Today I learned
Please, before we begin, start this video. Make sure your volume is up. We’ll let you know when to stop.
In 1943, the U.S.S. O’Bannon, a “decorated Fletcher-class destroyer” running support missions in the South Pacific stumbled onto a Japanese submarine, and the sub was unaware of its presence. The ship’s captain decided to ram the sub, hoping to sink the vessel and “end a potentially deadly and dangerous situation before it had a chance to start.”
But at the last moment, the officers realized that the sub might be a mine layer. If it was, the sub—and the O’Bannon along with it—could explode. So they veered at the last moment, and the sailors “found [themselves] in a rather embarrassing situation as we sailed along side of the Japanese submarine,” according to Ernest Herr, one of the sailors on board. And the sub was now aware that there was a big ol’ ship next door.
The ships were so close that not even the short-range weapons were able to fire, and none of the sailors were carrying sidearms. So they started chucking potatoes. And the enemy soliders thought they were grenades, so they started chucking them back. And voila, Naval food fight.
Thanks, History! This is a hell of a historical anecdote. The potatoes gave the ship enough time to get away from the sub. You can stop playing “Yackety Sax” now, because this is the point where I acknowledge that the O’Bannon then sank the submarine. The movie version of this story would end with all the soldiers from both vessels making french fries together before going on their separate ways, but alas, this is history, not fiction. Still, it’s a good story:
The “Maine Potato Episode,” as it was soon known—possibly because the ship was forged in Maine, or because the potatoes may have come from Maine—quickly made news back home. The crew was regarded as heroes for their ingenuity and quick thinking, and even received a plaque from the Association of Maine Potato Growers commemorating their victory.
Getting beaned by a potato would probably hurt a lot, but this has to go down as one of the strangest weapons in maritime history.