By Mike Manning – Chair, Friends of the Boston Harborwalk
The USS Macdonough was one of eight Farragut-class destroyers built for the US Navy. These post-World War I destroyers had significantly greater fire power and steaming range than their predecessors (the Clemson-class). The ship was the third named for Captain (later Commodore) Thomas Macdonough who commanded American naval forces during the War of 1812. During this conflict, the US Navy defeated the British Royal Navy at the Battle of Lake Champlain (on the New York – Vermont border). This pivotal sea battle, part of the larger Battle of Plattsburgh, eventually led to the end of the war.
Farragut-class destroyers were built at Boston Navy Yard (Charlestown), Fore River Shipyard (Quincy, Massachusetts), Brooklyn Navy Yard (New York), Puget Sound Naval Shipyard (Bremerton, Washington), and Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. The Boston Navy Yard produced Macdonough and her sister ship Monaghan. Both were commissioned within a month of each other in the spring of 1935.
After a significant shakedown cruise to Europe and western South American, Macdonough steamed for her new homeport of San Diego, California. Here, she would be part of the Pacific Fleet. Based here until mid-October of 1939, the destroyer was eventually reassigned to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. On the morning of December 7th, 1941, incredibly – Macdonough and her sister ship were both present during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Macdonough was berthed undergoing major repairs and all on-board power had been disabled. At the time of the attack, the one officer on aboard had to issue orders through a megaphone. Without shipboard power, the crew was forced to carry ammunition from the magazine to the gun deck. Similarly, the crew had to manually aim, elevate, rotate, and fire the guns. Despite these limitations, Macdonough’s crew is credited with one Japanese naval aircraft “kill’ with a probable second aircraft downed. Not to be outdone by her sister ship, Monaghan was credited with the sinking of a Japanese two-man mini-submarine during the same hour of the attack.
Once power had been restored to Macdonough, she immediately steamed out of Pearl Harbor in search of the Japanese attack flotilla. The pursuit, over the next three months, proved fruitless. Undeterred, the ship scouted the ocean south of the Hawaiian Islands for possible enemy vessels before returning to Pearl Harbor.
In March of 1942, Macdonough began duty as an escort – protecting war materiel shipments between America’s western port cities to Hawaii and other islands. Before returning to Pearl Harbor to escort convoys to and from west coast ports, she steamed as far as New Guinea, providing support to air strikes on Bougainville, Salamaua, and Lae.
As the United States and its allies continued the “island hopping” campaign to liberate dozens of island from Japanese occupation, Macdonough was involved in nearly every one of the campaign’s major battles.
Once her escort duties were completed, Macdonough was assigned to provide cover for the seaborne invasion of Guadalcanal and Tulagi in August, 1942. In these engagements, she operated with the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga. Macdonough also participated in the Battle of Savo Island – the first naval battle of the Guadalcanal campaign. By the end of September, she resumed her escort duties at New Guinea, Espirito Santo, and Pearl Harbor before steaming to Mare Island (north of San Francisco, California) in later December for an overhaul.
Once the overhaul was complete, Macdonough made way to the Aleutian Islands for the assault and occupation of Attu Island which had been occupied by Japanese forces since June of 1942. The destroyer patrolled north of the island in an effort to prevent the Japanese from landing reinforcements. After Attu was secured, Macdonough next mission was to assist in the invasion of Makin Island – one of the Gilbert Islands. At Makin, she acted a control vessel for the waves of landing craft assigned to assault the beaches. As marines and infantry leaped from landing craft, Macdonough entered the lagoon to bombard Japanese positions farther inland. Once the island was secured, she returned to Pearl Harbor in late November.
In January 1944, the destroyer joined the Northern Attack Force as preparations were made for the assault of the Marshall Islands. She carried out a number of different roles from directing fighter aircraft to bombarding shore emplacements as well as radar picket duty (scanning for enemy aircraft). In late February, Macdonough steamed to Eniwetok Atoll and shelled Japanese positions. Within a month, she was escorting aircraft carriers at the Palau Islands. In April, she participated in the amphibious landings at Hollandia, New Guinea. To close out the month, Macdonough provided radar picket duty just south of Truk Island. Here, along with USS Monterey, an Independence-class light aircraft carrier, and USS Stephen Potter, a Fletcher-class destroyer, she was credited with sinking Japanese submarine RO-45 on April 30th.
In May and June, Macdonough continued with her varied roles. At Saipan, she performed radar picket duty and anti-aircraft patrols. At the Battle of the Philippine Sea, the destroyer intercepted enemy aircraft that had penetrated the combat air patrols of US Navy fighters. At Guam, she protected underwater demolition teams and bombarded Japenese beach defenses prior to allied amphibious landings. Macdonough stayed off the waters of Guam to protect naval assault craft from Japanese submarines. Once the landings had been completed, she sailed for Pearl Harbor in early August.
Within a month, Macdonough was back in action – at the Admiralty Islands – just north of New Guinea. Here, she resumed escort duties. In mid-October, she participated in the Battle of Leyte Gulf. For the remainder of 1944, she provided an array of duties to US naval forces as the end of the Pacific campaign approached.
In January 1945, Macdonough sailed eastward to Puget Sound in Washington state for a three-month long overhaul. Shipshape once again, she sailed for Ulithi – 350 miles southwest of Guam. Here, Macdonough was initially assigned radar picket duty. Finally, for the next four months until the war’s end in early August, she escorted Allied shipping between Ulithi and Okinawa.
From the war’s beginning at Pearl Harbor through August of 1944, Macdonough earned thirteen battle stars for her service in the Pacific Theater of Operations.
After the Japanese surrender, Macdonough returned to the United States arriving in San Diego on September 3rd. After a short stay, she steamed to New York City’s Brooklyn Navy Yard. At the end of October 1945, the destroyer was decommissioned. Within six months, she was sold to a privately-owned shipyard and unceremoniously broken up for scrap metal ending an impressive World War II naval career.