Fighting Cans of Pearl Harbor

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Much has been written about the attack on Pearl Harbor. The aerial assault, battleship row, they each have their specialists. But what about the destroyers? The vast majority of the ships that were able to fight their way out of the harbor during the attack were destroyers, and the destroyers were also subject to death and destruction just like their larger bretheren. But little of their experience is discussed or available for those interested to read. This site serves as a collection point for a larger piece about the fighting tin cans of Pearl.

As this is about US Navy destroyers many US Navy conventions are used. Ship names are in all capital letters, and the USS is not used. Times are given in the military clock. Readers should be aware that at the time Hawaii was not a state but a territory, and that its official time was a half hour slower than the standard we know today, so that 0800 was actually 0730 by today's clock. This plays into the time difference between Hawaii and Washington DC (Five and a Half hours) and events such as sunrise and tide shifts.

Local Copy of Action Reports
Destroyer Timeline
Partially Corrected Map of Pearl Harbor
Text Notes

Destroyers of any navy were hardly seen as luxurious posts. They were small and cramped, prone to rough rides and had virtually no armored protection. They were aptly described as "tin cans" by many and were known as cans for short. But they were also known as greyhounds of the seas, and were vital to every mission the Navy had.

The destroyer Navy was a close-knit community. Destroyers were organized into squadrons of four ships; two squadrons made a flotilla with a larger "Destroyer Leader" as flagship. A ship might be detached from its squadron for a mission, but by and large they were always near their squadron mates. While you might not see your buddy every day you could see his ship off in the distance, in formation with the same carrier or battleship you were screening.

In World War Two a destroyer contained over 100 men. At the top was the Captain, with overall responsibility for the ship. Next in line was the Executive Officer, sometimes called "XO" for short, who was responsible for many of the day-to-day administrative duties. Underneath the Executive Officer were the division officers; each in charge of specific divisions such as communications, gunnery, engineers, and torpedos. All of these positions were staffed by commissioned officers, starting at Ensign and including Lietenants and Captains (although it was not abnormal for a Lieutenant to be captain of a ship despite not having the rank of captain).

Underneath the division officers were the top ranks of the enlisted sailors; the non-commissioned officers known as Chief Petty Officers in the Navy. These Petty Officers formed the backbone of the Navy, keeping their experience on hand and their discipline and leadership present and immediately available. Many stories exist of Petty officers taking junior sailors under their wings and pushing them to excell, or dealing with malcontents "off the record" while the division officers pretended not to notice the bruises that appeared afterwards.

The regular sailors of the fleet were themselves structured by rank; a beginning machinists mate might start out with the rank of Machinist Mate Third Class, or MM3c. As this sailor progressed and gained experience he would advance to Second Class (MM2c) and then to First (MM1c). After attaining his first class rank a sailor, with the proper qualifications, could attempt to become a Chief Petty Officer.

These men formed the crew of a destroyer and brought her to life. Each ship had a personality of its own, and some destroyers were known as good luck or happy ships while others were bad luck. But each sailor was loyal to his ship, and many developed a love for their ship that lasts for the remainder of their lives, even after this ship itself has ceased to be. Sailors of the US Navy poured their hearts and souls into the ships, and the fighting records of the "Tin Can Navy" is a result of their dedication to their country and to each other.

Dutifull as they were, sailors are human and need time off. Ships too need downtime for provisioning of stores and maintenance and repair. Each destroyer had a home port; a base that she would return to for supplies and repair. The families of sailors often moved to these ports to have more time with their sailor when his ship was in. Newly assigned sailors would wait until the ship returned from a mission to join the crew. And the local bars waited with beer and women for sailors who had been at sea for long periods without a break or chance to spend their money.

The United States' entry into a conflict that spanned the glode was due to an event on a small island in a large ocean. On December 7th, 1941, units of the Imperial Japanese Navy struck military bases on the island of Oahu in a large raid designed to cripple the US Navy fleet and prevent it from opposing Japanese expansion into the resource-rich Dutch East Indies. Japan needed these resources to fuel her imperialistic dreams and US and League of Nation efforts to prevent her from realizing her perceived destiny ended in this ultimate expression of beligerence.

A large part of why Japan attacked the US Fleet was due to the Japanese campaign to subjugate China. This campaign had seen indescriminate attacks on civillians and tha famous "Rape of Nanking," and part of the US response to this was to move the US Pacific fleet, typically based on the west coast of the mainland US, forward to Pearl Harbor on Oahu. The officers and sailors of the Pacific fleet received this news at the end of Fleet Problem XXI in May of 1940, when they were expecting to return home to ports in San Diego, Long Beach, and San Francisco. There was much grumbling over this, and one Admiral was relieved of his command for his campaign to return the fleet to the west coast, but ultimately the fleet was at Pearl Harbor for good.

Admiral Husband Kimmel was promoted to Commander of the Pacific Fleet and began preparing for the war that many felt was coming. Drills were the order of the day; the last Fleet Problem had identified areas that needed to be addressed and ships and commands of the Pacific Fleet spent the majority of their time working out these deficiencies. For his part, Admiral Kimmel also tried to bolster his force's numbers, and along with a general mobilization of the country reserve sailors and ships began to sail from the mainland shores and reserve fleets.

