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H-081-2: The Epic Fight of the Hugh W. Hadley (DD-774) and Evans (DD-552): Kikusui No. 6, 11 May 1945

Photo #: 80-G-331077 Casualties from USS Evans (DD-552)

Casualties from USS Evans (DD-552) are brought aboard USS PCER-855 from USS Ringness (APD-100). Evans and its consort Hugh W. Hadley (DD-774) were heavily damaged by kamikaze attacks while on radar picket duty off Okinawa on 11 May 1945 (80-G-331077).

H-Gram 081, Attachment 2

Samuel J. Cox, Director NHHC

March 2024

Kikusui No. 6 launched the morning of 11 May 1945 from Japanese airfields on the southwestern Japanese home island Kyushu. It consisted of 150 kamikaze aircraft, including 70 from the navy and 80 from the army. Like preceding missions, it included a hodgepodge of virtually every type of aircraft in the Japanese inventory, resulting in wildly inaccurate recognition calls by U.S. ships and aircraft. The Navy’s Radar Picket Position No. 1 (RP1) lucked out this time. The main Japanese attack came in farther west over RP15, located 40 nautical miles northwest of the designated Transport Area off the southwest coast of Okinawa.

Located at RP15 was the new Allen M. Sumner–class destroyer Hugh W. Hadley, under the command of Commander Baron J. Mullaney (USNA ’28) with a fighter direction team embarked. Also located at RP15 was the Fletcher-class destroyer Evans, named after the first commander of the Great White Fleet, Rear Admiral Robley “Fighting Bob” Evans (“The Fighting Bob” became the ship’s nickname). Evans was commanded by Commander Robert J. Archer (USNA ’28). Four amphibious vessels were also stationed there, including a landing ship medium (rocket), LMS(R)-193, and three landing craft support (large), LCS(L)-82, LCS(L)-83, and LCS(L)-84.

At dusk on 10 May 1945, the two destroyers jointly shot down a Japanese aircraft at 1935. Other single aircraft were detected passing by to Okinawa in the darkness and could not be engaged, but resulted in the crews being at general quarters for much of the night.

On the morning of 11 May 1945, Hugh W. Hadley’s fighter direction team had control of 16 F6F Hellcats of Fighter Squadron 85 (VF-85) off the newly arrived new-construction Essex-class carrier Shangri-La (CV-38). Hugh W. Hadley also had control of two Marine F4U Corsairs of VMF-323 flying from airfields on Okinawa captured from the Japanese (Kadena and Yontan). The combat air patrol (CAP) tactics at the radar picket stations were becoming more standardized. The Navy aircraft from the Fast Carrier Task Force (TF 58) would be vectored to intercept incoming Japanese raids between 25 and 50 nautical miles out, while the Marine fighters would hold close to the ships at the picket station to deal with any leakers from the “outer air battle.”

About 0730, radar on Hugh W. Hadley and Evans began picking up multiple Japanese aircraft approaching from the north. Commander Mullaney looked at the radar picture in the combat information center (CIC) and the CIC evaluator showed five major groups with an estimated total of 156 aircraft, which wasn’t far off. The Navy CAPs were vectored to intercept the oncoming Japanese aircraft (other TF 58 fighters would join in), resulting in the largest air-to-air action of the Okinawa campaign. Communications between Hugh W. Hadley and the CAP became increasingly challenging due to the intensity of the action, but by 0800 it was estimated that 40–50 Japanese aircraft had been shot down by Navy fighters. Unfortunately, somewhere around 100 additional Japanese aircraft were still coming.

The Marine fighters were directed to intercept the aircraft and, before long, they were engaged in dogfights ranging up to 10 to 20 miles from the ship. The number of Japanese aircraft was overwhelming. The Marines shot down several planes, and even after they ran out of ammunition, continued to harass Japanese aircraft, forcing at least some of the inexperienced Japanese pilots to crash into the ocean.

At 0740, an undetected Japanese Jake floatplane (normally launched from battleships/cruisers) approached Hugh W. Hadley. The Jake was pursued by a CAP fighter, was hit, and blew up in a large explosion. Evans also reported shooting down a Jake at roughly the same time at 0753. It is likely that this was the same aircraft, and it is uncertain whether Hugh W. Hadley, Evans, or CAP was responsible for its destruction.

