Cmdr Ernest Edwin Evans, MoH Recipient, And The Battle Off Samar - Native American Heritage Month


Category:  History & Sociology

By:  kavika  •  3 years ago  •  18 comments

Cmdr Ernest Edwin Evans, MoH Recipient, And The Battle Off Samar - Native American Heritage Month

This article was written by a friend of mine, Honmana (Bear Girl in the Hopi language). 

This is considered the Navy finest hour.

The quote says it all...

Lieutenant Commander Robert W. Copeland maneuvered his small ship to evade the charging  Heermann  and, as he watched the destroyer receding towards the enemy, sized up the situation, [39]  which he passed to his crew over the 1MC public-address circuit: "This will be a fight against overwhelming odds from which survival cannot be expected. We will do what damage we can." He realized that at his current heading and location his small ship would be in a textbook position to launch a torpedo attack at the leading heavy cruiser. Without orders and indeed against orders, he proceeded at full speed and set course to follow  Heermann  in to attack the cruisers.

One of our member's father was onboard the Samual B. Roberts during this battle. 


My mother brought me up to honor and respect military people. My father served in the military and Native Americans have always been highly patriotic and proud of their service in the military. They have the highest rates of service, per capita, than any other ethnic group in the country. As a child, I watched every episode of Victory at Sea on television. Mom was a big enthusiast on the subject, and I learned about some of our heroes from her. She met the author Stephen Ambrose and exchanged a couple of letters with him later, and he was very polite. She had hoped to convince him to write a book about Native American MoH winners, but it was not to be. One of those stories has always stayed in my mind, invoking awe, sadness and a great sense of pride. It was about Commander Ernest E. Evans of the USS Johnston.

Evans was born August 13, 1908 in Pawnee, Oklahoma, a 1/2 Cherokee and 1/4 Creek Indian. His white grandfather had married a Creek woman to get control of her land allotment, and shortly after, divorced her and disowned their son, Evans' father. Evans graduated from an all white school, Central High School in Muskogee, Oklahoma. In May of 1926 he enlisted in the US Navy, and a year later was appointed to the Annapolis Academy, without help from any political pull. He graduated with a Bachelors of Science degree. He served on the USS Colorado, USS Roper, USS Rathburne, USS Pensacola, USS Chaumont, USS Cahokia and USS Black Hawk. In August of 1941, he joined the destroyer USS Alden. He served as commander of the Alden from March of 1942 until July of 1943. Evans then was in charge of the fitting out of the Fletcher class Destroyer USS Johnston and assumed command of her at her commissioning in October of 1943.

While serving as the executive officer of the Alden at the Battle of the Java Sea, in which Admiral Thomas Hart's U.S. Asiatic Fleet had been annihilated, the Alden had to turn tail and slink off in the night to Australia in order to survive. Evans hated the memory of this ignominious retreat, "it seared his soul", and at the commissioning ceremony of the Johnston he stated,

"This is going to be a fighting ship. I intend to go in harm's way, and anyone who doesn't want to go along had better get off right now." He later added in a firm voice "Now that I have a fighting ship, I will never again retreat from an enemy force."

The Johnston had many adventures, and in May of 1944, it sank a Japanese submarine in the Solomon's with depth charges. Evans was awarded a Bronze Star with Combat "V" for meritorious achievement as commanding officer for this action.

The successful hunt had a lot to do with his ability to trust his crew to get the job done. "He expected every man to do his job without any psychological ploys," recalled Lieutenant (jg) Ellsworth Welch, Evans' anti-submarine warfare officer aboard Johnston. "He had great faith in all of us", said Johnston's gunnery officer Lieutenant Robert C. Hagen, "I don't recall him saying a mean word to me the whole time.... The captain was a true, instinctive fighter.... We were on a high-class ship because the captain was high-class."