Some of the destroyers that began to arrive were old World War One four-stackers. The oldest was DD-66 Allen, thirty-five years old and returned to service after fifteen years of mothballs in San Diego. Allen was the oldest destroyer in the Navy; a distinction she would hold for the remainder of the war. Three other four stackers arrived; newer than Allen and of the flush-deck design that lacked the high forepeak on the bow that Allen had. Chew was the first of the older destroyers to arrive in October of 1940. She was joined first by Schley and then Allen in December and Ward in February. These four ships formed DESDIV 80, the Destroyer Division that was responsible for patrolling the entrance to Pearl Harbor and Hawaiian islands, safeguarding the fleet from marauding submarines.

DESDIV 80 was formed mainly from reservists and created unique crews that were pulled together from one region as opposed to from across the US as in other ships. Allen's crew, for example, was primarily from the St Louis, Missouri area and Ward's crew was almost entirely Minnesotan. These reservists were crucial to the US military; while a gradual recall of reservists was initiated in late 1940 with the promise of a one-year activation, by June 12 of 1941 all reservists who had not been already called to duty were activated for an undertermined period of time

Over 15 years separated the youngest of these old four stackers and the oldest of the newer destroyers. So many of the flush deckers had been built in World War One that Congress would not let the US Navy buy new destroyers until they had used up some of those in mothballs. Farragut broke this dry spell when she was commissioned in June of 1934. Seven more followed her and all eight were at Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941. Although they were newer than the old four-stackers, they too had been supplanted in production by newer designs.

The Mahan class followed and improved upon the Farraguts with improved machinery and modified armament to include more torpedos. Eighteen ships of this class were built and seven of them were present at Pearl Harbor during the attack. All eight of the Bagley class were present at Pearl Harbor as well; these destroyers had the same machinery as the FarragutS but in a newer hull design. Two ships at Pearl Harbor were of the Porter class; a larger version of the Farragut design featuring turrets with twin 5" guns instead if the normal single-gun turret. The Porter class was labeled "Destroyer Leaders" as they were designed to lead other destroyers into battle, and as such they had additional command and control abilities.

As formidable as these ships were, they were but steel shells without the sailors who brought them to life. These men were the soul of each ship, working hard to make them fit every bit of the titles "warship" and "destroyer." This is not to say that they were superhuman. Many ships had sailors who were less than stellar performers or who were outright troublemakers. Chiefs were the answer to these malcontents motivating and in many cases bringing out the good in a troubled man and changing him for the better.

The move to Oahu had hit many of the sailors hard. They were separated from their families and stationed on an island that was not ready to tackle large swarms of young, rowdy sailors on a daily basis. Still, everyone did what they could and the islanders and Navy began to settle in for the long haul.

Some families were able to move to Hawaii. Officers had it easier moving their families but there were a lot of determined enlisted sailors and sailors wives as well. Those that couldn't move their families or didn't have one to move made due with Hotel Street.

Recreation for the sailors was relatively limited. Overnight passes for enlisted men were virtually unheard of, so activities were constrained to nearby Honolulu and Waikiki. By far the two most popular activities were bars and women, but on a small island such as Oahu the men far outnumbered the women, and competition could be fierce. The most popular area for the search for the female half of the species was Hotel Street in Honolulu with its brothels. On weekend nights when the majority of the fleet was in town the lines would be blocks long, and that was for visits where three bucks bought you three minutes!

Sailors on leave have a reputation for playing as hard as they work, and with only a short time on leave after weeks or months at sea they did double-duty to make up for lost time. Some of the ships sought ways to allow their sailors to blow off steam without running afoul of the shore patrol and captain's mast. Shaw and Case collaborated; the commanding officer of Case owned a house on the beach in the town of Kailua on the windward side of Oahu and both ships would send small parties of men to the house for the day for beer and sports. Senior Petty Officers would stay for an entire week. The two ships had even bought a flatbed truck by pooling their money; allowing larger parties to be ferried over the Pali at the Koolau mountains to the beach house. Although this did keep the men out of trouble in Honolulu, it was not without trouble of its own. Tradgedy struck at the end of July when one of the wheels separated from the truck during a return trip, causing the truck to roll; killing one Shaw sailor and wounding sixteen others.

Shaw had spent the 21st of November patrolling south of Oahu. Twilight came and Shaw continued patrolling. Soon the sky was dark; the new moon was only a sliver and even that had set before 2100. Despite this Shaw kept her lights off and stayed dangerously invisible; in the days before destroyers had radar it was dangerous but a necessary precaution to prevent the ship from becoming easy prey for enemy submarines. At this point Shaw lacked radar and was relying almost totally on the keen eyes of her lookouts, but on a night as dark as this she was effectively steaming blind. Still, her dedicated lookouts peered into the dark, straining for sign of a ship's mass or wake or the streak of incoming torpedos from submarines they were ordered to sink on sight if found.