Many more Japanese aircraft continued to come into view with the lead elements seemingly intent on flying past the destroyers in order to reach the transport area. Hugh W. Hadley shot down four such aircraft. Subsequently, a very large number of Japanese aircraft turned their attention to Hugh W. Hadley and Evans and by 0830, both ships were in a desperate fight against overwhelming odds, with each being attacked repeatedly by groups of four to six aircraft. In their frantic maneuvering, a gap of as much as two to three miles opened up between Hugh W. Hadley, Evans, and the supporting amphibious ships, such that mutual support became less effective. By 0900, Hugh W. Hadley had shot down 12 Japanese aircraft, many on kamikaze attack runs. Some aircraft crashed close aboard in near misses, including one Val dive-bomber that crashed 20 feet astern at 0835 and another Val that had its wing shot off and crashed 100 yards away. At this point, Hugh W. Hadley was not seriously damaged; however, urgent calls were going out on the radio for CAP to return and provide overhead support.

Meanwhile, Evans was putting up a terrific fight of its own. Planes attacked Evans from all different directions between 0830 and 0900, and the ship shot 15 of them down and assisted in downing four more. At 0830, three Kate torpedo bombers were sighted boring in from the port quarter and Evans shot all three of them down. Over the next 15 minutes, Evans’ gunners downed a mix of seven aircraft identified as Kates, Jills, and Zeros (navy dive- and torpedo bombers and fighters) and Tonys (an army fighter). One of the Kates got close enough to drop a torpedo before it went down. Commander Archer ordered a hard left rudder and the torpedo missed ahead of the bow by only 25 yards.

Following the torpedo attack, a Tony fighter was shot down by both Evans and Hugh W. Hadley, crashing 3,500 yards from Evans. Then, a Val dive-bomber, on a suicide dive, was hit and the pilot lost control, missing Evans and crashing 2,000 yards away. Shortly thereafter, an army Ki-43 Oscar fighter dropped a bomb that missed, and was subsequently shot down while attempting to crash into Evans. An Oscar and a Jill torpedo bomber also made a run in from the port side, but both were shot down close aboard. A few minutes later, Evans shot down another Tony fighter on an attack run.

Evans’ extraordinary run of good luck, and obvious anti-aircraft skill, ran out at 0907 when a Judy dive-bomber came in from the port bow and crashed into the destroyer at the waterline, holing the ship and beginning to flood the forward crew’s berthing compartment. Nevertheless, Evans’ guns kept firing and another Tony was knocked down at 8,000 yards by a direct hit from a 5-inch shell.

Amid the smoke of intense anti-aircraft shell bursts, it became increasingly difficult to spot incoming aircraft and, at 0911, Evans took its second hit by a kamikaze, which crashed portside amidships just below the waterline and flooded the aft engine room. Two Oscar fighters then hit Evans in quick succession. The first Oscar released a bomb in a near vertical dive that exploded deep in the ship in the forward fireroom, destroying both forward boilers, while the crashed plane ignited gasoline fires. The second Oscar hit the ship from the starboard side, starting more fires and inflicting additional severe damage.

At 0925, as Evans went dead in the water, two Corsairs chased a Japanese aircraft into range of Evans’ guns, which hit the plane, causing it to miss the ship’s bridge and crash close aboard on the other side. At this point, apparently believing Evans was done for, Japanese aircraft focused on the other ships. This gave Evans’s crew a respite to save their ship, including resorting to bucket brigades and portable fire extinguishers, as pumps and fire mains were mostly out of action.

As Evans was being hit by four kamikazes in quick succession and being effectively knocked out of the battle, Hugh W. Hadley was facing a coordinated attack by ten Japanese aircraft. At 0920, four kamikazes came in from the starboard bow, four more from the port bow, and two from astern. In one of the most astonishing displays of gunnery prowess, Hugh W. Hadley’s gunners shot all ten down without taking a hit. Then, the destroyer’s luck ran out and it was hit by a bomb and three kamikazes in quick succession.

USS Evans (DD-552)

USS Evans (DD-552) (80-G-187725).

