USS Johnston (DD-557)

USS Johnston (DD-557) was a Fletcher-class destroyer in the service of the United States Navy in World War II, the first Navy ship named after Lieutenant John V. Johnston. The ship is known for her action in the Battle off Samar. The small "tincan" destroyer, armed with torpedoes, and guns no larger than 5-inch (127 mm), led an attack by a handful of light ships which had inadvertently been left unprotected in the path of a Japanese fleet with battleships and cruisers. The actions of Johnston—sunk in the action—and the lightly armed and lightly armored Escort Carrier Task Unit 77.4.3 ("Taffy 3"), of which she was a member, helped stop Admiral Kurita's Center Force from attacking the U.S. landing forces and inflicted greater damage on the Japanese attackers than they suffered. Johnston's wreck is the deepest surveyed shipwreck when rediscovered and identified in March 2021.

USS Johnston
USS Johnston in Seattle on 27 October 1943.
History
United States of America
NameJohnston
NamesakeJohn V. Johnston
BuilderSeattle-Tacoma Shipbuilding Corporation
Laid down6 May 1942
Launched25 March 1943
Commissioned27 October 1943
Honors and
awards
Presidential Unit Citation, 6 Battle Stars
FateSunk 25 October 1944, Battle off Samar
General characteristics
Class and type Fletcher-class destroyer
Displacement2,700 long tons (2,700 t)
Length376 ft 6 in (114.76 m)
Beam39 ft 8 in (12.1 m)
Draft17 ft 9 in (5.4 m)
Installed power60,000 shp (45,000 kW)
Propulsion
Speed35 knots (65 km/h; 40 mph)
Range6,500 nmi (7,500 mi; 12,000 km) @ 15 kn (17 mph; 28 km/h)
Complement273
Sensors and
processing systems
  • FD fire-control radar
  • SC air search radar
Armament
NotesEquipped with Mark 1A fire control computer
Christening of USS Johnston (DD-557) at Seattle-Tacoma Shipbuilding Corporation, Washington on 25 March 1943

Construction and commissioningEdit

Johnston was laid down on 6 May 1942 by the Seattle-Tacoma Shipbuilding Corp., Seattle, Washington. She was launched on 25 March 1943, sponsored by Mrs. Marie S. Klinger, great-niece of her namesake, and was commissioned on 27 October 1943, Lieutenant Commander Ernest E. Evans in command.[1]

The day Johnston was commissioned, Cmdr. Evans made a speech to the crew, quoting a phrase attributed to John Paul Jones: "This is going to be a fighting ship. I intend to go in harm's way, and anyone who doesn't want to go along had better get off right now."[1][2]

World War II serviceEdit

During the Marshall Islands campaign, Johnston bombarded the beaches of Kwajalein on 1 February 1944, and Eniwetok from 17–22 February. She gave direct support to invasion troops there, destroying several pillboxes and revetments along the beach, while under fire.[1]

Sinking of I-176Edit

En route to patrol duty in the Solomons on 28 March, she bombarded Kapingamarangi Atoll in the Carolines. Johnston shelled an observation tower and several blockhouses, pillboxes, and dugouts along the beach. Two days later, she came into the mouth of the Maririca River, southeast of Empress Augusta Bay, Bougainville, Solomon Islands. After laying a heavy barrage into that area, she took up anti-submarine patrol off Bougainville. While performing this duty on 15 May, Johnston, along with the destroyers USS Franks (DD-554) and USS Haggard (DD-555), sank the Japanese submarine I-176 using depth charges.[1]

Battle of GuamEdit

After three months of patrol in the Solomons, Johnston sailed to the Marshall Islands to prepare for the invasion and capture of Guam in the Marianas. On 21 July, she teamed up with the Pearl Harbor "ghost"—the battleship Pennsylvania—to bombard Guam. The destroyer had fired over 4,000 shells by 30 July. Johnston next helped protect escort carriers providing air support for the invasion and capture of Peleliu.[1]

Invasion of the PhilippinesEdit

Following replenishment at Seeadler Harbor, Admiralty Islands, she sailed on 12 October to help protect the escort carriers maintaining air supremacy over eastern Leyte island and Gulf, sweeping the enemy off local airfields, giving troops naval gunfire support on the landing beaches from 20 October, and even destroying vehicle transport and supply convoys on the roads of Leyte itself. Johnston was operating with "Taffy 3" (Escort Carrier Task Unit 77.4.3) comprising Rear Admiral Clifton A. F. "Ziggy" Sprague's flagship Fanshaw Bay, five other escort carriers, three destroyers including herself, and four destroyer escorts. "Taffy 3" was one of the three units of Rear Admiral Thomas L. Sprague's Escort Carrier Task Group 77.4, known by their voice calls as "Taffy 1", "Taffy 2", and "Taffy 3".[1]