She could hear at least; at the sonar station Yeoman 3rd Class John B DeFields was listening for noises indicating contacts. At first a soft swish; the sounds of ships screws slowly became audible. He reported the contact to the Officer of the Deck, a recent graduate from the Naval Academy. Inexperienced, the OOD acknowledged the contact but kept Shaw's course steady. Again DeFields warned the bridge and again the young ensign acknowledged the report but did nothing. Unbeknownst to her crew Shaw was sailing into the path of the fleet oiler Sabine, cruising from Pearl Harbor after delivering fuel oil from the mainland.

Sabine spotted Shaw first and started an emergency turn away but it was two late; the two ships collided. Sabine had managed to turn enough that she struck only a glancing blow instead of knifing into her, but the hit on her starboard bow gashed Shaw's hull and water began to pour in. Shaw's damage control parties quickly assembled and began the critical task of stopping the onslaught of the ocean. Fortunately Shaw was less than three miles from the Barber's Point Lighthouse; she was able to limp into the harbor and was drydocked at floating drydock YFD-2; Damage to Sabine was considerably lighter, a 2' by 6' hole above the waterline, and she continued on her voyage. Shaw's sailors began to repair their ship, starting by unloading all the heavy ammunition that could cause harm to the ship if accidentally set off by welder's torches.

On Wednesday, November 27th, Admiral Kimmel's office received a transmission from the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Stark. "This dispatch," It began, "is to be considered a war warning," and continued that it was expected Japan would move on the Philippines, Malaya or Dutch East-Indies. Hawaii was not mentioned. The next day Kimmel sent Enterprise with F4F Wildcats of VMF-221 to Wake Atoll to reinforce the defenses. In command of this force was Admiral Halsey. When asked if he wanted to bring battleships with him he retorted, "Hell no! If I have to run I don't want anything to interfere with my running!" He kept his destroyers though, bringing with him the nine destroyers of DESRON SIX when he departed the next day.

Do bit about lead up to attack here, mention false sub sightings,


Friday, December 5th was a busy day at Pearl Harbor. The aircraft carrier Lexington left at 0810 with Marine Corps SB2U bombers to reinforce the outpost of Midway, taking with her three cruisers and the nine destroyers of DESRON FIVE. Part of Task Force Three also left with five destroyer minesweepers (DMS), and the cruiser Minneapolis also left with five DMSs for gunnery practice off the coast of Oahu.

During these sorties parts of Flotilla 2 were operating south of Oahu. Selfridge, flagship of DESRON 4, made sonar contact with an underwater object some time after 1430 but subsequently lost it. A short while later Ralph Talbot reported aquiring it and identified it as a submarine. When receiving Ralph Talbot's report of a submarine and request for permission to fire, Selfridge refused, stating the contact was a blackfish. "If this is a blackfish," the skipper of Ralph Talbot retorted, "it has a motorboat up its stern!"

Despite the fast pace of operations, there was still the necessity to move sailors around. Lt. B.A. Robbins, Jr. became the new Executive Officer on the destroyer Shaw on December 6th, joining his new ship as she lay in Drydock undergoing repair from her collision with Sabine. Lt. William Outerbridge, the Executive officer of the desroyer Cummings was given his first command on December 6th when he took command of the four-pipe destroyer Ward. Originally he was to be given some time to take stock of his ship and crew, but even in the peace-time Navy life hardly ever goes to plan. Another DESDIV 80 destroyer, the Chew, had been scheduled for patrol off the entrance to Pearl but engine troubles forced her return and Ward replaced her, steaming out to cruise slowly around the entrance to the harbor that safeguarded America's great fleet. A waxing crescent moon had risin at 2034 and cast its pale weak light over the decks of the ships and the slumbering island.

As the clock reached midnight and December 6th slipped into the 7th, most of the destroyermen were asleep. Many of the officers were ashore with their families. Most of the enlisted were on their ships, but some were ashore as well, either bunked temporarily elsewhere or on liberty. There were always some were on duty, however. Power still had to be supplied to ships systems. Sailors stood watch on their ships or the gangways.

Three of the destroyers were in drydock; Shaw in the floating drydock along with the tug Sotoyomo and Cassin and Downes in Drydock Number 1 ahead of the battleship Pennsylvania. In addition to repair Shaw was having some improvements made to her depth charge racks. Cassin and Downes had gaping holes in their hull plates where damaged plates were being replaced with thicker steel better able to withstand the pounding the ships took from the seas. Such was the need for these two Navy greyhounds as well as the drydock space that they occupied that a special swing shift had been assigned so that work could continue around the clock until the sister ships were returned to service. Downes' new platess were being welded on that evening; once she was done work on Cassin would be finished.

Not all maintenance requires a drydock, and there were other destroyers in the Navy Yard for maintenance and overhaul docked in the repair basin. Jarvis and Mugford were at Berth Six moored to port of the cruiser Sacramento. Mugford, with her engineering plant disassembled for maintenance was moored to Sacramento. Jarvis was tied up to Mugford with two boilers and her port-side reduction gear partially disassembled for maintenance and was receiving power from the yard and steam from Mugford.

