The Naval Surface Engagement Won by Potatoes


Naval victories have been achieved in many different ways. In fact, the U.S. Military is known for it’s incredible ability to adapt to nearly any situation but this one just might take the cake.

While superior strategy, firepower, or technology are usually the greatest factors in a Military conflict, many underestimate the power of a potato.

USS O’Bannon

The USS O’Bannon was deployed near the Solomon Islands when she came across a Japanese submarine. The O’Bannon was already known as a capable destroyer but submarines were a threat to even the greatest of warships.

The USS O’Bannon was a seasoned warship, the only one who left Guadalcanal’s battle without a scratch while managing to sink at least one Japanese ship. Not long after their victory at Guadalcanal she found herself the only ship near the Solomon Islands.

When she came face to face with the Japanese submarine, her crew fired immediately. The well experienced crew managed to take out the submarine’s conning tower, trapping it above water.

This move was their best chance at defeating the submarine, because taking down an underwater target was significantly more difficult.

No Surrender

The submarine’s skipper was intent on staying in the fight, despite the damage. The submarine came alongside the O’Bannon and began shooting at the warship with small arms.

The O’Bannon’s captain was fine with the sub being close by and considered ramming it. However, on further reflection, he realized if the sub was a minelayer this plan might blow up in his face… literally.

The fight continued with the ships next to each other trading small arms fire. Unfortunately, the O’Bannon could not use its big guns due to proximity.

To pain the picture of the gunfight, imagine a breached submarine with gunmen lining the deck taking shots at a massive warship with handguns and rifles.

So, the O’Bannon crew were forced to use unconventional means to take out the submarine. They went below deck into the storage locker, grabbed potatoes, and began hurling them at the Japanese.

This caused such a distraction that the O’Bannon was able to gain an advantage over the Japanese and sunk the submarine.

Though historians aren’t sure what role potatoes played in the victory, the legends surrounding this battle are pretty wild.

Wild Theories Behind The Legend

One of the theories behind the victory claim that the potatoes caused enough of a distraction that the O’Bannon was able to put enough distance between itself and the sub to bring bigger guns into play.

One Commander, Donald MacDonald, said that a crew member and the cook bet the other they could hit the submarine with a potato and the logical conclusion to this bet was that entire crew had to get in on it.

Another version maintains that the Japanese feared the potatoes were actually grenades, they all piled back into the sub, and went underwater only to sink because it filled with water since there was no conning tower.

A third account says potatoes were thrown but the sub did not go underwater. Instead, the potatoes bought the crew time to get depth charges ready and that’s what sank the sub.

No matter which story is true there is a plaque at the Maine Maritime Museum honoring the ship and the use of potatoes to gain a naval victory.




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