John Vincent Johnston of Cincinnati, Ohio, entered the Navy in September 1861 as First Master in gunboat St. Louis. He assisted in the Union gunboat attacks that captured strategic Fort Henry on the Tennessee River on 6 February 1862. On the night of 1 April 1862, he was the Navy commander of a combined Army-Navy boat expedition from St. Louis which landed and spiked the guns of Fort No. 1 above the Confederate stronghold of Island No. 10. He was promoted to Acting Volunteer Lieutenant for gallantry in this expedition. After joining in the bombardments of Vicksburg, Miss., he took command of stern wheel steamer Forrest Rose to patrol the Mississippi and its tributaries. On 15 February 1864, his gunboat repelled an attack by confederate raiders, saving the town of Waterproof, La., and its federal garrison. Lt. Johnston resigned from the naval service on 23 June 1864, and died on 23 April 1912 at St. Louis, Mo.
The first Johnston (DD-557) was laid down on 6 May 1942 at Seattle, Wash., by the Seattle- Tacoma Shipbuilding Corp.; launched on 25 March 1943; and sponsored by Mrs. Marie S. Klinger, great-niece of Lt. Johnston.
At 1055 on 27 October 1943, with Johnston’s officers and men at quarters aft, Lt. Maurice W. Smith, ChC, V(S), delivered the invocation, after which, at 1059, Capt. Hubert J. Stubbs, Supervisor of Shipbuilding at the Seattle-Tacoma yard, placed the new destroyer in full commission. “Immediately following the hoisting of the colors,” one observer wrote, “Lieutenant Commander Ernest E. Evans read his orders, and at 1103 assumed command.”
Lt. Cmdr. Ernest E. Evans addresses Johnston’s officers and men at her commissioning, 27 October 1943. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 63368)
Soon thereafter, Evans “talked briefly to the assembled officers and crew of the Johnston of his policies, concerns and requirements.” At 1115, he ordered Lt. Cmdr. Howard W. Baker, the executive officer and navigator, “to set the watch and prepare to get underway.” Consequently, Johnston sailed an hour later, bound for Bremerton, and made arrival at the Puget Sound Navy Yard in a little less than two hours, reaching her destination and mooring at 1409.
Johnston, painted in Measure 21, Navy Blue, stands out of Seattle for Bremerton to continue fitting out at the Puget Sound Navy Yard. (Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph NH 63495)
Johnston remained dockside at Puget Sound, fitting out, through the end of October 1943 and through the first week of November, her log recording the comings of new men (in groups ranging from two or three to 20), or shipments of provisions, ranging from the first delivery on 29 October of 50 gallons of fresh milk and 150 pounds of bread, checked for quality by CPhM Charles A. Bruce and for quantity by Ens. Alex Himchak, a “mustang” [an officer commissioned from the enlisted ranks], the officer of the deck. Initially (until 31 October), quarters for muster revealed no absentees on board Johnston, but on the morning of 1 November, the officer of the deck recorded two sailors absent, who later came on board having overstayed their leave by one hour and five minutes. The first captain’s mast (11 November) saw an S1c confined for five days with only bread and water for having two identification cards in his possession, an S2c who received 25 hours extra duty for shirking his responsibilities on board ship, and an F3c who had overstayed his leave by one day, five hours, and 15 minutes, receiving 30 days’ restriction.
Johnston got underway and cleared the navy yard on 11 November 1943 and conducted local operations in Puget Sound for the next three days, under the orders of the Commander [Fleet] Operational Training Command (COTC), tying up at Pier 41, Seattle, at the end of that period. Underway from Pier 41 one hour into the afternoon watch on the 15th, the warship sailed for San Diego, Calif., during which passage (1021 on 17 November) she dropped one depth charge from each track at her fantail, port and starboard, then fired one charge from one of her port projectors and one of her starboard, a grand total of four charges for materiel tests. During the next watch that day she carried out “structural firing tests of all armament” (1500-1637), observing “no material damage” at the end of that evolution.
Passing San Diego Main Channel Buoy “A,” at 1300 on 18 November 1943, Johnston moored to Bouy No. 20. She began her shakedown the next day [19 November]. Operating as Task Unit (TU) 14.1 for the rest of the month, the destroyer carried out those evolutions in accordance with COTC Operation Orders 12, 13, 14, and 15-43. Underway at 0630 on 1 December, Johnston cleared Buoy No. 20 and proceeded to Area II-3 for gunnery exercises, passing Channel Buoy “A” abeam to port. She made rendezvous with Porterfield (DD-682) Capt. Frederick Moosbrugger, officer in tactical command (OTC) and conducted gunnery shoots for the rest of the day.
Ens. Stanley B. Sandberg, D-V(G), USNR, drew the mid watch on New Year’s Eve, so penned a profound rhyme for the first entry in Johnston’s log on 1 January 1944:
Season’s Greetings to whom it may concern.
The night is better [sic — bitter] cold and rain drops freeze;
But deep within the boiler fires burn
For we are beckoned by a southern breeze.
Some inner hand of man has touched us.
Cold nights, warm days, an outer hand has played;
And steel joined steel till all of us were made
Then inside completely fled the former fuss.
We put within the hearts and hopes of man,
Their aims, their strength, their love, their brains.
You see they said the word was weaker than the pen —
But we have learned to use the many types of lanes.
Out ship is ready to find its way,
Within we’re calm to use the lanes we must;
No longer can we live or die with rust.
Yes, we’re ready now and so we say —
Season’s Greetings — to whom it may concern.
/s/ S. B. Sandberg,
Ensign, D-V(G), USNR
Having completed her post-shakedown availability at Puget Sound, Johnston reported her readiness for sea to Group Three, Fifth Amphibious Force, Fifth Fleet, then got underway a little less than a half hour into the forenoon watch on 1 January 1944, standing out from alongside Pier 41, Seattle. The new destroyer increased speed to 25 knots within an hour’s time, and set course for San Diego. Before the day was out, Cmdr. Evans, of Native American heritage (part Cherokee) had put his crew through frequent general quarters evolutions “with particular attention being paid to the damage control parties and better discipline.” As the ship continued “steaming singly as before,” the next day [2 January], Evans continued drilling Johnston’s officers and men “including simulated casualty drills.” Johnston’s war diarist complained, however, “the crew seems slow in becoming war conscious.”
Johnston stood in to the port of San Diego one hour into the afternoon watch on 3 January 1944 and reported as ordered to Commander, Group Three, Fifth Amphibious Force, Fifth Fleet [Rear Adm. Richard L. Conolly], whose flag flew from the amphibious force flagship Appalachian (AGC-1). A little less than an hour later, Johnston moored to Buoy 20, San Diego Harbor. Porterfield moored alongside to starboard during the forenoon watch on 4 January, and Remey (DD-688) joined the nest, mooring alongside Porterfield, during the first dog watch the following day.
With Cmdr. Evans at the conn and Lt. Cmdr. Baker on the bridge, Johnston unmoored at 0628 on 6 January 1944 and stood out for the waters off the coast of California, setting course for Area SS-1, COTC [Commander Operational Training Command] grid, to conduct sound exercises under the auspices of the West Coast Sound School. For almost six hours, Johnston then maneuvered with Porterfield and Eagle 32 (PE-32), using the submarine S-18 (SS-123) as their “quarry.” Completing those exercises an hour before the end of the afternoon watch, the destroyer returned to San Diego “on various courses and at various speeds,” returning to Buoy 20 and mooring alongside Remey, with Porterfield completing the nest by mooring to Johnston’s starboard side.
Underway once more on the morning of 9 January 1944, Johnston set course for the open sea to conduct 5-inch drone firing. She joined Destroyer Squadron (DesRon) 55 for the evolution, standing out fourth ship in column, heading for the areas on the COTC grid. On station at 1020, the destroyer fired for two minutes (1052-1054), then opened up on a drone that began a dive-bombing run (1119), obliterating it in a minute’s time. Detached from DesRon 55 to conduct further antiaircraft (AA) practice, the destroyer exercised until 1310, then resumed gunnery work, assuming her station at 1827 and carrying out AA machine gun runs astern of Ellet (DD-398) and Hughes (DD-410) before securing from those evolutions at 1956.
Johnston rejoined DesRon 55 during the morning watch the following day [10 January 1944], some four miles from China Point, San Clemente Island. She conducted shore bombardment exercises (0726-0830) in the morning and afternoon (1347-1514), before she formed a column with DesRon 55 and fell in astern of Haraden (DD-585) and set course for San Diego. Johnston entered the harbor with 15 minutes remaining in the first dog watch, then proceeded “at various courses and various courses conforming to the channel,” mooring starboard side-to Pier 5 at the Destroyer Base. During the first watch, she received an ammunition lighter alongside, and during the ensuing handling evolution, SoM3c Earl E. Edminster suffered a compound fracture of his right little finger. Lt. (j.g.) Dale Hadfield, MC-V(G), the ship’s medical officer, treated the injury, cleaning the laceration, applying Thiazol powder, using four sutures, finishing by pressing and splinting the digit.
A little over a half hour into the afternoon watch on the 11th, Johnston embarked Warrant Boatswain Karl Davis, then got underway with Davis at the conn and Cmdr. Evans and Lt. Cmdr. Baker on the bridge, for the short trip to Dry Dock No.5 at the Destroyer Base. Moored with the caisson in place at 1400, the ship settled on the keel blocks a little less than an hour later, as her war diarist explained: “for an emergency replacement of our stream lined sound dome for the sound gear. The original dome had been torn off probably due to the rough weather and the intrinsic delicate construction of the dome…”
The Destroyer Base’s artificers completed their labors a half hour before the end of the morning watch the following day [12 January 1944]. With W. T. Cochran, the pilot, at the conn a little under an hour after the completion of the emergency work, Johnston cleared the dry dock at 1007 and steamed to Pier 3, Destroyer Base, where she began taking on board “government supplied general mess stores.” Later that day, during the afternoon watch, the ship fueled to capacity, taking 46,616 gallons (1210-1420). Ultimately, at 1650, she unmoored and, having completed “final preparation for extensive sea duty,” stood out and sailed for San Pedro in company with Pacific War veterans Morris (DD-417), with Capt. Edward A. Solomons, Officer in Tactical Command (OTC) embarked; Anderson (DD-411); Mustin (DD-413); and Russell (DD-414); and the new generation destroyers Hopewell (DD-681), Porterfield and Haraden. At 1830, Johnston formed a column in open order astern of Hopewell in Station 4 of Task Unit (TU) 53.5.8.
An hour before the end of the morning watch (0700) on 13 January 1944, Johnston rendezvoused with Commander Task Group (TG) 53, Rear Adm. Jesse B. Oldendorf, who wore his flag in Louisville (CA-28), taking station and proceeding in company. Johnston made rendezvous (1500-1600) with the ships of the Northern Attack Group, after which she steamed with them in cruising disposition 3L, setting course for Lahaina, Territory of Hawaii.
The day following the rendezvous [14 January 1944], the assembled ships carried out exercises; Johnston practiced changing cruising dispositions, drilled on communicating with shore fire control parties (SFCP), and conducted antiaircraft machine gun practice with her 40- and 20-millimeter batteries. She also practiced radar tracking, and maneuvering by employing low frequency voice radio (TBS). “All excellent drills,” Johnston’s war diarist wrote, “and made [an] impression on [the] crew of the seriousness of our mission.” Over the next few days [15-17 January], “steaming as before, Nothing eventful” became a familiar refrain in Johnston’s war diary. On the 18th, that afternoon the task force deployed “against [an] attack by enemy heavy ships,” the war diarist noting: “We all learned something from the exercise.”
TF 53 reached Lahaina on the morning of 21 January 1944, and Johnston steamed “at various courses at various speeds” as she screened the heavy ships as they approached the roadstead. The destroyer dropped anchor in the Auhu Channel in 30 fathoms of water. Later that day, Cmdr, Evans attended a commanding officers’ conference on board light cruiser Santa Fe (CL-60) “concerning fire support units” convened by Rear Adm. Laurance T. Du Bose, Commander Task Unit (TU) 53.5.2.
Later that day, Johnston got underway during the first watch (2035) and moored alongside the fleet oiler Chikaskia (AO-54), starboard side-to. During the fueling (2140-2330), a sailor from Dale (DD-353) attempted to cross from Chikaskia to Johnston, but apparently lost his balance and fell against a rail. Johnston’s medical people diagnosed one broken rib and perhaps a second, then taped up his chest and sent him back to the oiler. Soon after that incident, Johnston got underway, Cmdr. Evans took the conn and shifted the ship to berth A-31 in the Auhu Channel.
The next day [22 January 1944], Evans again attended another commanding officers’ conference, this time on board Morris “concerning screen operations” convened by Capt. Solomons. Underway at noon, Johnston stood out through the Kealaikahlki Channel and conducted antisubmarine patrols, screening TF 53 as it cleared Lahaina Roads, the entire evolution taking three and half hours. Three weeks after having considered the crew “slow in becoming war conscious” (2 January) Johnston’s war diarist considered it [the crew] “in capable condition and the ship ready to do its part. It is surprising,” he wrote admiringly on 22 January, “how fast the crew has shaken down.”
On 25 January 1944, Cmdr. Evans “disseminated pertinent parts of information of our task in the forthcoming operation to the crew for guidance, especially the gun captains, director operators, control operators, combat information center [CIC] crews and watch officers.” Johnston’s war diarist confided that “much anxiety reigns, but the crew is conscious of the importance of this operation.” He also noted how the press news from the U.S. received by the ship heralded “our invasion of the Marshalls.”
At mid-day on the 26th, Johnston obtained a sound contact so convincing (reporting same to the OTC) she began tracking it. After a minute, however, the sound officer classified the “contact” as fish before the ship expended a depth charge on it.
The next day, fueling at sea occupied the daylight hours, with Johnston’s turn coming at 0900 alongside Millicoma (AO-73). Before dark, the disposition resumed cruising formation 3L for the night. The next morning [28 January], an hour before the start of the forenoon watch (0700), the destroyer passed the International Date Line, at which point she changed to +12 time, the war diarist noting: “not, however, changing the date, a mystery to many of the crew away from home for the first time.” Shortly after noon on the 29th, Johnston took station 8045 in cruising disposition 3LB after the cruisers in the task force had been detached to bombard the Japanese airfield on Wotje Atoll.
“Steaming as before,” Johnston’s war diarist noted on 30 January 1944. “All hands particularly alert for submarine or air attack as we are now deep in enemy territory.” A half hour into the second dog watch (1830), the cruisers rejoined the task force having carried out their bombardment mission, at which point Johnston took station in the screen of Fire Support Unit Two, comprising the light cruisers Santa Fe and Biloxi (CL-80), heavy cruiser Indianapolis (CA-35), and the battleship Maryland (BB-46), as they steamed in approach disposition 3A. An hour and a half into the mid watch (0130) the next morning (31 January), the OTC detached Fire Support Unit Two, which then set course south toward Roi Island. Johnston proceeded at 11.5 knots, with radar silence. At 0235, she set course to proceed independently to her fire support area.
Johnston approached her objective steering southeasterly courses, keeping to the east of the initial tractor groups. She soon discovered, however, that those vessels “were not keeping to [the] Westward of [the] approach line,” forcing the destroyer to steer within 3,000 yards of Japanese-held Roi’s western shore. The tank landing ships, lying-to, “strung out on a North-South heading,” caused Cmdr. Evans “considerable apprehension…as to results if the shore battery on the Western shore of Roi Island opened fire.” Consequently, Johnston prepared “to reply instantly to such fire,” even though the “LST barrier” rendered it impossible to open the range. “Strangely enough,” Evans noted later, “the Japs did not open fire at this critical period, though they must have been aware of our presence.”