During the Battle of Leyte Gulf, on the morning of October 25, 1944, Admiral "Bull" Halsey's main Third fleet was lured away by a Japanese decoy and he diverted his large Pacific fleet away from where the Marines were conducting their assault on Samar Island.

On the defensive since Midway in 1942, the Japanese knew that if they failed to stop the American invasion of the Philippines, they likely would never recover. Therefore, they committed their naval forces to an all-out, last-ditch effort to defeat MacArthur's invasion. The plan called for a three-pronged effort: a Northern Force of aircraft carriers to lure Adm. Halsey's Third Fleet away from the Philippines where he was supposed to be guarding MacArthur's northern flank; a Southern Force to attack through the Surigao Strait and approach Leyte -- the site of MacArthur's beachhead -- from the South; and a Central Force to attack through the San Bernardino Strait and attack Leyte from the North.  

The Southern thrust was routed in the early hours of October 25 by the American Seventh fleet (known as MacArthur's Navy). But Halsey ignored warnings from his subordinate commanders and took the Japanese bait. Abandoning his blocking position north of Leyte, Halsey raced away to chase the Northern Force and left the northern approach to Leyte exposed except for a small task force of escort carriers -- bargain-basement aircraft carriers with little of the speed or firepower of their larger cousins. The task force was divided into three groups -- Taffy 1, Taffy 2, and Taffy 3 -- with Taffy 3 the northernmost and directly in the path of the Japanese fleet.
Taffy 3 was made up of thirteen ships: six escort carriers and seven tin cans (three destroyers and four destroyer escorts). They faced a Japanese force of twenty-three ships -- most of which dwarfed their opposition. Led by four battleships, the force included six heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and eleven destroyers.

Although Taffy 3 initially tried to retreat further into the gulf to try to avoid certain destruction in the face of these overwhelming odds, Evans on his own initiative and without waiting for orders, decided to attack. In the words of one of the survivors, Lieutenant Robert C. Hagen:

It was 6:50 a.m. when all hell broke loose, he said. I had just asked the mess boy to bring me up a cup of coffee and an egg sandwich. I never did get that fried egg.
He said he saw Evans come out of his sea cabin grinning, and barking orders: All hands to general quarters. Prepare to attack major portion of Japanese fleet. All engines ahead flank. Commence making smoke. Left full rudder.

The Johnston laid a smoke screen to protect the carrier vessels, then Evans and crew charged alone at the Japanese fleet. When the commander of Taffy 3, Adm. Clifton Sprague saw this, after a few seconds, he laughed and said Well, what the hell. You gotta die of something. Small boys attack!. A message went out over the radio to Taffy 3, "This will be a fight against overwhelming odds from which survival cannot be expected. We will do what damage we can."


An artists rendition of the Johnston charging the Japanese fleet

Evans had ordered his crew to zigzag through fire from enemy guns as large as 18 inches, "chasing splashes" until he could get close enough, within 10,000 yards, to fire with his 5 inch guns. He knew he could not get through the reinforced hulls of the ships, so he shot at the superstructures of ships and damaged them and set some decks on fire.

Next, the Johnston fired torpedoes. The missiles struck the heavy cruiser, Kumano, shattering the bow and rendering the ship unable to continue the fight. Evans continued his charge and scored numerous direct hits, greatly dulling the tip of the Japanese sword. Finally, the bewildered enemy was able to concentrate its attack, striking the Johnston four times with a single 14 round and three 6 rounds. All of these shells went completely through the vessel, taking their toll. The first hit disabled the aft gun turrets. The second knocked Cmdr. Evans to the deck, shearing off two fingers on his left hand and setting him ablaze.

With his fingers and shirt and helmet blown off, Evans ordered away the ship's doctor who wanted to attend to his injuries, to help others. The Johnston tried to retreat, passing other ships on their way to attack, including the brave USS Samuel B. Roberts, another hero of that day, "The little destroyer escort who fought like a battleship". Commander Evans saluted the Roberts' commander and crew as they passed him by and made their own run towards their own likely destruction.

