Evans at Mobile Bay, 20 December 1943.
“The longest and hardest battle in the history of naval warfare,” wrote a New York Times correspondent of Okinawa, which in the spring of 1945 became synonymous with the word “kamikaze.” For nearly three months, the 2,100-ton Fletchers formed the core of the destroyer force assigned to radar picket stations there. Offshore, as the Navy’s first line of defense, they faced an unrelenting threat of attack—and when it came, none survived against more overwhelming odds nor proved herself more worthy of a distinguished namesake than the “Fighting Bob,” USS Evans (DD 552).

A high-bridge ship, the second USS Evans was the third of seven 2,100-tonners built by Gulf Shipbuilding, Chickasaw, Alabama. Laid down with John D. Henley on 21 July 1941, she was not launched until 4 October 1942 and commissioned only on 11 December 1943. In time, the two ships joined Gulf’s first two destroyers, Capps and David W. Taylor, to form Destroyer Division 102 in Destroyer Squadron 51.

The Fighting Bob

The Fighting Bob, a wartime history of the USS Robley D. Evans by Michael Staton, son of an Evans shipmate.

After shakedown, Evans sailed to Pearl Harbor and then to the base at Majuro Atoll in the Marshall Islands on 29 March 1944. After antisubmarine patrols among nearby Japanese-held atolls and training back in Hawaii, she was attached to the Fifth Fleet, which sortied on 13 June for the Mariana Islands. During the assault on Saipan that began on the 15th, she screened a fueling and aircraft replacement group. She continued to operate from Eniwetok during the remainder of the Marianas operation and the assault on the Palaus that followed on 26 August.

From 30 October through 11 January 1945, Evans operated from Ulithi on patrol and escort duty. After participating in a bombardment of Yap, 11–13 January, she moved to Saipan, from which she screened transports for the Iwo Jima landings beginning on 19 February. Following up with shore bombardment, she screened escort carriers until 8 March, when she returned to Ulithi.

On 21 March, Evans and her carriers sortied for pre-invasion air strikes on Okinawa. She remained with them through the 1 April assault until 2 May, when she stood into the nearby Kerama Retto anchorage.

So long as the American people can build ships like the Evans and produce sons like the officers and men who man her, the country is secure.

— Admiral Chester W. Nimitz.

On 10 May, Evans and the Allen M. Sumner-class destroyer Hugh W. Hadley were assigned to Radar Picket Station No. 15, 40 miles northwest of the Okinawa Transport Area. The following morning, they and accompanying landing craft “pall bearers” were attacked by multiple waves of enemy Japanese planes, 156 at best estimate. Operating generally within supporting distance one another, Evans and Hadley successfully defended themselves for more than an hour until both they and their combat air patrol of Marine Corsairs ran low on ammunition.

An hour and a quarter into the battle, four kamikazes crashed Evans in quick succession, flooding her after engineering spaces. Without power, her crew resorted to using portable fire extinguishers and bucket brigades to save her. The attacks ceased as the landing craft moved in to assist.

Including the planes that struck her, Evans received credit for splashing 19 aircraft plus four more shared with Hadley, at a cost of 32 killed and 27 wounded. Together, the two destroyers accounted for a record 42 enemy aircraft. Both ships were awarded the Presidential Unit Citation for this action.

Taken under tow, Evans made Kerama Retto on 14 May for emergency repairs and then continued under tow to San Francisco, where she was not restored but decommissioned on 7 November and sold for scrap on 11 February 1947.

In addition to her Presidential Unit Citation, the “Fighting Bob” earned five service stars during World War II.