USS John C. Butler (DE-339)
USS "John C. Butler" (DD-339) was the lead ship of
World War II-era "John C. Butler"-class destroyer escorts in the service of the United States Navy, named after Ensign John C. Butler (1921–1942), who was posthumously awarded the Navy Crossfor his actions in the Battle of Midway.
"John C. Butler" was laid down by
Consolidated Steel Corporation, Ltd., in Orange, Texas, on 5 October 1943; launched on 12 November1943, sponsored by Mrs. Walter C. Butler, mother of Ensign Butler; and commissioned on 31 March 1944, with Lieutenant CommanderJ. E. Pace in command.
The new destroyer escort conducted shakedown training off
Bermudabefore departing Hampton Roads 5 June1944 for the Pacific. Sailing via the Panama Canal, she arrived Pearl Harbor 26 Juneand engaged in convoy and training operations during July. "John C. Butler" then departed Pearl Harbor on 9 Augustscreening transports bound for the invasion of the Palau Islands. After seeing them safely to Tulagi, the ship operated with escort carriers out of Manus Islandon preinvasion strikes. Two islands wanted as advance bases for the long-awaited move into the Philippines, Morotaiand Peleliu, were stormed on 15 September; and "John C. Butler" provided anti-submarine and anti-aircraft protection for the supporting carriers. Returning to Manus 30 September, she replenished in preparation for the Leyte operation in October.
Battle of Leyte Gulf, October 1944
The escort vessel sailed with
Rear Admiral Ralph A. Ofstie's escort carrier group 12 Octoberto provide air cover for the massive movement of transports into Leyte Gulf. After the initial landings, the three carrier groups, soon to become famous by their radio code names, "Taffy 1", "Taffy 2", and "Taffy 3", took station east of the Philippines to lend close air support.
The Japanese fleet was closing the Philippines in a last attempt to annihilate the invasion force, with heavy ships designated to break into Leyte Gulf from north and south, and a diversionary fleet of carriers to draw Admiral William F. Halsey's 3rd Fleet off to the North. In the first two actions of the massive
Battle of Leyte Gulfwhich ensued, the Battle of Sibuyan Sea and the Battle of Surigao Strait, the Japanese were badly mauled. But Admiral Takeo Kurita's Center Force still transited San Bernardino Straitthe night of 24– 25 October, and just after sunrise bore down on the relatively unprotected "Taffy 3", including "John C. Butler".
The 2-hour Battle off Samar which followed has taken a rightful place among the most memorable actions in naval history. The slow escort carriers launched all planes to attack the Japanese
cruisers and battleships, and "John C. Butler" and her sisters laid heavy smoke to confuse enemy batteries. A rain squall provided cover for a turn to the south, and just after 07:30 the destroyers began their gallant torpedo attacks against great odds. "Johnston" (DD-557), "Hoel" (DD-533), "Heermann" (DD-532), and escort "Samuel B. Roberts" (DE-413) made close-in attacks on cruisers and battleships, forcing them to zig-zag, while aircraft made continuous attacks. Soon after this first attack, "John C. Butler" turned from the carriers to launch her remaining torpedoes, then exchanged gunfire with a heavy cruiser. The destroyer escort continued to fire and dodge heavy-caliber fire until dangerously low on ammunition, then returned to the carrier formation to provide smoke coverage.
Rear Admiral Clifton A. F. Sprague, commander of Taffy 3, later described the next surprising development: "At 0925 my mind was occupied with dodging torpedoes when near the bridge I heard one of the signalmen yell, '... dammit, boys, they're getting away!' I could not believe my eyes, but it looked as if the whole Japanese fleet was indeed retiring.... At best, I had expected to be swimming by this time." The Japanese, damaged and fearing heavier air attack, had indeed reversed course. Though the escort carriers lost two of their number and three escorts, their valiant fight had stopped the Japanese from attacking the transports in Leyte Gulf.
After rescuing survivors from "St. Lo" (CVE-63), "John C. Butler" escorted the surviving carriers of "Taffy 3" via Manus to Pearl Harbor, then returned to Manus
17 December. Departing with escort carriers 31 December, she protected amphibious transports steaming to the invasion of Luzon. During the voyage through the South China Sea, the ships encountered and drove off determined kamikazeattacks. On the evening of 8 January 1945, "John C. Butler" and other escorts splashed several kamikazes. She operated off Lingayen Gulffrom 9 through 17 Januaryand screened carriers during massive strikes in support of ground operations. Departing the Luzon coast, she arrived at Ulithion 23 Januaryto prepare for the next important amphibious landing—Iwo Jima.
Iwo Jima and Okinawa
The veteran destroyer escort took part in rehearsals in the
Marianas, and arrived off Iwo Jima 19 Februarywith an escort carrier group. She again fought off a severe air attack 21 February. She remained on duty off Iwo Jima until 9 March1945, when she sailed for Ulithi, having helped to win another important island air base for the eventual attack on Japan. Okinawawas to be the site of the last and largest of the Pacific amphibious assaults. "John C. Butler" sailed on 26 Marchwith transports; and, as the troops stormed ashore on 1 April, she resumed her now-familiar screening duties with carrier groups. As the Japanese launched fruitless suicide attacks, the ship escorted carriers into Kerama Retto, rescued downed pilots, and ferried men and material. Transferred to dangerous outer picket duty north of Ie Shima 20 May, she was attacked by six kamikazes just before sunset. Skillful gunnery accounted for five of the attackers, and "John C. Butler" sustained damage only to her mast and antennas. She sailed on 27 Mayfor repairs in the Philippines.
The ship returned to Okinawa with a
convoyon 4 July, and spent the last month of the long war on convoy duty between that island and the Pacific advance bases. She returned to San Pedro, California, on 23 Novemberand decommissioned on 26 June 1946, joining the Pacific Reserve Fleetat San Diego, California.
With the outbreak of the Korean conflict in June
1950, "John C. Butler" recommissioned on 27 December1950. Following shakedown, she was assigned to 11th Naval Districtfor the important job of training naval reservists on short sea cruises. Thus, she helped maintain highly trained officers and men to meet the Navy's cold war commitments. In addition to reserve cruises, she took part in the training program of Fleet Sonar School, San Diego. She decommissioned on 18 December 1957and re-entered the Reserve Fleet, San Diego. She was eventually sunk as a target in 1971.
"John C. Butler" received five
battle stars for World War IIservice, and was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for her part in the Battle off Samar.
Awards, Citations and Campaign Ribbons
* [http://www.history.navy.mil/danfs/j3/john_c_butler.htm history.navy.mil: USS "John C. Butler"]
* [http://www.navsource.org/archives/06/339.htm navsource.org: USS "John C. Butler"]
* [http://www.hazegray.org/danfs/escorts/de339.txt hazegray.org: USS "John C. Butler"]
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