Accounts vary widely as to the type of aircraft and order of hits. I rely primarily on the Navy Bureau of Ships (BUSHIPS) “Final Damage Report on USS Hugh W. Hadley,” which differs in some significant ways from Commander Mullaney’s initial after-action report and even from Morison, particularly regarding whether the Hugh W. Hadley was hit by an Ohka rocket-assisted manned flying bomb. According to the initial after-action report, a Betty bomber flying at low altitude (600 feet) astern launched an Ohka, which hit Hugh W. Hadley amidships. The BUSHIPS report discounts this for several reasons: the aircraft engine and bomb tailfin were found in impact areas, the impact came from forward of the beam, and the fact that an Ohka launch profile was usually at 20,000 feet. Additionally, a direct hit amidships by a 2,600-pound warhead probably would have sunk the ship in short order. Nevertheless, a very large explosion with no smoke, flash, or noise, other than a dull thud, occurred well under the keel at the same time as a kamikaze plane impacted the ship.

The BUSHIPS report cannot conclusively identify the source of this large explosion, postulating that it might have been an “influence” torpedo, or more likely a very large bomb that passed through the ship, out the bottom, and detonated a significant distance below the keel. The damage was severe, hogging the keel by more than 50 inches and flooding both engine rooms and the aft fireroom.

According to the BUSHIPS report, at 0920, a kamikaze of unconfirmed type passed through Hugh W. Hadley’s rigging, carrying away wires and antenna, and crashing close aboard to port (this is listed in accounts as a “kamikaze hit,” although a “near-miss shoot-down” may be more accurate). A few minutes later, a kamikaze, originally reported as a “Baka bomb” (Ohka), hit the starboard side at the waterline at the after fireroom. The plane’s bomb went through the ship, resulting in “extremely severe flexural vibrations running through the ship for 20 seconds.” The three after engineering spaces flooded to the waterline immediately, and the ship lost headway, taking on a five degree list and starting to settle by the stern. Then, a third kamikaze, approaching from astern, dropped a small bomb that hit the aft port quad 40mm gun (mount 44) and then crashed into the superstructure aft of the No. 2 stack, starting an intense fire in officers’ country. (In other accounts, the crew of mount 44 fired on the plane until the bitter end, with the mount 44’s gun captain’s last words being, “We’ll get the SOB.”)

Shock, fragment damage, and smoke rendered the ship’s 5-inch and 40mm batteries entirely inoperable. As flooding spread to shaft alley and the machine shop, the list increased to seven degrees. Concerned that the ship might capsize, the commanding officer gave a “prepare to abandon ship order.” (From the safety of Washington, DC, the BUSHIPS report assessed that the ship might very well have sunk, but there was minimal risk that it would capsize, given the nature of the damage.)

Fortunately, at this point, the CAP cavalry arrived and shot down many Japanese aircraft while Hugh W. Hadley was in an extremely vulnerable state and dead in the water with a fire raging amidships setting off munitions, listing to starboard with the fantail awash, and the TORPEX explosives at risk of detonating.

Commander Mullaney gave orders to hoist all available colors saying, “If this ship is going down, she’s going with all flags flying.” Mullaney also ordered most of the crew and the wounded over the side into life rafts, while 50 officers and men remained on board to make an attempt to save the ship. Torpedoes, depth charges, and unexploded ammunition were jettisoned (there wasn’t much ammunition left: Hadley had fired 801 rounds of 5-inch, 8,950 rounds of 40mm, and 5,990 rounds of 20mm ammunition). Topside weight was also discarded from the starboard side to try to correct the list. The forward boilers were secured so that they didn’t explode.

Initially, the Japanese aircraft focused on the two destroyers while the LSM(R) and three LCS(L)s provided what anti-aircraft support they could (the LCS[L]s had radar-directed fire control, but the LSM[R] did not). However, soon the amphibious vessels were fighting for their lives, too.

LCS(L)-82 shot down three aircraft and assisted in downing two more. At 0837, LCS(L)-82 fired on and hit a Jill torpedo bomber heading for the Evans. The Jill’s flight profile became erratic before it dropped a torpedo that missed Evans and crashed into the sea (this is probably the same aircraft recounted above).

