A Tin Can Sailors Destroyer History
USS EVANS DD-552
The Tin Can Sailor, July 1994
Her keel was laid July 21, 1940 by Gulf Shipbuilding Corp. at Chickasaw, Alabama. She was named for Admiral Robley Evans who was nicknamed “Fighting Bob Evans”. She was christened by Mrs. Charlotte Isherwood Evans October 4, 1942. It was December 11, 1943 when her commission pennant was two-blocked under the command of Commander F.C. Camp. After shakedown, fitting out and a lot of firing at sleds and sleeves and making torpedo and speed runs she was sent through the Panama Canal to the war in the Pacific. It was March 3rd when she put Balboa astern as part of the escort for four transports headed for Pearl Harbor.
Operating as part of a vast organization she would perform the numerous duties required of Destroyers. We knew she was not much different than other 2100 Fletcher class Destroyers but she was much more to us. She was our ship, our home and our ticket back after the war was won. Her crew was mostly civilians in uniform but with a lot of training and hard work became an organization and a first class crew. The EVANS was but a small cog in a huge machine but would prove a valuable one.
At Pearl Harbor, March was spent with more training practice firing and loading, speed and torpedo runs. At the end of March she was sent to patrol the Marshall Islands keeping the by-passed Jap garrison occupied, One day in one of the small lagoons life was sighted and with all hands at “GQ” a landing party was sent ashore. It was learned through sign language and grunts they were natives that had escaped from Jap held Wotje in a small canoe. Soon after the party returned the natives brought a turtle alongside as a gift. This was the total action in the Marshalls for the EVANS.
She arrived back at Pearl Harbor on May 18th. We could tell something big was coming by the large number of ships in the harbor. After two weeks of more training and working on the ship and taking on stores we shoved off in a huge Fifth Fleet convoy. We steamed west for well over a week arriving in the vicinity of Saipan in the Mariana Islands. We were given the job escorting tankers. Not the duty we wanted but it was a job that had to be done.
There were a lot of air raids, we shot down one plane and hit others keeping most of them out but two tankers that were slightly damaged. As we patrolled for subs we heard the radio reports from our pilots of their brilliant action in the now famous “Turkey Shoot” on June 19, 1944 as they chased the Jap fleet across the Philippine Sea. They shot down over 350 Jap planes that day. By the end of June we had to return to Eniwetok for badly needed stores. We were glad for the change from the canned meat and dehydrated food we had been eating quite a while. In less than two weeks we were back at Saipan for another months duty on the line then back to Eniwetok for a much needed two weeks rest.
August 26th we weighed anchor and headed South to Manus in the Admiralty Islands. As we crossed the Equator the old salts aboard held the customary gruesome festivities making us all shellbacks. We felt like salts now even though a lot of us were still in our teens. In Manus we got vital equipment and spare parts any way we could then left with the tankers and 50 bags of mail for task force 58. We made tedious mail deliveries in high seas without incident due largely to Captain Camp’s expert ship handling.
Our next duty was a 32-knot speed run to Owi and General Douglas MacArthur with photos of the large Carrier plane strike that smashed Luzon in early September. We had visions of running into Jap patrols in these waters and ran in radio silence but it was quiet except for the shaking and rumbling of the ship running at flank speed. It was a relief getting away from the constant radio chatter and watching over the tankers.
We were low on fuel and the English would give us none so we had to save fuel. It was a much slower trip from Owi North to Palau where we gave the Marines cover as they landed on Palau and Anguar.
We operated with Admiral Halsey and the third fleet until mid October then we had to go to Manus for stores and right back out with the main fleet. We were surprised to learn we were West of Tokyo’s Longitude while taking part in the second battle of the Philippine Sea. The Jap fleet took a beating and were in bad shape after that battle. We were called into the new fleet base of operations at Ulithi where Commander Bosquet Wey was waiting to relieve Captain Camp. We knew we would miss Captain Camp. He had trained us into a first rate fighting unit and his ship handling was brilliant. A few days later Lt. John Gilnin relieved Commander Payne as executive officer.
On New Year’s eve we went on patrol around the island. We chased subs several times dropping a lot of depth charges. We went in to bombard the by passed Jap garrison on Jap. We blew up a bridge and some buildings silencing their radios. Aside from this our duty here was quiet. We were ordered into the anchorage to get ourselves and the ship ready for Iwo Jima. After a couple of beer parties on Mog Mog, a lot of work on the ship and taking on supplies and ammunition we were ready for action.
In February Admiral Spruance, commander of the Fifth Fleet ordered the EVANS alongside his flagship, the INDIANAPOLIS for special orders. We watched as gradually the huge armada of ships left the anchorage each with its particular orders. Finally we also headed out to sea. Our Carriers headed toward Tokyo while the EVANS decoying as task force 58 by fake radio messages headed Northwest toward Formosa to try to draw the Jap fleet out or at least give them some puzzles to work out. With our orders carried out we returned to Ulithi. After picking up long awaited mail we joined the escort with the task force taking the Fourth Marine division to Iwo Jima.
