Skip to comments.Wreck of Famed WWII Destroyer USS Johnston (DD-557) May Have Been Found
Posted on 10/31/2019 8:26:12 AM PDT by Constitution Day
A few days past the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Samar, researchers from Vulcan Inc.s research vessel R/V Petrel believe theyve found wreckage from the engagements famed Fletcher-class destroyer, USS Johnston (DD-557).
Images of twisted metal, a destroyed deck gun, a propeller shaft and other less recognizable debris were posted to Petrels Facebook page Wednesday, with a video narrated by Rob Kraft, Vulcans director of subsea operations, and Paul Mayer a submersible pilot with the team started by the late billionaire and philanthropist Paul Allen.
This wreck is completely decimated, Kraft says in the video. It is just debris. There is no hull structure. Petrels crew found the wreckage about 20,400 feet below the waters surface, just at the edge of a steep undersea precipice and at a depth that pushes the limit of their underwater search equipment. Without finding identifying material such as a portion of the hull with the hull number 557, other equipment with the ships name, personal effects of the crew positively identifying the wreckage as Johnston is difficult, Robert Neyland, the Naval History and Heritage Commands Underwater Archaeology Branch Head, told USNI News.
Neyland, who was familiar with Petrels search efforts, explained researchers might have enough evidence to confirm the wreckage is from a Fletcher-class destroyer. However, when Johnston sunk, another Fletcher-class ship, USS Hoel (DD-533), was also in the area.
There was a lot of confusion in that battle, Neyland said. Some of the wreckage appears to be equipment such as blast shields behind guns that researchers know were on Hoel, based on old photos of the ship. Equipment could have been added to Johnston after the few confirmed pictures of the destroyer were taken, Neyland said.
The location of the wreckage, in the southern part of the area where the battle took place, suggests the wreck is Johnston, Kraft said. Johnston was the last ship to sink.
On Oct. 25, 1944, a Japanese force of four battleships, six cruisers and 12 destroyers surprised a U.S. task unit. The Japanese force was trying to run-down five U.S. small escort carriers, three destroyers including Johnston and four destroyer escorts defending the north Leyte Gulf, east of Samar. The U.S. ships were supporting the landing on the Leyte beachhead by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, retired Rear Adm. Samuel Cox, director of the Naval History and Heritage Command, told USNI News.
"Johnston, under Cmdr. Ernest E. Evans, was the first on to conduct an attempted torpedo attack on the Japanese force, Cox said. Evans made the attack without waiting for orders to do so because he knew it was clear that unless he did something, the Japanese were going to run down the slower U.S. force, and they had the power to wipe it out.
Evans knew his ship and the others in the task unit were outgunned, yet he attacked anyway, Cox said. In hindsight, such action isnt surprising. A year earlier, Evans predicted hed take such actions during Johnstons commissioning. This is going to be a fighting ship. I intend to go in harms way, and anyone who doesnt want to go along had better get off right now, Evans said at Johnstons commissioning in Seattle on Oct. 27, 1943, according to the Naval History and Heritage Command.
Of the crew of 327 men, 141 survived the battle. Of the 186 sailors lost, 50 were killed by enemy action, 45 died from battle injuries on rafts, and 92 men including Evans were alive in the water after Johnston sank but were never seen again, according to the Naval History and Heritage Command. Johnston was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation. Evans, a 1931 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy who was believed to be the third Native American graduate, was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, Cox said.
He also said that he would never run from a fight, and on the 25th of October, 1944, he proved true to his word, Cox said.
This Facebook video, with commentary from the crew of R/V Petrel, lays out their case that this shipwreck is the USS Johnston (DD-557), not the USS Hoel (DD-533).
The wreckage is at such an extreme depth that the paint color is still visible on the shattered metal. It is apparent that this ship was painted in was called "Measure 21" or overall Navy Blue, whereas the Hoel used the broken "dazzle" pattern.
If you are unfamiliar with the heroism displayed by task force "Taffy 3" against the far superior "Center Force" of Admiral Kurita during the Battle off Samar, I highly suggest you read "The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors" by James D. Hornfischer. My friend Tijeras_Slim sent me this book in the mail years ago and it is riveting. I have re-read it at least once since then.
