Excerpts from Tales from a Tin Can
November 1941: Pearl Harbor, Hawaii
Pearl Harbor is an extensive, shallow embayment near Honolulu on the island of Oahu. Called Wai Momi (“Water of Pearl”) by native Hawaiians, the harbor teemed with pearl-producing oysters until the late 1880’s.
In the years following Captain Cook’s explorations, Pearl Harbor was not considered suitable as a seaport because it was too shallow. Nevertheless, the US Navy desired a permanent base in the Pacific, and so leased the harbor from the nation of Hawaii in 1887. By 1908, the harbor was improved to the extent the US Navy was able to establish its Pearl Harbor Navy Shipyard.
When tensions between Japan and the United States increased in the late 1930’s, President Franklin Roosevelt ordered the US Pacific Fleet to Pearl Harbor. The USS Dale, and her sister Farragut-class destroyers, were included in this fleet redeployment, and took up residence at Pearl Harbor.
Cliff Huntley: You could tell who the new guys were. They were the ones who were always confused and out of step. The problem was a dreaded tropical disease called “lacanookie.” Their only cure was to get acclimated as fast as possible.
USS Dale was only about six years old when we first arrived at Pearl Harbor. At that time Dale and our sister Farragut-class destroyers were the cutting edge of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet. Our job was to get in front of the nation’s trouble, and we tin can sailors were mighty proud of that fact. Those of us who had been on Dale for a while walked with a swagger the new guys just couldn’t step into right away.
Honolulu was a lot different back then. It wasn’t the big city you see today. It was small, quiet and orderly. Flowers grew just about everywhere, and only a few cars were on the roads. There were places we enlisted men could go and places we could not go. So long as you knew which was which, you could get along pretty well.
I had the best duty on the Dale. I was an electrician’s mate first class and the ship’s movie operator. Whenever we tied up at Pearl, Machinist Mate Stoddard and myself would head out to chase down movies for the crew. They gave us a car and drivers licenses. We had the car all weekend and could go wherever we wanted. The ship even paid for a room in town for me so I could pick up the officers in the morning and bring them back to the ship.
I met this beautiful gal in town who was half Hawaiian and half Chinese. She had lots of money, more than we could ever find a use for. She was very good to me, and I never did suffer from that dread “lacanookie.”
Alvis Harris: Along about mid-November, we got orders to go out west of Pearl a couple of hundred miles with our sister tin can, the Aylwin, to pick up the SS Komikura Maru with Japanese Ambassador Nomura aboard, who was on his way to Washington, D.C. for peace talks. We escorted the Ambassador into Pearl, where he disembarked from the maru and embarked on a Matson liner for the States and his meeting in Washington.
Herman Gaddis: While the Japanese ambassador was boarding the Matson liner, we took up an anti-submarine patrol off Diamond Head. Our orders were to pick up the Matson liner when she left Pearl and escort her to the States. We were all looking forward to liberty in San Diego. But almost immediately, we picked-up a submarine on sonar that we could not identify and nobody in the fleet would claim. While we were engaged with that sub the Matson liner left Honolulu with another ship as its escort. We missed our trip back to the States, which made us all very unhappy.
We sat on top of that submarine for about three days, waiting for something to happen. The sub would move here and there a little bit, but mostly it just sat on the bottom just off Diamond Head and did nothing. We didn’t know who that sub belonged to and, as we were not at war or anything, there really was nothing we could do. So finally we just backed off and let it go.
When war with Japan became inevitable, the American government sent warnings to all of its military commands and political posts in the Pacific, including those of the Army and Navy in Hawaii. The Americans knew the Japanese were preparing to attack, but had convinced themselves the attack would take place in the Philippines.
The first warning was sent 27 November: “This dispatch is to be considered a war warning. Negotiations with Japan looking toward stabilization of conditions in the Pacific have ceased and an aggressive move by Japan is expected within the next few days. The number and equipment of Japanese troops and the organization of the naval task forces indicates an amphibious expedition against either the Philippines Thai or Kra Peninsula or possibly Borneo. Execute an appropriate defensive deployment prepatory to carrying out the tasks assigned in WPL 46. Inform district and army authorities.”
