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Reports by Survivors of Pearl Harbor Attack

Source: Wallin, Homer N. Pearl Harbor: Why, How, Fleet Salvage and Final Appraisal. (Washington DC: Government Printing Office, 1968): 297-327.

Note: Some of these accounts are copies of enclosures attached to the action reports of individual ships.

USS West Virginia
USS Oklahoma
USS Arizona
USS California
USS Maryland
USS Tennessee

USS West Virginia

Lieutenant Commander T. T. Beattie wrote as follows:

About five minutes to eight I was in the wardroom just finishing breakfast, when word came over the loud speaker from the officer-of-the-deck, "away fire and rescue party." This was followed immediately by a second announcement over the loud speaker, "Japanese are attacking, all hands General Quarters," and the general alarm was rung.

I heard several dull explosions coming from other battleships. Immediately I left the wardroom and ran up the starboard passageway to the bridge. The Captain was just ahead of me and proceeding in the same direction.

At this time the ship listed at least five or six degrees and was steadily listing more to port. The Captain and I went to the conning tower, our battle stations, and at this time dive bombing attacks started to take place and numerous explosions were felt throughout the ship. Upon testing our communications with central station and to the guns we found they were disrupted. I suggested to the Captain as long as no communications were in the battle conning tower that we leave there and attempt to establish messenger communication and try to save the ship. We went out on the starboard side of the bridge discussing what to do. During all this time extremely heavy bombing and strafing attacks occurred. The ship was constantly shaken by bomb hits.

The Captain doubled up with a groan and stated that he had been wounded. I saw that be had been hit in the stomach probably by a large piece of shrapnel and was very seriously wounded. He then sank to the deck and I loosened his collar. I then sent a messenger for a pharmacists mate to assist the Captain.

Just then the USS Arizona's forward magazines blew up with a tremendous explosion and large sheets of flame shot skyward, and I began to wonder about our own magazines and whether they were being flooded. I posted a man with the Captain and went down to the forecastle where a number of the crew and officers had gathered. I got hold of a chief turret captain to check immediately on the magazines and to flood them if they were not flooded at this time. Large sheets of flame and several fires started aft. Burning fuel oil from the USS Arizona floated down on the stern of the ship. Just then the gunnery officer, Lieutenant Commander Berthold, came aboard and I asked him to try to flood the forward magazines. Shortly thereafter I was informed that the after magazines were completely flooded but that they were unable to flood the forward magazines as the water was now almost to the main deck.

At about this time a large oil fire swept from the USS Arizona down the port side of the USS West Virginia. We had no water on board as the fire mains and machinery were out of commission and we were unable to do any fire fighting at all. I got into a motor launch to go to the stern of the ship to investigate the fire. The smoke was so heavy that I could not see aft of the bridge. As I got into the boat a sheet of flame swept on top of us and we barely managed to get free of the fire. I then had the boat take me aft. The burning oil on the water swept by the ship and I managed to return to the quarterdeck. I realized then that the ship was lost.

The attack lasted approximately thirty minutes. We were able to fire all our ready ammunition on the anti-aircraft batteries, but were unable to replenish it as the ship was flooded. I then told the men on the quarterdeck, with the exception of a small working party, to leave the ship. I believe at this time that all the wounded had been taken off the ship and it was extremely dangerous for anyone to remain aboard; that nothing could be done to save the ship and shells from the secondary batteries were constantly exploding due to the intensive heat of the fire midships.

The conduct of the crew and officers was outstanding. There was no confusion and every man and officer did his duty as well as he was able under the conditions.