Johnston went to general quarters shortly after the end of the mid watch (0404) on 31 January 1944, then began “steaming various courses and various speeds to assume position” to bombard Mellu [Ivan] Island, sighting Hopewell bearing 180° in the transport area. Johnston managed to maneuver to keep clear of the LSTs which lay, by that time, well to the south of their assigned area, and operated in Fire Support Area Six, the one assigned to her, doing so until daybreak at 0602.
Less than one hour later, at 0652, Johnston began shelling Mellu when it lay 128 degrees, 3,300 yards away, the warship maintaining a slow and deliberate barrage for almost one hour, expending 167 rounds of 5-inch/38 AA common in an “effective and well-placed” barrage that quickly destroyed two breastworks. Suspending her 5-inch fire at 0749, the destroyer opened up with her 40-millimeter batteries—controlled from her Mk. 37 director—maintaining an intermittent fire until 0800, when she resumed 5-inch fire, stepping up the rate to “one minute rapid salvo fire, five gun salvos [sic].” Cmdr. Evans noted later that there seemed to be few installations on Mellu, as no opposition materialized, and that other than her own shells bursting on the island, “only one small explosion” occurred near an observation tower on the south end of Mellu.
View from Johnston’s bridge showing Mellu Island, as seen over the crown of her 5-inch Mount 52 (note details of sight and navigational light), which is trained to port, 31 January 1944, image captured by CY (PA) Joe O. Woolf, who, with his new camera, had been designated as the ship’s photographer. (Enclosure B to Commanding Officer, USS Johnston (DD-557), DD557/A16 Serial 03 of 3 February 1944, Action Report, Kwajalein Atoll, RG-38, National Archives and Records Administration, Textual Records, College Park, Md.)
Johnston ceased firing at 0825, and cleared the area to enable the boat waves to reach the beaches. Immediately thereafter, however, she learned that the time of landing had been postponed 30, then 60, minutes, by which time the waves of landing craft had “completely filled the area,” and rendered her resuming fire impossible. As events transpired, D Company, Fourth Marines, landed on Mellu’s south side at 0955, while Companies A and C landed on its north side 20 minutes later. The marines declared Mellu secured at 1145.
In the meantime, at 0845 Johnston took position screening the ships of Fire Support Unit Two, securing from general quarters at noon, then subsequently suffered two casualties during the afternoon watch, the first when RM3c Orion B. Austin, one of the ship’s plank owners, injured his back when he slipped on the starboard mess hall ladder (1330), then S2c Richard P. Dzinback caught his left foot in the shell hoist in Mt. 52, exhibiting swelling and abrasions of his left tibia (1515). Johnston’s screening the ships of Fire Support Unit Two continued as they launched and recovered aircraft until 1810, when she then assumed a night screening station west of the passes to the north and south of Mellu. She darkened ship at sunset, 20 minutes later. The night proved “generally quiet and uneventful” save for Hopewell’s conducting intermittent bombardments of the adjacent area that lay to the north.
At the start of the mid watch on 1 February 1944, Johnston steered various courses at five knots at the Mellu Pass entrance to Kwajalein Lagoon, her SG radar searching all around, her SC radar secured, and her listening gear conducting a sound search (320°T-160°T), the ship in readiness condition 2-M. Going to general quarters at 0630 on 1 February 1944, Johnston concluded her antisubmarine patrol a little over a half hour later, then proceeded “at various courses at various speeds” through Mellu Pass, entering Kwajalein Lagoon “to assume [her] station for close supporting fire on Namur Island” in accordance with the Operational Plan (TF 53 OpOrder A-157-44). With Cmdr. Evans at the conn and Lt. Cmdr. Baker on the bridge, Johnston employed her sonar “for navigational purposes to detect reefs.” She passed through Mellu Pass into the lagoon a little less than a half hour into the forenoon watch , arriving on station at 0841 and soon unleashed her supporting fire from area 5-A, 5,000 yards south of Namur in the eastern part of the lagoon. She ceased fire at 1002 to close the range to Namur, then dropped anchor at 1033, 2,000 yards south of the southeast point of Namur Island. She then conducted further scheduled bombardment (1056-1152).
Johnston brings wounded marines on board, 1 February 1944, while an LVT amphibian tractor that brought them appears to be moving away from the ship, an image captured by CY (PA) Woolf. (Enclosure B to Commanding Officer, USS Johnston (DD-557), DD557/A16 Serial 03 of 3 February 1944, Action Report, Kwajalein Atoll, RG-38, National Archives and Records Administration, Textual Records, College Park, Md.)
Anchored 2,000 yards south of the southeast point of Namur, Johnston took on board six wounded marines at 1226, whose condition ranged from critical to fair. PlSgt. Harold G. McCollough, USMCR (3/24) had suffered a shrapnel wound to his right eye; Cpl. Selmer O. Nybo, USMC, a shrapnel wound in his rectum, and Lt. (j.g.) Hadfield listed him in critical condition due to internal bleeding. Pfc. Stanley Magewski (Company K, 3/24) had suffered gunshot wounds in the chin and left shoulder; Magewski’s coughing and spitting up small amounts of blood suggested that fragments had punctured one of his lungs. Pfc. Rudy B. Tonkovich had suffered a bullet wound through his left forearm that exited cleanly, leaving bone, artery and nerves intact; Hadfield listed him as in good condition, as he also listed Pfc. Carl E. Sandt, of Company C, Tenth Amphibian Tractor Unit, who had suffered multiple shrapnel wounds in his back. Sadly, the worst case seen by Johnston’s medical people was Pl Sgt. Zigmund J. Sienkaniec (Company K, 3/24) who had been shot through the head. Moribund when brought on board, Sienkaniec lay unconscious the entire time while Johnston’s medical officer and corpsmen applied pressure dressing and sulfanilamide crystals, and administered one unit of plasma. Sienkaniec died at 1330, less than an hour after he had been brought on board. Soon thereafter, Johnston transferred the wounded marines and the body of their shipmate to the attack transport Doyen (APA-1).
“Doc” Hadfield also treated Johnston’s only casualty, Sea2c Lee D. Burton, USNR, who suffered a shrapnel wound to the head. Treatment rendered included sulfanilamide crystals sprinkled on the wound and a compression dressing applied, enabling Burton to return to duty.
Johnston remained anchored “prepared to furnish call fires if requested,” but no requests came, thus bringing to a close the ship’s “participation in the bombardment and occupation of Kwajalein Atoll.” Setting the special sea detail at 1720, Johnston got underway seven minutes later, for a screening berth, with Cmdr. Evans again at the conn and his executive officer on the bridge. The ship then took station south of the assembled transports. Securing from the special sea detail at 1848, Johnston set condition 2-M, then anchored shortly before the mid-point of her screening station.
Underway a little over an hour into the forenoon watch (0903) on 3 February 1944, Johnston relieved Fletcher (DD-445) on antisubmarine patrol in the waters northeast of Roi. Relieved in turn by the high speed minesweeper Long (DMS-12), the destroyer once more entered Kwajalein’s capacious lagoon and returned to her previous anchorage to provide antiaircraft screen for the transports. That afternoon, she disabled her port main engine to effect emergency repairs, completing that work before the end of the forenoon watch on the 4th.
During a visit to devastated Namur on 4 February 1944, Cmdr. Evans turns to converse with Cmdr. Halle C. Allen, Jr. (holding pipe), commanding officer of Johnston’s sister ship and division mate Haraden, while Lt. John D. H. Kane, Jr., Haraden’s gunnery officer (L) and Lt. Hagen, Johnston’s gunnery officer (R), stand by. Lt. Kane (as a rear admiral) would ultimately serve as Director of Naval History (1976-1985). Photograph by CY (PA) Woolf. (Enclosure B to Commanding Officer, USS Johnston (DD-557), DD557/A16 Serial 03 of 3 February 1944, Action Report, Kwajalein Atoll, RG-38, National Archives and Records Administration, Textual Records, College Park, Md.)
Assigned to TG 53.13.4 on 5 February 1944, Johnston made preparations to get underway at 1540 that day. Along with Haraden and the high speed minesweepers Stansbury (DMS-8), and Long, she was to escort the group, comprising the attack transport DuPage (APA-41) (flagship), attack cargo ships Almaack (AKA-10) and Aquarius (AKA-16), dock landing ships Epping Forest (LSD-4), Gunston Hall (LSD-5) and Lindenwald (LSD-6) to the Ellice Islands. Soon thereafter, however, notification came over the TBS that departure had been delayed for 15 hours. Finally getting underway at 0650 on the 6th, TG 53.13.4 sailed for Funafuti, with Johnston taking up her position as antisubmarine screen. During the first watch that day, she went to general quarters at 2008, after which she investigated a surface contact “which quickly proved to be friendly.”
Even in wartime, when conditions permit, a ship at sea can observe time-honored traditions. On board Johnston on 7 February 1944, her “shellbacks” (those who had previously crossed the Equator) made “preparations to initiate pollywogs [those who had not been across] upon crossing the line.” At 1800 that day, however, the destroyer received a despatch detaching her from TU 53.13.3 and directing her to report to Majuro for fuel and ammunition and to return thence to Kwajalein to report to CTF 51 for duty. Consequently, Cmdr. Evans requested permission for Johnston to leave the formation.
An hour later, however (1900), Haraden developed a possible submarine contact and proceeded to investigate it. A little over three hours later, she returned to the formation having dropped one depth charge pattern with no results. Consequently, Johnston was detached to proceed on a reverse course to attempt to redevelop the contact. Like her sister ship, she obtained no results, then set course for Majuro. The change in plan concerning the Neptune ceremonies, however, unsettled those who had anticipated it. “Pollywogs revolted from the rule of the shellbacks,” Johnston’s war diarist wrote, “upon learning that we were not crossing the line this time.”
Johnston made landfall on Majuro at 0910 the following day [8 February 1944], stood in to the lagoon through the north pass at 1036, and reported to Rear Adm. Jones, Commander Service Squadron (ServRon) 10, the admiral wearing his flag in the battleship Washington (BB-56) as she awaited repairs following her collision with Indiana (BB-58) a short time before. “Our arrival was unheralded,” an observer in Johnston lamented, “and no facilities were ready for fueling or taking on ammunition. We were told to contact U.S.S. PECOS [AO-65] for fuel and U.S.S. SANGAY [AE-10] for ammunition.” After sending visual signals to both auxiliaries, Johnston moored alongside Dortch (DD-670) in the lagoon at Majuro in accordance with orders from the senior officer present afloat (SOPA).
Having received no orders by an hour into the forenoon watch on 9 February 1944, Cmdr. Evans had Johnston get underway from alongside her sister ship at 0905 and lay-to near Pecos; he requested instructions for fueling. Pecos took her alongside an hour later. Having fueled, the destroyer then began searching for Sangay, “supposedly moored in Northwest end of lagoon.” As Johnston’s war diarist wrote: “After making a complete search of the anchorage and asking all ships in the vicinity we finally learned that the U.S.S. SANGAY [which had actually been carrying only “aircraft ammunition and bombs”] had stood out the previous night. One of the carriers suggested we try the U.S.S. MAUNA LOA [AE-8]. Requested permission to come alongside and were referred to the U.S.S. RAINIER [AE-5]. This was by now 1400.” Rainier informed Johnston, however, that she could not provide the destroyer with 5-inch ammunition because it lay beneath 8-inch ammunition. After the heavy cruiser Minneapolis (CA-36) had replenished 8-inch from Rainier, Johnston reiterated her request to the ammunition ship for 5-inch about 1900, but received the response that Commander Cruiser Division (CruDiv) 6 had taken all the 5-inch/38 ammunition for his own ships. “U.S.S. RAINIER,” Johnston’s war diarist observed with no small amount of irony, “suggested we contact U.S.S. MAUNA LOA and Commander Battle Ships [sic] who forwarded us to Admiral Jones, Commander Service Squadron Ten. This is where we came in…”
Thus unable to replenish her magazines, Johnston dropped anchor in her assigned berth and requested permission to sail for Kwajalein at 0800 the following morning. Her troubles, however, continued, into the wee hours, as she suffered an engineering casualty when large patches of jellyfish clogged her main condensers, forcing them to become overheated. “Experienced great trouble throughout the night,” Johnston’s chronicler sighed, “changing screens on fire and bilge intakes every five minutes…”
“Being unable to obtain our required ammunition,” Johnston’s war diarist began the description of the day’s events on 10 February 1944, “got underway from Majuro Lagoon and proceeded independently in accordance with previous orders to Kwajalein, Marshall Islands.” The passage proved uneventful, and Johnston made landfall at 0628 on the 11th, but she soon learned over the TBS of the sighting of a submarine near Gea Pass. Cmdr. Evans immediately reported his ship for duty to the senior officer present (SOP). Assigned to search for the contact outside of Gea Pass, the newly arrived destroyer obtained several contacts during the day, all of which proved false. With the search completed with negative results, Johnston stood in to the lagoon at 1645 and proceeded to her assigned anchorage. She reported to CTF 51 (Rear Adm. Richmond K. Turner) for duty.
No rest lay ahead for Johnston and her officers and men, however, for less than a quarter of an hour into the mid watch the following morning [0213, 12 February 1944], she received word over the TBS of “several bogies” bearing roughly northwest and 55 miles out, closing the atoll. Johnston immediately went to general quarters and her radar tracked the enemy planes in; she then observed tracers and flashes over Roi. Soon thereafter, in anticipation of a raid, SOPA ordered “all ships to make smoke.” Johnston immediately made funnel and chemical smoke (CS), and prepared to open fire. At 0258, the raiders closed to 36 miles, but soon began opening the range. Immediately thereafter, SOPA ordered the ships in the lagoon to cease making smoke. Picking up another group of incoming contacts approaching from roughly west-northwest, three hours into the mid watch, those planes “which appeared to be enemy deceptive measures,” did not close the atoll. Johnston secured from general quarters at 0333. Five hours later, then moved alongside Suamico (AO-49) and “topped off” her fuel tanks, then “returned to our anchorage to await further orders.” One can almost sense the relief with which Johnston’s war diarist wrote of 13 February: “A very uneventful Sunday, anchored in Kwajalein Atoll.”
Although their ship still lay anchored in those waters the following day, observers on board Johnston could see “preparations are well underway for our next operation, the capture and defense of Eniwetok Atoll, Marshall Islands.” Assigned by CTF 51 to TU 51.17.1, under Rear Adm. Oldendorf, in Louisville, Johnston received from a sister ship what the Service Force had not provided: she lay alongside Ringgold (DD-500) and “took on 150 rounds 5[-inch] projectiles and powder.” In the operation that lay ahead (as in the one recently concluded), Johnston was to provide fire support for the Eniwetok Expeditionary Group under Rear Adm. Harry W. Hill. That day, she received a few boatloads of provisions, then proceeded at 1845 to Patrol Station No.2, where she would conduct anti-submarine patrol duty “for the remainder of the night.”
Returning to Kwajalein Atoll mid-way through the morning watch on 15 February 1944, Johnston again topped-off her tanks from Suamico, beginning at 0855. The destroyer’s seeking to arrange to take on stores yielded fruit (perhaps literally as well as figuratively) when New Mexico (BB-40) welcomed her alongside to replenish her storerooms (1025-1145). Soon thereafter, Johnston sortied, taking station no. 4, screening the cruisers, at 1436. Later, she assumed station no.13 in cruising disposition 91, joining up with the remainder of TG 51.11.