A second warning was sent throughout the Pacific on 3 December: “Warning! Categoric and urgent instructions were sent yesterday to Japanese diplomatic and consular posts at Hong Kong, Singapore, Batavia, Manila, Washington and London to destroy most of their codes and ciphers at once and to burn all other important confidential and secret documents.”
Certain that Japan was on the move, America held fast to its belief the move would come in the Philippines. Most certainly it would not come at Pearl Harbor! This wishful thinking provided the perfect cover for Nagumo’s carrier strike force, which arrived at a point 200 miles north of Pearl Harbor early on the morning of 7 December.
7 December 03:00 to 07:00
Pilots aboard Nagumo’s six carriers awoke very early from what surely must have been a nervous sleep. Yet, despite all of the anxiety, Flight Commander Fuchida found Lt. Commander Shigeharu Murata, leader of the torpedo bombers that would soon strike Pearl Harbor’s battleship row, hungrily wolfing down a hearty breakfast. Murata called out, “Good morning, Commander Fuchida. Honolulu sleeps!”
“How do you know,” Fuchida asked.
“The Honolulu radio plays soft music,” Murata responded. “Everything is fine!”
At 06:00, Nagumo’s six carriers began launching the first wave of airplanes. At 06:30, Commander Fuchida turned south in command of forty Kate torpedo bombers, fifty-one dive bombers, forty-three fighters and forty-nine Kate high-level bombers. Months of training were about to culminate in an operation that would commit Japan to a war with the industrial might of the United States.
Though most of Honolulu slept, a few were being made aware that something was up. In the early morning darkness, the destroyer USS Ward (DD-139) spotted the periscope of an unidentified submarine near the entrance to Pearl Harbor. The Ward attacked the submarine, sank it and then reported the incident up the chain-of-command. Then, at approximately 07:00, an alert Army radar operator saw the approaching first wave of Japanese airplanes on his scope and called in a report to his superior. Both reports, however, fell on deaf ears and nothing was done to increase Pearl Harbor’s readiness for what was about to come from the sky.
Harold Reichert: Some mornings, the waters of Pearl Harbor would be so still the seaplane pilots could not see where to land, and so we’d have to send out the motor whaleboat to stir up the water a bit. On mornings like that, you could always pick up the smells of fuel oil mixed with tropical flowers, and after a week or two at sea those smells were mighty inviting. My Sunday morning ritual at Pearl was to sit out on the fantail with a cup of coffee and a newspaper and enjoy the early sun and those tropical airs.
Harold Reichert: There were ninety-six ships in Pearl Harbor that morning and no reason to expect any trouble. After all, the Honolulu Advertiser I was reading told how Japanese Ambassador Nomura was going to meet with the Secretary Cordell Hull in Washington that very morning to talk about peace.
Cliff Huntley: In the peacetime Navy, it was customary to give weekend liberty to two-thirds of Dale‘s crew when we were in port. Three of us had gone together and purchased a much-used 1935 Chevrolet. The two-thirds rule meant that on any given weekend, two of us owners would have the car. On that weekend, Ensign Vellis and I drove the car into town to spend the night in some nice rooms across the street from the Moana Hotel. It was always great to get off the ship and get into Honolulu, a beautiful place with many small homes and maybe one-third the population of today.
7 December 07:00 to 07:55
As the first wave of attacking Japanese airplanes approached the north shore of Oahu, two reconnaissance planes launched earlier reported the US fleet to be asleep at Pearl Harbor. While there was no sign of an alert, there were also no aircraft carriers tied up at the moorings on the north side of Ford Island. This piece of news greatly frustrated Commander Fuchida, as the carriers were his primary objective. But the battleships were lined up like bowling pins along battleship row. Fuchida radioed Nomura, and all of Japan, “To… To… To… Ra… Ra… Ra….”
Fuchida’s fighters were the first to arrive in the air over Oahu. They fanned out over the island, established air superiority and then commenced strafing the American airplanes parked wing to wing on the ramps of various air bases around the island. Next came his dive bombers, which dove on ships and facilities. Then came the lumbering Kate torpedo bombers, which headed straight for battleship row. Finally, above it all, flew the level bombers with sixteen-inch armor-piercing naval rounds specially adapted for dropping from on high.