Engagement of Taffy 3Edit

On the morning of 23 October 1944, American submarines detected and attacked units of the Japanese fleet coming in from the South China Sea toward the Leyte beachhead. The battleship-cruiser-destroyer Southern Force was attacked as it attempted to enter Leyte Gulf via Surigao Strait the night of 24–25 October. The more powerful battleship-cruiser-destroyer Center Force under Vice Admiral Takeo Kurita had been attacked by Admiral William "Bull" Halsey's carrier planes and presumably turned back from San Bernardino Strait. Admiral Halsey then sailed north with his carriers and battleships to engage a decoy Japanese carrier–battleship task force off Cape Engaño. This left Johnston and her small escort carrier task unit alone in north Leyte Gulf, east of Samar and off San Bernardino Strait.[1]

As the Japanese fleet left the Battle of Surigao Strait at daybreak of 25 October, the powerful Japanese Center Force slipped through San Bernardino Strait and into the Philippine Sea heading toward Leyte Gulf. It steamed along the coast of Samar directly for Johnston's little task unit and the American invasion beachhead at Leyte, hoping to destroy amphibious shipping and American troops onshore.[1]

One of the pilots flying patrol after dawn alert that morning reported the approach of the Japanese Center Force. Steaming straight for "Taffy 3" were four battleships (including Yamato), eight cruisers (two light and six heavy), and eleven destroyers. Lieutenant Robert C. Hagen, Johnston's gunnery officer, later reported, "We felt like little David without a slingshot." In less than a minute, Johnston was zigzagging between the six escort carriers and the Japanese fleet and putting out a smoke screen over a 2,500-yard (2,300 m) front to conceal the carriers from the enemy gunners: "Even as we began laying smoke, the Japanese started lobbing shells at us and Johnston had to zigzag between the splashes.... We were the first destroyer to make smoke, the first to start firing, the first to launch a torpedo attack...."[1]

For the first 20 minutes, Johnston could not return fire as the enemy cruisers and battleships' heavy guns outranged Johnston's 5-inch (127 mm) guns. Not waiting for orders, Commander Evans broke formation and went on the offensive by ordering Johnston to speed directly toward the enemy—first a line of seven destroyers, next one light, and three heavy cruisers, then the four battleships. To the east appeared three other cruisers and several destroyers.[1]

As soon as range closed to ten miles (16 km), Johnston fired on the heavy cruiser Kumano—the nearest ship—and scored several hits. During her five-minute sprint into torpedo range, Johnston fired over 200 rounds at the enemy, then under the direction of torpedo officer Lieutenant Jack K. Bechdel, made her torpedo attack. She fired all 10 of her torpedoes and turned to retire behind a smoke screen. When she came out of the smoke a minute later, the Kumano could be seen burning from a torpedo hit. Her bow had been blown off, and she was forced to withdraw. Around this time, Johnston took three 14 in (356 mm) shell hits from Kongō, followed by three 6 in (152 mm) shells, either from a light cruiser or Yamato, which hit the bridge. The shells caused the loss of all power to the steering engine and all power to the three 5 in (127 mm) guns in the aft of the ship, and rendered the gyrocompass useless. A low-lying squall came up, and Johnston "ducked into it" for a few minutes of rapid repairs and salvage work.[1] The bridge was abandoned and Commander Evans, who had lost two fingers on his left hand, went to the aft steering column to conn the ship.[citation needed]

At 07:50, Admiral Sprague ordered destroyers to make a torpedo attack: "small boys attack". Johnston, unable to keep position with her damaged engine, and with her torpedoes expended, moved to provide fire support for the other destroyers. As she emerged from a smoke screen, she nearly collided with the destroyer Heermann.[3] At 08:20, Johnston sighted a Kongō-class battleship only 7,000 yards (6,400 m) away, emerging through the smoke. The destroyer opened fire, scoring hits on the superstructure of the larger ship. The return fire from the battleship missed.[1]

Johnston observed Gambier Bay under fire from an enemy cruiser, and engaged the cruiser in an effort to draw her fire away from the carrier. Johnston scored four hits on the heavy cruiser, then broke off as the Japanese destroyer squadron was seen closing rapidly on the American escort carriers. Johnston engaged the lead ship until it withdrew, then the second until the remaining enemy units broke off the attack to get out of effective gun range before launching torpedoes, all of which missed.[1]

Then, Johnston's luck ran out; she came under fire from multiple enemy ships and her remaining engine failed, leaving her dead in the water.[citation needed]

Some time into the battle, Japanese battleship Kongō fired two rounds from her main guns. One round pierced the thin side armor of Johnston and cut a hole through the engine room. Her speed was cut in half. The enemy ships closed in for an easy kill, pouring fire into the crippled destroyer.[citation needed]

 
USS Johnston (DD-557) commissioning ceremonies on the ship's fantail, held at Seattle, Washington on 27 October 1943

Johnston took a hit that knocked out one forward gun and damaged another, and her bridge was rendered unusable by fires and explosions caused by a hit in her 40 mm (2 in) ready ammunition locker. Evans, who had shifted his command to Johnston's fantail, was yelling orders through an open hatch to men turning her rudder by hand and at 9:45 he ordered 'Abandon Ship.' At 10:10 Johnston rolled over and began to sink. The Japanese destroyer Yukikaze came up to 1,000 yards (910 m) and pumped a final shot into her to make sure she went down.

