“On your detachment from the South Pacific fighting forces I wish you Godspeed. Your habit of getting into winning scraps with the Japs has made history.” “DESRON 21 always will be remembered when Cactus, Munda, Vella and the Slot are mentioned. You may be sure I will welcome you back with open arms anytime, any ocean.” “Halsey.”
Message from Admiral William Halsey to Destroyer Squadron 21, the most highly decorated US destroyer squadron of WWII.
Destroyer Squadron 21
The tin cans of DESRON 21 were the first Fletcher-class destroyers. Throughout the whole war they served mainly in the Pacific, taking on various missions such as shore bombardments, surface engagements, anti-aircraft and anti-submarine operations and supporting amphibious assaults.
USS O’Bannon, a member of DESRON 21 and the most highly decorated US destroyer of the whole war, received 17 battle starts and a Presidential Unit Citation, while not a single one of her crew was awarded the Purple Heart.
USS Nicholas, another member of the squadron, was the second most highly decorated US destroyer, having earned 16 battle stars and a Presidential Unit Citation.
USS Fletcher, lead ship of the 175-ship Fletcher-class, was awarded 15 battle stars for her service in WWII.
USS Taylor was also awarded 15 battle stars.
DESRON 21 began as a squadron of ten Fletcher-class ships, they were:
USS Fletcher, Radford, Jenkins, La Vallette, Nicholas, O’Bannon, Chevalier, Strong, Taylor and De Haven.
DESRON 21 suffered the loss of three ships over the course of the war, all of them lost in the Solomons.
USS De Haven was sunk in action by Japanese aircraft supporting Operation Ke, the withdrawal of Japanese forces from Guadalcanal, on 1 February 1943.
USS Strong was hit and sunk by a Japanese torpedo when supporting American landing forces at Rice Anchorage, 5 July 1943. The torpedo was fired by a group of Japanese destroyers led by Niizuki.
USS Chevalier was scuttled by USS La Vallette following the Naval Battle of Vella Lavella, in which a Japanese torpedo, also from a destroyer, tore her bow off.
In 1944 came the replacements USS Howorth and Hopewell. By that time the fierce fighting in the Solomons was already over. In August 1945, Admiral William Halsey, commander of the Third Fleet, ordered that USS O’Bannon and her sisters Nicholas and Taylor be present in Tokyo bay for the surrender of Japan, “because of their valorous fight up the long road from the South Pacific to the very end.”
Of the twelve ships that had been a part of DESRON 21, nine survived the war. Some time after the war’s end, USS Taylor was broken up for parts, USS Howorth and Hopewell were sunk as target ships, and the rest of the squadron were scrapped.
The ships are gone, but they left a “legacy of courage and fighting skill”. They inspired the motto of the Cold War-era DESRON 21: