A Tin Can Sailors Destroyer History
USS JOHN D. EDWARDS DD-216
The Tin Can Sailor, January 2001
Launched on 18 October 1919 at the William Crump & Sons Yard in Philadelphia, the four-piper, JOHN D. EDWARDS, was commissioned on 6 April 1920. Following brief service on the Atlantic Station, the EDWARDS served in the Mediterranean as station and radio relay ship in the Beirut area. In 1921 she assisted in the transport of refugees from South Russia. By 1923 she was off Japan where she carried food and relief workers to Yokohama following a devastating earthquake. The next year she stood by to protect Americans and other foreigners during the political unrest in China. Leaving the Asiatic Station in 1925, she spent three years operating out of Norfolk, in the Caribbean, and on the European Station with fellow destroyers BORIE (DD-215), TRACY (DD-214), WHIPPLE (DD-217), BARKER (DD-213), and SMITH THOMPSON (DD-212). In 1929 she returned to the Far East, operating out of the Philippines, along the China coast, and off Japan. She guarded U.S. interests during the Sino-Japanese War in the late 1930s.
On 7 December 1941, the EDWARDS was in Balikpapan, Borneo, where she joined the American striking force to face the Japanese advance on the Philippines and the Dutch East Indies. Leading the strike force were the heavy cruiser HOUSTON (CA-30) and the light cruisers MARBLEHEAD (CL-12) and BOISE (CL-47). With them were the thirteen destroyers of Destroyer Squadron 29. In addition to the flagship PAUL JONES (DD-230), the squadron was made up of the EDWARDS, WHIPPLE, ALDEN (DD-211), EDSALL (DD-219), PEARY (DD-226), POPE (DD-225), JOHN D. FORD (DD-228), PILLSBURY (DD-227), STEWART (DD-224), PARROTT (DD-218), BULMER (DD-222), and BARKER.
The EDWARDS, WHIPPLE, ALDEN, and EDSALL left Borneo immediately for a nightlong search for survivors of HMS PRINCE OF WALES sunk by Japanese bombers. At dawn, lookouts aboard the EDWARDS saw what appeared to be torpedo wakes all around the ship and learned later that the Japanese had fired thirty-eight torpedoes at the American ships. By February 1942, the EDWARDS was underway with the strike force to intercept a Japanese convoy heading for the Java Sea. On the morning of 4 February 1942, enemy bombers attacked the ships north of Bali and heavily damaged the HOUSTON and MARBLEHEAD. Following the attack, the EDWARDS escorted the damaged cruisers to Tjilatjap on the southern coast of Java. She then went on with the STEWART, BARKER, BULMER, PILLSBURY, and PARROTT to take part in a second disastrous meeting with the Japanese in the Bangka Strait on the morning of 15 February 1942. During the battle, near misses badly damaged the BARKER and BULMER who withdrew to Australia for repairs.
As part of an Allied force, the EDWARDS, STEWART, PARROTT, PILLSBURY, and the Dutch cruiser TROMP steamed into the Badoeng Strait to attack Japanese shipping bound for Bali. At 0136 on 20 February the STEWART, PARROTT, and PILLSBURY began a torpedo attack on a force of Japanese transports and their destroyer escorts. The EDWARDS also sent torpedoes into the fray but none of the American torpedoes hit and soon the destroyers were in a gun battle with the enemy, damaging the destroyers OSHIO and ASASHIO. A shell hit the STEWART, killing her executive officer and damaging her steering. When the TROMP joined the battle, she too was hit, but not disabled. As the Allied force retired from the Badoeng Strait, two enemy destroyers met the EDWARDS and the STEWART head-on. In the ensuing torpedo and gunfire battle the EDWARDS, PILLSBURY, and TROMP hit the Japanese destroyer MICHISHIO from port and starboard and left her dead in the water as they continued out of the strait.
The Americans continued on to Surabaya, Java, where the STEWART went into dry dock for critical steering repairs. In the meantime, the destroyers EDWARDS, ALDEN, FORD, and PAUL JONES with the rest of the Allied force steamed into the Java Sea in a desperate attempt to halt the Japanese invasion of Java on 27 and 28 February. For seven hours they fought against great odds. Shortly after 1700 the Dutch destroyer KORTENAER was torpedoed. The EDWARDS’s captain described the explosion that flung debris 100 feet in the air. “KORTENAER heeled away over¼ turned turtle and folded up like a jackknife¼ Men were blown high in the air¼” The crew of the EDWARDS could find no survivors. The Dutch lost two more ships, as did the British.
By nightfall, the EDWARDS and her fellow four pipers had used all their torpedoes and were low on fuel. They could neither outrun nor outshoot the enemy’s more powerful warships. They retired to Surabaya to refuel. They then got underway for Australia on the night of 28 February. In their wake Surabaya came under heavy air attack and in the evacuation, the STEWART was destroyed by American demolition crews, or so they believed. Nearly four years later, occupation forces discovered the salvaged destroyer in Japan. In the Java Sea, the Allies continued to suffer devastating losses. On 28 February, the HOUSTON and HMS PERTH were sent to the bottom, followed in separate battles on 1 March, by the sinking of the EDSALL, PILLSBURY, and POPE, which was the last Allied warship on the Java Sea.
After fighting a brief duel with enemy ships in the Bali Strait, the EDWARDS and her sisters managed to reach Fremantle in early March. She was assigned to escort duty in the Pacific and then was transferred to Brooklyn in June 1943. There she continued her escort duty, cruising the East Coast and escorting supply ships to North Africa. Later she trained submarines off the Canal Zone. With the end of the war in Europe, the JOHN D. EDWARDS steamed into Philadelphia where she was decommissioned on 28 July 1945. She was sold for scrap in January 1946.