Cummings was at Berth B-15 tied up outboard to the minelayer Preble so a new radar set could be installed. As the flagship for DESRON THREE Cummings was one of the first destroyers in the Pacific Fleet to have radar installed. Inshore patrol destroyer Schley was at Berth 20 undergoing repair and overhaul, and the destroyer Bagley was tied to Berth 22 while her starboard bilge keel was repaired.

Other ships were tied up next to destroyer tenders in the harbor waters. Buoy X-2 Buoy X-8

The remaining nine destroyers were simply tied off to buoys anchored in the harbor, their sailors asleep or returning from liberty.

One ship was standing watch over the entrance to the harbor, cutting figure eights in the dark off of the channel entrance with her sharp bow. The water hissed by the old hull of the Destroyer Ward as Lt. Outerbridge began only his second day as captain of the Ward. He had just taken command after serving as the Executive Officer of Cummings. Ward was a member of DESDIV (Destroyer Division) 80, also known as the inshore patrol. DESDIV 80 was composed of some of the older ships present, mainly staffed by reservists, and patrolled the islands for enemy submarine activity.

Ward was not entirely alone that night; at 0145 two mine sweepers exited the harbor and began their regular sweeps for enemy mines. Ward adjusted her patrol course as the Condor and Crossbill began sweeping. They didn't find any mines, but Condor did detect something that was almost a fateful encounter. At 0342 one of Condor's men thought he saw a wake off of her port beam. He called to another sailor, who strained into the weak moonlight to discern what the faint shapes might be. The two sailors watched for a time before deciding that it was a submarine's periscope wake they were seeing and that they were on a collision course. They turned their ship sharply to starboard at the same time the sub turned in an evasive manuever to the west.

Condor signaled Ward with her yardarm lights, "HAVE SIGHTED SUBMERGED SUBMARINE ON WESTERLY COURSE, SPEED 9 KNOTS." What Condor hadn't noticed was that the midget was turning, and was only heading in the direction she had seen her for a short time. Thus, when Ward started searching for where the sub contact would be, she was looking in a location different from where the submarine actually was. No further contact with the unknown submarine was made, and Ward secured from General Quarters at 0430.

230 miles to the north of Oahu the aerial assaut on the Pacific Fleet was about to start. At 0530 two scout planes took off from the Cruisers Chikuma and Tone and headed for the islands of Oahu and Maui to do a final reconnaissance and ensure the fleet hadn't dropped anchor at Lahaina Roads on the shores of Maui instead of Pearl Harbor. Just after sunrise at 0610 the first attack plane of the Imperial Navy launched from the carrier Akagi and began to climb. Within fifteen minutes 183 planes forming the first wave of the attack had taken off from the six carriers of the Kido Butai special attack force and began forming up for the flight south towards Oahu.

Ten minutes later the captain of the supply ship Antares noticed an odd-looking object in the water 1500 off his starboard quarter. His ship was bound for Hawaii from the Atoll of Palmyra to the south of Hawaii and had reached the islands earlier in the morning with a barge in tow. He had approached from the west at Barbers Point and was making a slow turn into the channel entrance, waiting for the USS Keosanqua to come and take the barge his ship was towing into the harbor. The small object was moving quickly on a course that would take it behind his tow and towards the harbor entrance.

Standing watch at this time on the Ward was Seaman Ambrose Domagall, and he too spotted a suspicious object following behind the Antares. He called to the Officer of the Deck, Lt JG Goepner, and brought the suspicious object to his attention. The two conferred but could not decide what it was or how far off it was. Lt JG Goepner ordered a course change to starboard to bring Ward closer to the object and called Captain Outerbridge to the bridge.

Outerbridge had been sleeping in a make-shift bunk in the chartroom but was soon on the bridge, dressed in a silk kimono. Goepner quickly briefed the captain and Outerbridge called for General Quarters for the second time that morning. As Sailors raced to their battle stations a message came in from Antares about the strange body in its wake. A PBY Catalina, also seeing the submarine but thinking it was a US sub in distress, swooped overhead and dropped a smoke pot to mark it's position.

But both actions were unnecessary; Ward's crew was in place and the ship on a collision course to ram what they could now see was a small submarine; one of five midget submarines sent to attack Pearl Harbor they would later learn. As Ward bore down on the midget Captain Outerbridge had second thoughts about ramming a sub with a ship who's hull was 24 years old and changed course, bringing the midget to the starboard side of his ship. As she heeled into the turn Ward's guns were ordered to fire, but by this time the midget was so close that it's small size and the closing speed made the targetting sights for their old guns ineffective.

Ward's number one gun on the bow fired first; the shell was close but passed over the conning tower of the midget and splashed harmlessly beyond it. Ward was moving so fast that the bow gun couldn't train fast enough for another shot, but by this time the number three gun on the starboard side of the ship was clear and took her turn. A second shot burst from Ward and flew true; striking the sub in the middle of the conning tower and causing it to heel sharply away.

Four blasts sounded from the ship's whistle, signaling for the release of four depth charges. Four 300-pound cylinders quickly splashed into Ward's frothy wake and sank from view. Soon they reached their target depth of 100 feet and the water behind Ward suddenly turned white from the shockwaves. Huge gysers burst into the morning air and the sub wallowed deeper before disappearing from view and starting its final journey to the bottom below. Two depth charges from the PBY hit the water as it did, but the killing shot had been from Ward's gun and not depth charges.

