USS JOHNSTON and USS HOEL were Fletcher class destroyers of WW II, both built on the West Coast, HOEL was commissioned first, in San Francisco, California and then JOHNSTON in Seattle, Washington.
Both destroyers were new, 2100 Ton class fighting ships and top of the line of their time.
Shortly after their commissioning, they were sent to the Pacific War zone and was quick to be thrust into the Island Campaigns that were in progress at that time.
HOEL was immediately sent to and became a part of the Gilbert Islands Campaign and was initiated to the war very quickly. HOEL got into the war in 1943. JOHNSTON, on the other hand was commissioned after HOEL and didn't make it to the war in the Pacific until early 1944.
Both ships participated in the Marshall Islands Campaign and were in several other campaigns together.
JOHNSTON was assigned to the Marianna Islands Campaign while HOEL was on another assignment.
Although both ships were a part of Destroyer Squadron 47 most of the time, they didn't always have the same assignment. However, in early October 1944 they were assigned together as a part of TASK UNIT 77.4.3 (TAFFY III) to provide fire support of General Douglas Mac Arthur's planned invasion of LEYTE Island in the Philippine Islands Campaign.
HOEL and JOHNSTON were a part of the screen vessels assigned to protect six small CVE aircraft carriers which were assigned to operate some fifty or sixty miles east of the Island of Samar, P.I.
In the early hours of 25 October 1944, TASK UNIT 77.4.3 was taken under heavy fire by Capital ships of the Japanese Imperial Navy consisting of four (4) large battleships, one of which was YAMATO, the largest ship in the world containing the largest guns. YAMATO contained nine (9) 18.1-inch guns . Three turrets of three guns each.
One turret was heavier than one Fletcher class destroyer. In addition to YAMATO, there were NAGATO which contained 16-inch guns and KONGO and HARUNA which contained 14-inch guns. In addition to the four battleships, the Japanese fleet contained 8 cruisers, 6 heavy and two light which were armed with 8-inch and 6-inch guns respectively.
This mighty armada was screened by eleven (11) fast destroyers armed with torpedoes and 5-inch guns.
Certainly, a destroyer was never meant to go toe-to-toe with battleships and cruisers. But, toe-to-toe we went and it would only be a matter of time until our small units would be wiped out by this massive fleet.
HOEL and JOHNSTON along with the other escort vessels laid a very effective smoke screen and gave such an account of themselves that the Japanese thought the destroyers were cruisers and that the Destroyer Escorts were destroyers as well as believing that the CVE aircraft carriers were large, first line carriers.
We battled fiercely and our efforts bought time for the CVE's to escape the almost sure destruction of the entire TASK UNIT. Although GAMBIER BAY was pounded and sunk, the other five CVE's whose protection depended on the screen vessels did survive the surface engagement. GAMBIER BAY suffered heavy casualties but the other CVE's casualties were relatively light compared to the escort vessels.
The Japanese suffered heavy casualties during the almost three-hour surface engagement as well as did the American Task Group.
USS GAMBIER BAY became the first aircraft carrier ever to be sunk by shell fire. The other American losses were HOEL, JOHNSTON and Destroyer Escort, SAMUEL B. ROBERTS.
Some forty five (minutes) after our battle secured, CVE, USS SAINT LO became the first American ship to be sunk by a suicide or Kamikaze pilot.
During the surface engagement, American casualties were as follows:
FANSHAW BAY 40
GAMBIER BAY 137
KITKUN BAY 28
KALININ BAY 17
WHITE PLAINS 13
SAMUEL B. ROBERTS 90
JOHN C. BUTLER 0
CVE USS SAINT LO suffered 126 casualties when she was sunk by the Kamikaze.
The total casualties suffered by TASK UNIT 77.4.3 (TAFFY III) ON 25 October 1944 were 895 with 525 suffered by the three escort vessels that were sunk, HOEL, JOHNSTON and SAMUEL B. ROBERTS.
To learn more about our two ships, the "BATTLE OFF SAMAR" or related items, click on one of the titles to the left of the Home Page.
The "BATTLE OF LEYTE GULF" in which JOHNSTON and HOEL were sunk has been acclaimed by Naval Historians as the greatest Naval battle ever fought. The specific battle in which these two destroyers were sunk is now known as "THE BATTLE OFF SAMAR". and one of the engagements of "THE BATTLE OF LEYTE GULF"
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