The passage to the objective proved “uneventful,” with no enemy contacts. Ninety minutes into the first watch on 16 February 1944, TU 51.17.1 was detached, and Johnston screened the heavy ships as they shelled Engebi Island (0716-1746) the next day [17 February]. At that time she again formed part of the screen to the heavy ships and steamed to make rendezvous with TG 51.18, maneuvering with it to northward of Engebi during the night of 17-18 February. Johnston returned to Engebi with Fire Support Unit 1 with less than an hour remaining in the morning watch on the 18th, and screened the bombardment group until it finished shelling the island then moved into the lagoon at 1235. The destroyer anchored in the southern waters of the lagoon near the swept channel less than one hour later (1330), then shifted her anchorage to the edge of the swept channel “to act as marker ship for transports and assault vessels” proceeding in from the north end of the lagoon during the night of 18-19 February.
With a quarter of an hour remaining in the morning watch  on the 19th, Johnston received a despatch over the TBS from TG 51.11 and got underway, dropping anchor 500 yards south of a small island [Parry] inside the deep-water entrance to Eniwetok Atoll. At 0823, the destroyer’s 5-inch guns opened fire on a pill box and soon knocked it out. She shifted fire to a second pill box and knocked it out at 0908, shifting to a third such structure, knocking it out at 0932. Alert spotting disclosed the wreckage of a Japanese plane lying to the left of a pier, and she fired at that for a little over a quarter of an hour, reasoning that the “wreckage was on [the] beach at [the] water’s edge and ideally situated to conceal machine gun nests.” Mounts 51 and 54 soon destroyed (0951) a fourth pill box with three rounds of 5-inch AA common and six rounds of 5-inch common. Ten rounds of 5-inch common blasted a fifth pill box into oblivion at 1001 before the destroyer began counterbattery fire against what looked like a gun emplacement before she shifted to providing neutralizing fire against beach areas with 5-inch AA common. Ceasing fire only for brief periods when air strikes flew over (1020-1038 and 1050-1053), Johnston continued pounding Parry, knocking out two more pill boxes before receiving intelligence information from CTF 51 as to the location of the Japanese headquarters on the island. Using a small finger pier situated about half-way down the beach on the inshore side of Parry as a point of aim, Johnston worked over the area starting with her 40-millimeter batteries and progressing to 5-inch AA common and white phosphorous until ordered to “cease fire” at 1707, her mission completed, at which point she proceeded to an anchorage roughly east by ½ north (085°) 7,000 yards from Point Dog, the confluence of the deep and wide channel entrances to the lagoon.
Underway once more at 0655 on 21 February 1944, Johnston resuming shelling Parry from the waters 5,000 yards to the west of it at 0734. After the battleship Pennsylvania (BB-38) informed her “that we were in his line of fire,” the destroyer dropped anchor at 0813, 4,800 yards from a small island near the deep entrance. Johnston ceased fire at 1030 when an air strike came in on the objective, but she received word at that time that her fire support mission had been completed, a plane from the heavy cruiser Indianapolis having ably served as spotter. The destroyer had expended 56 rounds of 5-inch AA common and 10 rounds white phosphorous during that period, limited part of that time by the entrance of a convoy and SOPA having thus informed her to cease firing between 0820 and 1000. She then proceeded to her previous anchorage at Point Dog. Underway at 1325 on the 21st, Johnston went alongside Gemsbok (IX-117) and fueled, then was underway again at 1546 to relieve Hoel at 1630 on antisubmarine patrol outside the wide passage to the south of Eniwetok, in turn relieved by Murray (DD-576) at 1931. Entering the lagoon after dark that day, she anchored in Berth Sugar-54 off Eniwetok at 2043, having again performed her mission well. Cmdr. Evans concluded in his action report for the operation just completed: “All ordnance material performed satisfactorily and it is again desired to emphasize that this type ship with it’s [sic] 5" battery can hit any target which it can see.”
Johnston remained anchored until the afternoon on 22 February 1944, when she proceeded to an anchorage bearing 302°, 2,700 yards from Parry’s southern tip. There she relieved Hailey to provide call fire against that island. Until 1800 that day, Johnston furnished call fire into the southern areas on Parry, as requested by the shore fire control spotter. She expended 18 rounds of 5-inch white phosphorous and 150 rounds of 5-inch AA common during that time. Upon completion of that fire-support mission, the destroyer lay at anchor and, her war diarist recorded: “observed Indianapolis firing star shells intermittently on Parry Island for [the] remainder of the night.”
Johnston stirred from her anchorage shortly before noon the following day [23 February 1944] and relieved Hoel outside the wide entrance (station no.5) on antisubmarine patrol. She shifted to station no. 7 (approximately 25 miles to the southwest of the wide entrance) at sunset, and encountered “nothing uneventful” for the remainder of the night. At sunrise the next morning [24 February] Johnston resumed watch at station no.5, again taking station no.7 at sunset, then began the same routine at dawn on the 25th. That morning, Cmdr. Evans exercised his crew in a practice battle problem, emphasizing “damage control and fire control casualties.”
A little over two hours into the mid-point of the afternoon watch , Johnston received orders by TBS to join TG 51.6 (Rear Adm. Ralph E. Davison, ComCarDiv 24, OTC), at a rendezvous point 50 miles northeast of the deep passage to Eniwetok Atoll. Relieved at 1514 on antisubmarine station no.5 by Hoel, the destroyer proceeded independently to the rendezvous, joining the flagship Manila Bay (CVE-61) and relieving Coghlin (DD-606), taking station no.1 in anti-submarine screen 52 Pac 10, with Hailey in station no.2. Johnston then screened Manila Bay as she provided air patrol for Eniwetok (27-28 February) from the waters northeast of the atoll, a period punctuated by her leaving the formation to investigate a sound contact “which quickly proved false” at 0857 on 27 February and her obtaining a radar contact “on several unidentified surface craft” roughly northeast by north at 2045 the same day. Johnston’s CIC watch standers tracked those contacts that passed abeam on an opposite course – thought to be TG 58.4.
A CTG 51.11 despatch (281043) that arrived shortly before the end of the mid watch on 28 February 1944 sent TG 51.6 toward Majuro. The passage proved uneventful with the exception of one sound contact, made at 2311 on the 29th, that “proved false on investigation.” Johnston made landfall on Majuro less than an hour before the end of the morning watch (0701) on 1 March, but the arriving task group maneuvered “all of the morning…about the entrance to the lagoon awaiting a clear passage. We finally stood into the lagoon,” Johnston’s war diarist noted, “at 1108.” A little less than an hour into the afternoon watch, the destroyer anchored in Berth D-8.
Johnston lay anchored in the lagoon at Majuro “refueling, provisioning, taking on ammunition and making repairs to the main engines” (1-6 March 1944). In addition, as her war diarist observed, for the first time since the ship left San Diego, the ship set Condition Four watches, enabling the crew to enjoy “some relaxation and recreation.”
Underway a little over halfway through the morning watch (0601) on 7 March 1944, Johnston screened Manila Bay and Natoma Bay (CVE-62) as they stood out through the waters of Majuro’s northern pass. Shortly before the end of that watch (0752), the destroyer took station 3 in the antisubmarine screen, and commenced zig-zagging. She went to general quarters at 1642 to investigate a sound contact that proved false, then resumed her station with the carriers at 1730. “Our destination is still secret from us,” Johnston’s chronicler wrote at the end of the day, speculating: “Can either be Funa Futi or Espíritu Santo, N.H. [New Hebrides].”
The next two days (8-9 March 1944) proved quiet, Johnston “steaming on southerly courses as before.” Changing the time zone and longitude dates, however, at the start of the mid watch on the 9th, provided a clue to her hither-to secret destination. “Must be Espíritu Santo…because of changing date and present continued south heading.” Consequently, the war diarist noted laconically: “At 1400 Neptunus Rex and the Royal Party came aboard [sic] and initiation ceremonies for all slimey [sic] pollywogs were held in accordance with ancient tradition.” During the shellback initiation, EM3c James F. Sorensen and S2c Robert E. Beckstrom (both plankowners) each received a cut on the head, with Beckstrom’s requiring four stitches from Doc Hadfield to close.
The voyage continued in largely uneventful fashion save for a fleeting sound contact on 10 March 1944 that Johnston “quickly proved false.” On the 11th, the destroyer’s war diarist surmised that since they were “continuing south, destination unknown,” they were “obviously [bound for] Espíritu Santo…” An undetermined source of interference blocked all radio communications for 90 minutes a little before the start of the afternoon watch. Later that day, at 1438, Johnston spotted a floating mine, which she sank with 20-millimeter fire.
Early the following morning [10 March 1944], Johnston made landfall “on several small islands” of the New Hebrides group, catching glimpses of them “through heavy mist and rain squalls.” During the forenoon watch, she carried out an AA practice (1132-1143), her 20- and 40-millimeter batteries firing at a target sleeve towed by one of Manila Bay’s planes. A little less than three hours later, Johnston stood in to Pallikulo Bay, Espíritu Santo, steaming through Diamond Pass, and anchored in Berth 25, welcoming Hailey and Haggard alongside soon thereafter. Late in the first dog watch, Johnston left her berth and her sister ships to fuel from the gasoline barge YOG-23, and reported for duty to Commander Third Fleet [Adm. William F. Halsey, Jr.] and to Commander Destroyer Division 94.
Exiting Pallikulo Bay on 13 March 1944, Johnston proceeded to Segond Channel, Espíritu Santo, Berth 27, and began an availability period (13-19 March) assigned her by Commander Third Fleet. As she rested on keel blocks in the floating dry dock ARD-5 (18-19 March), the ship underwent repairs to her streamlined sound dome, which workers found in good condition but badly in need of painting. Consequently, painters applied anti-corrosive and anti-fouling coats before she undocked on the 19th, moving thence back to Berth 27.
Underway the next morning [20 March 1944] a little over mid-way through the morning watch, Johnston set course for the Solomon Islands. She conducted 20- and 40-millimeter firing at a balloon target, then that afternoon carried out a practice battle problem and tested pyrotechnics. She ultimately arrived at her destination, Purvis Bay, Florida Island, a half hour into the afternoon watch the following day [21 March] and, after fueling, moored alongside Trathen (DD-530) in Berth 14, and reported to Commander Task Force 39 for duty, and began awaiting further orders.
Johnston sailed on 23 March 1944 in company with Trathen, with orders to rendezvous with the remainder of DesRon 47 in waters north and east of New Ireland. The following morning, Johnston opened the range to her sister ship and carried out a practice battle problem, emphasizing radar-controlled torpedo fire and damage control, making a simulated torpedo run against Trathen, which was carrying out a simulated run against her. At 1345, Cmdr. Evans caught S2c Joseph A. Taromino, a lookout (and plankowner), asleep on watch, and sentenced the somnolent sailor to solitary confinement for five days on bread and water. That afternoon, Johnston conducted a tracking drill, exercising the crew who manned her plot, CIC, fire control and torpedo control during general quarters.
Making rendezvous with DesRon 47 and a tanker unit in the middle of the morning watch on 25 March 1944, the ships joined company about a half hour later. Johnston maneuvered alongside Cacapon (AO-52) shortly after 0900 and fueled, after which she stood out in company with Trathen “on duty assigned by Destroyer Squadron 47,” to intercept and destroy any Japanese shipping attempting to enter or depart Kavieng, New Ireland, by transiting Steffen Strait. While en route, the two destroyers sighted what appeared to be two enemy cargo vessels. Closer investigation revealed them to be abandoned and beached on the northern shoals of New Hanover. During the first watch that day, Johnston reached her patrol station one mile outside of Steffen Strait, and patrolled southward through the mid watch and into the morning watch.
“The night proving uneventful,” Johnston rejoined Trathen at 0730 on the 26th, and set course to make rendezvous with DesRon 47 north of New Hanover. They met at noon and began patrolling those assigned waters. Two hours later, Johnston, along with Hailey and Haggard, steamed to the area northwest of the islands of Mussau and Emirau, “to intercept any enemy shipping between these islands and New Ireland.”
The overnight patrol proved unproductive, and yielded no contacts during the morning and forenoon watches on 27 March 1944. Johnston made rendezvous with DesRon 47 at noon that day, and at the mid-point of the afternoon watch (1400), DesDiv 94 was detached and set course for the Caroline Islands, “to carry out destruction of any surface or shore targets on Kapingamaringi Atoll.” Johnston and her sisters were “to search for and destroy enemy shipping, secondly enemy aircraft, and third targets of opportunity,” and she and Hailey comprised the second section of DesDiv 94, slated to bombard Nanakitsu from the east starting at 0545 on 28 March. With the target bearing 12,000 yards to the west, Johnston steered various courses and speeds astern of Hailey, closing the range, looking for Japanese shipping. Finding none, Hailey opened fire on a radio station 3,500 yards distant bearing about 180° at 0632; Johnston, her battery kept trained on the target by means of indirect control from CIC, opened up three minutes later choosing an observation tower as her target, firing three-gun salvos, 5-inch common AA projectiles, shifting to 5-inch common ammunition soon thereafter. After toppling the tower, the destroyer shifted fire to a radio station, then a barracks. Soon thereafter, she shifted her target to a concrete blockhouse and a radio control building, blowing the roof off the latter with three direct 5-inch hits. Changing course, she followed Haggard and Franks and opened up with 40-millimeter fire, then shifted back to 5-inch and knocked down two radio masts and scored direct hits on a concrete headquarters building. All told, Johnston expended 130 rounds of 5-inch AA common and 35 rounds of 5-inch common, in addition to 190 rounds of 40-millimeter. “The control of the battery was excellent,” Cmdr. Evans wrote later, “and ninety percent of the ammunition fired was observed to hit the target area.” He considered that “excellent when the small area of the target, the flat trajectory of the battery and the lack of suitable vertical targets in the target area, are taken into account.”
At 0750, Johnston headed south after completing her bombardment, heading for a rendezvous with DesRon 47 and the fueling group, meeting them the next morning [29 March 1944] at 0600 and replenishing alongside Atascosa (AO-66). She picked up unidentified planes on her radar, but they did not close. Detached from DesRon 47 with DesDiv 94 upon completion of fueling, the destroyer headed for Cape Torokina, Bougainville, “for duty…anti-submarine patrol, anti-barge patrol, and shore bombardment…” DesDiv 94 picked up several sound contacts while en route to their objective, but all proved false.
After “steaming as before throughout the night,” Johnston made landfall on Bougainville at 0545 on 30 March 1944. She patrolled southwest of that island throughout that day, and after nightfall closed the shoreline, hunting for Japanese barges. Upon arrival off Cape Torokina, Haggard steamed in to Torokina so that Cmdr. Joseph H. Nevins, Jr., Commander, DesDiv 94, embarked in that destroyer, could confer with the commanding general of the U.S. Army’s Fourteenth Corps. The remainder of the division, meanwhile, patrolled the waters south and west of Bougainville. After the division commander in Haggard rejoined the formation, the destroyers assumed scouting formation, steaming to the southern part of Bougainville for an anti-barge sweep. The several surface contacts encountered that night all proved friendly.
Detached at the start of the forenoon watch (0800) on 31 March 1944, Johnston, ordered by ComDesDiv 94 “to furnish fire support for [the] 14th Army Corps,” proceeded independently and at 1134 embarked a Lt. Col. Agnew, a Lt. Peters, and a Lt. Brochman, one additional officer, and one enlisted man, comprising a U.S. Army liaison party which was to direct and observe a shore bombardment. She arrived on station off the Maririci River, Southeast Empress Augusta Bay at 1313, the objective 6,500 yards away, and opened fire with three-gun salvos at the outset, shifting to five-gun salvos within minutes, observing a small fire in the target area eight minutes into the bombardment. Johnston expended 206 rounds of 5-inch AA common, the battery controlled indirectly from CIC with spot provided by plane. Given the tall trees in the target area, however, neither the ship nor the spotting plane could make any determination of damage. The mission completed by 1349, eight minutes after she departed the waters off the target, the ship returned to Cape Torokina and disembarked her passengers. She then set course to assume her station on anti-barge and anti-submarine patrol between Treasury and Shortland Islands.