At 0652 Outerbridge radiod the headquarters of the 14th Naval District and reported, "We have dropped depth charges upon subs operating in the defensive sea area." He did not feel that this conveyed the true urgency of the situation though and quickly coded a second message and sent it off, reporting, "We have attacked, fired upon, and dropped depth charges on a submarine operating in defensive sea areas," the first warning that something sinister was afoot.

Some say that this event gave the US fleet an hour's warning that went unheaded, but in actuality there were several factors working against this warning's effectiveness. First, the message was in code, and had to be decoded by the radio station before it could be sent up the chain of command. Second, the warning concerned a submarine outside of the harbor; not something one sends battleships charging out after. Lastly, there had been many false alarms in the months proceeding the attack on Pearl Harbor, and this caused several of the decision makers to rightly discuss the report of the submarine to determine if it was real or another false alarm. All of this took precious time as the planes fo the first wave approached and a second wave was launched.

At 0726 the destroyer Helm had left her berth at X7 and began to slowly cruise to the de-perming docks in the west lock for de-magnitization. In addition to her full crew, her captain had brought his thirteen-year-old son aboard so he could experience the thrill of seeing his father pilot a warship in the harbor. Lt. Cdr Carroll piloted Helm from her nest and slowly cruised down the west side of Ford Island, two of her launches following slowly behind her. As she did, a scout plane from the Japanese Cruiser Chikuma flew high overhead, surveying the harbor. At 0735 it radioed a message to the fleet, "Enemy formation at anchor," and then sent a weather report before banking away and heading north, unnoticed by any of the Americans on the ground.

By 0753 a decision concerning Ward's report had been made and a message to the destroyer Monaghan to sortie and meet with Ward outside the channel entrance had made its way to the ship. Monaghan was at Buoy X-15, the northern most nest of destroyers, and was serving as the ready-duty destroyer that morning; responsible for being able to act quickly if she was needed. Because of this Monaghan's Captain Burford was able to quickly order that all preparations for getting underway be made and have it started.

At 0755 the gangway watch on the Henley was to call the sailors to muster at their quarters, which was usually done by use of the gas alarm. One of the sailors made a fortunate mistake and the general alarm was used instead, calling the ship to General Quarters. Hearing this, her nest-mate Ralph Talbot and then Patterson also went to General Quarters as a precaution, and the nest at X-11 in the northern section of the East Lock raced to battle stations.

As they were doing this, swarms of Japanese planes were spreading out over Oahu. The first bombs fell on Wheeler Air Base, dropped by a group of Val dive bombers to prevent Army fighters or bombers from taking to the air to fight back. Zero fighters swept in aferwards, strafing the neat rows of fighters parked on the open tarmac. More Vals and Kate torpedo bombers bored in from the northwest, heading towards Pearl Harbor. The original plan had been for the torpedo bombers to strike first, to allow them clear shots at their targets; but a mistake in communications caused both the torpedo planes and dive bombers to move in at the same time. The air over Pearl Harbor was about to get very busy.

Helm was one of the first ships to see the Japanese planes. She was turning to starboard around Waipio point, heading into the west lock of Pearl Harbor when the ship's Executive Officer, Lt. Reed saw planes diving down towards Ford Island. Just as he started to think it an odd time for Navy planes to practice the red meatballs of Japan appeared. "This is it!" he thought to himself and sounded General Quarters just as the first bombs fell on Ford Island.

Harold Reichert was enjoying his normal Sunday routine of coffee and a copy of the Honolulu Advertiser on the fantail of Dale at X-15, the northern-most anchorage in the harbor. A few minutes before, he had read that Japanese Ambassador Nomura was supposed to meet with Secretary of State Cordell Hull that morning to discuss peace, so when a plane flew by thirty feet above the water, it did not seem that alarming. It wasn't until he noticed the red sun on the fuselage and a torpedo dropped into the water that he realized it was Japanese. Dropping his newspaper, he raced to his battlestation at the second 5" gun turret yelling, "We're being attacked!"

Immediately after Lt. Reed had called for General Quarters on Helm, her Captain rang the engine telegraph to all back emergency full. This told the engineers that rather than easing the engines off and then moving backwards it was needed in full force RIGHT NOW! Helm's engineers were efficient and the ship was soon shaking from the power applied to the propellors; so violently in fact that her gyros tumbled, rendering them useless. As she backed to a halt Captain Carroll ordered his son below, where he spent the attack in a life jacket and steel helmet as the attack raged outside.

After the mistaken General Quarters call on Henley was countermanded her sailors had began to muster on the stern. They heard the first explosions on Ford Island but many thought it was blasting being done for a new fuel tank farm. Some even thought that the low flying planes winging in from the west were Navy or Army Air Corps aircraft on an early morning training excercise, but when torpedos slammed into the cruiser RALEIGH and targe ship UTAH everyone knew otherwise. Chief Machinist's Mate Fiddler was one of the sailors who saw what were actually Kate's from the Japanese carrier Soryu dropping torpedos. He was in the process of mustering the ship's engineering department on the stern but seeing the meatballs of the Japanese Navy caused him to quickly order his men below to start preparing the ship to get under way.