John Cruce: I was sitting out on the deck next to gun five with my morning coffee and a Honolulu Advertiser. I still remember the headline, “US and Japan On Good Terms.”
Dellman Smith: I was sitting on a forward torpedo tube with a cup of coffee, talking with Humphrey. We saw a big bunch of airplanes coming in over the mountains and got to wondering which carrier they belonged to.
They could not be coming from the Saratoga, because she was in dry dock in Bremerton; nor the Enterprise, because she was participating in an exercise way down south somewhere. And the Lexington had just gone to sea Saturday, so it was doubtful her planes were flying back already. It just didn’t make any sense. So we watched as they flew in from the mountains. Then, when they got to about a hundred yards away, Humphrey jumped up and said, “Goddamn! They’re Japanese!”
Don Schneider: I had the messenger duty that night, which meant I didn’t get to sleep until four in the morning. I was working as a mess cook, so my bunk space was down in the mess hall, where there were always a lot of guys coming and going. Mess cooks were at the bottom of the ship’s totem pole, and sleeping mess cooks were fair game for whoever happened to come through. When someone came by yelling that the Japs were attacking, I yelled back, “Go to hell!” and rolled over for more sleep.
Warren Deppe: We were eating breakfast down in the mess hall. At the time, we had aboard this chief torpedoman we called “Sailor Boy White,” who was the ship’s practical joker. One of his favorite gags in those days, when everyone’s nerves were on edge, was to sneak into a compartment when nobody was looking and yell, “The Japs are coming! The Japs are coming!” And so, when Sailor Boy White came running into the galley with a terribly frightened look on his face that morning, nobody paid him any attention, even when he started pleading that he was telling the truth. Then we heard the explosions!
Harold Reichert: Just then, a plane flew by at about thirty feet. I could see the pilot plain as day. He wore a leather helmet with straps under his chin and a pair of goggles. I could see the whites of his eyes, and he was totally fixed on the old Utah, which was an old battlewagon the Navy had stripped down and converted to a target ship. She had a big wooden deck on her, so dive-bombers could practice bombing her with sandbags. She looked a lot like an aircraft carrier and was even anchored in the same berth the Lexington had vacated the previous day!
I did not realize what the plane was until I finally got focused on the big red rising sun painted on the fuselage. And then I saw the torpedo drop and watched as it ran up on the old Utah. The explosion sent a huge fountain of water shooting way up high into the air. I remember dropping my newspaper and yelling, “We’re being attacked!”
Johnny Miller: I had the radio duty and was sitting at my desk reading the Sunday morning funny papers when I heard some unexplained explosions. Just then one of the fellows came by the radio room yelling, “The Japs are attacking!” I ran outside just as a torpedo plane came across our bow and let go his torpedo at the battleship Utah. I even noticed the smile on the pilot’s face he was so close. Heck! I could have hit him with a rock!
Ernest Schnabel: I was absorbed in my Sunday morning crossword puzzle when I heard some aircraft flying real close. I looked up and saw two planes flying by at about masthead height. Then I heard explosions on the light cruiser Raleigh and the old Utah.
J.E. McIntyre: I had just finished breakfast when the GQ alarm went off. To get to my station in number one fireroom, I had to go topside. When I did, a Japanese torpedo bomber flew by so close I could have hit it with a potato if I had one. I then went below to the fireroom and didn’t’ come up again until the next day.
Jim Sturgill: I was sleeping in when the general quarters alarm clanged away and sailors began throwing gas masks, helmets and elbows everywhere. I jumped out of bed, got dressed and ran topside. When I stuck my head out the hatch, I saw explosions throughout the harbor and burning ships. My stomach fell and I knew in that instant that we were at war.
Alvis Harris: I was down below, brushing my teeth and getting ready to visit a neighbor from back home who was stationed aboard the battleship West Virginia. There was a huge commotion, so I ran outside to see what was going on. The first thing I saw was a Japanese bomber dropping its torpedo, which then ran right up into the old Utah and exploded.
Mike Callahan: I was to have the duty at twelve noon and so went to early mass. While the service was going on, we heard a tremendous amount of gunfire, and I wondered why they were having exercises like that so early on a Sunday morning. Then someone burst into the church and yelled, “We’re being attacked!” I ran outside and knew in a second it was true.