Lieutenant (jg) H. B. Stark wrote as follows:

Shortly before eight o'clock on Sunday morning, I was in my room double george [room GG] on the half deck. Double george is the third stateroom counting from aft on the starboard side of the half deck, in the third watertight compartment from aft. As I was getting up from my bunk I heard the call "Away Fire and Rescue Party," followed immediately by General Quarters. This was followed almost immediately by two or three violent explosion in quick succession. The ship started listing to port right away. Grabbing an armload of clothes, I ran forward and found only one man on the half deck manning the repair phone. Between us we started closing watertight doors working from aft, although we did not check the after door leading to the airplane crane room, which normally should be shut. As I dogged down [closed] the door forward of my room I heard something let go in the compartment, some leak starting violently. By that time there were a few more men in the compartment above. The large watertight hatch over that space was dropped and I crawled out through the escape scuttle. As I did I skidded over to port and landed in about four feet of water with a scum of fuel oil. I decided to work my way along the starboard side of the third deck to see if counter-flooding was being accomplished. To my mind there was no danger of sinking in that shallow water but there was great danger of turning over on the port side, as the port list was getting greater. As I dropped down into the trunk to the steering motor room, fire and grains of burning powder showered around me. With the help of a marine sentry the slight fire was extinguished but we could not completely shut the hatch leading down to the steering motor room; it seemed jammed although almost shut. I sent the marine up to shut the hatch over me as I undogged the starboard door. When I stepped into the mess attendants compartment someone helped me to shut the door. At that time I first noticed that it was completely dark except for a glimmer of a flashlight forward. I groped my way along the deck to the next compartment through the open door and found the damage control gear locker. Puccio, S.F., 3c, I think, had broken into the locker and was hunting for counterflood cranks. He found one and I found one; also a flashlight. I told him to flood forward while I did aft. I ran back into the after compartment and started cranking. We worked for some time on three voids, I believe, but were unable to build up any pressure before the men started falling to the deck [overcome by fuel oil fumes?]. The valve settings were on open, we could not lift any, and the men were all passing out. I grabbed someone and told everyone to haul somebody out the starboard hatch on the quarterdeck just aft of the break of the deck, Then, again I remember nothing until I was under the overhang of turret two, my turret. My head ached terrifically, I could not breathe, and all my extremities tingled as if they had been asleep and were just being awakened. Finding out from my CTC [Chief Turret Captain]., Crawford, that no one was in control, I started for that station with the starboard anti-aircraft guns firing in my face, it seemed to me. That was the first time I realized the anti-aircraft guns were firing. I ran into Lieutenant Ricketts on the boat deck by a number three anti-aircraft gun and asked him if be needed men. He said, "Yes, on the anti-aircraft ammunition supply." I noticed several anti-aircraft officers on the battery and it was functioning wonderfully. I got back under the overhang of the turret, but the hatches were closed. I passed out in the exertion of opening the right tail hatch, but was able to tell Crawford to get men on the antiaircraft ammunition train. How long I lay there trying to breathe I do not know until Crawford returned, told me that the ammunition train was flooded, that all boat deck ammunition was exhausted, and that the Captain had ordered "Abandon Ship!" I made sure that my turret was evacuated, then remember hitting the water from the forecastle. I tried to swim but was too weak. Clover, E.F., G.M. 2 c, and Hitcher, H.C., Sea. 1c, of my division held me up and dumped me into a life raft. The next I definitely remember I was on Ford Island at the dispensary.

USS Oklahoma

Pay Clerk D. L. Westfall wrote as follows:

At the time of the attack I was in my room shaving. The word was passed "Away Fire and Rescue Party;" just as I was leaving my room the second word was passed for all hands to man their General Quartets Stations closely followed by a shock of a hit. I glanced at my clock as I was leaving my room and noticed the time was a few minutes before 8:00 A.M.

I started for my station in Radio Central; as I was passing along the third deck up a port ammunition passageway, I felt two more hits. The lights went out in the passageway except for one battle light and two panel lights in the boat crane machinery space.

By the time I reached the compartment abreast the armory the ship had picked up a 10-15 list to port; there were a couple of battle lights on in this compartment. Water and oil were bubbling up along the junction of the bulkhead and deck of the electrical work shop, port side. Repair personnel were busy closing watertight doors.

