Remember His Name

You probably don’t recognize the name of Albert Kaplan, and frankly that’s a damned shame.

In 1943, Commander Kaplan was the executive officer aboard the USS Mayo, a U.S. Navy destroyer operating in the European Theater.  On September 13th, during the Battle of Salerno, the USS Mayo and the light cruiser USS Brooklyn were called in to support the U.S. Fifth Army, which was pinned down on the beach at Salerno, Italy by superior fire.  Up against three German divisions, more than 600 tanks, and numerous mobile guns, the U.S. invasion force was in danger of being pushed back into the sea.

Commander Albert D. Kaplan

Commander Albert D. Kaplan

With his commanding officer out of action due to illness, Commander Kaplan assumed command of USS Mayo, and took the destroyer within 500 yards of the beachhead.  Assisted by an Army spotter plane, the ship engaged in direct firefights with German ground forces, hammering the enemy tanks and gun emplacements with 5” naval artillery rounds.  The ship’s fire was so accurate that the spotter pilot recommended shifting the guns to rapid fire.  Commander Kaplan concurred with the recommendation, and gave the order for rapid fire.  Within a minute, USS Mayo’s guns were pumping out a shell every four seconds.

By the end of the engagement, 46 Nazi tiger tanks lay in flaming ruins, and the Mayo’s gun barrels were so overheated that the gray paint was blackened and the gun boots were scorched to something resembling charcoal.  (Every gun barrel on the ship had to be replaced following the battle.)

Official Navy statistics show that the USS Mayo fired 60% of all 5” artillery at Salerno.  The ship was awarded a Battle Star for her part in the engagement, and she is remembered by history as the U.S. Navy’s “tank buster.”  Her commanding officer, Commander Frederic S. Habecker, received the Legion of Merit for his ship’s heroic actions during the combat.

Sadly, the ship’s executive officer—the man who actually led the fight—has been virtually overlooked by history.  I’m certainly not trying to smear the name of Commander Habecker, who was a hero in his own right many times over.  According to the men who served under him, Habecker was a gifted leader, a true warrior, and a fine naval officer.  But in this one crucial battle, it was his second in command who held the reins of leadership and carried the ship and crew to victory.

The world has all but forgotten the name of Albert Kaplan.  When I learned about his extraordinary story, I decided to name a U.S. Navy destroyer after him in one of my books.  If you’ve ever read The Seventh Angel, you may recall the scenes where USS Albert D. Kaplan operates alongside USS Towers at the edge of the Siberian ice pack.  It’s a small thing—naming a fictional warship after a real hero—but it’s my own humble way of keeping alive the legacy of a man who rose to the challenge when his country needed him.

If we do nothing else for our heroes, we should at least remember their names.

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8 Responses to Remember His Name

  1. John Kaplan says:

    I appreciate the opportunity to read about my Uncle Albert. I just wanted you to know, however that the picture is not him.

  2. Daniel Kaplan says:

    Just to concur, that is not a picture of Albert Kaplan. I’m his grandson. If you’d like a photo, please feel free to email me back. I can send you a few.

    Thanks for writing the article,

    Dan

    • Jeff says:

      My apologies. I got the photo from the Navy archives, which identify the subject as Albert Kaplan. I would definitely like a picture of him, if you have one available.

      Thanks!
      Jeff

  3. Dear Sir, After reviewing this article, it can be seen that much of the information was taken from the USS Mayo DD422’s website. While we appreciate the help in furthering the ships history, we believe it appropriate that a link or credit be given to our site as the content herein is from primary resources taken from the ship’s crew.

    • Jeff says:

      Actually, the information came to me via an email from Commander Kaplan’s brother in 2006. I thought it was an amazing unsung hero story, so I named a ship after Commander Kaplan in The Seventh Angel. But it’s possible that he got some of the details from your site. Whether that’s the case or not, I have no problem updating the article to include a link to your website. It’s the least I can do to honor a great ship and the men who served aboard her. Please send me the site URL, and I’ll be sure to add it.

      Thank you for your service.

      Jeff

  4. Penny Lovitt Gregory says:

    I am Albert Kaplan’s eldsest neice Penny. Albert’s sister Jeannie and I both agree that the photo shown is definately one of Albert; taken when he was a young officer. Both John and Daniel may be too young to remember what Albert looked like as a young man.

  5. Robert Kaplan says:

    I am Robert Kaplan, the son of Albert’s brother Ervin. While Penny and Jeannie’s observation that the picture is indeed of Albert, John and Daniel were commenting an an earlier picture that I also saw. That picture was definitely NOT of Albert.

  6. Robert Kaplan says:

    Robert Kaplan again. According to Wikipedia, 1347 tiger tanks were produced between 1942 and August 1944. If 46 were destroyed in this battle, about 1/30th of all tiger tanks (as opposed to the tiger II) ever produced were destroyed in this one battle under my uncle Alberts leadership. It certainly seems to me that some sort of recognition is deserved.

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