Ernest “Dutch” Smith: I ran up to the OOD, who was a young ensign, and said, “Sir, the Goddamn Japs are attacking!”
He said, “Ah, you’re full of baloney!”
Then I said, “Well, go back and take a look at the Utah, if you don’t believe me.” He went back and looked at the Utah, which had just been hit with a torpedo.
Harold Reichert: My general quarters station was at gun two, which was up forward. So, when that torpedo hit the old Utah, I took off as fast as I could. As I was moving along the length of the ship, I passed the Ward Room, where a frightened looking ensign was standing in the hatchway. “We’re being attacked, Sir,” I said without slowing down.
John Cruce: A young ensign was standing in the hatchway with his jaws wide open. I ran past him yelling, “We’re at war, Sir!” I kept right on a running until I reached the galley, where I pulled the general quarters alarm.
Cliff Huntley: We heard the bombing in our rooms across the street from the Moana Hotel, clear up in Honolulu. We dressed as fast as possible, jumped into the Chevrolet, and raced off toward Pearl Harbor, where we abandoned the car at the gate. It was the last any of us ever saw of that old Chevrolet!
7 December 07:55 to 08:20
With no aircraft carriers to attack, the Japanese pilots focused their attention on battleships, seven of which were tied up along battleship row on the north side of Ford Island. The remaining one, the USS Pennsylvania (BB-38), lay in dry dock across the channel.
Within the first two minutes of the attack, all of the battleships along battleship row had taken hits from dive bombers. The torpedo attacks took longer, as many pilots took two or three runs before actually launching their torpedoes. The anchored US fleet was at a low state of readiness, and a few of the ships’ machine guns were manned. The Nevada (BB36), for example, had machine guns manned in her fighting tops, and consequently suffered only one torpedo hit, as compared to the six that hit West Virginia (BB-48), four on the Oklahoma (BB-37), two on the California (BB-44) and one on the Arizona (BB-39).
As the attacking planes sent torpedo after torpedo slamming into the battleships, Oklahoma rolled over onto her side and sank into the bay. West Virginia also took on a severe list, but counter flooding by daring seaman prevented her from rolling over and allowed her to settle onto the bottom on an even keel. The California, Maryland (BB-46) and Tennessee (BB-43) also suffered varying degrees of damage in the first half hour of the raid.
Despite the explosions that filled the harbor area with fire and smoke, the Japanese pilots, well trained from months of practice, maintained discipline. Most of their attack runs were made in coordinated groups of three to five planes. Many of the strafing fighters came in very low, sometimes passing within a few feet of the ground in pursuit of targets, which often included cars or people.
At about 08:10, the Arizona was hit by one of the modified sixteen-inch armor-piercing naval rounds dropped by a level bomber. The round penetrated the Arizona‘s deck near turret two and ignited in the ship’s forward ammunition magazine, mortally wounding the ship. The resulting explosion and fire killed 1,177 crewmen. Those serving on ships near the exploding Arizona that day would say, “It rained sailors!”
Harold Reichert: I got to my general quarters station at gun two before anyone else and even before the GQ klaxon sounded. By then, there were explosions everywhere and I looked around for what to do next.
Each of our five-inch guns needed a powderman, shellman, pointer, gun captain and phone talker. Trouble was, most of our crew was ashore, including the older married guys, who were the ones who knew how to do everything. And that was not the least of it either, because we were tied up at Berth X-14 with three other cans. The order was Aylwin, Farragut, Dale and Monaghan, which meant we were sandwiched tight between two other cans and none of our forward guns could bear without shooting up our sister ships!
Johnny Miller: I dashed down to the radio shack and started the ball rolling. We came up on every important frequency I could think of. The Harbor frequency was the one on which all the important messages were coming over. The first message I copied was, “Air raid on Pearl Harbor. This is no drill!” Next was a message for all ships to get underway. Then the frequency became almost useless due to the Japs causing interference and sending out messages for all to ceasefire.
John Cruce: We had no gunnery officer, no firing pins, no powder, no first-class petty officer to install the firing pins if we could ever find them and no orders to fire!