Of Johnston's complement of 327 officers and men, 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, escaped the ship before she sank but were never seen again.[1]

AftermathEdit

Hoel and Samuel B. Roberts also sacrificed themselves to save the escort carriers and to protect the landings at Leyte. USS Gambier Bay an escort carrier was also sunk. Two of four Japanese heavy cruisers were sunk by combined surface and air attacks, and Admiral Sprague was soon amazed by the sight of the retirement of Kurita's entire fleet. By this time, planes of "Taffy 2" and "Taffy 1" and every available unit of the Fleet were headed to assist "Taffy 3". But Johnston and her little escort carrier task unit had stopped Admiral Kurita's powerful Center Force in the Battle off Samar, inflicting greater losses than they suffered.[1]

AwardsEdit

Johnston's courage and daring in the Battle off Samar won her the Presidential Unit Citation as a unit of "Taffy 3" (Task Unit 77.4.3). Lt. Cmdr. Ernest E. Evans was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor, the first Native American in the U.S. Navy and the only World War II destroyer commander to be awarded the honor:[4] "The skipper was a fighting man from the soles of his broad feet to the ends of his straight black hair. He was an Oklahoman and proud of the Indian blood he had in him. We called him—though not to his face—the Chief. The Johnston was a fighting ship, but he was the heart and soul of her."[1]

In addition to the Presidential Unit Citation, Johnston received six battle stars for service in World War II.[1]

LegacyEdit

USS Evans (DE-1023), was a Dealey-class destroyer escort named for Ernest E. Evans. She was launched in 1955 and stricken in 1973. No current ship carries the name of Evans, but there was a Gearing-class USS Johnston (DD-821). In contrast, three current ships—USS Copeland (FFG-25), USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG-58), and USS Carr (FFG-52), all guided missile frigates—were named for Samuel B. Roberts and members of her crew.

The second Johnston was launched on 10 October 1945. On 27 February 1981, Johnston was stricken from the Naval Vessel Register and transferred to the Republic of China (Taiwan). She served in the Republic of China Navy as the ROCS Chen Yang, and was later reclassified a guided missile destroyer, the DDG-928. Chen Yang was decommissioned on 16 December 2003.

WreckEdit

On 30 October 2019, it was announced that the research vessel Petrel of Vulcan Inc discovered what is believed to be the deepest shipwreck ever located at 20,406 feet (6,220 m) deep in the Philippine Trench; the wreck was in pieces with no significant hull sections located. The surveyed wreckage consisted of two destroyed 5-inch (127 mm) turrets, a propeller shaft and propeller, two funnels, a mast, a barbette, and unidentified piles of twisted hull, interior, and machinery debris. A track mark in the mud was found leading deeper into the trench, possibly suggesting the main wreck slid deeper still after impacting onto the seabed. However, as the ROV was already at its operational limits, it was unable to investigate further.[5] The crew believed that the wreck was the Johnston based on the visible paint scheme on the turrets, but this was unconfirmed at the time.[6][7]

On 31 March 2021, it was announced that the research vessel DSV Limiting Factor of Caladan Oceanic surveyed and photographed the deeper main wreck. The visible hull number, 557, confirmed the identity of the ship as Johnston. She sits upright and astonishingly well-preserved at a depth of 21,180 ft (6,460 m), making it the deepest shipwreck ever surveyed.[4][8][9]

FootnotesEdit

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q DANFS Johnston n.d.
  2. ^ Hornfischer 2004, p. 48
  3. ^ BuShips 1945, p. 39
  4. ^ a b Caladan Oceanic (21 March 2021). Written at Offshore Samar Island, Philippines Sea. "Submersible crew completes the world's deepest shipwreck dive in history (USS Johnston)" (PDF) (Press release). Dallas, Texas.
  5. ^ Battle off Samar. RV Petrel. 30 October 2019 – via Facebook.
  6. ^ James Rogers (30 October 2019). "US WWII shipwreck discovered in the Philippine Sea is the deepest ever found". Fox News.
  7. ^ "Wreck of Famed WWII Destroyer USS Johnston May Have Been Found". USNI News. 30 October 2019.
  8. ^ AFP (4 April 2021). "US Navy ship sunk nearly 80 years ago reached in world's deepest shipwreck dive". The Guardian. Retrieved 4 April 2021.
  9. ^ Morelle, Rebecca (3 April 2021). "USS Johnston: Sub dives to deepest-known shipwreck". BBC News. Retrieved 4 April 2021.

ReferencesEdit

This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.

External linksEdit

Coordinates: 11°46′N 126°9′E / 11.767°N 126.150°E / 11.767; 126.150