Johnston patrolled her station, recording “nothing eventful,” then made rendezvous with DesDiv 94 at 0652 on 1 April 1944. She left the formation two hours later to steam to Blanche Harbor, Treasury Island, to refuel, upon completion of which (1330), she proceeded to a patrol station between Mono and Shortland Islands. She joined Hailey during the second dog watch to carry out a night patrol 20 miles east of Treasury Island, which she maintained throughout the night, then made rendezvous with one section of DesDiv 94 at 0726 on 2 April. After returning to Cape Torokina, she embarked a Maj. Vogel, a Capt. Zucher, and a Lt. Peters of the U.S. Army, then steamed to northeastern Empress Augusta Bay to conduct another shore bombardment. With a Fourteenth Corps, U.S. Army, spotter plane on station at 1252, Johnston opened fire at 1314, firing 244 rounds of 5-inch/38 AA common into a personnel and supply area about 1,000 yards inland and east of the mouth of the Takessi River. She ceased firing at 1412 and returned to Cape Torokina, where she disembarked the army officers. “The area has been well covered, looks like it has been all shot to hell,” the spotter reported after Johnston had finished firing, “looks like a job well done.”
Johnston then proceeded to rendezvous with Hailey to search for a reported submarine, but unable to make contact she began to search for her sistership. She then made a contact bearing 095°T, 2,500 yards away and moved to attack, setting pattern III and dropping seven 600-pound depth charges and firing six 300-pounders. She continued her search but proved unable to reestablish contact. “Initial contact had all characteristics of [a] good contact but from later information,” her war diarist later wrote,” it is believed that initial contact was a large fish.”
After continuing her patrol south of Bougainville, Johnston made rendezvous with DesDiv 94 southwest of that isle an hour before the end of the first dog watch on 3 April 1944. Subsequently relieved on station by DesDiv 44, Johnston and her divisionmates (less Franks, which had been detached “to proceed on duty assigned”) proceeded to Purvis Bay, arriving there the next morning [4 April] to fuel. She then spent the period 4-8 April awaiting further orders, and her crew “enjoyed some relaxation at the Purvis Bay recreation center.”
Commander Third Fleet Despatch 070520 dictated Johnston’s next movements, and at 0645 on 9 April 1944, the destroyer steamed out of Purvis Bay with DesDiv 94, that division still minus Franks but increased by the addition of Hazelwood (DD-532). The ships proceeded out “in column formation in natural order,” Haggard leading, Johnston bringing up the rear astern of Hazelwood and Hailey. Off Tulagi, they formed an anti-submarine screen with Manila Bay and Natoma Bay as they sortied from the harbor, with Johnston assuming station 4 in anti-submarine screen 54. TG 36.3 proceeded north and west of Florida Island, and steamed via Indispensable Strait en route to make rendezvous with a tanker group on the 11th. Hazelwood left the formation at 0825, returning to Purvis Bay to embark Rear Adm. Davison, ComCarDiv 24. That morning, Johnston carried out machine gun practice, her gunners firing at a sleeve target towed by one of Manila Bay’s planes. Hazelwood rejoined the task group the following morning [10 April] less than an hour before the end of the morning watch, and transferred Rear Adm. Davison to Natoma Bay, where he resumed command of CarDiv 24 and TG 36.3. “The remainder of the day was uneventful,” Johnston’s war diarist noted, “except for a ticklish hour during evening twilight when planes were being recovered during a heavy rain squall.”
As scheduled, TG 36.3 made rendezvous with the oiler Millicoma and her escort a little less than an hour into the forenoon watch on 11 April 1944, and then replenished their fuel bunkers (0930-1515), after which they reformed screen 54 on Natoma Bay and Manila Bay. Shortly before the end of that period, radar detected an unidentified plane roughly northeast by ¾ east (055°T) 29 miles out, but the CAP recognized the stranger as friendly. Fully fueled, TG 36.3 set course for the Bismarck Archipelago, proceeding westward to Emirau Island.
Johnston continued screening the escort carriers, conforming to their movements as they carried out flight operations, while the task group provided air support for operations at Emirau and adjacent areas of the Bismarck Archipelago (12-15 April 1944). A little over an hour and a quarter into the first dog watch on 14 April, Johnston went to general quarters when she picked up a sound contact. “The contact had all indications of being valid,” the destroyer’s war diarist explained, “but was soon observed to be a large school of fish.”
In compliance with a despatch from Commander Third Fleet (120630), DesDiv 95 relieved Johnston and her sisters an hour into the forenoon watch on 16 April 1944. The relieved unit then proceeded to Emirau “to act as a covering force” in accord with another Third Fleet despatch (140401). Forming a scouting line, DesDiv 94 patrolled to the north and west of the islands of Emirau and Mussau “with negative results” throughout the following morning (17 April), until the destroyers made rendezvous with the oiler Patuxent (AO-44) and her escort in the waters northeast of New Ireland at 1132. After refueling, DesDiv 94 returned to patrol east and south of Emirau shortly before the end of the afternoon watch, and continued covering operations until noon on the 18th, when they effected a rendezvous with TU 34.9.1, the cargo ship Mintaka (AK-94), Cmdr. L. S. Burgess, USCGR, OTC, relieving the high speed minesweeper Stansbury, minesweeper Adroit (AM-82) and submarine chaser PC-1136 of their screening duties and becoming the screen for TU 34.9.1, Mintaka and two merchantmen, bound for Manus in the Admiralties.
After an “uneventful” passage, TU 34.9.1 reached its destination on 20 April 1944, the destroyers screening the entrance of Mintaka and the two merchantmen into Seeadler Harbor, at which point the task unit, its mission completed, was dissolved. DesDiv 94, its mission completed, then stood out to sea and formed a scouting line, setting course for Emirau to resume patrol patrol operations. That afternoon, the disposition tested all guns. A half hour into the second dog watch (1830), the ships of DesDiv 94 proceeded to their “night patrolling stations” off the islands of Emirau and Mussau. That night, Johnston patrolled on a 310°-330° line, 40 miles long and15 miles to the northwest of Emirau and Mussau. The results? “Nil.”
The next morning [21 April 1944], Johnston made rendezvous with DesDiv 94 late in the morning watch, formed a normal scouting line, then patrolled as before east and north of Emirau and Mussau. Discontinuing operations in that area at midnight (21-22 April) in compliance with a Third Fleet despatch (182315), the division set course for the Treasury Islands, arriving off Blanche Harbor ten minutes before the end of the morning watch on 23 April, where Franks rejoined. Completing fueling shortly before mid day, Hazelwood and Hailey sailed for Hathorn Sound. Johnston finished fueling then moored alongside Haggard in Blanche Harbor. Another Third Fleet despatch (23043) governed Johnston’s next movements, and she got underway at 1852.
Proceeding independently to Green Island, Johnston arrived there at 0640 on 24 April 1944, then escorted the transport President Monroe (AP-104) to Treasury Island. Upon completion of that screening mission at 1816, the destroyer stood in to Blanche Harbor and again moored alongside Haggard.
Leaving the nest to fuel alongside YO-144 the next morning [25 April 1944], Johnston returned to moor alongside Haggard again until the latter sailed for Purvis Bay in company with Franks a half hour into the first dog watch. Johnston remained at anchor in Blanche Harbor throughout the night, getting underway the next morning [26 April] again in company with President Monroe, and screened the transport as she headed toward Port Nepui, New Caledonia. She rode shotgun on the auxiliary throughout the day and night on the 26th, then through the morning of the 27th. Detached at 1400, in the middle of the afternoon watch on 27 April, Johnston then proceeded independently to the Solomons, reached Port Purvis the next morning (28 April), where she fueled and moored alongside Eaton (DD-510) “for material upkeep and repairs.” Granted a 24-hour availability from dawn on the 29th to dawn on the 30th for repairs to her steam lines, Johnston returned to a 12-hour notice at dawn on 30 April.
Operating under the direct operational control of Commander South Pacific but attached to TF 39 (Rear Adm. Aaron S. Merrill, in Montpelier), Johnston lay nested with Hoel in Purvis Bay, off Florida Island, Guadalcanal, awaiting further orders (1-5 May 1944), continuing to effect minor repairs and upkeep. During that period, at 0800 on 1 May, Johnston half-masted her colors for the day in honor of the late Secretary of the Navy William Franklin [Frank] Knox, then assumed ready duty status. On the 5th, she got underway from alongside Hoel and proceeded to the fuel oil barge YO-162, and took on 12,000 gallons of fuel oil before returning to moor alongside her sistership.
Complying with Commander Third Fleet despatch 030405, Johnston got underway a little over two hours into the morning watch on 6 May 1944, setting course in company with DesDi9v 94 plus Hoel for New Georgia, screening light cruisers Montpelier and Cleveland. The ships reached Hathorn Sound via Kula Gulf a half hour past the mid point of the first dog watch later that day, Hoel and Hailey entering. The cruisers and the other destroyers continued on to Blanche Harbor, reaching their destination an hour before the end of the morning watch the next day [7 May], where Hailey rejoined DesDiv 94 and all ships refueled. Johnston dropped anchor at 1100 and took Hailey alongside. Shortly before mid-day, a contact report arrived of a submarine bearing 135° (T) from Treasury Island, resulting in DesDiv 94 being put on 30 minutes’ notice. At the end of the first dog watch (1800), that notice was lengthened to twelve hours.
On 9 May 1944, Commander South Pacific Operation Order 10-44 formed TG 30.6 under Cmdr. Joseph H. Nevins, Jr., Commander DesDiv 94 in Haggard), consisting of TU 30.6.1, flagship Haggard and the light minelayers Sicard (DM-21) and Breese (DM-18), and TU 30.6.2, comprising flagship Hailey, Franks, and Johnston. The mission: to mine the waters of Buka Pass the following night (10 May). Underway for Blanche Harbor at 0635 on 9 May, Johnston and her sisterships provided a screen for TU 30.6.1 and the group steamed west and north of Bougainville and Buka. Commander Third Fleet despatch provided an additional screen: TG 30.2, Capt. Ira H. Nunn, Commander DesRon 47, his broad pennant in McCord (DD-534), that morning.
At 1930 on 10 May 1944, with Haggard guiding them, TU 30.6.1 began mining the eastern entrance to Buka Pass. Johnston and the two other destroyers in her task unit screened to seaward with “guns bearing on probable enemy shore batteries in readiness for counterbattery fire.” Completing the mining in less than 30 minutes, DesDiv 94 steamed around Buka, steering northerly and westerly courses, while the minelayers skirted Bougainville’s north coast, setting course for Purvis Bay.
Proceeding on a southeasterly course in natural order in a scouting line, DesDiv 94 held a full power run (0600-0800) on 11 May 1944. The ships then conducted antiaircraft gunnery practice, firing at a target towed by a land-based plane. Johnston expended 154 rounds of 5-inch common, 1,500 rounds of 40-millimeter and 1,200 rounds of 20-millimeter. The division reached Blanche Harbor about an hour and a quarter into the afternoon watch, where, after fueling from YO-144, receiving 48,007 gallons, Johnston moored alongside Hailey.
Commander Third Fleet despatch 110549 directed the destroyer to proceed to sea the next morning, 12 May 1944, steaming in company with DesDiv 94 for Destroyer Operating Area Three, northeast of Buka Island. The ships, which had been directed “to proceed out of sight of all land,” reached that area an hour into the second dog watch and patrolled on courses 140°T and 320° throughout the night. They were to operate in those waters “until further orders.” That day [12 May] Haggard received information of the possible location of an enemy submarine. The hunt continued, the ships setting courses to intercept what turned out to be the Japanese submarine I-176 (Lt. Cmdr. Okada Hideo), a Type KD7 type boat that had sailed from Truk on 10 May, bound for Buka. She had been sighted by a U.S. patrol plane on the 12th, and was believed to have been attacked and damaged the following day.
During the mid watch on 16 May 1944, Johnston’s surface and air search radars were searching a full 360°, while she conducted a beam to beam sound search on a 3,000 yard scale. Shortly before the end of the morning watch on 16 May, ComDesRon 47 with DesDiv 93 (less Trathen) joined the search and took charge. The eight destroyers searched during the day, and at sunset  opened out the distance to 10,000 yards. At 1900, the ships changed the interval to 15,000 yards, as Haggard later reported, “to take advantage of radar to detect [the] submarine on [the] surface at night.”
Haggard made contact with what her sonarmen soon evaluated as a submarine at 2,800 yards, and ordered Franks to assist, directing Hailey and Johnston to stand by to conduct a retiring search in case Haggard lost contact. Haggard attacked at 2145, dropping an 11-charge pattern, two depth charges jamming in the tracks and failing to release. Her CIC enabled Haggard to regain contact on the submarine, which initially took evasive action at the outset. Wake interference, however, prevented an accurate approach, but her CIC again provided data to enable an attack, with Haggard dropping an 11-charge medium pattern at 2229 with the fathometer reading 36 fathoms. An underwater explosion produced an oil slick seen from the destroyer’s fantail.
The depth charge detonations, however, rendered Haggard’s gyrocompass inoperative, so that ship stood off and coached Johnston to the position of the last contact. Johnston, with SoM2c Walter R. Weigand, V-6, USNR, operating the QCL3 equipment, commenced her first run at 2224, with Hailey patrolling to the northwest, Franks to the northeast, and Haggard to the south at about 6,000 yards to encircle the submarine. On the first run, Johnston dropped four 600-pound depth charges, two set to explode at 200 feet, two to explode at 300. With SoM2c Weigand on the QCL3 for the second run, Johnston sought to reestablish contact lost after the first run, with the submarine turning to the right and the destroyer being unable to determine the depth by fathometer. SoM2c Arleigh W. Cody, USN, took over the QCL3 for the third run, and and Lt. Cmdr. Baker, Johnston’s executive officer, kept “an excellent plot of the sub’s track, notwithstanding the evasive tactics used,” and furnished the conning officer “with accurate information as to the sub’s position at all times.” Johnston dropped five 600-pound charges, three set for 200 feet and two for 250. Onlookers saw and felt a large underwater explosion at 2339, four minutes after the completion of the attack, the blast producing and “extensive oil slick and debris.” Later, Comdr. Evans concluded “that the submarine was sunk appears certain.”
Those who evaluated the three ships’ attacks assigned equal credit to the destroyers involved. Johnston had participated in the destruction of I-176 and her 103 souls. More importantly, the sinking of I-176 prompted the Japanese naval command to shift the position of its cordon of submarines (NA Operation) in the New Guinea-Carolines area that had been established to intercept the movement of U.S. carriers. U.S. naval intelligence intercepted a large amount of radio traffic that accompanied the move; intelligence thus gleaned proved crucial in the ensuing endeavor to destroy that cordon.
Less than an hour and a half into the mid watch on 17 May 1944, “no ship,” Johnston’s war diarist writes, “had sound contact with the submarine.” Johnston and Hailey began search plan no.2 (FTP 219) while Haggard and Franks lingered in the vicinity of the attack. An hour into the forenoon watch (0900), Johnston “came upon [a] large oil slick, traced it to its origin, and for the remainder of the day patrolled in the immediate vicinity of the source of the oil coming to the surface. The position of the source remained fixed.” Later, at the end of the first dog watch, DesDiv 94 formed a “scouting line, natural order,” 10,000 yard interval, and steamed at 20 knots southeast down the northeast coast of Bougainville, “remaining outside visual range of land.”