It was like a puppy being smacked by a truck, said Hagen. The hits resulted in the loss of all power to the steering engine, all power to the three 5inch guns in the after part of the ship, and rendered our gyro compass useless. Through sheer providence a rain squall came up, and the JOHNSTON ducked into it for a few minutes of rapid repairs and salvage work.

The Johnston was down to one engine and couldn't keep up with the others.

At 7:50 a.m., Admiral Sprague ordered destroyers to make a torpedo attack. But   Johnston   had already expended torpedoes. With one engine, she couldn't keep up with the others: "But that wasn't Comdr. Evans' way of fighting: 'We'll go in with the destroyers and provide fire support,' he boomed."   Johnston   went in, dodging salvos and blasting back. As she charged out of blinding smoke, pointed straight at the bridge of gallant   Heerman   (DD-532), "All engines back full!" bellowed Comdr. Evans. That meant one engine for Johnston   who could hardly do more than slow down. But   Heerman's   two engines backed her barely out of the collision course   Johnston   missed her by less than 10 feet.

During the battle, Evans and his crew made enough repairs to engage in more fights with larger Japanese ships, and aid other US ships.

At 0840, a much more pressing target appeared astern. A formation of seven Japanese destroyers in two columns was closing in to attack the carriers. Reversing course to intercept, Evans maneuvered the   Johnston in an attempt to pass in front of the formation, "crossing the T", a classical naval maneuver which put the force being "crossed" at great disadvantage. Evans ordered the   Johnston's   guns to fire on this new threat. The Japanese destroyers returned fire, striking   Johnston   several times. Perhaps seeing his disadvantage, the Commander of the lead destroyer turned away to the west. From as close as 7,000 yards Hagen fired and scored a dozen hits on the destroyer leader before it turned away. He shifted fire to the next destroyer in line, scoring five hits before it too turned away. Amazingly, the entire squadron turned away west to avoid the   Johnston's   fire.

When Evans observed the Gambier Bay under attack, Hagen said "Comdr. Evans then gave me the most courageous order I've ever heard: 'Commence firing on that cruiser, draw her fire on us and away from Gambier Bay'." They were unable to save the Gambier, but the Johnston battled desperately to keep the Japanese cruisers and destroyers from reaching the five remaining American carriers. By this time, Evans, with all the damage to his ship, and the bridge destroyed, had shifted his command to Johnston's fantail, yelling orders through an open hatch to men turning her rudder by hand. By 9:30 a.m. the Johnston was dead in the water. The Japanese surrounded them and kept firing. At 9:45 Evans gave the order to abandon ship, after firing every last round of any kind they had. One Japanese destroyer came to within 1,000 yards and pumped one last round into the Johnston, to ensure her sinking. The surviving men floating in the water were afraid that the Japanese would shoot them, which both sides often did. They were amazed when the captain of the Japanese destroyer saluted the Johnston as it sank, and Japanese sailors on the ships yelled "Samurai, samurai!" and tossed them food and water packets as they passed by. They would spend two days in the water awaiting rescue, because of botched communications, some dying of exposure and from shark attacks. Of 327 officers and men of the Johnston, 186 were lost.

During the battle, Halsey away to the north, received a message from Admiral Nimitz, "Where is, repeat, where is task force thirty four? The world wonders." Halsey took this as sarcasm and a personal slap in the face and went into a rage. For an hour he sulked, doing absolutely nothing, while Task Force Taffy 3 fought for its very existence. Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz later said   The history of the United States Navy records no more glorious two hours of resolution, sacrifice, and success.

The actions of Taffy 3, that day, succeeded in driving away a large Japanese force who thought they were actually fighting a larger force. They substantially helped to subsequently end the Japanese navy's power, which included the largest battleship ever built, the Yamato, through their actions that day.