There was disbelief and confusion at first; sailor "Dutch" Smith of Dale recalled later that he told the Officer of the Deck, Ensign F.M. Radel, "Sir, the Goddamn Japs are attacking!" "Ah, you're full of baloney!" was the response.

On board the Farragut, Lt. JG James Benson was serving as Officer of the Deck. He was in his cabin preparing to go outside for colors at 0800 when the Chief Quartermaster burst into his quarters, stating he was needed on the deck on the double. Tossing on his silk bathrobe, he raced to the deck to see the attack in progress. "Holy shit! Those are meatballs," he exclained as he turned back to his cabin, "this is the real McCoy!" Benson hurriedly tossed on his combat gear and headed to his duty station on the bridge. He rushed through the door to find not the captain, but Lieutenant E.K. Jones, an unmarried officer who had been out drinking the night before and was so drunk upon his return after 0200 that Benson and the deck watch had to help him down to his quarters. Yet, despite what had to be a monumental hangover Lt. Jones was on the bridge yelling for the engineers to fire up the boilers and make the ship ready for sailing.

Henley and Farragut were not alone in the asence of ships' captains. XXX other destroyers Henley's Captain Smith was on shore and Lieutenant F.E. Fleck, Jr. was the most senior commissioned officer present.

Six ships lay at Berth X-2 off the North end of Ford Island; the destroyer tender Dobbins and destroyers Dewey, Hull, Macdonough, Phelps, and Worden. Before the attack started all of the destroyers were getting their power and steam from the Dobbins, but when she went to general quarters power flowing out to the destroyers was shut off, plunging Dewey, Hull, Macdonough, and Worden into darkness. When the General Quarters alarm had sounded, without waiting for orders, Electricians Mate 1st Class Joe Harrison of Phelps had started her two emergency generators and switched power over. Phelps alone had power to her guns and, just as importantly, light and power in her engineering spaces and boilers.

Move into ships at Navy Yard; Mugford & Jarvis; Cummings, Cassin & Downs, Shaw Shaw sat on blocks in the floating drydock, her 5" guns silent. sailors frustrated by the lack of ammunition but fighting back nonetheless.

Despite the surpise nature of the attack the destroyers were quick to fight back. Due to the mistaken call to general quarters Henley was one of the first to fire; not only had her crew been racing to their guns before the attack started but the number two five inch mount still had rounds stored in the upper handling room due to a casualty in the hoist that was due to be repaired that day.

Roughly four minutes after the start of the attack the .50 cal machine guns aboard Case opened fire and added their lead to the increasing amount of munitions thrown skyward. Two of her 5" gun mounts had the sights disassembled for overhaul, but the other three were fully operational and firing within six minutes of the first bombs while the crews of the other two scrambled to assemble their sights. Each mount had only 20 rounds of 5" fully ready in the magazine and the order quickly went out to ready more; eventually fifty shells were hoisted to each turret and another 100 readied for each gun in the magazines.

At X-2, the unpowered destroyers next to Dobbins were making the best of a bad situation with the typical "Can do" attitude of the destroyer navy. Despite Ensign R.W. Clark of Macdonough megaphone to be heard over gunfire guns in local control, no hoists & Guns had to be hand cranked

At 0830 Henley slipped her chain from the buoy at X-11 as a bomb struck the water 150 yards off her port bow, raising a geyser of water. Henley's engines backed her away from the buoy and she turned around to head for the channel, captained by Lieutenant F.E. Fleck, Jr., the senior most officer on board. Henley's Captain Smith and executive officer were both ashore that morning and not able to make it back to the ship before she made the open sea.

Farragut was moored inboard of Monaghan along with AYLWIN and DALE and had to wait for Monaghan to leave before she could untie and sortie. But the engineers quickly had steam pressure building and Farragut was able to leave the destroyer nest by 0852.

The second wave of the attack began shortly before 0915. This wave was mostly high-altitude Kate bombers with 60 and 250 Kg bombs and Val dive bombers with 250 Kg general purpose bombs, but the Vals were the main adversary of the Destroyermen this round.

Above, three Vals from the carrier Soryu began an attack run on the ships below. The flight leader targeted the fleet flagship Battleship Pennsylvania, one wingman aimed for the nearby cruiser Helena, and the other wingman aimed at a small ship in drydock; the destroyer Shaw. The two crew members of the Aichi-built warplane dropped their aircraft down from over 10,000 feet, building speed in a steep dive until they released their bomb at around 1,500 feet and pulled out.

The bomb fell true and hit Shaw on the deck just forward of her bridge in the machine gun nest. It traveled down into the ship and exploded, probably in the crew's mess on the first platform deck where some of Shaw's crew sat, belting up machine gun ammunition.

