Friday, April 02, 2021

Fullbore Friday

They've found her; USS Johnson (DD-557);

A team of ocean explorers has found the wreck of World War II Fletcher-class destroyer USS Johnston (DD-557) which played a critical role at the Battle off Samar, Navy History and Heritage Command said on Thursday.

Victor Vescovo, explorer and retired Navy officer, in the manned submersible Limiting Factor located Johnston‘s bow further down a cliff face at 21,180 feet. He said he is committed to respecting the final resting place for many of its crew, but will provide the Navy with all sonar data, imagery and field notes from his expedition.

Caladan Oceana's Battle of Samar Expedition has a superb website I highly encourage you to visit. 

The background;

Steaming straight for "Taffy 3" were four battleships (including the 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...."

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.

As soon as range closed to within ten miles (16 km), Johnston fired on the heavy cruiser Kumano—the nearest ship—and scored several damaging 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 got off all 10 torpedoes, and turned to retire behind a heavy smoke screen. When she came out of the smoke a minute later, the Kumano could be seen burning furiously from a torpedo hit. Her bow had been blown completely off, and she was forced to withdraw. Around this time, Johnston took three 14 in (356 mm) shell hits from Kongō, followed closely by three 6 in (152 mm) shells—either from a light cruiser or Yamato—which hit the bridge. The shells resulted in 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.

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 already expended, nonetheless moved to provide fire support for the other destroyers. As she emerged from a smoke screen, she nearly collided with the destroyer Heermann. 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 multiple hits on the superstructure of the much larger ship. The return fire from the battleship missed clearly.

Johnston soon 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. The Johnston engaged the lead ship until it quit, then the second until the remaining enemy units broke off to get out of effective gun range before launching torpedoes, all of which missed.

Then, Johnston's luck ran out; she came under heavy fire from multiple enemy ships, and right when it was most needed, the damaged remaining engine quit, leaving her dead in the water.

Some time into the battle, a Japanese battleship, Kongō, fired two rounds from her main cannons. One round punched through 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.

Johnston took a hit that knocked out one forward gun and damaged another, and her bridge was rendered untenable by fires and explosions resulting from 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. At one of her batteries, a crewman kept calling "More shells! More shells!" Still the destroyer battled to keep the Japanese destroyers and cruisers from reaching the five surviving American carriers. "We were now in a position where all the gallantry and guts in the world couldn't save us, but we figured that help for the carrier must be on the way, and every minute's delay might count.... By 9:30 we were going dead in the water; even the Japanese couldn't miss us. They made a sort of running semicircle around our ship, shooting at us like a bunch of Indians attacking a prairie schooner. Our lone engine and fire room was knocked out; we lost all power, and even the indomitable skipper knew we were finished. At 9:45 he gave the saddest order a captain can give: '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. A survivor saw the Japanese captain salute her as she went down, considering her an honorable enemy. That was the end of Johnston.

Crewmen from the destroyer escort Samuel B. Roberts spotted Evans at the fantail, asking "isn't that their captain", waving to them with what they did not realize was his only good hand.

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.

A ship of legend, a superb Skipper, and a crew of unimpeachable honor.

If you have not read James D. Hornfischer's The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, you need to.

She is deep enough no one will bother their rest.


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