“D” day, February 19, 1945 was cool and sunny as we took a station North of the island to wait our turn on the firing line, We had a ringside seat as the invasion unfolded all around us. The island was a huge ball of smoke. We watched plane after plane disappear into it then emerge after dropping their bombs, rockets and belts of shells from their guns. We saw shell after shell slam into the island and Mt. Suribachi from the Battlewagons, Cruisers and Destroyers. The dull heavy roar never ceased and a steady stream of landing craft with tanks, supplies and Marines went through the smoke to the beach. Destroyers moved in as close as they could to blast out their dug in guns and bunkers and knock out tanks.
We followed the bloody battles on the radio as the Japs fought to the last man. It was a credit to the officers and men that there were only a few minor scrapes among the hundreds of ships operating around the small island. This was due largely to their expert seamanship and expert use of surface radar.
We were at “GQ” most of the time and it was a tired EVANS crew that manned their battle stations for the tedious job of shore bombardment. We blasted away all day and well into the night. Then about 3 AM the Japs counter-attacked. Over the fire control circuit came the order “all guns rapid fire.” The EVANS sent tons of steel and explosives into the island only two hundred yards ahead of our lines helping the Marines break up the attack. The fire director on the beach yelled time after time “direct hit direct hit” as we hit tanks and guns and poured five-inch shells directly into the onrushing Jap lines. By 6 AM we were running low on ammunition and were relieved about 7. Then we had the big job of cleaning up.
After a count we found we had fired over 1900 rounds of five-inch shells. Empty powder cases covered the decks and jammed the passageways. The paint was burned and blistered on the guns and the blast shields torn loose. It was a tired EVANS crew that joined the “Baby Flat Tops” for screening duty. We chased a few subs dropping a lot of depth charges and thought we got one but got no credit. We rescued several Pilots that were forced to land in the sea because of damaged planes. They couldn’t risk tearing up the flight deck. On February 23, 1945 we saw the Marines had raised a flag on Mt. Suribachi. The men of the EVANS had acquired a new respect for the Marines. We knew the hundreds of ships and planes had done their job well but it was the Marines that took Iwo Jima.
We were glad to head South on March 8th to the warmer weather we had been in for about ten months before Iwo Jima. It was an Archer waiting to relieve Captain Wey who had been promoted to Destroyer 38 commander. We would miss him he had been an outstanding Skipper. As his flagship pulled from alongside we were joking that we made our Captains look so good they were all promoted.
We saw the anchorage was jammed with ships with more arriving every day and we knew the Okinawa invasion was close at hand. In less than a week the Minesweepers and bombardment Cruisers and Battleships headed North. We were at work scraping and painting the ship and repairing the guns and equipment. We had a few beer parties on Mog Mog at the other end of the anchorage. The trips in the whaleboats were wet and salty but we didn’t mind. We enjoyed the movies on the fo’c’sle deck we hadn’t seen any in a long time. After the full nights in the sack we were rested when we left on March 21st with the small Carriers as one of three long pincers sent to simultaneously converge on Okinawa from Leyte, Saipan and Ulithi, Task Force 58 had gone ahead and were already bombarding Kyusha with their big guns. March 25th our Carriers were in striking position. For six weeks our Hellcats and TBM’s were catapulted from the small flight decks to bomb and strafe the Jap’s dug in on the islands.
We constantly maneuvered screening the Carriers as they turned into the wind to launch and recover their planes. We rescued several pilots that had to land in the water because of damaged planes and returned them to their Carriers to fly again. The Japanese suicide attacks got more and more frequent. We were at “GQ” at least once every hour. Only a few got past our fighter planes and we shot down one that was going to crash into a Carrier. We got what supplies we could from the Carriers but after 42 consecutive days at sea we were running low and had to go in.
We dropped anchor at Kerama Retto two hours from Okinawa on May 2nd. We rushed around after badly needed supplies, parts and ammunition. Kamikazes raided the anchorage every day the sky was a mass of exploding shells and still a few ships were hit. The small harbor at Kerama Retto was fast becoming a graveyard for battered Destroyers and Destroyer Escorts. There were new additions every day to the list of sunk and damaged victims of the more and more frequent kamikaze attacks. On May 10th we were sent to picket station 15. We knew no ship had returned from that station undamaged and many had been sunk there. We were operating with the HADLEY a new 2200 Destroyer with four landing craft as support ships. We circled the landing ships and were at “GQ” a lot of the time. At dusk a lone “Kate” was spotted sneaking in low on the water. It was identified, and blown up even before all battle stations were manned. The next morning, May 11, 1945, a seaplane was spotted trying to sneak in low on the water.