At 0845, LCS(L)-82 assisted LCS(L)-84 in shooting down a Tony on the port side. Then, an Oscar came in from the starboard bow and gunners on LCS(L)-82 hit it repeatedly. As a plane passed overhead at 1,000 feet, it broke apart and debris fell toward LCS(L)-82. The skipper, Lieutenant Peter Beierl, adroitly maneuvered the vessel so the wings and engine fell in its wake. At 0940, a Val being pursued by CAP fighters passed astern and LCS(L)-82 gunners hit it, causing it to narrowly miss Evans, although some errant “friendly fire” hit Evans’ forecastle and started a fire. LCS(L)-82 then went alongside Evans to assist.

LCS(L)-83 shot down three Zeros and a Tojo (army fighter) between 0900 and 0939, while LCS(L)-84 shot down a Zero diving on LCS(L)-83.

Despite LSM(R)-193’s less-than-optimum anti-aircraft capability, it too gave a good account of itself. At 0845, a Kate torpedo bomber dove on Evans, but missed and aimed for LSM(R)-193 instead. It was shot down by 5-inch and 40mm gunfire. At 0859, LSM(R)-193 shot down another Kate and then, at 0912, shot down a Hamp (a variant of a Zero). The vessel shot down a fourth plane and assisted in shooting down another plane that was headed for Hugh W. Hadley. LSM(R)-193 subsequently went alongside Hugh W. Hadley to assist in fighting the fire and tending to the wounded.

When the Japanese attacks finally ended, LCS(L)-82 and LCS(L)-84 were assisting the crippled Evans alongside while LSM(R)-193 and LCS(L)-83 were with the equally wounded Hugh W. Hadley. The combined efforts brought the fires and flooding on both destroyers under control. The destroyer Wadsworth (DD-516), fast transport Barber (DE-161/APD-57), and fleet tug ATR-114 soon arrived to assist with rescue and towing. Evans was towed to Kerama Retto for emergency repairs and then across the Pacific to San Francisco, where it was decommissioned and later sold for scrap. Hugh W. Hadley was also towed to Kerama Retto and spent time in the floating drydock ARD-28 before it too was towed across the Pacific to Hunters Point, California, where it was determined to be damaged beyond repair.

Evans’ casualties included 30 men killed and 29 wounded. Hugh W. Hadley’s losses were 30 killed and 68 wounded. The amphibious vessels also suffered a number of wounded.

Given the volume of fire from all the ships and the chaos of battle, it is difficult to confirm which ship shot down which airplanes, and in many cases the credit would have to be shared. In most accounts, Evans is credited with shooting down 14 or 15 Japanese aircraft and assisting with a number of others. The number usually cited for Hugh W. Hadley is 23 Japanese aircraft destroyed, although that number includes the three that crashed into it. Other accounts give a number of 19 or 20. Regardless, Hugh W. Hadley’s tally represents the “all-time” U.S. Navy record for aircraft downed by a ship in a single engagement.

Both the Hugh W. Hadley and the Evans were awarded Presidential Unit Citations and their skippers, Commander Baron Mullaney and Commander Robert Archer, were each awarded a Navy Cross. The gunnery officer on Hugh W. Hadley, Lieutenant Patrick McGann, was also awarded a Navy Cross. The crew of Hugh W. Hadley also received seven (or eight) Silver Stars, eight Bronze Stars, and several other awards. Crewmen on Evans probably received similar awards, although records remain elusive. The four amphibious vessels were awarded Naval Unit Commendations, and the skipper of LSM(R)-193, Lieutenant Donald Boynton, was awarded a Silver Star. The skipper of LCS(L)-82, Lieutenant Peter Beierl, was awarded a Bronze Star, and so probably were the other LCS(L) skippers, whose names I can’t find.

As any good skipper would, Commander Mullaney of Hugh W. Hadley gave full credit to his crew, writing:

No Captain of a man of war ever had a crew who fought more valiantly against such overwhelming odds. Who can measure the degree of courage of men who stand up to their guns in the face of diving planes that destroy them? Who can measure the loyalty of a crew who risked death to save the ship from sinking when all seemed lost? I desire to record that the history of the U.S. Navy was enhanced on 11 May 1945. I am proud to record that know of no record of a Destroyer’s crew fighting for one hour and 25 minutes against overwhelming enemy aircraft attacks and destroying 23 planes. My crew accomplished their mission and displayed outstanding fighting abilities.

As the Director of Naval History, I can second Commander Mullaney’s motion.

