Navy destroyer USS Johnston, sunk during World War II in 1944, found after 'deepest wreck dive in history'

Elinor Aspegren, USA TODAY
·3 min read

A U.S. Navy destroyer sunk more than 76 years ago has been found in "the deepest wreck dive in history."

The USS Johnston, led by Captain Ernest Evans, sunk in October 1944 after charging "outgunned and outmanned" to protect an American landing force in the Philippines from a massive line of Japanese warships during the Battle of Leyte Gulf, according to Naval History and Heritage Command records.

The World War II battle eventually led to American victory, but only after more than 2,600 casualties on both sides. Nearly 190 crew members of the Johnston's 327 died – including Evans, the first Native American in the Navy to be awarded a posthumous Medal of Honor.

USS Johnston off Seattle, Washington,  27 October 1943 a year before it sank in October 1944.
USS Johnston off Seattle, Washington, 27 October 1943 a year before it sank in October 1944.

The destroyed ship lay at the bottom of the ocean, at more than 20,000 feet, until it was discovered in the Philippine Sea in 2019.

The NHHC assessed the wreck then as "probably the Johnston based on relative location," but were unclear on whether the ship was the Johnston or the Hoel, which had features identified on the wreckage, according to the news release.

Diving crews had been unable to reach it for an up-close look, partly because of its depth – it's about 60% deeper in water than the RMS Titanic.

"Just completed the deepest wreck dive in history, to find the main wreckage of the destroyer USS Johnston," tweeted Caladan Oceanic founder and pilot Victor Vescovo, a former Naval officer.

Researchers found the wreckage of the USS Johnston World War II era destroyer at a depth of 20,400 feet under the Philippine Sea.
Researchers found the wreckage of the USS Johnston World War II era destroyer at a depth of 20,400 feet under the Philippine Sea.

"We located the front 2/3 of the ship, upright and intact, at a depth of 6456 meters [21,180 feet]. Three of us across two dives surveyed the vessel and gave respects to her brave crew."

The expedition found the bow, bridge and mid-section of the Johnston intact, along with two full gun turrets, twin torpedo racks and multiple gun mounts and the hull number "557" still visible, according to Caladan's statement on the dive.

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At 20,000 feet, there is low oxygen, so the ship didn't deteriorate like it would in shallower waters, Vescovo explained on Twitter, also tweeting video of the shipwreck.

All sonar data, imagery and field notes collected during the dives will be turned over to the U.S. Navy for dissemination and further research.

“We used data from both the US and the Japanese accounts and as is so often the case the research brings the history back to life. Reading the accounts of the Johnston’s last day are humbling and need to be preserved as upholding the highest traditions of the Navy. This was mortal combat against incredible odds," said Naval historian Parks Stephenson.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: USS Johnston: 'Deepest wreck dive in history' finds Navy destroyer