From War Is Boring
Just over four miles beneath the waves of the Philippine Sea, the mottled remains of an American destroyer sit upright on the bottom of the sea.
Entombed in darkness where no light can reach her, the vessel bearing the number “557” is more than just the deepest shipwreck ever found- she is an unlikely starring character in the story of one of the most dramatic and heroic naval “last stands” of the Second World War.
Commissioned on 27 October, 1943, the USS Johnston was a Fletcher-class destroyer, a relatively new class of warship designed as a “Swiss Army Knife” destroyer that could perform a multitude of duties.
While a large destroyer for the time, the increased armor, torpedo capacity and number of guns bristling from the Fletcher-class destroyers made them rather cramped on the inside for the 329 officers and enlisted aboard.
“This is going to be a fighting ship,” Commander Ernest Evans told his crew on the day of Johnston’s commissioning. “I intend to go in harm’s way, and anyone who doesn’t want to go along had better get off right now.”
Evans was rather popular with his men, often inspiring their tenacious and heroic tendencies.
“The skipper was a fighting man from the soles of his broad feet to the ends of his straight black hair,” said Ensign Robert C. Hagen, a gunnery officer aboard the Johnston. “He was an Oklahoman and proud of the Indian blood he had in him. We called him – though not to his face – ‘the Chief.’ The Johnston was a fighting ship, but he was the heart and soul of her.”
Only a couple months after commissioning, the Johnston found herself pounding the beaches off Kwajalein and Eniwetok in the Marshall Islands Campaign, providing much-needed fire support to the “grunts” ashore while coming under fire herself.
Not long after, the crew sank a Japanese submarine and participated in the Battle of Guam, firing over 4,000 shells by July. In addition, she protected escort carriers used to capture Peleliu, in what would be one of the bloodier battles of the Pacific front.