The actual fate of Evans was unknown, some thought they saw him jump in the water, or climb into a small boat, but he was never found. He was declared MIA, then KIA in that battle. Whether he was taken by the Japanese, or by sharks, or drowning, or whatever, is still a matter of great conjecture by his remaining crew. Mom met one of the Johnston men at a convention, or book signing. He told her he believed he'd seen Evans get into a boat, but that he was very badly injured. His posthumous Medal of Honor citation, reads:

"For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Commanding Officer of the USS   Johnston   , in action against major units of the enemy Japanese Fleet during the Battle off Samar on October 25, 1944. The first to lay a smoke screen and to open fire as an enemy task force vastly superior in number, firepower and armor rapidly approached, Commander Evans gallantly diverted the powerful blasts of hostile guns from the lightly armed and armored carriers under his protection, launching the first torpedo attack when the   Johnston   came under straddling Japanese shellfire. Undaunted by damage sustained under the terrific volume of fire, he unhesitatingly joined others of his group to provide fire support during subsequent torpedo attacks against the Japanese and, outshooting and outmaneuvering the enemy as he consistently interposed his vessel between the hostile Fleet units and our carriers despite the crippling loss of engine power and communications with steering, shifted to the fantail, shouted steering orders through an open hatch to men turning the rudder by hand and battled furiously until the   Johnston   burning and shuddering from a mortal blow, lay dead in the water after three hours of fierce combat. Seriously wounded early in the engagement, Commander Evans, by his indomitable courage and brilliant professional skills, aided materially in turning back the enemy during a critical phase of the action. His valiant fighting spirit throughout this historic battle will endure as an inspiration to all who served with him."

So, this is my telling of my personal hero, during Native American Heritage Month, of the insanely bad-ass warrior, tactician, and strategist whose quiet, calm leadership and audacious bravery inspired his men and others in this important battle. "Evans appreciated the hidden nature of things, the power of the unseen over the tangible", said author James D. Hornfischer who wrote the book " The Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors -- The Extraordinary World War II Story of the U.S. Navy's Finest Hour". The Johnstons senior surviving officer said,   The skipper was a fighting man from the soles of his broad feet to the ends of his straight black hair. He was an Oklahoman and proud of the Indian blood he had in him. We called him though not to his face the Chief. The Johnston was a fighting ship but he was the heart and soul of her   and communications officer Lt. Ed Digardi said,   He was the best Captain you could possibly have; the kind of man you would follow into hell and we did.

Thank you, Commander Evans and all the brave men of Taffy 3 for your sacrifices. You will never be forgotten.

This is the History Channels "   Death of the Japanese Navy - Ep 7 - Season 1 - Dogfights   " which tells the story of this David vs. Goliath battle better than I ever could. An amazing re-enactment!


jrDiscussion - desc
Professor Principal
1  author  Kavika     3 years ago

The Battle of Leyte Gulf was the largest naval engagement in WWII. 

Against all odds Cmd. Ernest E. Evans led the way as this small group of lightly armored ships turned back the Japanese Navy finest including the Battleship Yamato. The largest battleship ever built. 

A salute to all the men of Taffy 3. 

History remembers you well.

Split Personality
Professor Principal
1.1  Split Personality  replied to  Kavika @1    3 years ago

Over the weekend the Johnston was "discovered" over 20,000 feet down in hundreds of crushed pieces.  Over 4 miles.

At the extreme limit of the remotely controlled vehicle's capabilities.

Professor Principal
1.1.1  author  Kavika   replied to  Split Personality @1.1    3 years ago

What a great discovery...The photos are amazing. 

Thanks for finding this SP.

Professor Silent
1.1.2  NV-Robin6  replied to  Kavika @1.1.1    3 years ago

I was thinking the same thing, and how timely you brought this to the possible  discovery. I saw this the other day on the news.

Two things come to mind, what an extraordinary  "Chief" and what an extraordinary writer your friend is!

Thanks for sharing. What a dashing fellow with balls of brass!