Herman Gaddis: The Officer of the Deck up on the bridge, Ensign Radell, hadn’t been in the Navy more than a year and was shaking like a leaf because he was now the acting captain of a US Navy ship at war. But we also had a thirty-year chief petty officer up there, and he said, “Relax, son. We’ll make it out of here just fine!” So they worked things out together and soon put out orders to set material condition Affirm and light off all the boilers!
J.E. McIntyre: When I got to my GQ station in number one fireroom, the only person there was Lead Fireman Schnabel. I asked, “What are we supposed to do now?”
“Get the hell out of here as fast as possible!” Schnabel answered.
“Get out of this fireroom, or get out of Pearl Harbor?” I replied.
“Let’s light her off, and get her out of Pearl Harbor!” he said. Luckily, we had the ready duty Saturday, and our boilers were still warm. Otherwise, we were cold iron.
But then I said, “We can’t fire the boilers because they’re full of water!”
“You take care of the fire, and I’ll take care of the water,” he ordered. And with that, he opened the drain valves and started to drain the warm water straight into the bilges. Usually we lowered the water levels gradually by pumping the water overboard, but that morning, time was not allowing.
Harold Reichert: I looked up and saw a guy climbing way up to the top of the stacks. I watched him for a moment and realized he was trying to cut loose the stack covers. Whenever the burners weren’t lit, the stacks would be covered to keep the rain out. But when the stacks were covered, there was no way to light off the burners because they couldn’t get enough air. The bosun mates that had covered the stacks were all ashore when the Japanese attacked. So someone had to climb up there and cut the stack covers free, and all he had was a small pocket knife!
Herman Gaddis: Up on the bridge, things became pretty intense when we found ourselves looking straight down the muzzle of one of the Farragut’s five-inch guns. Now the Farragut was tied up directly to our port side, and they were shooting wildly about at anything that moved. Ensign Radell ran out on the flying bridge yelling, “Point that damn thing the other way!”
Ernest “Dutch” Smith: I was the pointer on the forward five-inch gun. But there was no place to point because the Farragut was tied up to port, the Monaghan was tied up to starboard, and the Japanese torpedo bombers were flying real low.
Herman Gaddis: We had this black mess attendant aboard named Dixon who was very popular with the crew. He came running up to the bridge and said, “Our five-inch guns can’t fire because they don’t have firing pins!” We then realized that all the firing pins were in the gunners mate’s locker, and the gunners mate was ashore somewhere. While the rest of us froze with the impossibility of the situation, Dixon ran down to the locker, broke in, grabbed up all the firing pins, and handed them out to the gun crews.
John Cruce: I asked for permission from the bridge to open fire, but no one answered. Since there was nobody up there to say “No,” we went right ahead and blasted away at the next Jap plane to fly by. Our ammo was really bad, and our shots kept going off way behind the targets. I kept yelling down to the fuse cutter, “Cut the fuses! Cut the fuses!”
A.L. Rorschach, Captain’s Log: The presence of ships on either side of Dale prevented the use of all forward guns. The forward twenty-four inch searchlight made it impossible to bring the (gun) director to bear in the direction of the level bombing attacks on the battleships. The five-inch guns operated in local control with very poor results, the shots bursting well behind and short of the targets, a squadron of level bombers flying at about 10,000 feet above the battleships on alternately northerly and southerly courses. 08:15 an enemy dive-bomber attacking the USS Raleigh from westward came under severe machine gun fire from all the ships in the nest, nosed down and crashed into the harbor.
Jim Sturgill: Back aft on gun five, we had enough clearance from the other ships in the nest to aim and shoot, but our ammunition was locked up tight and no one could find a key. So I took a hammer and broke open the locker. The gun captain said, “You’re going to be court-marshaled for this!”(5) I just shrugged him off and started shooting just as a big torpedo bomber came lumbering by. We blasted him and he went down in flames.
Alvis Harris: In the radio shack we were up on the Air Raid, Harbor and Channel frequencies. Orders and information came in fast and furious like, “All ships get underway immediately” and “DesDiv Two, establish offshore patrol. Enemy submarines sighted inside and outside Pearl Harbor!” I was running messages back and forth to the bridge and got to see a lot of the action. I saw the Utah, Raleigh and Detroit being bombed, torpedoed and machine-gunned. I saw the Raleigh settle down on the bottom, and the Utah turn upside down. The sky was a mass of exploding “AA” with Japanese bombers flying in and out of them.