Johnston and her sisters continued the antisubmarine patrol through the mid watch on the 18th, and into the morning, changing course at 0621 to move east of Bougainville through Bougainville Strait and thence to Hathorn Sound. The ships formed a column minutes into the forenoon watch and transited Bougainville Strait, arriving at Hathorn Sound at 1344 and reporting to Commander Group 3, Fifth Amphibious Force and ComCruDiv 12 “for duty with the Fifth Fleet.” Mooring alongside YO-145, Johnston fueled, remaining alongside the barge for the remainder of the night, shifting anchorages the next morning and bringing Haggard alongside at the start of the second dog watch on the 19th.
Underway at 0530 on 20 May 1944, Johnston stood out of Hathorn Sound in company with the light cruisers Cleveland (CL-55), Montpelier (CL-57) and Birmingham (CL-62) (TU 53.18.1), and DesDiv 94 (TU 53.18.2), under Rear Adm. Robert W. Hayler, Commander TG 53.18, ComCruDiv 12, flag in Montpelier. The warships steamed toward the waters southeast of the Shortlands “to conduct a shore bombardment exercise against enemy shore batteries on the Shortlands.” The three light cruisers in TU 53.18.1 bombarded the Japanese guns at a range of 18,000 to 20,000 yards while the destroyers in TU 53.18.2 screened their movements. “Encountered very accurate return fire,” Johnston’s war diarist wrote, “resulting in several straddles on ships of TG 53.18.” One shell hit Montpelier’s forecastle. Concluding the exercise a minute after the start of the afternoon watch, the task group set course for Purvis Bay, Florida Island. That afternoon, Birmingham and Franks left the formation, and the light cruiser carried out an offset gunnery practice.
Reaching Purvis Bay two and a half hours into the morning watch on 21 May 1944, Johnston refueled, and moored alongside Honolulu (CL-48). That afternoon, the destroyer replenished her ammunition. She remained moored until getting underway a little over a half hour into the forenoon watch on the 23rd, when she crossed Ironbottom Sound and reported to Commander DesDiv 50 at Tassafaronga Point, Guadalcanal, to operate in the transport screen under Commander TG 53.2 Training Operation Plan 2T-44. That same day, Lt. Cmdr. Baker was detached from Johnston to proceed to duty commanding Charles F. Ausburne (DD-570). The ship then relieved the escort vessel Parks (DE-165) on antisubmarine patrol station off Tassafaronga Point. Johnston screened the transports into that evening and into the first dog watch on the 24th, when TG 53.2 put to sea in compliance with its training plan, the destroyers of TU 53.2.1 formed a screen for TG 53.4, the Southern Transport Group, Capt. John B. McGovern, Commander Transport Division 4, broad pennant in the attack transport Zeilin (APA-3). TG 53.4 then proceeded at 12.5 knots to the north of Cape Esperance, then south, west, and north of the Russell Islands.
Four minutes into the mid watch on 25 May 1944, Johnston closed toward the center of the formation to clear Buraku Island, then was detached several hours later to proceed independently to Fire Support Area 6, southeast of Savo Island and north of Beacon “S” on Guadalcanal. She then fired on assigned targets throughout the morning in support of landings and a call fire mission after troops had been put ashore and a shore fire control network established. She expended 35 rounds 5-inch AA common and 12 rounds of white phosphorous, after which she reported to Commander Transport Screen and commenced screening the waters where the troopships lay. Detached at 1537, Johnston set course for Purvis Bay, arriving less than an hour later. Once she had completed fueling, she moored alongside Honolulu.
Underway again the following morning [26 May 1944], Johnston sailed in company with Montpelier, Cleveland, and Birmingham, and DesDiv 94, Rear Adm. Hayler OTC in Montpelier. The ships proceeded to an area 16 miles north of Savo Island, where they conducted gunnery practice. Returning to Purvis Bay almost a quarter of an hour into the first dog watch, Johnston moored alongside Birmingham (1614-2130), then got underway to proceed to Kolombangara for shore bombardment practice. DesDiv 94 formed a screen on Montpelier, Cleveland, and Birmingham, all ships arriving off the firing area at 0815 on the 27th to commence shore bombardment practice, with spotting provided by cruiser-based floatplanes. Detached at 1042, Johnston steamed to New Georgia, and after fueling she moored alongside destroyer tender Dixie to commence seven days’ availability to include routine upkeep and repairs.
With the completion of her availability at sunrise on 2 June 1944, Johnston shifted berths at 0738 and moored alongside Hailey, where she remained until the afternoon watch, when she sailed at 1424, again in company with Montpelier (OTC), Cleveland, and Birmingham, and DesDiv 94. Johnston accompanied Cleveland as the latter was detached at 1541 to carry out offset calibration gunnery practice, upon completion of which (1806), the two ships steamed outside the radar range of the formation, providing a screen for the cruiser as she recovered her floatplanes. They reversed course and conducted a simulated attack, but Johnston suffered an engineering casualty immediately afterward, when she lost main steam pressure. Regaining main steam pressure by 2050, less than an hour into the first watch, she rejoined the formation and took station in the antisubmarine screen, setting course for Purvis Bay.
After Haggard left the formation to proceed independently a half hour after the end of the mid watch on 3 June 1944, Johnston moved up to a new position in the antisubmarine screen, maintaining that place as she arrived off the entrance to Purvis Bay during the morning watch. After screening the entrance of the task force’s cruisers, she entered the waters off Florida Island at 0700 in Hailey’s wake and then fueled alongside the fuel dock, receiving 16,476 gallons (0815-0845). Later that same day, Lt. Elton B. Stirling returned on board to assume the duties of executive officer upon completion of his duty at the Pacific Fleet Radar School. Johnston then proceeded independently to Lunga Point for duty in the transport screen, taking station at 1909 to conduct night antisubmarine patrol off the transport area.
The following morning [14 June 1944], Johnston took station to screen the sortie of TG 53.2 (Rear Adm. Lawrence F. Reifsnider, commanding) from off Lunga Point, assuming station 6265 in cruising disposition 2-C, transiting the Lengo Channel. After proceeding north through Indispensable Strait, she conducted gunnery shoots on sleeve targets towed by shore-based planes (1310-1533), expending 60 rounds of 5-inch AA common, 451 rounds of 40-millimeter and 226 rounds of 20-millimeter. Less than an hour before the start of the mid watch, at 2320, the destroyer set course for the Marshall Islands. The next day [5 June], the ship conducted her monthly test-firing of Mk. 32 fused ammunition, firing 24 rounds, her war diarist noting: “Nothing else eventful occurred.”
As the formation steamed onward toward Kwajalein, a half hour into the morning watch on 6 June 1944, Johnston took station on its port quarter to conduct a radar tracking drill (2-B), regaining her position at 0749. Later, she carried out another exercise (2-D) 17,000 yards on the formation’s port beam (1330-1639), and during the early evening conducted a maneuvering drill by SCR-10 radio. A quarter of an hour after the end of the mid watch on 7 June, Johnston again left the formation to repeat radar tracking drill 2-B (0415-0720), then carried out training (exercise 4-C) (0900-1055), with “nothing further eventful occur[ing].”
TG 53.4 formed cruising disposition 3-C at noon on 8 June 1944 and stood in to the southern waters of Kwajalein’s lagoon in accordance with their entry plan, Johnston screening their entrance. Standing into the lagoon, the destroyer fueled alongside Schuylkill (AO-76) starting at 1447, then dropping anchor in berth A94, where she remained, “replenishing supplies and making all final preparations for the invasion of Guam Island, Marianas Islands,” with the exception of the period from noon on 9 June to noon on the 10th, when she took her turn on antisubmarine patrol ten miles east of Kwajalein.
As TG 53.2 sortied from the southern anchorage of Kwajalein lagoon at 0930 on 12 June 1944, standing out of Gea Pass, the auxiliaries of the amphibious group formed cruising disposition 1-C, with TU 53.2.1 screening the transports, with TG 53.4 “proceeding enroute [sic] Guam Island, Marianas Islands to capture and defend it.” Johnston opened the range to 10 miles abeam of the formation an hour after into the voyage for an IFF (information, friend or foe) check, then held gunnery practice a little over an hour into the afternoon watch, firing 56 rounds 5-inch AA common, 45 rounds of 40-millimeter, and 237 rounds of 20-millimeter.
“Proceeding toward Guam,” Johnston’s war diarist wrote on 15 June 1944. “Most of the day was spent listening to the progress of operations at Saipan by monitoring various circuits, particularly the Task Force Gunfire Support Common, which we received particularly well, in spite of the fact that units operating on the circuit in close proximity to each other were having considerable trouble and requiring a great deal of repetition.” The ensuing days (16-20 June) found Johnston “proceeding west during the days and retiring eastward at nights in the area 150 miles to 300 miles east of Guam, awaiting orders to proceed.” William Day, “the day set for landings on Guam originally scheduled for 18 June was indefinitely postponed.” Johnston’s historian observed, “It was a period of great anxiety and we watched with interest the progress of operations against Saipan and the Japanese Fleet” (the latter undoubtedly a reference to the Battle of the Philippine Sea, and the “Marianas Turkey Shoot”).
More steaming “back and forth” continued over the ensuing days, 100-250 miles east of Saipan, “awaiting further orders” that did not materialize until the mid watch on 27 June 1944, when Johnston and Franks were detached at 0030 to screen attack cargo ship Centaurus (AKA-17), attack transport Harry Lee (APA-10), and coastal minesweeper Vigor (AMc-110) to steam south until they made rendezvous with an east-bound convoy. Delivering the three auxiliaries at 0605, the two destroyers headed north and rejoined TG 53.2, which, on 30 June, received orders to return to the Marshall Islands. “Arrived at Eniwetok Atoll…at 1400 on 3 July,” wrote Johnston’s war diarist matter-of-factly, “after a very uneventful passage.” The destroyer lay anchored at Eniwetok taking on provisioning, undergoing voyage repairs, “and awaiting further orders” (3-16 July). She also took her turn in carrying out offshore patrols, off Deep Passage (9-10 July) and off Wide Passage (13-14 July).
“Further orders” ultimately came, in the form of CTG 53.2 Movement Order A6-44 including Johnston in company with TG 53.2 (Rear Adm. Reifsnider), in TU 53.2.1 (Capt. William P. Burford, Commander DesRon 12). Johnston screened the sortie of the transports and carriers of TU 53.7.4 through Deep Passage, and cleared Eniwetok Atoll to the south and west. She again set course for the Marianas, for Guam. She took station in the antisubmarine screen, in cruising disposition 4-T. She proceeded toward Guam, “steaming as before,” with the war diarist adding only “Nothing eventful occurred” (18-20 July) during the voyage.
A half hour after the mid watch ended (0430) on 21 July 1944, Johnston received orders detaching her from the screen, to proceed independently to Fire Support Area 6-1 in Agat Bay, Guam. There she reported to CTG 53.5.6 in Pennsylvania “to fire counterbattery and neutralizing fire” in the areas off Agat beach areas until 0822, “and thereafter close supporting fire in support of the landing of the First Provisional Marine Brigade.”
Johnston, her crew at general quarters, took her assigned station at 0530 on 21 July 1944. Nearby, the battleship Colorado opened fire with her secondary battery, followed within minutes by Pennsylvania. At 0550 Johnston opened up with one-gun salvos, 5-inch common and AA common against Pelagi Rock; seven minutes later, controlling the 40-millimeter battery from the main battery Mk. 37 director, the destroyer opened up with her secondary battery to clear the vegetation from the target. After checking fire briefly (0558-0601), she received a request from Pennsylvania to move south of her to guard against premature bursts of 5-inch fire. Again checking 5-inch and 40-millimeter fire, Johnston resumed main battery fire, using the church at Agat as a target since the church was camouflaged and thus presented the appearance of being an enemy strongpoint or headquarters, putting ten rounds on target before shifting fire to a block house in south Agat. She again cleared vegetation from her target with 40-millimeter fire, and took targets of opportunity along Agat beach under fire, periodically checking or resuming fire as the tactical situation demanded. At one point (0640) she again targeted the church at Agat, then flashed a signal to Pennsylvania asking the battleship to take out the church with high-capacity 14-inch/45 caliber main battery fire. By 0800, Johnston’s chronology of events that day contains the parenthetical notation: “(Church had, at our request, been worked over by Pennsylvania’s main battery by this time).”
As the first wave of landing craft were approaching the beach (0822), Johnston resumed fire after momentarily checking it for a minute, shifting to “rapid fire all guns.” Cmdr. Evans ordered the ship to move “all ahead two thirds,” moving in on the left flank of landing craft and “working over [the] landing beach.” She reported to CTG 53.2 via TBS, SCR-610 radio, and first support common. She checked fire at 0830 having expended 368 rounds of ammunition, shortly before the first wave landed at Agat Beach. As the minutes ticked away, Johnston continued firing, shooting up a Japanese troop concentration shortly before 0900, earning a shore fire control party’s praise: “target destroyed, beautiful shooting.”
After being taken under fire by a shore battery, she began firing three-gun salvos; on the sixth one, an ammunition dump exploded, razing a large area and destroying a gun; she then destroyed an earthwork and a coast defense gun with five five-gun salvos. She continued her work into the second dog watch with methodical precision, often controlling the fire of her 40-millimeter batteries from the main battery director.
On the 22nd of July, Johnston’s routine continued, targeting enemy troop concentrations until checking fire due to the sighting of U.S. tanks in the immediate vicinity of a target. CTU 53.3.6 directed her to replenish ammunition, at which point the tank landing ship LST-122 came alongside (1027-1310) and transferred 800 rounds of 5-inch AA common and 800 charges of mixed flashless and smokeless powder. Johnston went to general quarters five minutes after the LST cleared her side and resumed firing missions, furnishing call fire and barrage fire as directed, again controlling her 40-millimeter battery with her Mk. 37 main battery director (1451-1527) neutralizing her target in the neck of the Orote Peninsula behind Neye Island. Relieved by Guest at 1755 on 22 July, Johnston proceeded out to sea on an antisubmarine patrol in the vicinity of Area 9, 10,000 yards west of Facpi Point, which she patrolled until 0827 on 23 July.
Establishing contact with navy liaison officers and shore fire control parties less than an hour into the forenoon watch on 23 July 1944, Johnston received direction to stand by for call fire duty. While anchored in Agat Bay in 17 fathoms, with Orote Point bearing 321½°T, Johnston received small arms fire at 1110 that hit the bridge “directly in front of [the] commanding officer’s mid-ships area,” the rounds being deflected by the STS steel around the bridge. Underway again at 1706, the destroyer proceeded to Area 4 “to furnish night illumination and harassing fires” 2,000 yards “outside of the O-2 line.” Cmdr. Evans called all hands to general quarters at 1855, and Johnston began firing at a Japanese troop concentration (1907-1916), that target being reported as destroyed. Securing from general quarters at 1925, the ship provided night illumination through the mid watch.
Johnston completed her night illumination and harassment missions at 0537 on 24 July 1944, having expended 73 star shells and 202 rounds of 5-inch AA common, then proceeded from area four to area six at 0715, taking her station in the latter at 0734. Less than a quarter of an hour later, the destroyer began shelling the neck of the Orote Peninsula; by the time she ceased fire an hour into the forenoon watch (0900), she had hurled 496 rounds of 5-inch AA common into the region. She received an increased allowance of 150 rounds of 5-inch a half hour later, then opened up again at 0953, only to cease firing seven minutes later on orders of CTG 53.2 “as own troops were advancing.”