I cannot even fathom what it would be like dealing with wartime on the high seas, much less on the ground. Amazing the Japanese did an act of humanity, sort of anyway-- after the ship went down. It's hard to watch the reenactment of these battles. 

I hope these days of war are over. 

Professor Principal
1.1.3  author  Kavika   replied to  NV-Robin6 @1.1.2    3 years ago

What is not in the article is that the planes flying off the baby flattops attacked the Japanee fleet without having the proper bombs. They were rigged with bombs for striking land. Some didn't have any bombs at all and attacked this massive Japanese fleet with only the machine guns.

Some didn't have that and would attack and fake a torpedo attack to cause the Japanese ships to take defensive action. 

Heros all.

Professor Silent
1.1.4  NV-Robin6  replied to  Kavika @1.1.3    3 years ago

All heroes with guts of steel. It is a special breed to be a warrior regardless of heritage. To kill or be killed. To find one self in the midst. 

I always try to walk in other's moccasins, but to be in those? There's  just no way to fathom it. But that goes to all warring history. 

Sister Mary Agnes Ample Bottom
Professor Guide
2  Sister Mary Agnes Ample Bottom    3 years ago

What a tremendous legacy Cmd. Evans left the world.

Professor Principal
2.1  author  Kavika   replied to  Sister Mary Agnes Ample Bottom @2    3 years ago

In a day or so I'll be posting an article on Americas first Prima Ballerina...who is considered one of the greatest ballerinas of all time.

Professor Principal
3  MrFrost    3 years ago

Commander Evans...AMAZING man. Bravery to the extreme. How the man was able to walk with balls that big is a genuine curiosity.

Fantastic story Kavika, thanks for this. 

Professor Principal
3.1  author  Kavika   replied to  MrFrost @3    3 years ago

Brass balls is an understatement.

Professor Principal
4  JohnRussell    3 years ago

Great article. 

Masters Participates
5  Enoch    3 years ago

Dear Brother Kavika: Another great contribution.

We are indebted.

Between now and 2020 I will not be on line much. 

Too much to do.

When the New Year rings in, you Raven Wing and I need to do a three author collaboration.

Please select from the multiple guess choices below the most correct reason why.

___ A. The well being of the free world depends on it.

___ B. The economy will go into a deep recession if we do not do this.

___ C. Chicken Licken was right (Ducks).

___ D. Humpty Dumpty needs a new wall built.

___ E. A. and C.

___ F. B. and C.

___ G. All of Above

___ H. None of Above

___ I. Forgetaboutit. Let's go to Jay's Diner for a Winnebagel with a Shmear; and a Chalice of their antique Black Water Medicine.



Professor Principal
5.1  author  Kavika   replied to  Enoch @5    3 years ago

I choose ''I''...LOL

Masters Participates
5.1.1  Enoch  replied to  Kavika @5.1    3 years ago

Well done.

Great choice.

Professor Principal
6  Ender    3 years ago

Wow. The respect he commanded is nothing short of outstanding/amazing.

They would follow him to hell and back, literally.

It is a shame we are not taught such history.

That the Japanese even saluted him about brings me to tears.

Professor Principal
6.1  author  Kavika   replied to  Ender @6    3 years ago

There is a move on to name another vessel the Johnston. 

On a side note the making of the movie ''Midway'' which is a remake of the original movie. I believe that the story of the Battle of Leyte Gulf and Samar would have been a much better venture. MIdway has been done, the history of the Leyte Gulf battle with Taffy 3, Admiral Bull Halsey and Admiral Nimitz would, IMO, been a blockbuster. 

In SP comment above the Johnston was been found in over three miles of water the end of October of this year. 

Professor Guide
6.1.1  1stwarrior  replied to  Kavika @6.1    3 years ago

While watching USS Indianapolis a few weeks ago, this story came to mind.  So damn many similarities.

Professor Principal
7  devangelical    3 years ago

great seed, much appreciated.


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