The I.J.N. Yamatowas the pride of the Imperial Japanese Navy. It had nine 18-inch guns (the largest weapons ever put on a ship!), one-and-a-half foot thick armor, and over 150 other weapons of various kinds. The largest battleship in history, the Yamato was the flagship of the Imperial Japanese Fleet.
The USS Johnston, was a wee destroyer (intended mainly for attacking submarines), compared to the 862 foot Yamato. The Johnston had five 5-inch guns, no armor, and 7 antiaircraft guns.
While U.S. Marines were landing on the Philippines, Japanese Admiral Soemu Toyoda planned a crazy aquatic pincer attack. First, Japanese aircraft carriers would lure the American aircraft carriers away from their job of protecting the men on the beach. Then one group of battleships would attack the U.S. fire support group and lure them out of the way for the trap.
The lure worked, but every ship was damaged to some degree. The carrier force was drawn away from the beach, but every Japanese carrier was sunk except one. While the Japanese lured the fire support away from the beaches, the USS West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, California, and Maryland, veterans from Pearl Harbor, destroyed most of the of the Japanese ships and killed the Japanese admiral.
On the morning of October 25, 1944, a lone recon pilot spotted the Yamato and three battleships, eight cruisers, and 11 destroyers (I.J.N. Center Force One) headed right for Task Unit 77.4.3(Taffy 3). They were the only force in between the beaches and the Japanese.
“Taffy 3” was a light antisubmarine force. Consisting of three destroyers, four destroyers, and six escort carriers. While Taffy 3 had planes, they were not equipped for air-to-ship combat. Nevertheless, Lt. Cmdr. Ernest Evans, the commander of the USS Johnston, commanded his engineer to zigzag and lay down a protective smoke screen.
Reaching the enemy ships, Evans ordered his men to load the torpedoes, the only weapons he had that would do anything to a large warship. Aiming at the closest target, the I.J.N. Kumano, he launched all of his torpedoes. The Kumanowas devastated, the front half of the cruiser blown of. Then, the Japanese ships found their aim. Three shells crashed into the Johnston.
All of the sudden, in the midst of the fury, Evans saw something incredible.
Seeing the Johnston steam right into the middle of the Japanese start firing like crazy, the rest of ”Taffy 3” decided that they weren’t about to let the Johnston face the world’s largest battleship and its partners in crime alone. Furthermore, the men knew that they were they would be the deciding factor of the lives and deaths of thousands of Marines. So, off went the USS Heermann, Hoel, Dennis, John C. Butler, Raymond, and Samuel B. Roberts.
When they were within range, the rest of ”Taffy 3”opened fire with torpedoes and 5-inch guns. The escort carriers launched their planes and then dashed out of sight (they were too important to stick around). In moments the I.J.N. Suzuya was withdrawing, Harnauwas sinking, and the Chokaiwas immobilized. The Yamatowas forced to take evasive actions to run off torpedoes.
The crew of the Johnston continued to fight even though she was out of torpedoes, had no communications, and had a engine that had to be hand cranked by two men standing knee-deep in water. Seeing five enemy destroyers making a torpedo run on the carriers, the Johnston ran right into the middle of them and started firing like crazy in all directions. The Japanese torpedoes went wide of their mark and the carriers were safe.
Eventually, the Johnston was sinking. Lt. Commander Ernest E. Evans bravely ran across his ship, helping his men into life jackets. He was never seen again.
In the Battle off Samar, the U.S. Task Unit 77.4.3 stopped and defeated I.J.N. Center Force One. ”Taffy 3” lost two destroyers, a destroyer escort, a escort carrier, and 2,766 causalities. I.J.N. Center Force One lost two heavy cruisers, a wrecked battleship, and an unknown number of casualties.
Had the Yamato and its companion ships succeeded in their plan to steam right to the beaches and wreak havoc among the Marines, thousands of lives would have been lost and the liberation of the Philippines would have been delayed greatly. However, because of the selflessness of the USS Johnston and the rest of “Taffy 3,” their lives were saved. We can learn from their example of thinking of others first and doing whatever it took to ensure their safety. And during this week of Memorial Day, we can also take time to remember the sacrifices still being made for our country by the brave men and women serving overseas, giving their lives so that we can live in freedom. What an inspiring example of selflessness!
Photo Credit: Wikipedia – “Destroyers of Taffy 3 making smoke under fire”