At that time, Johnston observed USMC tank landing vehicles (LVT-A) that were churning their way toward Neye Island come under fire from Japanese shore batteries. The destroyer stood toward the imperiled marines to provide cover. One of the LVTs, from Company A, First Armored Amphibian Co., having been launched earlier from LST-270, took several hits from the concealed enemy guns, and First Lt. Robert A. Fish, USMCR, the platoon leader, received shrapnel wounds in his right thigh and in both legs. Nevertheless, Fish continued to direct his platoon’s fire. With the LVT immobilized and foundering, Sgt. Paul R. Breme, USMC, and Cpl. Durward B. Smith, USMCR, remained near the armored amphibian, Breme, the LVT’s commander, helping to evacuate First Lt. Fish and other members of the crew. Cpl. Smith kept one marine, badly wounded in both legs and a non-swimmer, afloat until rescued by a landing craft. The rescuing craft brought six wounded leathernecks out to Johnston for medical treatment, transferring them to the destroyer at 1035.
Lt. (j.g.) Hadfield and his corpsmen found First Lt. Fish the most serious case, in shock with moderate bleeding, his blood pressure at 80/40 and his pulse at 110. Seeing no apparent injury to bones, nerves, or arteries, Johnston’s medical team cleansed the wounds, sprinkled sulfanilamide crystals on the wound and applied pressure dressings, giving him a half-grain of morphine and one unit of dry plasma, as well as two grams of sulfanilamide by mouth. Fish responded immediately to the antishock treatment, his blood pressure improving to 120/76 and his pulse to 84, an hour after being taken on board. Sgt. M. J. Zadarosni was brought on board with a shrapnel wound in the right thigh with moderate bleeding but with no apparent injury to bones, nerves, or arteries, as with his platoon commander, Zadarosni’s wound was cleansed, sulfanilamide crystals sprinkled, and pressure dressings were applied; he received a half-grain of morphine by injection, and 2 grams of sulfadiazine by mouth. Sgt. F. R. Worteck was brought on board with multiple shrapnel wounds to both legs and his right arm but with no apparent bone, nerve, or artery injuries. Three superficial pieces of shrapnel were removed from the wounds, which were cleansed, sprinkled with sulfanilamide crystals and dressings applied. He, too, received an injection of morphine, a half grain, and two grams of sulfadiazine by mouth.
Eventually, Johnston transferred the six wounded marines (three of whom, Fish, Breme, and Smith, would each receive a Bronze Star) to the attack transport Harry Lee at 1925, and shortly thereafter received orders from CTG 53.2 to close and observe Neye Island. The ship found the area so thick with smoke from smoke pots on Agat Beach that the target she had been ordered to observe was for all intents and purposes unable to be seen which she communicated to the task group commander. CTG 53.2 then directed Johnston to proceed to the area near Pennsylvania and lie-to.
Johnston continued to support the invasion of Guam until Orote Point was declared secure around 1800 on 29 July 1944. During that period, she fired 3,546 rounds of 5-inch/38 AA common, 50 5-inch white phosphorous rounds, 135 5-inch/38 common, 289 star shells, and 3,200 rounds of 40-millimeter. Battery performance, Cmdr. Evans wrote later, “was perfect, fire discipline was excellent.” Gunnery proved “very effective against all targets,” with shore fire control spotters “work[ing] the bursts in quite close to our own lines on several occasions,” destroying targets but not hitting U.S. forces. Counter-battery fire proved effective, quickly destroying enemy artillery as soon as it was located. “The 40mm weapons,” he continued, “again proved extremely effective against enemy exposed troops and the value of this battery as an anti-personnel weapon cannot be overemphasized; it is really a Jap killer.”
Evans’ decision to move Johnston toward the beach ahead of the leading assault waves, as close to the beach as possible, on the flank, he later considered as a fortunate move, in that the Japanese took the ship – and not the landing force – under fire, “and thereby reduced our personnel casualties on the landing beaches considerably.” It also enabled the control officer to locate heretofore undisclosed enemy guns and employ counter-battery fire to destroy them. And though the Japanese frequently straddled the ship, “small amounts of maneuvering prevented any hits.” The ship’s officers proved conscientious in keeping “sight-seers” clear of the engaged side, resulting in no casualties among the crew.
Evans called the performance of his officers and men “marvelous.” For almost eight days’ running, “days and nights we were either shooting, standing by to shoot, loading ammunition or fueling ship. Their only fear was that we would run out of ammunition, and have some other destroyer ordered to replace us. It was an inspiring performance.” He particularly singled out Lt. Stirling, his executive officer, and Lt. Hagen, Johnston’s gunnery officer. “During the eight days Lieutenant Stirling, with practically no rest or sleep, and often without meals manned his station in CIC as evaluator and furnished target set up for all call fires, illumination, and night harassing fire. During the entire eight days and nights, in spite of his fatigue, there was not a single miscue in his performance.” Lt. Hagen, the gunnery officer, recipient of a Silver Star (Guadalcanal, 1942), “promptly and accurately, on William Day, took under fire every enemy battery which could be located and quickly silenced same. His fast and accurate fire prevented damage to this ship by enemy fire, saved lives and loss in the beach area, and contributed immeasurably to the success of the operation and to the small loss of life in the beach head area.”
Relieved by Bennett (DD-473) at 1125 on 19 July 1944, Johnston steamed to cover the sweeping operations in Apra Harbor, standing by west of the Orote Peninsula. She observed the Stars and Stripes flying over the old Marine Barracks at Sumay (1555), then American tanks on the peninsula (1640). Relieved by Guest (1753), Johnston’s war diarist noted that the mission just completed had been “quite uneventful and no firing was done.” She then proceeded to Agat Bay and took the tank landing craft LCT-965 alongside, then received 1,555 rounds of 5-inch/38 AA common, 60 star shells, 50 white phosphorous rounds, and 1,482 charges of “assorted flashless and smokeless powder.” A heavy squall interrupted the process at 2223, during the first watch, causing the destroyer to cast off LCT-965 before the former had had a chance to transfer “all empties” to the craft. Shortly before the start of the mid watch, Johnston took station in the antisubmarine screen off the Agat Beaches.
Johnston screened but did no firing the next day (30 July 1944), her war diarist noting “All hands were thankful for a little rest.” Late the next afternoon, the destroyer accompanied New Orleans and Guest to Guam’s east coast to provide fire support in an area to the north of Pago Bay, she then screened New Orleans on 1 August. An hour into the mid watch on the 2nd, Johnston provided scheduled neutralization fires into areas west of Mt. Santa Rosa. She ceased fire at 0522, her war diarist noting the fire mission as uneventful “except to bring [the] ship’s total rounds fired during the campaign above the 4,000 mark…” Over the next few days (2-9 August), she operated in the screen of TU 53.5.2 without incident.
With the formation of TU 53.5.4 on 9 August 1944, at 1700 Johnston made rendezvous 20 miles southeast of Guam, with the battleships Tennessee and California forming a column, the cruisers Louisville (flagship of Rear Adm. Jesse B. Oldendorf, ComCruDiv 4), Minneapolis, Honolulu and Cleveland forming a circle, with DesDiv 94 plus Halford (DD-480) and Guest (DD-472) in antisubmarine screen 56 as specified in USF-10A. In accordance with their orders from CTF 53, the goodly company of warships set course for Eniwetok. Johnston delivered 63 bags of U.S. Mail to the flagship Louisville the next morning (0642-0718), then held gunnery drills, firing at bursts that simulated a surprise aircraft attack. She also conducted the monthly test-firing of Mk. 32 ammunition, expending 10 rounds of 5-inch AA common and 24 Mk. 32 rounds. That afternoon, she conducted radar tracking drill 1-B.
Johnston held a radar tracking drill before sunrise the next morning (11 August 1944), then held machine gun practice. She expended 610 rounds of 20-millimeter and 596 of 40-millimeter, firing at a sleeve towed by one of the cruisers’ floatplanes. That afternoon, training continued unrelentingly, with pairs of destroyers proceeding ahead of the formation and conducting simulated radar-controlled torpedo attacks.
An hour into the mid watch on 12 August 1944, the formation passed into another time zone, clocks being set forward an hour. During the morning, Johnston conducted a flag hoist drill, but choppy seas prevented the battleships and cruisers from operating floatplanes for gunnery drills, necessitating shore-based planes flying out from Eniwetok to tow targets. Johnston expended 16 rounds of 5-inch common during her firing practice in the early afternoon. The destroyer entered Eniwetok Atoll via the Deep Passage at 1630, and after fueling, moored in Berth 528, Middle Anchorage. The ship’s war diarist concluded the day’s entry with: “So ended the Marianas Campaign for the U.S.S. JOHNSTON.”
Johnston welcomed Franks alongside a little over a half hour into the forenoon watch on 13 August 1944, the former’s chronicler noting: “We are engaging in what little upkeep and repair can be effected consistent with 24 hours’ notice, and in replenishing supplies.” That process continued over the ensuing days (14-15 August), with Johnston providing 500 rounds of 5-inch/38 AA common and 200 rounds of 5-inch smokeless powder to meet shortages on board Ingersoll (DD-652).
Assigned an availability alongside Piedmont (AD-17) (16-18 August 1944), Johnston received continued routine upkeep and repairs. She received 70 rounds of 5-inch AA common on 16 August in addition to 1,408 rounds of 40-millimeter ammunition. The following night, an “Air Flash Red” occurred, lasting for only four minutes before the “Flash White” returned. At midnight on 18 August, the destroyer’s availability period ended.
Underway from the Middle Anchorage at Eniwetok at 0626 on 19 August 1944, Johnston fueled alongside the tanker Signal (IX-142), then proceeded out of the Deep Passage to screen the sortie of TU 53.5.4’s battleships and cruisers. At 1010, the destroyer took station 2 in antisubmarine screen 55 as called for in USF-10A, with the OTC in Louisville and Pennsylvania as guide. The formation set course for Espíritu Santo, New Hebrides, with Halford catching up with the task unit during the first dog watch.
Over the ensuing days (20-22 August 1944), the passage to Espíritu Santo continued uneventfully, routine steaming punctuated by Pennsylvania’s reporting an unidentified plane that turned out to be friendly (1245 on 20 August), and Johnston picking up a sound contact that “quickly proved false” (1834 on the same date). She left the formation with a half hour remaining in the mid watch on the 21st, opening the range for radar tracking drill (0330-0615) and then returning. She held an antiaircraft firing practice during the morning that day, targets being sleeves towed by cruiser-based floatplanes, Johnston expended 491 rounds of 40-millimeter. That afternoon, the screening destroyers opened the range in pairs, and practiced radar-controlled torpedo attacks on the main body. Flag hoist drill occurred on 22 August, after which Johnston fired three rounds of 5-inch AA common at air bursts. An IFF check found all ships’ equipment operating satisfactorily. At 2213 on 22 August, Johnston made radar contact on a surface contact bearing 218°T, 22 miles distant, identifying it during the mid watch on the 23rd as DesRon 45 steaming at 11 knots on course 140°T.
“Steaming as before,” however, changed when Tennessee reported a steering casualty at 0452 on 23 August 1944, necessitating a change in course from 145°T to 235°T. Soon thereafter, Tennessee and California collided, the former dropping out of formation with Halford screening her, but then rejoining soon thereafter. California, however, then dropped out of formation with Hailey as her screen, the battleship’s sailors rescuing their trapped shipmates in the twisted steel of her forward compartments damaged in the collision. California and Hailey rejoined the disposition at 0716, the formation moving ahead at 16 knots but conducting no exercises that day.
After steaming south down the east coast of Espíritu Santo, California, with Hailey screening, was detached at 0538 on 24 August 1944 to proceed to the Pallikuo Bay anchorage. Less than an hour later (0630), the destroyers of the task unit, Johnston included, screened the heavy ships as they stood into the Segond Channel anchorage. Entering Segond Channel herself at 0720, Johnston fueled, them moored alongside the repair ship Briareus (AR-9) for an availability for upkeep and voyage repairs. That same day, DesDiv 94 reported for duty to Commander Third Fleet (Adm. William F. Halsey, Jr.) and Commander, Group Five, Amphibious Forces, Pacific (Rear Adm. Theodore S. Wilkinson).
Johnston underwent an “availability for emergency upkeep and repairs” alongside Briareus (25-26 August 1944), an interval the destroyer’s war diarist considered “insufficient…for routine repair work.” She got underway the following morning (27 August) as part of TU 32.19.2, the battleships Pennsylvania and Idaho (BB-42), heavy cruisers Louisville (flagship, Rear Adm. Oldendorf) and Minneapolis, and an eight-destroyer screen. The destroyers screened the heavy ships, Johnston taking station 3 in the antisubmarine screen 58 as the formation set course for the Solomon Islands. That afternoon, the task unit conducted gunnery practice, she firing 160 rounds of 40-millimeter ammunition, and proceeded “northwesterly as before” the next day (28 August), Johnston conducting exercise 1-B (0800-1105).
After proceeding north of Guadalcanal and steaming through the Lengo Channel, Johnston entered Purvis Bay ten minutes before the start of the forenoon watch (0750) on 29 August 1944. After fueling from Fuel Dock No.1, she steamed alongside Haggard in Berth 31 and moored. On four hours’ notice to get underway, she reported for duty to CTG 32.7 (Rear Adm. Ralph A. Ofstie, ComCarDiv 26). Underway again at 1246 in compliance with a ComDesDiv 94 despatch (29005), Johnston stood out, her war diarist noting joyously that they had been “in port long enough to receive 42 bags of second class Mail that finally caught up with us.” The destroyer passed through the harbor nets and then screened the sortie of the escort aircraft carriers (CVE) of TG 32.7 from Tulagi Harbor, riding shotgun for Marcus Island (CVE-77), Ommaney Bay (CVE-79), Petrof Bay (CVE-80) and Kalinin Bay (CVE-68) as they proceeded to the waters between Guadalcanal and the Russells, launching their respective composite squadrons providing air support for practice landings from TF 32 on Guadalcanal. Those evolutions continued the following day, with Johnston returning to Port Purvis an hour into the second dog watch (1900) and mooring alongside Haggard in Berth 38.
After fueling alongside Chikaskia on the morning of 31 August 1944, Johnston got underway that afternoon, proceeding out of Port Purvis and screening the CVEs as they stood out of the harbor at Tulagi. The ships then steamed to the waters north and west of Savo Island, whence the escort carriers rehearsed with their embarked composite squadrons conducting strikes on Guadalcanal, operations continued into the next day. “The period is characterized,” Johnston’s war diarist noted on 1 September, “by continuous changing of course, reorienting of the screen and changing of stations in [the] screen that is characteristic of aircraft carrier operations” that were hampered by “very poor weather and continual rainsqualls…” The formation arrived off the entrance to Tulagi Harbor shortly before the end of the first dog watch, the destroyers screening to seaward as the CVEs stood in. Johnston passed through the antisubmarine nets at 1819, then soon moored alongside Haggard in Berth 38.
The next morning (2 September 1944), Johnston’s sailors loaded 550 rounds of 5-inch/38 AA common projectiles and 450 cases of SPDN from an ammunition lighter that had been brought alongside. That afternoon, the destroyer topped off Haggard’s fuel oil supply, then received stores in the early evening. Underway for Fuel Dock No.2 at Tulagi at 0832 the following morning (3 September), Johnston returned to moor alongside her sistership once fueling had been completed.