In Shaw's aft machine gun nest, Seaman Lawson looked forward just after the first bomb hit and saw the body of a sailor flying through the air, over the lifelines of the forward machine gun nest and to the deck below where he came to rest in that deck's lifelines. He recognized the sailor as shipmate Lindsay Waters. Waters was wounded by shrapnel, but returned to his station in the forward machine gun nest and remained there until the order to abandon ship was passed

Shrapnel from the explosion had tore into Shaw's hull, puncturing both a fuel-oil tank and the shell itself, allowing burning fuel-oil to rain from her skin and drop to the deck of the floating drydock below. Shortly thereafter a Shotai (flight) of three Vals targetted Shaw. All three dropped on Shaw; one after the other screaming down upon the burning ship. One Val missed and punched her bomb into the floating drydock deck, another bomb was a dude and passed through Shaw's superstructure and overboard, but the third hit and exploded near where the first had detonated.

Oil was now gushing from the ship, feeding a fire on the deck of the floating drydock that reached up, burning the hull above it. The wooden blocks Shaw rested upon had caught fire as well and to make matters worse, there was no water in the drydock to fight the fires or to flood her magazines. Forward magazine blew at roughly 0915. The bow was blown out in the area around Frame 65, remaining attached to the hull by part of the keel. Drydock is flooded to try and prevent further damage to it frome fire and explosion, but only port side sunk; fire is too intense to get starboard side of dock. Bow of Shaw is narrow and unstable and topples to starboard. starboard side sinks from damage at 1430.

By this point Helm had made her way south of Honolulu Harbor. She was turning to hard to port at twenty-five knots when suddenly a Val dive bomber appeared from out of the sun and dropped two bombs. Neither hit the ship, bracketing her and exploding underwater. Although she was not hit, the concussion shook the ship violently, rupturing joints and cracking the mount for the gun directors. One of the relays shorted out the main power lines, plunging the interior of the ship into darkness. Again Helms gyros tumbled. Normally a ship would have magnetic compasses as a backup, but Helm had removed hers in preparation for the demagnetizing procedure. Inside the harbor this was not a big deal, but on the open sea it was a problem; if Helm lost site of land she would have no reference for her location and would be lost.

By 0930 Case's two 5" turrets which had started the attack inoperative had their sites reassembled and boresighted and they too joined the fight. Commander Leland Lovette, commander of Destroyer Division Five arrived at Drydock Number 1 only to find his flagship the Cassin and half his division in flames. He knew instantly he needed to transfer his flag, and told Cassin's Captain Shea that he was going to order the remaining two ships of DESDIV 5 to sortie. He made his way across the Navy Yard to the Cummings, and reported in to the Commander of Destroyer Squadron 3, whom was commanding DESDIV 5 and 6 from Cummings while his regular Flagship was in overhaul at San Diego. Knowing that Cassin would not be underway any time soon, the Commander of DESRON 3 ordered Commander Lovette to return to Cassin and grab the best torpedo and gunnery personnel that he could.

Commander Lovette returned to Cassin ten minutes after he had left, asking for twenty-five volunteers; He got sixty. Ultimately, twelve of them embarked upon Cummings with him as she navigated the narrow gap between the cruiser NEW ORLEANS and oiler RAMAPO

At 1130 Henley received permission to recover her Captain and XO from the minesweeper TREVOR, but both ships had to remain on the move as TREVOR was deploying her magnetic sweeping gear. Acting Captain Lieutenant Fleck, Jr. ordered a lift raft to be lowered and towed behind the ship behind a long manilla line. Henley pulled in ahead of TREVOR and maneuvered the raft until Captain Smith and the Executive Officer could jump aboard. The raft was then hauled back to Henley and the two men brought aboard.

1350 Ward returns for fuel & depth charges 1742 Ward takes aboard 14 sailors from Allen

Helm's two launches had beached themselves in the heavily forested shoreline of the Waipio Penninsula as the attack started, but once it was over they remanned their boats and shoved off, spending the next two days plying the blackened waters of the harbor in search of survivors.

Shaw blows up, Shaw's accident was a fatefull incident and saved the Case scheduled overhaul., who instead went for overhaul tied up next to the tender WHITNEY. In an odd twist of fate, Cassin and Shaw, launched at the same time at the same shipyard, suffered nearly the same fate in drydocks at Pearl. So too, did Blue and Helm, another pair of "same day" launchers who both made it out of the harbor safely.

"Ensign Nathan F. Asher, on the bridge of the destroyer Blue, never understood how his men 'got their ammunition from the magazines to the guns in the fast and swift manner that they did.'" - Page 508, "At Dawn We Slept"

89 planes in the first wave attacked the fleet at Pearl, 9 Vals attacked Ford Island at the heart of it. 18 Zeros and 17 Vals attacked the nearby Hickam Army Air Corps base.


