Stories from the Shipyard: USS Monaghan II (DD-354)

By Mike Manning, Chair – Friends of the Boston Harborwalk

The USS Monaghan was the last 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 ship was named for Ensign John R. Monaghan – a native of Washington state who was killed in action during the second Samoan Civil War of 1899. The first USS Monaghan (DD-32) was a modified Paulding-class destroyer built at Newport News Shipyard (Virginia) and saw service during World War I – in the Atlantic theater of operations.

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 Monaghan and her sister ship Macdonough and were commissioned within a month of each other in the spring of 1935.

After commissioning, Monaghan conducted a number of training tours in the North Atlantic.  These tours focused on the deployment of aircraft and aircraft carriers to escort convoys, to coordinate anti-submarine measures between aircraft and destroyers, and to test various evasive tactics against attacking aircraft and submarines.  This training would prove to be invaluable as the world moved toward a second world war.

By 1941, Monaghan had been redeployed from the Atlantic squadron to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  Japanese expansionism in Asia had forced the United States to shift naval assets from many different theaters of operations to the Pacific.  On the morning of December 7th, she was the “ready-duty” destroyer just north of Ford Island – located in the center of Pearl Harbor.  Monaghan and sister ships Aylwin, Dale, and Farragut waited in this saltwater hideaway at a high state of readiness.

At 7:51 AM, Monaghan was ordered to make steam and join destroyer USS Ward on an anti-submarine patrol.  Just an hour before, Ward had sunk an unidentified submarine at Pearl Harbor’s entrance.  Four minutes later, the devastating Japanese air attack began with the first of two waves of bombers, torpedo bombers, and fighters.

The unrelenting assault, that propelled the United States into World War II, lasted approximately 90 minutes.  At 8:27 AM, just 30 minutes after the strike began; Monaghan was notified of the presence of a Japanese mini-submarine in the harbor.

This was I-22tou – a Type-A Japanese mini-submarine with a two-man crew and armed with two torpedoes.  The submarine attacked the USS Curtiss, a seaplane tender, with a torpedo but missed.  Immediately, and inexplicably, the intruder surfaced.  Curtiss, armed with a 5” caliber deck gun, fired a shell which decapitated the submarine’s conning tower.  At this point, the Monaghan’s captain rang up the engine room for flank speed and gave the order to ram. 

I-22tou maneuvered to fire a torpedo at the approaching destroyer but the torpedo missed – passing within 150 feet of her starboard bow.  Immediately, Monaghan struck a glancing blow off the submarine and simultaneously dropped two depth charges that sent the enemy vessel to the bottom of the harbor.  The harbor was so shallow in this area that the detonation of the depth charges lifted the destroyer’s stern up and out of the water.

After Monaghan’s first harrowing naval engagement and first enemy submarine “kill”, the destroyer steamed to Wake Island in an effort to relieve American forces there.  Unfortunately, the island was captured by Japanese forces before she and other warships arrived.  Monaghan and other vessels made their way back to Pearl Harbor.

For the next few months, she participated in patrol and scouting operations.  Monaghan was present at the battle of the Coral Sea and at the decisive American victory at Midway Island.

(This victory, June 4th – 6th, 1942 proved to be the turning point in the war as all four Japanese aircraft carriers that had launched the attack at Pearl Harbor were sunk.  The Japanese navy never recovered from the loss of these warships along with related aircraft, sailors, and airmen during the two-day battle.)

After Midway, she participated in a number of operations from Pearl Harbor as far north as Alaska’s Aleutian Islands.  During this time, Monaghan was involved in a number of mishaps including a collision with another vessel and an impact with an unknown underwater obstruction.  While at sea, only temporary repairs could be performed.  She steamed to Mare Island Naval Shipyard (Vallejo, California) for permanent repairs.

In early 1943, Monaghan returned to the Aleutians and was assigned to a scouting force comprised of cruisers and destroyers.  This force engaged the Japanese in the Battle of Komandorski Islands.  Though outnumbered, the American force drove the enemy away.  Through November of 1943 – she engaged in a wide variety of missions including:  patrol/scouting, shore bombardment, escort duty, and anti-submarine warfare.

In 1944, Monaghan returned to the West Coast for extensive exercises in order to prepare for the invasion of the Marshall Islands.  She also participated in the campaigns to capture Kwajalein and Eniwetok atolls.

By March, Monaghan’s primary mission was anti-submarine warfare.  Her role was indispensable in the campaigns at Palau, Woleai, Yap, and Saipan.  After Saipan, she joined in the assault on Guam in July.  At the end of July, she sailed for Pearl Harbor for replenishment and then onto Puget Sound, in Washington state, for a significant overhaul.

After the overhaul’s completion, Monaghan trained off California and Hawaii during the fall of 1944.  In mid-November, she, along with three destroyers and a trio of cruisers, steamed 350 miles southwest of Guam to Ulithi Atoll.  On the last day of November, Monaghan departed Ulithi to escort three fleet oilers destined to the Philippines in a plan to rendezvous with the Third Fleet.

By the 17th of December, she needed to refuel and had reduced ballast to accommodate thousands of gallons of fuel.  But before she could refuel – typhoon “Cobra” struck with little or no warning.  Though fleet vessels took preemptive measures to ride out the storm, unimaginably, warships Spence, Hull, and Monaghan were all lost.

Of Monaghan’s crew of 100 officers and enlisted men, only six survived.  The sailors drifted in a lifeboat for three days fighting off thirst, oppressive heat, and menacing sharks.

Once rescued, the crew members reported that the destroyer had rolled numerous times to starboard before rolling over completely and capsizing.  Crew members below decks had no chance at all of escape.  More than likely, it was the ship’s inability to refuel and replace the weight of the ballast with fresh fuel that resulted in her demise.

Though her service life was less than ten years, Monaghan served valiantly in each campaign of the Pacific war until her tragic end – seven days before Christmas, 1944.  During the course of the war, she had received 12 battle stars for her service in the Pacific theater of operations.

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