In compliance with orders from CTU 32.7.2 on 4 September 1944, Johnston unmoored from Haggard and got underway at 1035. The destroyers encountered a brief delay when the Port Director had not had the anti-torpedo net opened to permit their passage despite having been previously notified of the time of departure. Shortly after noon, Johnston passed through the nets and joined the carriers (TU 32.7.2) that “had sortied and were awaiting their anti-submarine screen,” taking station 3 in screen 54 “on [the] carriers who were equally spaced on [a] circle of [a] fifteen-hundred yard radius from [the] fleet center.”
Johnston thus joined Haggard (ComDesDiv 94 embarked), Hailey, and Welles in providing protection for the escort carriers Saginaw Bay (CVE-82) (OTC, Rear Adm. George R. Henderson, ComCarDiv 28), Petrof Bay and Kalinan Bay. TU 32.7.2 was assigned the task of furnishing air cover for the Peleliu Movement Group 2 and the Angaur Movement Group 2. The formation set course for the Palau Islands of the Caroline group. Employing a speed of advance of 7.73 knots, TU 32.7.2 proceeded toward the Palaus (5-14 September), covering the movement of the tractor groups assigned to the assault on Peleliu and Angaur.
As seen from a vantage point on board the escort carrier Saginaw Bay, looking across Millicoma, Johnston replenishes her fuel bunkers between 0840 and 0910 on 12 September 1944, en route to the Palaus. Note that Johnston is still wearing Measure 21, Sea Blue. (U.S. Navy Photograph 80-G-334967, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Division, College Park, Md.)
“As before,” Johnston’s war diarist wrote, “there was a continuous changing of courses, speeds, screening stations and screen axis. As times the screen was reorienting so continuously at high speeds that practically no anti-submarine protection could possibly be given the carriers. Had several sound contacts that proved false upon investigation and several unidentified aircraft contacts on Radar which were later identified as friendly.”
“Dog Day” for the assault on Peleliu came on 15 September 1944, and Johnston continued as part of the screen for the three CVEs of TU 32.7.2 that provided scheduled air strikes to cover the landings. “We listened intently to the progress of the landing over the air observer’s circuit and enviously to the bombardments over the Fire Support Common,” the destroyer’s chronicler wrote, explaining that “This was the first operation we have been in since commissioning that this ship had not been assigned to a close[-]in fire support mission.” That night, the task unit retired to the waters southeast of Peleliu, where the unit operated the following day and the next [16-17 September] as well, within visual range of the island at daylight and retiring to the southeast at night, the CVEs providing scheduled and on-call support missions as well as antisubmarine patrols. “The period was very quiet,” Johnston’s war diarist observed of those days, “and the only diversion was an occasional sound contact which always proved to be non-submarine upon investigation.”
On 18 September 1944, Johnston received assignment to a different task unit when the screens of TU 32.7.2 and TU 32.7.3 were exchanged, the destroyer now screening Kitkun Bay (CVE-71), the flagship of Rear Adm. Ralph A. Ofstie, ComCarDiv 26, OTC, as well as White Plains (CVE-66) and Gambier Bay (CVE-73). Johnston’s war diarist clearly found the change a salutary one: “Screening was greatly facilitated,” he wrote, “and afforded greater protection to the carriers as this OTC [Rear Adm. Ofstie] did not require the screen to reorient on every change of course but only on changes of base course.” That night, TU 32.7.3 set course west.
Making a rendezvous with a fueling group the following morning (19 September 1944), Johnston fueled (0930-1045) from Tomahawk (AO-88). During the replenishment, both of the destroyer’s fire rooms lost suction, but “was quickly regained before too much speed was lost. No casualties resulted.” Franks relieved Welles in the task unit, after which TU 32.7.3 set course to return to the waters off Palau Atoll to continue providing air support for the ongoing operation the following day (20 September). After a “flash red” from Palau at 1844 that day, Johnston’s SC radar picked up an unidentified aircraft bearing 285°T, 44 miles distant, but then received an “all clear” at 1938. Later, she learned that a single floatplane had raided and dropped bombs on Peleliu.
Having retired to the southeast at night and returned to within sight of land in the morning on 21 September 1944, Johnston received a CTG 33.19 movement order that became effective on that date, redesignating TU 32.7.3 to TU 33.12.2, its mission to provide air cover for TG 33.19 (Ulithi Attack Group, Rear Adm. William H. P. Blandy) as it proceeded to capture Ulithi Atoll, in the Caroline Islands, “and furnish air support necessary for the capture and defense of that Atoll.” The movement order directed that TU 33.12.2 would “operate independently but within TBS range of the Attack Group.” By the start of the first dog watch , Johnston was headed for Ulithi, TU 33.12.2 having recovered planes at dusk, the carriers and their screen closed astern of the task group’s transports. CTU 33.12.2 despatch 210525 ordered a reorientation of the screen, after which Hailey and Franks rotated to the right, to bow and beam positions, respectively, while Haggard and Johnston rotated to the left, to bow and beam positions, respectively.
Tragedy, however, visited Johnston during the mid watch as she steamed toward Ulithi. Shipmates found EM2c Oscar E. Blondin in a coma at the end of the mid watch. Lt. (j.g.) Robert T. Browne, MC-V(G), Johnston’s medical officer, began artificial respiration at 0530, but despite his best efforts, Blondin died at 0642. Browne attributed his death to a cerebral hemorrhage. Having enlisted at Springfield, Mass., on 20 November 1942, Blondin had joined Johnston when she was commissioned in October 1943, and was, thus, one of Johnston’s plankowners. Later that day, “in compliance with CTU 33.12.2 visual despatch 220220 of September 1944,” Cmdr. Evans and his shipmates committed Blondin’s remains “…to the sea in accordance with Naval Customs and Traditions” at 1538.
Less than an hour after she had paused briefly to commit the remains of EM2c Blondin to the deep, the ship that had been his home since the previous October received mail from the flagship Kitkun Bay at 1624, then moved on to go alongside White Plains (1640), then Gambier Bay (1652), and, ultimately, to the attack transport Fremont (APA-44) (1725). At 1742, the destroyer observed the sunset and, accordingly, “darkened ship.”
An hour before the start of the mid watch, Johnston’s war diarist noted: “At 2300 CTU 33.19.10 joined TG.19 and made reconnaissance report on Ulithi Atoll. Essence of report is that all Japs had evacuated, natives appeared friendly, beaches and harbor buoyed, recommended all air strikes and bombardments be called off.”
At dawn on the 23rd, TG 33.19 stood in to Ulithi Lagoon, Johnston’s chronicler wrote, “and ‘captured’ the Atoll,” while the task unit to which she was attached “remained outside and maintained anti-submarine patrol plane coverage, operating to the south of Ulithi…” Midway through the forenoon watch on 24 September, however, Kitkun Bay and Gambier Bay stood in to the lagoon at Ulithi through the Mugai Channel, screened by Haggard and Johnston, while White Plains, screened by Hailey and Franks, maintained air coverage overhead. At 1037, Johnston dropped anchor in Berth 110, then got underway at 1902 to proceed alongside Barnstable (APA-93) after Haggard had completed refueling. Mooring alongside the attack transport at 2002, Johnston began fueling. The slow rate of the process necessitated her remaining alongside until next morning. That night, wrote Johnston’s diarist happily, “We enjoyed a movie on the fantail…”
Underway from alongside Barnstable at 0601 on 25 September 1944, Johnston transited the Mugai Pass out of Ulithi Lagoon, and, in company with Haggard, screened Gambier Bay as she sailed. Picking up a sound contact northwest by one-half north (320°) a little over four hours later, however, Johnston proceeded to an emergency attack position and dropped 11 depth charges at a medium depth setting beginning at 1011. After regaining and losing the contact several times, Johnston’s CIC watch standers finally obtained a course of 275° (T), speed 3-6 knots. Regaining the contact at 1047, 800 yards away, almost southwest by south, Johnston attacked again at 1052 with a nine-charge deep-set pattern. Unfortunately, two of the ship’s port side K-guns failed to fire, either electronically or manually, bedeviled by “faulty impulse primers and [a] faulty firing pin.” Losing contact after that attack, Johnston carried out a retiring search until 1230 but never regained contact. “Sound contact was never very good throughout the attacks and recorder traces were also weak,” those who evaluated the attack later wrote, “but the attacks were carried out on the basis of the apparent definite target maneuvers and possible course and speed obtained from the CIC plot. The contact was evaluated as doubtful submarine.”
Rejoining Gambier Bay and Haggard at 1230 as ordered by Gambier Bay, with CTG 33.19 Movement Order A271-44 having become effective a half-hour before (TU 33.19.2 becoming TU 32.18.1), at 1730 the remainder of the unit joined up outside Mugai Pass, with DesDiv 94 forming a screen on three escort carriers, with Johnston assuming station 3. The task unit’s mission: to provide air coverage for the movement of TG 32.18 to Manus, in the Admiralties, via Hollandia, New Guinea, as it proceeded to the south. During the passage, at the start of the first dog watch on 27 September, Johnston held AA machine practice, firing on a target sleeve towed by one of the carrier planes. She expended 840 rounds of 20-millimeter fire and 222 rounds of 40-millimeter, the latter sending the sleeve fluttering to the water below.
Making contact on New Guinea 20 minutes after the conclusion of the mid watch on 28 September 1944, the land mass lying 40 miles away by the SG radar, Johnston screened the entrance of the carriers into Humboldt Bay, then, after entering (0902), dropped anchor, on two hours’ notice to sortie. Notified to remain at two hours’ notice mid-way through the afternoon watch (1400) the following day (29 September), Johnston received orders (1510) to get underway at 1545. Underway at 1550 (only five minutes off schedule), the destroyer stood out of Humboldt Bay, screening the escort carriers as they sortied, forming screen 54, taking station 3. With the carriers orienting themselves in a 1,000-yard circle, setting course to the eastward, bound for the Admiralty Islands, providing air cover for TG 32.18. Johnston, setting her clocks ahead one hour as she crossed into a different time zone an hour into the mid watch on 30 September, held AA gunnery practice that afternoon for her main battery and automatic weapons. In her expenditure of 51 rounds of 5-inch/38 AA common, the ship shot down two sleeves; she also expended 352 rounds of 40-millimeter and 425 rounds of 20-millimeter. “Our E.T.A. [estimated time of arrival] at Manus Island,” Johnston’s war diarist wrote, “is 0700 1 October 1944.” After she arrived at Manus, she received a tender availability, as well as upkeep to prepare her for her next operation.
Assigned to TU 77.4.3, OTC in Fanshaw Bay (CVE-70) (Rear Adm. Clifton A. F. Sprague), Johnston sailed from Manus on 12 October 1944, and set course for Leyte, in the Philippine Islands, proceeding in company with TG 77.2 (Fire Support Group) and TG 77.4 (Escort Carrier Group). On 18 October, TU 77.4.3 began operating independently as the Northern Air Support Group, the composite squadrons attached to the carriers furnishing air support for the preliminary bombardment, the landings, and the ensuing occupation. As General Douglas MacArthur returned to the Philippines as he had promised, the Japanese prepared to accord the general, and the forces he had marshalled for that operation, a reception. What remained of the Japanese Fleet sailed to contest the landing with all it had available to it.
The day began with Johnston steaming in the antisubmarine screen for the carriers, sector “F” of formation 5R, and on the morning of 25 October 1944 she had secured from the morning alert when the CVEs had launched their scheduled strikes, their antisubmarine patrols and their local combat air patrols. At about 0650, however, Johnston’s officers and men received alarming tidings – they were “being pursued by a large portion of the Japanese fleet.” General quarters soon rang out on board the ships of the task unit, calling all hands to battle stations. The carriers proceeded in an easterly direction to launch planes, ordnance loads varying considerably within each composite squadron. At that moment, observers in Johnston later recalled, the Japanese bore approximately 345°, about 34,000 yards distant, and closing the range rapidly, with bones-in-teeth at 22 to 25 knots.
Cmdr. Evans immediately called down to the engineering spaces, to light off all boilers and make maximum speed. Without having received orders to do so, he also ordered the engine room to begin making funnel smoke, and the smoke screen generator detail to begin making chemical FS smoke; the detail would expend seven before their work was through. Johnston began to zig-zag, back and forth between friend and foe, smoke billowing from her stacks (black) and her generators aft (white). By about 0700, the carriers had launched their planes to set upon the attacking Japanese force, and began steaming to the southeast.
Estimating the range to the nearest Japanese cruiser as 18,000 yards, Johnston opened fire at 0710 with her 5-inch/38 battery, immediately provoking a response from more than one quarter, with the Japanese heavy cruiser Suzuya firing five salvos of which two appeared to land close aboard. Battleship Yamato fired eleven salvos from her secondary (6.1-inch) battery (0710-0715), and a main battery salvo thundered from the battleship Nagato. Battleship Haruna had already fired five main battery salvoes at TU 77.4.3’s escort carriers; seeing a U.S. destroyer closing rapidly, she shifted fire to her.
The heavy volume of fire headed in Johnston’s direction, in some cases straddling her, prompted Cmdr. Evans to give the order to “stand-by for torpedo attack to starboard,” and the ship turned to head toward the enemy. “This decision was made by the Captain,” Lt. Robert C. Hagen, D-V(G), USNR, the gunnery officer, later explained, “to insure being within torpedo range and to insure being able to fire our torpedoes even though this heavy fire should put the ship out of action before the range had closed. The ship closed to within ten thousand yards of the enemy before torpedoes were fired.”
Johnston bore toward the enemy, her five-inch battery firing rapid salvos, choosing the leading Japanese cruiser as her point of aim, with a target angle of 040°, the speed of target 25 knots. The crew of torpedo tube mount one trained it to 110° relative, the men on mount two trained it to 125° relative. All torpedoes, those in mount one with a 35° right gyro angle, those in mount two with a 25° right gyro angle, were set to run on low speed, at a depth of six feet, with a one degree spread. Using a 2½° off-set, all torpedoes were fired, leaving the tubes at three-second intervals. As best as could be seen, all ran “hot, straight, and normal.”
Johnston maintained the “excellent solution” in her shooting, Lt. Hagen later claiming that his ship’s gunnery had scored at least 45 5-inch/38 AA common hits. After she had launched her torpedoes, Johnston turned into her own smoke screen, and did not actually see her “fish” hit the target, although “two officers and many enlisted men in the repair parties at the time” below the main deck heard “two and possibly three heavy underwater explosions” when the torpedoes were slated to hit. Coming out of the smoke, observers in Johnston saw the leading enemy heavy cruiser “burning furiously astern.” Japanese records woild later disclose that one of Johnston's torpedoes had hit the bow of the Japanese heavy cruiser Kumano, damaging forward watertight compartments and reducing her speed to 12 knots, compelling Vice Adm. Shiraishi Kazutaka to transfer his flag to the heavy cruiser Suzuya. Kumano, thus knocked out of the battle, later retired toward San Bernardino Strait.
Johnston’s emerging from the smoke thus brought her out into the open, and spotters on board Yamato detected the movement and the flagship fired a salvo from her 6.1-inch secondary battery. Moments later, Yamato’s main battery of 18.1-inch guns fired a salvo. The combined effect of those shells hitting the target appeared from a distance to observers on board Yamato and light cruiser Noshiro that the target (Johnston) simply disappeared.