The Pearl Harbor Attack, 7 December 1941 - Navy Historical Center
Pearl Harbor Action Reports -Naval Historical Center
Japanese Naval Crash Site Report 1986 -National Park Service
A History of the U.S.S. Case DD-370 -Joseph E. Goffeney
Hart Inquiry
Moon data from the U.S. Naval Observatory
Destroyer History Trust
"At Dawn We Slept" Gordon Prange
"Torpedoing Pearl Harbor" David Aiken, December 2001, Military History Magazine
"Attack on Pearl Harbor: A Pictoral History" Stan Cohen
"Pearl Harbor 1941: The Day of Infamy" 2nd ed. Carl Smith
"Remembering Pearl Harbor: Eyewitness Accounts by U.S. Military Men and Women" Robert S. La Forte & Ronald E Marcello
"This is No Drill: Living Memories of the Attack on Pearl Harbor" Henry Berry
"Days of '41: Pearl Harbor Remembered" Ed Sheehan
"We Four Ensigns" Captain Burdick H. Brittin, USN (RET) US Naval Institute Proceedings, December, 1966.
"Tales from a Tin Can" Michael Keith Olson, MBI Publishing 2007
"Towing the New Orleans Drydock to Pearl Harbor" Cdr D.R. Osborn, Jr, USN US Naval Institute Proceedings, September, 1941.
"Pearl Harbor Recolections" Walter S. Morley of Bagley

Japanese Carrier Aircraft
Tail Code Ship
AI Akagi
AII Kaga
BI Soryu
BII Hiryu
EI Shokaku
EII Zuikaku
Pre Attack Events

  • USS Shaw & Cassin launched same day
  • USS Blue & Helm launched same day
  • Shaw collides with Oiler Sabine and goes in for repairs at YFD-2
  • Chew goes down with engine trouble, Ward takes her place
Post Attack Events

  • Aylwin almost collides with Monaghan (we 4 ensigns)
Of the thirty destroyers at Pearl, 21 would survive the war while nine would not. In an odd twist, the two destroyers credited with submarine kills would be sunk three years later, Ward three years to the day after being struck by a kamikaze and Monaghan three years and ten days later, on December 17th during a typhoon so severe that she capsized with only six sailors surviving.

Hull shared Monaghan's fate in the same storm, and Worden was lost in January of 1943 when she was swept aground by strong currents in the Aleutian Islands and broken up with the loss of fourteen sailors. USS Jarvis and Blue was sunk at Guadalcanal, 8-42
USS Tucker, DD-374: sunk off Espiritu Santo 8-42
USS Worden, DD-352: sunk off Amchitka after grounding 1-43
USS Henley sunk sunk in Huron Gulf off of Papau New Guinea by submarine 10-43
USS Reid, DD-369: sunk off Leyte, PI 12-44
USS Conyngham sunk as a target July, 1948
USS Ralph Talbot, DD-390 & USS Mugford, DD-389: sunk off Kwajalein 3-48 after atomic testing

Cassin, Downes, and Shaw, initially thought to be total losses, were resurrected and returned to fight until the end of the war.

None of the destroyers from Pearl survives today. Precious few of their sailors do.
Flotilla 1
Flotilla 2
14th ND
Destroyer Squadron 1
USS Phelps, DD 360, Flagship

Destroyer Division 1
USS Dewey, DD 349, Flagship
USS Hull, DD 350
USS Macdonough, DD 351
USS Worden, DD 352

Destroyer Division 2
USS Farragut, DD 348, Flagship
USS Aylwin, DD-355
USS Dale, DD 353
USS Monaghan, DD 354

Destroyer Squadron 3
USS Cummings, DD-365, Temporary Flagship

Destroyer Division 5
USS Cassin, DD-372, Flagship
USS Conyngham, DD-371
USS Downes, DD-375
USS Reid, DD-369

Destroyer Division 6
USS Cummings, DD-365, Flagship
USS Case, DD-370
USS Shaw, DD-373
USS Tucker, DD-374

Destroyer Squadron 4
USS Selfridge, DD 357, Flagship

Destroyer Division 7
USS Blue, DD 387, Flagship
USS Helm, DD 388
USS Henley, DD 391
USS Bagley, DD 386

Destroyer Division 8
USS Mugford, DD 389, Flagship
USS Ralph Talbot, DD 390
USS Jarvis, DD 393
USS Patterson, DD 392

Destroyer Division 80
USS Allen DD-66
USS Chew DD-106
USS Schley DD-103
USS Ward DD-139


DDs based at Pearl but not present during the attack

DESRON FIVE (part of DESFLOT1) (With CV Lexington)
Flagship: (DD 356) Porter
DESRON SIX (With CV Enterprise)
Flagship: (DD 363) BALCH
DD 364 Mahan DD 377 PERKINS DD 400 MCCALL DD 398 ELLET

Oral History of John E. Lacouture, Assistant Engineer on Board USS Blue - Survived sinking of Blue at Guadalcanal
Captain John Lacouture 40 was at Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941 and participated in most of the naval actions until his destroyer Blue sunk off Guadalcanal. He returned to flight training and remained a carrier VS/VA aviator until retiring in 1970. Captain Lacouture commanded more actual flying commands than anyone else in the Navy; three squadrons, three airwings and two aircraft carriers. Destroyer CRAVEN (DD-382) collided with Northampton (CA-26) during underway refueling and is damaged On December 14th. The ships are part of TF 8 operating north of Oahu.

things to add later

  • USS Blue commanded by Ensign Asher, underway at 0847. Asher threw his field glasses at a diving plane in frustration (ADWS, P 537) and standing watch for over 30 hours (Blue Action Report)