USS JOHNSTON WRECK

Has the USS Johnston (DD-557) been discovered?

On October 30, 2019, it was announced that the wreckage of USS Johnston (DD-557) most likely has been located by the research vessel RV Petrel of Vulcan Inc. It is believed to be the deepest ever located shipwreck at 20,406ft  (6220 m) deep.

It has just been more than a week after RV Petrel announced the discovery of both the Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft carriers Akagi and Kaga. Another mark on their impressive list of achievements, other incredible discoveries they made this year include the USS Wasp (CV-7), USS Hornet (CV-8), and USS Indianapolis (CA-35).

“The newest update of RV Petrel Our final video from the Battle off Samar. Rob Kraft and Paul Mayer discuss the likelihood that this ship is the USS Johnston DD-557.”, RV posted yesterday with a video on their Facebookpage.

On Oct. 20, 1944, Johnston joined Seventh Fleet’s Escort Task Unit 77.4—call sign “Taffy 3”—to defend the north Leyte Gulf, east of Samar and off San Bernardino Strait, and the Leyte beachhead for General Douglas MacArthur’s return to the Philippines. On 25 October 1944, a pilot reported the powerful Japanese Center Force steaming into Leyte Gulf heading directly towards Johnston and her small escort carrier task unit. Despite being heavily outmatched, Evans gave the order to attack a major portion of the Japanese fleet. Under a hail of Japanese fire, Johnston fired more than 200 rounds and 10 torpedoes at Japanese heavy cruiser, Kumano, which later sank. Although Johnston had hit the heavy cruiser, enemy shells managed to strike Johnston as well causing widespread damage and casualties. Evans himself was seriously wounded. Despite the grave damage, no torpedoes remaining, and reduced speed and firepower, Johnston commenced a second attack firing 30 rounds into a 30,000-ton Japanese battleship. 

Noticing the Japanese ships were targeting escort carrier Gambier Bay (CVE-73), Evans gave the order to “commence firing on that cruiser, draw her fire on us and away from Gambier Bay.” One by one, Johnston took on Japanese destroyers, although Johnston had no torpedoes and limited firepower. After two-and-a-half hours, Johnston—dead in the water—was surrounded by enemy ships. At 9:45 a.m., Evans gave the order to abandon ship. Twenty-five minutes later, the destroyer rolled over and began to sink. 

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Of the crew of 327, only 141 survived. Of the 186 lost, about 50 were killed by enemy action, 45 died on rafts from battle injuries and 92, including Evans, were alive in the water after Johnston sank, but were never heard from again. 

Source: Naval History and Heritage Command

Johnston (DD-557) off S Seattle or Tacoma, Washington, 27 October 1943.   (Courtesy of Mrs. Roger Dudley. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 63495)
Johnston (DD-557) off S Seattle or Tacoma, Washington, 27 October 1943.
(Courtesy of Mrs. Roger Dudley. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 63495)
LCdr. Ernest E. Evans, USN, her Commanding Officer, is speaking in the left center. (Credits: U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 63368)
Commissioning ceremonies on the ship’s fantail, at Seattle, Washington, 27 October 1943. LCdr. Ernest E. Evans, USN, her Commanding Officer, is speaking in the left center. (Credits: U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 63368)

The wreckage of the ship looks to be scattered on the ocean’s floor, which may be the result of a severe internal explosion whilst going down.

Still undiscovered remain the other destroyers that sacrificed themselves during the Battle off Samar which are the USS Samuel B. Roberts and USS Hoel.

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