Johnston, however, was very much alive, although badly battered. The elation that Johnston’s sailors felt over the damage they believed they had inflicted on the enemy soon gave way to shock and horror as three 18.1-inch shells from Yamato tore into the ship in addition to three 6.1-inch from the same battleship. At about 0730, three of the former (18.1-inch) hit aft, knocking out the after fire room and engine room, all power to 5-inch mounts 53, 54, and 55, all power to the steering engine, rendered the gyro compass useless, and cut her speed to 17 knots. Escaping steam from the no.2 engine room killed or badly burned every man in the handling room for Mt. 53 and forced the temporary abandonment of that compartment. Steering had to be done manually, at steering aft (which was not equipped with a gyro compass) orders having to be passed from the bridge by the JV phones. The 6-inch hits disabled the 40-millimeter director on the after stack, and the combined force of the shells hitting the ship snapped off the SG radar. Two 6.1-inch shells hit the bridge on the port side, one passing aft of the port side torpedo director and the other exploding, killing Lt. (j.g.) Joseph B. Pliska, D-V(G), USNR, DesDiv 94's recognition officer (specially trained to differentiate friend from foe) on board on temporary duty, outright, as he stood next to Cmdr. Evans, who emerged sans helmet, bare-chested and bleeding. When Lt. (j.g.) Robert Browne, MC-V(G), Johnston’s medical officer, reached the bridge, Evans sent him to treat those more seriously wounded, then wrapped a handkerchief around bloody stumps of his fingers, much in the manner in which Cmdr. J. R. M. Mullany calmly applied a tourniquet around his nearly severed arm at the Battle of Mobile Bay during the Civil War. There was a battle to be fought.
Providentially, Johnston encountered a rain squall, and received ten minutes’ grace to evaluate the catastrophic damage she had just received. The FD radar, rendered inoperative, was soon back in operation, just in time to take a Japanese destroyer under fire at a range of 10,000 yards “under modified radar control.” With the radar detecting Japanese ships closing the formation rapidly, Johnston engaged a cruiser at 11,000 yards, firing a total of over 100 rounds at the targets not seen but only indicated on radar.
At about 0800, Rear Adm. Sprague ordered the “small boys,” escort vessels and destroyers, to attack with torpedoes. Although Johnston had already fired all ten of her 21-inch torpedoes, she slid in astern in the boiling wakes of the destroyers Hoel and Heermann and destroyer escort Samuel B. Roberts (DE-413) to provide fire support. “Firing was continued intermittently on the then closest enemy cruiser,” Lt. Hagen wrote later, and he noted experiencing difficulty of gunnery control “staying on the target due to radical movements and loss of own ship’s course.” After the “small boys” had launched their torpedoes, Johnston turned to retire, closing the range on what appeared to be a Japanese cruiser. At 6,000 yards, the destroyer opened fire and obtained “many” hits. Johnston’s fire discipline proved exemplary, she trained her main battery on one of the escort vessels as she emerged from a smoke screen, close aboard. With the DE being identified as friendly, the director was trained off target, but one hot loaded gun had a powder case “cook off” and a “near miss” splashed just ahead of the U.S. ship.
With the destroyers ordered to return to the formation, Heermann received orders from the OTC (Rear Adm. Sprague) to engage Japanese cruisers firing on the carriers from the port quarter. Heermann took station on what she believed to be Hoel, but which turned out to be Johnston. Realizing the case of mistaken identity, Heermann began nevertheless to take station on Johnston, to proceed into battle as one section, but Cmdr. Amos T. Hathaway, her commanding officer, soon realized Johnston’s dire predicament – she was obviously slowed and damaged. Going it alone seemed to be the only viable option at that juncture, so Heerman set course to proceed on her own. At that moment, however, Johnston signaled: ONLY ONE ENGINE X NO GYRO X NO RADARS.
Wreathed in smoke, Heermann backs down to avoid collision, in an image captured by a photographer on board Kalinin Bay. (U.S. Navy Photograph 80-G-270517, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Division, College Park, Md., via Rick Davis)
Heermann backed emergency to clear Fanshaw Bay, then crept ahead, increasing speed and passing astern of the flagship. Heermann discerned Johnston on her port bow, then turned right to bring her 5-inch/38 batteries to bear on the enemy ships known to be close aboard, and stopped, her commanding officer expecting the badly damaged destroyer “to pass clear ahead.” From Heermann’s bridge, however, Johnston “appeared to be swinging left very slowly” so the former’s commanding officer ordered her backed “emergency full.” The men on both ships in a position to witness this drama in the midst of battle all “believed that the ships would collide.” In the midst of what history would record as one of the most important naval battles ever fought, two destroyers drew inexorably nearer, the distance between them lessening with each tick of the chronometer. Ernest Evans had Johnston backed full on Johnston’s one good engine, however, and Johnston’s bow missed Heermann’s “by about three inches [author’s italics].” In a demonstration of the American sailor’s recognizing amidst adversity what must have seemed miraculous, “a very loud spontaneous cheer,” wrote Cmdr. Hathaway, “arose from all hands on the topside of both vessels.”
The collision having been avoided (“by the narrowest possible margins,” Lt. Hagen wrote), Johnston worked back up to her top speed (17 knots) on her one engine and re-entered the fray, soon to encounter a Japanese battleship emerging from the smoke, 7,000 yards distant, on the port beam. Cmdr. Evans having “given the order not to fire on any target unless we could see it…enemy and friendly ships…now in the melee.” CIC had reported the contact to gunnery control and Johnston immediately opened fire given her obtaining a visual sighting. Lt. Hagen later claimed “several hits…on the pagoda superstructure” as the destroyer fired approximately 40 rounds “at [her] necessarily reduced rate…”
With Johnston steaming to the southwestward on her one good engine, several miles astern of TU 77.4.3, Cmdr. Ernest Evans kept the picture “in mind …at all times” of Japanese battleships and cruisers on her port quarter. Japanese destroyers steamed on her starboard quarter, at ranges that varied from seven to twelve thousand yards. Johnston made liberal use of smoke to cloak her position.
While Kitkun Bay continues to launch Wildcats and Avengers in the foreground (note curving wake astern of the CVE), Japanese shells fall ahead of White Plains (making smoke to left of center); Fanshaw Bay is at right, also making smoke. Recent research posits that the smoke in the distance (left, visible above Kitkun Bay’s wake) is that being generated by Johnston. (U.S. Navy Photograph 80-G-287439, National Archives and Records Administration, Still Pictures Division, College Park, Md.)
At about 0830, however, Evans saw Gambier Bay “under heavy fire [from] a Japanese heavy cruiser,” so ordered Johnston to draw fire from the embattled escort carrier. Closing the range to 6,000 yards, the destroyer unsuccessfully attempted to draw fire from Gambier Bay, then checked fire at 0840 to engage enemy destroyers that were clearly closing the other CVEs rapidly. Upon receiving that information from CIC, Cmdr. Evans set course toward the column of destroyers, with what appeared to be a destroyer leader in the van, followed by two three-ship destroyer divisions. Sighting them at 10,000 yards, Johnston opened fire on the leader, Lt. Hagen recounting later that the ship’s gunnery seemed to be effective as the range closed to 7,000 yards, the warsghip scoring a 5-inch hit on the light cruiser Yahagi on her starboard side, forward damaging an officer's stateroom. While she seemed to be scoring hits, however, she was also receiving them as well.
At about that time, as Hagen later marveled, “a most amazing thing happened,” when the destroyer leader executed a 90-degree turn to starboard, breaking off the action. Cmdr. Evans tried to maneuver Johnston to cross the “T” of the second destroyer in column, but before that could be accomplished, the six remaining Japanese ships turned and began to open the range.
Shortly before she opened fire on the Japanese destroyers, Johnston received a TBS message directing the “small boys” to “interpose [themselves] between the carriers and Japanese cruisers on their port quarter.” As the Japanese destroyers that Johnston had been engaging broke off the action and steamed off, Cmdr. Evans checked fire and had his ship steam toward the enemy cruisers, for the next half-hour engaging first the cruisers on the port hand and destroyers on the starboard, alternating between the two, Lt. Hagen later stated, “in a somewhat desperate attempt to keep all of them from closing the carrier formation.”
About that time, a shell hit Mt. 52 by the pointer’s seat, wrecking the mount and killing the mount’s crew and starting fires in the handling room. Smoke and flame in proximity to the bridge further added to the difficulties of command, as two hose parties attacked the flames. Another shell hit radio central, killing or wounding every man there, another set fire to a 40-millimeter magazine, shells began cooking off and dense smoke resulted from the hit. Cmdr. Evans sent messengers with steering instructions, then, at about 0920, went aft himself to the fantail, traveling the length of his ship that had suffered heavy, almost unimaginable damage, picking his way aft across the torn and blackened decks, then conning her movements from there “with only his seaman’s eye and knowledge of the relative position of enemy ships to guide him.”
Johnston taking hits “with disconcerting frequency” [from 0910 on, Lt. Hagen noted, “we sustained numerous hits up and down the length of the ship”] continued until she found herself about 0930 with “two cruisers dead ahead…several Jap destroyers on our starboard quarter and two cruisers on our port quarter. The battleships were well astern of us.” Sailors at the fantail scuttled the depth charges in the tracks at the stern so that the charges would not explode among men abandoning ship if it came to that. Machinist Marley O. Polk, on board less than a month, learning of serious flooding in the compartment containing the main condensers, volunteered to go below and close the overboard discharge valve. Fully aware of the dangers inherent in that course of action, Polk navigated the flooded space open to the sea and managed to reach his objective. Sadly, Japanese shells continuing to plunge into the ship’s engineering spaces killed him in the act of closing the valve. Polk’s courageous devotion to duty resulted in his receiving the Navy Cross (posthumously).
“At this fateful time,” Hagen wrote later, “numerous Japanese units had us under very effective fire, all of these ships being within six to ten thousand yards of us. Shortly after this, an avalanche of shells knocked out our lone remaining engine room. Director and plot lost power. All Communications were out throughout the ship. All guns were out of operation with the exception of five inch gun number four that was still shooting in local control. As the ship went dead in the water [hits in no.1 fire room at 0940 finally stopped the starboard engine] and its fate long inevitable, the Captain gave the order to abandon ship at about 0945.”
After word came to abandon, Lt. Browne, Johnston’s medical officer, who had just turned 28 years of age on 2 October, remained, providing life jackets to wounded men who did possess them, then directed them off the ship. He was last seen in the wardroom, tending to the wounded. The plunging fire of the Japanese, however, cut short his courageous efforts as the battered destroyer continued to take fire from an enemy who most likely neither knew nor cared that their target had the will, but not the means, of fighting back. Browne’s selfless heroism resulted with his being awarded a Navy Cross (posthumously).
All of the men capable to do so then left the ship by about 0955, Johnston still under constant bombardment of the enemy as her sailors lowered the gig, which soon sank, having been holed by shell fire, and four life rafts into the water. The floater nets proved another matter, their racks probably having been seriously damaged and mangled by shell fire; her men only succeeded in freeing two before the ship rolled over and sank by the bow at 1010, in 5,000 fathoms of water. The ship went down “several miles behind the task force and practically surrounded by the enemy.” One Japanese destroyer approached within 1,000 yards “to make sure that the ship had sunk.”
Of the 327 men on board Johnston at the beginning of the battle (326 officers and men of her ship’s company, and Lt.(j.g.) Pliska from DesDiv 94), she suffered 50 killed in action and 45 who died of wounds or exposure. Originally listed as missing in action, the 91 men who were never recovered and initially listed as missing, were later classified as presumed dead a year and a day after they had been declared missing. Forty men were wounded seriously and 101 men slightly. LCI gunboats rescued the lion’s share of the 141 survivors on 27 October 1944, nearly to the day and to the hour the ship had been commissioned, after they had clung desperately to life rafts for over 50 hours, battling barracudas, sharks, and stingrays; two of the rescued men had been rescued after having floated the entire time in their life jackets. PhM1c Clayton R. Schmuff, USNR, a Johnston plank owner, who cared for the wounded during the battle, helped injured men off the ship after she had been ordered abandoned, then toiled for two days caring for the bloodied survivors on life rafts, would ultimately receive a Letter of Commendation for his heroic performance of duty.
“Maybe we were a little bitter,” Lt. Hagen, who later received the Navy Cross, afterward explained in The Saturday Evening Post, “about being in the water so long, especially after three separate friendly planes had zoomed us within two hours after the ship sank. We were very weary, a little sick and maybe a little crazy from fighting, bleeding, vomiting and seeing our friends die. We were only fifty miles east of Samar and we figured we’d be picked up in a few hours with so many ships around. A lot of men would be alive today if rescue had come sooner.”
Among them might have been Lt. Elton B. “Silver” Stirling, Johnston’s executive officer, a young man who had helped his Naval Academy classmates and possessed a “pleasing, even-natured personality, characteristic of his Scandinavian blood.” Stirling managed to leave the ship in the abandonment and find a raft, but, suffering from exhaustion, drifted away from that life raft during the night of 26 October.
Elton B. Stirling, Johnston’s executive officer—seen here as a midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy—was one of the many wounded who survived to abandon ship, but who perished while awaiting rescue in the wake of the Battle of Leyte Gulf. (The Lucky Bag)
Publicly announced on 17 November 1944 as lost in action, Johnston was stricken from the Navy Register ten days later, on 27 November 1944. She had been in commission two days shy of one year.
Cmdr. Evans, the only commanding officer the ship ever had, received the Medal of Honor (posthumously) for his “gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his own life above and beyond the call of duty” in the Battle off Samar. “The most inspirational leadership and actions of our Captain,” wrote Lt. Hagen subsequently, “inspired heroic deeds from the entire crew.” Evans was last seen alive, wounded and wearing a life jacket, in the water with other survivors on the night of 25 October 1944. One survivor reported other officers with him, clinging to 4x4-inch timbers, shoring that had evidently drifted off the ship when she sank: Lt. Joseph L. Worling, the engineer officer, a 30-year old “mustang” with a decade of enlisted service, and Lt. Walter P. Deutsch, E-V(G), USNR, 27; both had been with the ship since commissioning. None of the three were seen again.
Johnston received a share of the Presidential Unit Citation awarded Task Unit 77.4.3, as well as six battle stars for her World War II service in the Pacific theater: the occupation of Kwajalein and Majuro Atolls (31 January—8 February 1944) and the occupation of Eniwetok Atoll (17—25 February 1944); the consolidation of the northern Solomons (31 March 1944); a share of the sinking of I-176 (an action for which Cmdr. Evans received the Bronze Star) (16 May 1944); the capture and occupation of Guam (21 July—9 August 1944); the capture and occupation of the southern Palaus (6 September—14 October 1944); and the Leyte landings (24—25 October 1944).
In March 2021, an expedition privately funded and executed by two former U.S. Navy officers re-located, surveyed, and filmed Johnston, the world’s deepest known shipwreck that principally lies at a depth of 21,180 feet (6,456 meters), including her upright, intact forward two-thirds including bow, bridge, and amidships section. Johnston’s identification number 557 is clearly visible on both sides of her bow and her two forward 5-inch gun mounts (Mt. 51 and Mt. 52), two quintuple 21-inch torpedo mounts, and multiple 40-millimeter gun mounts are still in place and visible on the superstructure.
The funder of the expedition, Cmdr.Victor Vescovo, U.S. Navy (Ret.) personally piloted his submersible DSV Limiting Factor during two separate, eight-hour dives. These constituted the deepest wreck dives, manned or unmanned, in history. The wreck had originally been discovered in 2019 by the late Paul Allen’s vessel R/V Petrel under the leadership of ocean wreck explorer Robert Kraft, but the majority of the destroyer’s wreck lay deeper than the rated depth limit of approximately 20,000 feet (6,000 meters).
Date Assumed Command
Cmdr. Ernest E. Evans
27 October 1943
Robert J. Cressman 25 February 2020; updated 2 April 2021