Johnny Miller: The next time I dashed up to the bridge I saw a horrible sight. The USS Utah had turned over and was lying with only her bottom showing. I could see the big bomber hanger over on Ford Island alive with flames. The USS Arizona was afire and sinking fast. The West Virginia was hit with six or seven torpedoes and was afire. The USS Nevada was hit by a torpedo and was heading for the beach so she wouldn’t get sunk.
J.E. McIntyre: While tied up in the nest with the other tin cans, we got all of our steam and power from the Monaghan’s boilers. So when she cast off, we were “cold iron.” Under normal conditions, it took us about a hundred and fifty minutes to fire up our boilers. But there was nothing normal about that Sunday morning! After Schnabel flushed the water, I lit off all four boilers and began pumping the crude oil. Since our boilers were still warm, we were able to get up enough steam to get underway in nineteen minutes!
Don Schneider: When I got to up to gun one, things were moving real fast. Someone handed me a fire axe and told me to chop the line to the Monaghan, which was tied up to starboard. When I finished chopping, they sent me to the ammunition handling room. Someone was down below in the magazine and they were sending up powder and five-inch rounds as fast as they could. Trouble was, we weren’t shooting at anything yet, so the ammunition was piling up and crowding us out of the handling room, and whoever was down there wouldn’t stop. I started stacking some of the rounds out on the deck, but someone running by bumped into my stack and sent a couple of the five-inch rounds rolling across the deck and over the side.
Harold Reichert: The Monaghan had the ready duty that Sunday morning and so was ready to go first. I was happy to help throw off her lines, because it meant that gun two would finally have a clear field of fire to the East.
Johnny Miller: The Monaghan backed away from the nest and headed for the channel entrance. A Jap submarine periscope was sticking up out of the water and the USS Curtis was firing into the water with her guns, trying her best to sink the sub. The Monaghan let out a blast on her horn to signal she was making a depth charge attack. She had to have a lot of speed on to clear the area of the explosion or be damaged from her own depth charges, and this caused her to run aground.
Ernest “Dutch” Smith: Immediately after the Monaghan cast off, it made a high speed run on a midget Japanese submarine it had spotted and dropped two six-hundred pound depth charges. The explosions lifted the rear end of the Monaghan clean out of the water. If I close my eyes, I can still see her screws spinning wildly in the air!
A few moments later, we cast off and as we were backing out, I happened to look up through the open turret of the gun and saw two white torpedo streaks coming straight at us just under the surface of the water. Luckily for us, Dale was due to tie up at the tender on Monday, and so we were low on everything and only drawing about nine feet of water. Those torpedoes streaked right underneath us and blew up on Ford Island.
Don Schneider: We figured out later how the miniature Jap submarines managed to sneak past the submarine nets into Pearl Harbor. That Saturday we escorted the Lexington out to sea, picked up the old Utah and then followed her back into the harbor. There was quite a bit of room between the Utah and the Dale going in. Those little subs must have just jumped in line between the two of us and followed the sound of the Utah‘s screws as she worked her way up into the harbor.
Johnny Miller: One torpedo came whizzing by our bow, but missed us by a few feet. Another came from the stern and went under us, hit the beach, exploded and tore the beach up for yards around.
Harold Reichert: It usually took hours to get underway, but on that Sunday morning, it only took minutes. The interesting thing about being in battle is that you don’t get to see much of it, even when you are in the middle of it!
7 December 08:20 to 08:55
By 08:30, the first wave of attacking Japanese airplanes had spent themselves and were winging their way north to the carriers. A lull settled in over Pearl Harbor as sailors and soldiers prepared for further attacks.
