Checking In with the USS Johnston

This destroyer is sure to be sunk, because its skipper had his crew get as close as possible to the enemy line so that they could get their torpedoes within firing range. Once the destroyer’s entire rack of 10 torpedoes had been emptied, they still had to thread a line of Japanese battleships and hope to make their escape.

The next few chapters followed the pilots who had catapulted from the widely zigzagging US carriers (some unfortunately with empty bomb bays because there had not been time to load them). At the end of the last chapter, one of these pilots dips through a hole in the cloud cover and sees an American destroyer being chased down by a line of enemy battleships. The destroyer is crippled and limping. The pilot didn’t know it, but this was the USS Johnston, whose crew we had just met a few chapters ago, after they had accomplished their daring mission

Chapter Twenty-Three brings us back to the Johnston, describing what is happening on the ship. In one word: carnage. Half the people we met in earlier chapters are dead. The skipper tells his gun crew they will have to sight “manually.” Uh. Since one of the crew was still sitting in his gun mount, but without a head, this was a very terrifying prospect. Nevertheless, it was done.

Back in the mount, Hollenbaugh stood on the gun captain’s platform, head poking up from the turret, shouting bearings to Bobby Chastain to guide his rotation of the gun, and ranges to Samuel Moody to determine how high to elevate it . . . Chastain and Moody turned and elevated their gun by turning brass-handled wheels on either side of the mount. They cranked them furiously back and forth as the ship veered and the guns barked and Hollenbaugh relayed ranges.

The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors, p. 209

Then a squall arises and Evans, the skipper (who btw was Cherokee, and at 41 the oldest man on the ship), tries to steer his damaged ship to follow the squall, “but the squall appeared to be moving faster than the ship was.” And there the chapter ends.

This is all tremendously exciting (and gut-churning) and readers owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to James D. Hornfischer for bringing such excellent writing skills to the description of this battle. You know, self grew up in the Philippines, lived in it for the first 21 years of her life, and had never heard of the Battle of Leyte Gulf. What a crying shame. Next time she’s home, she’ll make for Samar to see if there is a memorial there.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

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