USS Hammann (DD-412) was a Sims class destroyer that moved to the Pacific in the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor, where she took part in the battles of the Coral Sea and Midway. In the aftermath of Midway she was hit by a torpedo aimed at the damaged carrier Yorktown and sank with the loss of over 80 of her crew.
The Hammann was named after Charles Hazeltine Hammann who was awarded the Medal of Honor for rescuing a fellow pilot while serving as a seaplane pilot off Italy during the First World War.
The Hammann was launched by the Federal Shipbuilding and Drydock Co and Kearny New Jersey on 4 February 1939 when she was sponsored by Miss Lillian Hammann, and commissioned on 11 August 1939. Her shakedown cruise was carried out along the East Coast.
In early May the Hammann and Sterett departed from Guantanamo Bay heading for their new base at San Diego, arriving on 23 May 1940.
On 25 June the Hammann left San Diego as part of the screen of the carrier Enterprise, as she headed to Pearl Harbor. The Hammann alternated between acting as her plane guard and part of the anti-submarine screen. On 28 June she rescued the crew of an aircraft from VS-6 which had been forced to ditch after losing power at takeoff. The force arrived at Pearl Harbor on 2 July. The Hammann spent the rest of 1940 and the first few months of 1941 operating from Hawaii.
In the spring of 1941 the Hammann and her division moved to San Francisco, where some underwent repairs and an overhaul. On 29 May the Hammann, Mustin, Rowan and Anderson left Long Beach, officially to return to Hawaii. However their real destination was the Atlantic, where they were to join the Atlantic Fleet , which was increasingly involved in the Battle of the Atlantic, despite America still being neutral. On 30 May the destroyers met the Philadelphia (CL-41), and on 8-9 June they passed through the Panama Canal before heading to Guantanamo Bay.
The Hammann spent most of the rest of 1941 operating in the western Atlantic, escorting convoys to the mid Atlantic hand over point, and also escorting convoys to Iceland, which was already occupied by American troops.
The Hammann and her division were at Iceland on 7 December when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. They were immediately ordered to the Pacific, and left Iceland on 9 December. They were at Norfolk on 17 December and Charleston on 19 December, where they underwent repairs and alterations (probably including having her .5in anti-aircraft guns replaced with 20mm guns). At Charleston she was photographed in Measure 12 (modified) camouflage.
On 6 January 1942 the Hammann, Morris and Anderson left Hampton Roads to escort BatDiv 3 (Mississippi and New Mexico) to the Pacific. On 22 January the Hammann reported a sonar contact, and droppd depth charges on a suspected (but non-existence) Japanese submarine. Later on the same day the force reached San Francisco.
The Hammann joined Task Force 17, under Admiral Frank Jack Fletcher, and built around the Yorktown (CV-5), Louisville (CA-28), Astoria (CA-34) and four destroyers. The task force sailed on 16 February, initially heading for Canton Island. However on 20 February the Japanese attacked TF 11 (Lexington), which was on its way to raid Rabaul. Admiral Brown, commander of TF 11, asked for a second carrier, and the Yorktown was ordered to join him. The two task forces met south-west of the New Hebrides on 6 March.
On 8 March Admiral Brown decided to change targets and instead attack the Japanese forces that had just landed at Lae and Salamaua on New Guinea. While the carriers sent their aircraft across New Guinea on 10 March, the Hammann was part of a surface fleet that was posted to their east, in the Louisiade Archipelago, to guard the eastern flank of the carrier force and shield US troops as they arrived at Noumea. During this period the detached ships were commanded by Rear Admiral John G. Grace, Royal Navy.
On 27 March the Hammann’s task force departed for the Coral Sea, where she acted as a screen ship and plane guard for the Lexington, returning to Tonga on 20 April.
On 27 April the Task Force sortied into the Coral Sea again, this time to carry out air raids on the Japanese forces that had just invaded Tulagi. The raid took part on 4 May. The Hammann was sent north to Guadalcanal to rescue two fighter pilots who had been forced down over the island. The pilots used a parachute on the beach to mark their position, and were picked up by the Hammann’s motor whaleboat.
On 8 May the Hammann formed part of the screen of the US carriers during the battle of the Coral Sea. The Hammann suffered a near miss when a bomb exploded 200 yards off her starboard bow, but the Lexington suffered more serious damage, and had to be abandoned after suffering damage that then triggered a massive internal explosion. The Hammann, Morris and Anderson helped rescue the survivors, and the Hammann picked up nearly 500 of the survivors.
In the aftermath of the battle three of the heavy cruisers and four destroyers, including the Hammann were sent to Noumea, arriving on 12 May. However they were quickly summoned north, leaving for Pearl Harbor on 13 May and arriving on 27 May. The urgent summons had been to allow them to join the forces preparing to fight at Midway. After only three days of urgent work, the Hammann and her force left Pearl Harbor on 30 May, just in time to take part in the battle of Midway.
During the battle the Hammann was part of Taskforce 17 (Yorktown, Astoria, Portland and five destroyers), and the destroyers formed Task Group 17.4.
On 4 June she helped defend the Yorktown against Japanese air attack. During the first attack, in which the carrier was hit by bombs, the Hammann claimed one certain victory. Between the two main attacks she rescued the crews from two American aircraft that had crashed in the water. By the early afternoon the Yorktown was back underway, but suffered two torpedo hits in a second attack. This time the damage appeared to be fatal, and the carrier was abandoned. The Hammann rescued some of the survivors from the water, including the carrier’s commander, Captain Buckmaster. The Yorktown survived the night, and on 5 June efforts to save her began. On 6 June the Hammann came alongside to transfer a damage control party then moored alongside her to provide power, water and other services.
At about 1530 four torpedo tracks were sighted heading for the two ships. One passed under the Hammann and hit the Yorktown, two missed but the fourth hit the Hammann, breaking her back. The order to abandon ship was given almost immediately, and the ship sank within four minutes of being hit. Most of the crew got into the water, but about a minute later there was a violent underwater explosion, which raised the death toll to about 80. It isn’t clear what caused this – her depth charges had been set on safe when she came alongside the Yorktown, so shouldn’t have exploded, but one of her torpedoes was apparently running in its tube as she sank, so may have detonated. The survivors were picked up by the Benham and Balch.
Commander Arnold E. True, her commander at the Coral Sea and Midway was awarded the Navy Cross and the Distinquished Service Medal for his performance at the two battles.
Hammann received two battle stars for service in World War II, for the Coral Sea and Midway.