From the Wikipedia entry on the Johnston:
"From Johnston's complement of 327 officers and men, only 141 were saved. Of the 186 men lost, about 50 were killed by enemy action, 45 died later on rafts from wounds, and 92 men including Cmdr. Evans got off before she sank, but were never seen again."
May they rest in peace.
Medal of Honor citation for Cdr. Evans:
Born: 13 August 1908, Pawnee, Oklahoma.
Other Navy awards: Navy Cross, Bronze Star Medal.
The President of the United States in the name of the Congress
takes pleasure in presenting the
MEDAL OF HONOR to
ERNEST EDWIN EVANS
United States Navy
for service as set forth in the following
"For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as commanding officer of the U.S.S. JOHNSTON in action against major units of the enemy Japanese fleet during the Battle off Samar on 25 October 1944. The first to lay a smokescreen and to open fire as an enemy task force, vastly superior in number, firepower and armor, rapidly approached. Commander Evans gallantly diverted the powerful blasts of hostile guns from the lightly armed and armored carriers under his protection, launching the first torpedo attack when the JOHNSTON came under straddling Japanese shellfire. Undaunted by damage sustained under the terrific volume of fire, he unhesitatingly joined others of his group to provide fire support during subsequent torpedo attacks against the Japanese and, outshooting and outmaneuvering the enemy as he consistently interposed his vessel between the hostile fleet units and our carriers despite the crippling loss of engine power and communications with steering aft, shifted command to the fantail, shouted steering orders through an open hatch to men turning the rudder by hand and battled furiously until the JOHNSTON, burning and shuddering from a mortal blow, lay dead in the water after 3 hours of fierce combat. Seriously wounded early in the engagement, Commander Evans, by his indomitable courage and brilliant professional skill, aided materially in turning back the enemy during a critical phase of the action. His valiant fighting spirit throughout this historic battle will venture as an inspiration to all who served with him."
HARRY S. TRUMAN, President
Without you having sent me that book, I may not know about this amazing history. Thank you sir.
A good read on this is “Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors.”
Oops. Next time read the whole article you idiot.
The troop transports would have been sitting ducks as 3rd Fleet was too far away to help.
It most likely would have cost Nimitz and Halsey their commands.
And with 1944 an election year, even though very close to the election, the impact on the presidential election cannot be underestimated. Presuming of course this was reported in the media.
I saw a program about this on, I guess, the History Channel.
Not only incredible courage but incredible effectiveness.
LOL. Not a problem. :)
Great book. I have all of Hornfischer’s books.
“A good read on this is Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors.”
Yes, it is. I read it a few years ago, and it is indeed a good read.
I really like Drachinifel’s retelling of the Battle of Samar:
The sailors on those little destroyers were amazingly brave in the face of such overwhelming Japanese advantage and really did save the day.
A very good book indeed. Halsey should have been court marshaled for leaving his assignment of protecting the landings.
I doubt that even if Kurita had carried out his mission and severely damaged the invasion fleet that the US public would have lost its resolve. They were resolved to have a 100,000 casualties invading Japan when the A-bombs ended the war.
The Japanese were engaging in wishful thinking if they thought they would get favorable peace terms. Magical thinking is something they did regularly throughout the war.
Battle of Leyte Gulf
greatest naval battle in history.
This sea battle is retold very well in Hornfischer's Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors.
“Magical thinking is something they did regularly throughout the war.”
Never heard it put that way, but that’s certainly correct. Overconfident at least. An island nation with no natural resources to speak of put no priority on destroying the submarines at Pearl and had to resort to suicide bombing towards the end of the war because they they never considered that they would need to train more pilots than they started with.
Sad to see where so many good men lost their lives there. Seems to have been severely damaged.
I really enjoyed The Fleet at High Tide. Admirals Spruance and Mitscher were true heroes in the Pacific War. But Halsey got all the prress. Hornfischer pointed out correctly there is no class of Halsey ships in the USN. Funny that...
One hell of a last battle. They gave a lot worse than they got.
From “The Hunt for Red October”
Captain Ramius: [to Ryan] What books?
Jack Ryan: [confused] Pardon me?
Captain Ramius: What books did you write?
Jack Ryan: I wrote a biography of, of Admiral Halsey, called “The Fighting Sailor”, about, uh, naval combat tactics...
Captain Ramius: I know this book!
Captain Ramius: Your conclusions were all wrong, Ryan...
Captain Ramius: ...Halsey acted stupidly.
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