During this lull in the action, the Nevada, the one battleship capable of getting up steam, got underway and began moving slowly down the channel toward the harbor entrance and open sea. The sight of this towering battleship moving along amidst the flames and smoke brought hope to those trapped in the flaming hell of Pearl Harbor. But before the Nevada could move very far, she was jumped by the second wave of Fuchida’s attackers. Pilots of this wave, which consisted of 170 airplanes, found Nevada to be the opportunity for which they had been looking. If they could sink Nevada in the channel, they could bottle up Pearl Harbor for months to come. In a few frenzied moments, the Japanese pilots dropped five armor-piercing bombs onto the lumbering giant. The Nevada, under the command of a junior officer, then received orders from the harbor control tower to stay clear of the channel. This left the young officer with one course of action, and that was to beach the Nevada and thereby prevent her from sinking.
While the Nevada was attempting her sortie, more dive bombers and fighters appeared in the skies over Pearl Harbor. Unlike pilots of the first wave, whose attack had been carefully choreographed by Nagumo’s planners, pilots of the second wave were given free reign to attack targets of opportunity.
Groups of airplanes circled high in the sky looking down through the smoke for good targets, which were quickly found tied up in Pearl Harbor’s dockyards and dry docks. The battleship Pennsylvania (BB 38), sitting high in a dry dock, was hit by an armor piercing bomb dropped from a level bomber, while destroyers Cassin (DD 372), Downes (DD 375) and Shaw (DD 373) were completely destroyed by bombs and fire. Still, the most important target of all for the attackers would be the one they could catch trying to sneak out of the harbor.
Alvis Harris: When we got underway, the first ship we passed was the Monaghan, which was stuck in the mud after making a high-speed depth charge run on a Japanese submarine. She was just moving too fast to avoid running aground, so she got stuck in the mud. Eight Jap planes were attacking her, and she was shooting back at them like mad. We could see her screws backing furiously trying to get her off that mud.
Johnny Miller: As we passed the Monaghan, guys on both ships waved a friendly goodbye.
Alvis Harris: Then we passed by the old Utah, which was rolling over and going under. She had just tied up at the Lexington’s berth the day before! All this time I was just a standing there in the hatchway of the radio shack, a-gawkin’ at all this like some old country boy.
Ernest Schnabel: As we left our berth and got underway, the deck force was still engaged in getting ready for combat. One young bosun named Fuller had the job of clearing the deck of all the wooden objects that collected in port. And there was a lot of it, because in port we had all these awnings rigged to keep the tropical sun off the decks. You also had to get rid of the all the wooden swabs, buckets and boxes because if a machine gun bullet from a Japanese plane were to strike any of it, slivers would fly all over the place just like shrapnel.
So Fuller was making his way aft, just tossing stuff like a madman when he came to the wooden ice cream gedunk. He grabbed it and was just starting to push it over the side when one of the guys said, “Hey, wait a minute!”
Back in 1941, ice cream was a mighty precious commodity in the destroyer Navy. Today you can find ice cream and sugar candy on almost any street corner. But back then, we tin can sailors had to get our ice cream off the bigger ships that had the equipment to make it. They almost always figured out ways to make us pay for it, too! So that young bosun struck a nerve when he made moves to toss all the ship’s ice cream over the side.
In a matter of seconds, the lock was broke and the ice cream distributed among the crew. Then Fuller kicked the empty wooden gedunk over the side. So, what you saw was the USS Dale steaming hell bent out into the channel, while the guys back aft were standing by their guns eating ice cream and watching World War II break out all around them.
Harold Reichert: Then we passed by the Nevada, which was backing down the other channel. Her crew was pumping water over the side like crazy with portable pumps rigged-up with handy-billys. You could tell she was going to try and beach herself on the mud to keep the channel clear.
Ernest “Dutch”Smith: The minute we got around the Nevada, all hell broke loose. Before that, we were like spectators at someone else’s fight. The Japs didn’t pay us much attention, attacking the bigger ships instead. But when we rounded the Nevada they came after us with just about everything they had. We were the first ship to head out of Pearl Harbor, and they wanted to sink us in the channel and bottle up the Fleet.
Johnny Miller: We were in a select position to be the first ship in the channel, and the high-level bombers were waiting for us. If they could sink us they would block up the channel and then have a field day with all the ships trapped in the harbor. The bombs they were using were sixteen-inch armor-piercing battleship rounds with fins welded to them. Being only thirty-four feet wide, the bombs straddled us and sank deep into the mud before they exploded and showered us with mud and rocks.