The Navy Cross citation for Commander Mullaney reads:

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Captain (then Commander) Baron Joseph Mullaney, United States Navy, for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession as Commanding Officer of Destroyer USS HUGH W. HADLEY (DD-774), Radar Picket Ship, during an attack on that vessel by more than one hundred enemy Japanese planes off Okinawa, Ryukyu Islands on the morning of 11 May 1945. Fighting his ship against waves of hostile suicide and dive-bombing planes attacking from all directions, Captain Mullaney skillfully directed his men in delivering gunfire to shoot down nineteen enemy aircraft and, when a bomb and three kamikazes finally crashed on board and left the ship in flames with three of the engineering spaces flooded, persevered in controlling the damage until HADLEY could be towed safely to port. Captain Mullaney’s leadership and professional skill in maintaining an effective fighting unit under the most hazardous conditions reflect great credit upon himself and the United States Naval Service.

Commander Mullaney retired as a rear admiral.

The Presidential Unit Citation for USS Hugh W. Hadley states:

The President of the United States takes pleasure in presenting the Presidential Unit Citation to the United States Ship USS HUGH W. HADLEY (DD-774) for service as set forth in the following citation; For extraordinary heroism un action as Fighter Direction Ship on Radar Picket Station Number 15 during an attack by approximately 100 enemy Japanese planes, forty miles northwest of the Okinawa Transport Area on 11 May 1945. Fighting valiantly against waves of hostile suicide and dive-bombing planes plunging toward her in all directions, the USS HUGH HADLEY sent up relentless barrages of anti-aircraft fire during one of the most furious air-sea battles of the war. Repeatedly finding her targets, she destroyed twenty planes, skillfully directed her Combat Air patrol in shooting down at least 40 others and, by her vigilance and superb battle readiness avoided damage herself until subjected to a coordinated attack by ten Japanese planes. Assisting in the destruction of all ten of these, she was crashed by one bomb and three suicide planes with devastating effect. With all engineering spaces flooded and with a fire raging amidships, the gallant officers and men of the HUGH W. HADLEY fought desperately against insurmountable odds and, by their indomitable determination, fortitude and skill, brought the damage under control, enabling their ship to be towed to port and saved. Her brilliant performance in the action reflects the highest credit upon the HUGH W. HADLEY and the United States Naval Service.

The Navy Cross citation for Commander Robert J. Archer, commanding officer of USS Evans reads:

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to Captain (then Commander) Robert John Archer, for extraordinary heroism and distinguished service in the line of his profession as Commanding Officer of the Destroyer USS EVANS (DD-552) in action against enemy Japanese forces while assigned to Radar Picket duty off Okinawa on 11 May 1945. When his ship was subjected to attacks by an overwhelming force of enemy aircraft for one- and one-half hours, Captain Archer directed the gunfire of his batteries in shooting down fifteen enemy planes and assisting in the destruction of four others. Although the EVANS was severely damaged by hits from four suicide planes and in sinking condition, he led his crew in determined efforts to save the ship and bring her safe to port. His professional ability, courage and devotion to duty upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.


Sources include: Desperate Sunset: Japan’s Kamikazes Against Allied Ships, by Mike Yeo: Bloomsbury Press, New York, 2019; History of U.S. Naval Operations in World War II, Vol. V, The Struggle for Guadalcanal, and Vol. XIV, Victory in the Pacific, by Rear Admiral Samuel Eliot Morison: Little Brown, Boston, Massachusetts, 1961; Guadalcanal: The Definitive Account of the Landmark Battle, by Richard Frank: Random House, New York, 1990; Kamikaze Attacks of World War II: A Complete History of Japanese Suicide Strikes on American Ships by Aircraft and Other Means, by Robin L. Rielly: McFarland and Co., Inc., Publishers, North Carolina, 2010; Neptune’s Inferno, by James D. Hornfischer: Random House Publishing Group, New York, 2011; NHHC Dictionary of American Fighting Ships (DANFS); U.S. Navy Bureau of Ships “Final Damage Report on Hugh H. Hadley”; and somewhat to my surprise, the most comprehensive account on French is in Swimming World Magazine ( in “Memorial Day: The Story of Charles Jackson French—A Hero for Our Time,” 25 May 2023, by Bruce Wigo.

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Published: Wed Mar 06 15:41:04 EST 2024