Seventy-five years after the USS Johnston began a battle it could not win in order to save American lives, the remains of the destroyer may have been found 20,000 feet below the sea.
Vulcan Inc. announced Wednesday on its Facebook page that Research Vessel Petrel had found a destroyer 20,400 feet below the surface of the Philippine Sea off the coast of the Philippines, where 75 years ago American and Japanese ships clashed in the Battle of Leyte Gulf.
Researchers believe that the ship is the USS Johnston, but have noted that another Fletcher-class destroyer, the USS Hoel, was also lost in the battle in roughly the same area.
“We believe this wreck to be that of the USS Johnston DD-557,” Robert Kraft, director of subsea operations for Vulcan, said in a statement.
“There is no evidence of the dazzle paint scheme, indicative of the USS Hoel and its location suggests this wreck sank later in the battle, after the loss of the Hoel.”
Video footage shows what is left of the destroyer.
“This wreck is completely decimated,” Kraft said. “It is just debris. There is no hull structure.”
The Johnston and the Hoel were involved in the Battle off Samar, a major piece of the wider scrap known as the Battle of Leyte Gulf.
The battle, one of the largest naval battles in history, had the effect of crippling Japanese sea power for the final months of World War II.
“The USS Johnston sank on Oct. 25, 1944,” Fox reported. Only 141 members of the ship’s 341-person crew survived.
Retired Rear Adm. Samuel Cox, director of the Naval History and Heritage Command, said the USS Johnston played a key role in stopping Japanese ships from closing in on an American force.
“Johnston, under Cmdr. [Ernest] Evans was the first on to conduct an attempted torpedo attack on the Japanese force,” Cox told U.S. Naval Institute News. “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 was aware he was facing a superior enemy, but attacked anyway, Cox said, fulfilling a promise he made when the ship was commissioned.
“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,” Evans said when the ship was commissioned on Oct. 27, 1943.
In the aftermath of the battle, the USS Johnston was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation. Evans, who was alive in the water but then never seen again, 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.
If you’re ever in need of an example of American courage, google “USS JOHNSTON” and “TAFFY 3” https://t.co/xp62xbMNm0
— Will Rosichan (@rosichanw) October 28, 2019
The citation which accompanied the Medal of Honor awarded to Evans says, in part, “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, shifted 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 three hours of fierce combat,” the citation says.
“Seriously wounded early in the engagement, Commander Evans, by his indomitable courage and brilliant professional skills, aided materially in turning back the enemy during a critical phase of the action. His valiant fighting spirit throughout this historic battle will endure as an inspiration to all who served with him.”
Vulcan has brought the past to light before, having discovered the wreck of the USS Indianapolis in 2017 in the Philippine Sea and, earlier this year, the wreck of the USS Wasp aircraft carrier in the Coral Sea.
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