It was identified as a “Jake” and we opened fire as it started its suicide run. It got close enough for our 20 and 40 mm’s to open up. About 1000 yards off our fantail we blew it up in a terrific explosion with a direct hit. We knew we were in for a battle when our radar picked up large numbers of enemy planes coming in waves from the North. As they got near we maneuvered to bring our guns to bear. The leading “Kate” came in low and was shot down 6000 yards off the bow. The second disintegrated from a direct hit from our five-inch guns. A third was made to miss by the Skipper’s ship handling and shot down three planes. We didn’t know why they came in one at a time but as long as they did we kept blowing them out of the sky with the concentrated fire of our guns. They were falling all around us.
Then they started double-teaming. They came from every angle, low on the water out of the sun and everywhere in between. All boilers were on line as Captain Archer maneuvered at flank speed. He avoided hits several times. Then a “Kate” even though hit, dropped a torpedo at 500 yards. With a hard left rudder, the captain caused it to miss and our guns blew the plane up off the stern as it pulled up. Suddenly a “Judy” dove out of the sun pulling up at the last minute dropping its bombs. The captain again caused a miss just aft. They were so close, the fantail was lifted out of the water. Our guns shot it down as it pulled up. Then what seemed an easy target somehow got through our fire and even though hit crashed into our port bow. The forward repair party put out the fires and stopped the flooding. Our guns never quit as they kept coming at us.
Plane after plane went into the sea or disappeared in a flash of flame and smoke. There was a lull for about two minutes then our main battery opened up on what looked like another easy target closing fast on our port beam. It was hit and flaming when it crashed into our port side amidships. A few seconds later its bomb exploded ripping a large hole in the hull and flooding both after engineering spaces, As we were switching power to the forward control board two more dove at us. We shot one down clear and hit the other but and even though flaming it crashed into us starboard just aft of the bridge blowing up the forward fireroom and engine room. Fires broke out and steam shot into the air. Suddenly our guns were silent and we sat dead in the water. With our guns silent we could hear the repair parties working.
Everyone pitched in helping any way they could. We were lucky the sea was calm or the “Fighting BOB” would have gone down because we were flooding fast. We broke out the gas-operated pumps to keep afloat. Marine Corsairs roared in close to look over the damage. They were a welcome sight. We were working to stay afloat when out of the sky came another kamikaze. It hit us just forward of the forward torpedo tubes tearing up the boat, ripping a warhead from a torpedo and blowing up the galley. We couldn’t get a free pump so we formed a bucket line to put out the fires. Working together and with equipment from the support ships we kept the EVANS afloat against all odds. We transferred our dead and wounded to the support ships and they took us in tow. As a result of this battle on May 11, 1946 we had 33 killed and 27 wounded.
The EVANS was credited with 14 planes and assisting on 3 but we thought we shot down 19 and assisted on 4 not counting the 4 that crashed aboard which were all hit. They said there were 100 planes in the raid but it seemed closer to 200. The Marine Corsairs got to them first and shot so many they ran out of ammunition. At least 100 came in to attack us. The Corsair pilots stayed in the battle even without ammunition. They maneuvered to force attacking planes away from the ships and actually rode some into the water by flying closer and closer.
The battle lasted two hours and the two Destroyers were credited with 42 planes destroyed. The largest number ever for the ships of their size and we knew the count was short. Both Destroyers were awarded a Presidential Unit Citation one of the most furious air sea battles of the war and the crews fight against all odds bringing the damage under control enabling the ship to be towed to port and saved.
After temporary repairs at Kerama Retto the “Fighting BOB EVANS” was towed the 8000 miles to San Francisco and berthed at Mare Island Navy Yard on July 27th. Only a few of the crew came back with the ship. Most of us came back ahead on a transport arriving on July 3rd. The crew was going to keep intact so with the crew home on 30 day leave the huge job of rebuilding the EVANS was begun but with the end of the war came a stop work order.
On August 28th Commander J.E. Pace relieved Captain Archer. We gave our personal thanks for a job well done. He had led us in battle well saving us and the ship several times. We were proud to have served under him. Commander Pace directed us in the decommissioning. The EVANS was stripped to a bare hulk with the official ceremony set for mid November. The commission pennant was hauled down from the stumpy mast and nailed to the director scaffolding. This marked the end of a great fighting ship. She had been a sturdy reliable home for us with a remarkable capacity for withstanding punishment. The workers at Gulf Shipbuilding Corp. had done their job well. As the crew broke up we knew we would always remember the fellowship that had grown under trying conditions and those we left buried at sea and in the cemetery on Zamami Shima that died serving their country. They will always be a part of our lives. What can be found of the old crew still have a ship reunion every two years. The bond of sweat and blood still holds.