The Story of Commander Ernest E Evans, the USS Johnston and Taffy 3 on October 25, 1944
Ernest Evans was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions in the largest naval battle in history, the Battle of Leyte Gulf.
His particular action took place in what is called the Battle Off Samar.
Evans commanded the USS Johnston, DD557, a Fletcher class destroyer that was part of the task force called Taffy 3. Taffy 3 was composed of 13 ships: there were six escort carriers that carried about 30 planes each, three destroyers like the Johnston and four smaller ships that were called destroyer escorts.
The mission of Taffy 3 on October 25, 1944 was to protect the invasion fleet as General MacArthur's large force of Army troops landed and began to push the Japanese out of the Philippines. The escort carriers were lightly armed and lightly armored. They were floating air fields that US Navy planes could use. The three destroyers and four destroyer escorts were in place to protect the carriers from attack by air or sea.
About 10 minutes to 7 a.m., off the Philippine island of Samar, Imperial Japanese Navy's, Center Force, appeared on the horizon with no warning. They were only about 20 miles away and charging fast. The Japanese force consisted of 23 ships including four battleships and six heavy cruisers. Led by the super battleship, Yamato, the largest and most heavily gunned ship ever built, the Japanese force was very daunting and Taffy 3 knew they were in great peril.
This battle has been cited by naval historians as one of the great mismatches in history. Taffy 3 was there to protect the escort carriers from submarines and enemy aircraft. The group was never envisioned as a force capable of mounting fleet level combat with battleships.
The Johnston was the first American ship to attack the Japanese fleet. Without being ordered to attack, Evans sailed straight for the enemy against impossible odds. It was a suicide mission. This bravery was foretold during the Johnston's commissioning ceremony in October of 1943.
Evans told the sailors assigned to the ship: "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". His sailors remained at their stations.
"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."
As soon as he started the attack he ordered a smoke screen to protect himself and the rest of Taffy 3 and the wind made it effective. He began firing his 5 inch guns when he got into range at over 10 miles. He then sailed closer to the Japanese fleet so he could fire his 10 torpedoes.
The Johnston heavily damaged one of the heavy cruisers and took it out of the battle. Being the first to attack, all this time the Johnston was taking heavy shell fire. Next, came an order for all seven of the destroyers and destroyer escorts to make a torpedo attack. The Johnston was out of torpedoes but attacked anyway, firing the 5 inch guns and distracting the Japanese. After the torpedo attack, Evans positioned the Johnston directly in the path of the Japanese fleet in order to complete his mission of protecting the escort carriers. He was taking shell fire all this time.
After about two hours of fighting, the Johnston's steering was knocked out as well as the communications. A short while later the Johnston was dead in the water and unable to protect itself except with the five inch guns that kept firing until the end. Evan had his shirt blown off and had lost parts of two fingers due to a Japanese shell that hit the bridge. He refused medical care and later moved to the rear of the ship where, from the fantail, he could shout orders through an open hatch to sailors who turned the rudder by hand below. It is evident that Evans fought the Johnston as hard as he could for as long as he could.
At the end, when the Johnston was dead in the water, the Japanese ships could shoot at point blank range and it was sunk at the end of about two hours of fighting. The Johnston had a crew of 327, of which 141 survived and 186 were lost. Losses were great in Taffy 3. Six ships were sunk by the Japanese: USS Princeton, an escort carrier, USS Gambier Bay, an escort carrier, USS St Lo, an escort carrier, USS Johnston, destroyer, USS Hoel, destroyer, USS Samuel B Roberts, a destroyer escort. About 2800 lives and 200 aircraft lost.
However, the sailors and pilots of Taffy 3 fought so fiercely that the Japanese thought they were facing a much larger force and turned away from the fight about three hours after it began.
Evans was seen in the water about the time the Johnston went down but was never seen again and his body was not recovered. Late in 1945, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. His actions and those of many others saved the Navy from a near disaster. If the Japanese had gotten past Taffy 3 and attacked the landing force no telling what would have happened.
Evan's actions, and those of other members of Taffy 3, were so extraordinary that they are still studied at all levels of Naval Officer Professional Military Training.
You can read about Ernest E Evans and the Johnston in these books:
Ernest E. Evans
Ernest E. Evans was born in Shawnee, OK on August 9, 1909. He went to Muskogee's Central High School and graduated in 1926.
He went into the Navy as an enlisted person and then went to the Naval Academy graduating in 1931.
He was a career navy officer.