In the lore of the US Navy, the saga of Fletcher Class destroyer, USS Johnston is legendary for its part in the Battle off Samar during the larger Battle of Leyte Gulf On October 25, 1944.
During the operation to liberate the Philippines, the small naval task force, Taffy 3, was left to provide cover for the invading US Army. The force was made up of 5 light escort carriers and 6 destroyers and destroyer escorts screening for them.
Unbeknownst to the men of Taffy 3, a large Japanese force consisting of 23 ships was headed their way in a surprise attack. The force consisted of 4 battleships (including the largest battleship ever built - Yamato), 6 heavy cruisers, 2 light cruisers and 11 destroyers.
Taffy 3 was badly outnumbered and very much outgunned. It was up to the destroyers and destroyer escorts to protect the carriers at all costs otherwise the marines on the beach would be vulnerable. The ships began laying down a heavy smoke screen. Lieutenant Commander Ernest E. Evans captained the Johnston. Being of Native American ancestry, Lt Commander Evans had the warrior's spirit. He led his ship alone straight into the teeth of the much superior enemy. As the Johnston turned into the oncoming enemy some say he spoke these words over the ship's intercom, "A large Japanese fleet has been contacted. They are fifteen miles away and headed in our direction. They are believed to have four battleships, eight cruisers, and a number of destroyers. This will be a fight against overwhelming odds from which survival cannot be expected. We will do what damage we can." (Some sources credit the latter part of this dramatic announcement tot LCDR Robert Copeland of the Samuel B Roberts).
Johnston dodged shell from the enemy battle cruisers until she could get close enough to hit back. as soon as the range closed to ten miles, Johnston scored damaging hits on the heavy cruiser Kumano. During her five-minute sprint into torpedo range, Johnston fired over 200 rounds at the enemy. She launched all ten of her torpedoes and retired behind a heavy smoke screen. At least one of the torpedoes found the Kumano and blew the bow off the cruiser forcing it to withdraw from the battle.
Johnston did not get away unscathed however and she took three hits from 14 inch shells as well as three from 6 inch shells which destroyed the bridge causing many casualties and Lt Commander Evans to lose 2 fingers and covering him in shrapnel which shredded his shirt. The ship was mangled badly, with dead and dying sailors strewn across her bloody decks.The bridge was rendered useless so Lt Commander Evans went to the aft steering column to conn the ship.
About this time, three of the other ships from Tafffy 3, Destroyers Hoel and Heermen and the destroyer escort Samuel B Roberts, made their charges towards the Japanese fleet. As they went by the Johnston they could see shirtless Lt Commander Evans salute them from the aft steering column as they went by.
After making repairs, Johnston rejoined the fight. The ship fought several duels with much larger ships giving all she could but taking severe damage. Eventually she was surrounded by 7 enemy destroyers and pounded mercilessly. Lt Commander Evans gave the order to abandon ship. He was never heard from again.
Along with Johnston, Hoel, Heermen and Samuel B Roberts were equally fierce during the battle. The Japanese were under the impression they were up against much larger ships in the cruiser class. Aircraft from the carriers also enjoined the fight. Some of the aircraft were not properly armed to attack ships but the heroic pilots still feigned attack to force the unknowing enemy to fire upon them thereby diverting attention from the surface ships. The ferocity of the attack from Taffy 3 sunk or crippled the heavy cruisers Chōkai, Kumano, and Chikuma. This seemingly convinced to the Japanese that they were engaging major fleet units rather than escort carriers and destroyers and the fleet withdrew.
Lt Commander Evans was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his actions that day. My depiction of the legendary USS Johnston depicts the ship as she charges towards the enemy during her first attack that fateful day.