To date the stern section of Barton has not been located.