When I reached Radio Central, personnel there had just started evacuating on the orders of the Communication Watch Officer. Radio equipment apparently was out of commission as I noticed many pieces of equipment knocked over or dangling by wires. Back up on the third deck all lights were out and only a few flashlights were available. About this time the word came along from man to man to "Abandon Ship." I helped a partially incapacitated man to the second deck and then joined in a line passing injured men along to the ladder by the dental office. I lost all knowledge of time while here, but after some minutes, Ensign McClelland, who was beside me in the line, said be was feeling faint and then collapsed. I noticed other men dropping around me. I stooped over to pick up Mr. McClelland but when I stooped over I got dizzy and fell. I seemed to be paralyzed from the waist down, had great difficulty breathing, but had enough strength in my arms to drag myself to the ladder and up a couple of steps before collapsing completely [fuel oil fumes are mentioned on other ships as being cause for such collapses].

After passing out I had only flashes of consciousness until mid-afternoon. When I recovered I was at the Naval Air Dispensary on Ford Island. Shortly thereafter I joined a bunch of men going over to BOQ [Bachelor Officers Quarters] at the Air Station and started a check on survivors from the supply department.

The action of everyone I observed was cool and purposeful as soon as they fully realized we were actually under attack. The only confusion was occasioned by lack of lighting. My life itself is proof of the courage and disregard of personal danger on the part of unknown shipmates.

Second Lieutenant William G. Muller, Jr., wrote as follows:

I had just returned aboard ship on the 0745 motor boat; the boat came alongside the gangway at approximately 0750. On reaching the Junior Officers' mess the word came over the loud speaker system, "Air attack, all unengaged personnel seek cover, these are real Japanese bombers." I could hardly believe that this was a real attack but the excitement and reality of the voice convinced me to move. I left the mess and started aft, first stopping off at my room to get my pistol. My room is on the starboard side, just aft of the Junior Officers mess. I left my room and went over to the port side to enter the third deck via the hatch just adjacent to the Warrant Officers mess. A line had formed by this time and men were pouring down into the third deck. I finally found an opening in the line and started down the ladder. I had just reached the third deck and was almost opposite the ladder when the first torpedo hit. The explosion came from the vicinity of the Wardroom and was not a violent one. The line was still moving down into the third deck and I was opposite the Communication office when the second torpedo hit. This explosion caused violent repercussions and the whole ship seemed to tremble. I figured the hit was almost adjacent to where I was standing.

By this time I decided to leave as water was beginning to flood into the third deck and the ship started listing to port. I assume there were a couple hundred personnel in that third deck and only a few of us were able to reach a hatchway in time. Two more torpedo hits were sustained by the time I was able to work my way back to the hatch I had entered and to get up to the second deck. The ship was about 35 to port by this time and the decks were too slippery and steep to walk on. I worked my way to starboard by use of dogs and fittings on the bulkhead. During this time I heard the last two explosions which were somewhere amidship or aft. There were six torpedo hits that I heard in all.

With difficulty I made the starboard side and climbed into my room which I knew had an open port. The porthole was almost overhead and I climbed through it, slid down the side which inclined about 50 and jumped into the water.

Ensign H. F. Rommel wrote as follows:

The first bombs were from dive-bombers on the hangars at Ford Island. Then a torpedo plane, coming in from over Ford Island, dropped a torpedo at a ship at 10-10 dock, The ship was hit about midships and the explosion seemed upward with many splinters.

I ran aft and passed the word "A cruiser has just been sunk. These are real bombs and real torpedoes. Man the anti-aircraft battery."

The ship listed slowly but steadily. No word was received over the speaker to abandon ship. I escaped via the overhang hatch and was picked up by a battleship motor launch. We continued pulling men out of the water. It was difficult due to the oil making everyone slippery. Men with undershirts could be pulled into boats by grabbing the shoulder piece and sleeve on each side while men who had stripped were very slippery. It is recommended that men be instructed not to remove undershirts when abandoning ship.

Ensign J. M. Doherty wrote as follows;

When the word was passed to man battle stations I left the J.O.[Junior Officers] Mess for the third deck. On the way down the ladder, the first bomb or torpedo hit. Before I ever got to the Communications Office, oil was pouring into the compartment A-122-P from a hole near frame 60. We had no time to set Zed ["Zed" or "Condition Zed" refers to the closure of all watertight hatches and doors] and I guess there were four or five hits in about five minutes, The ship listed to port and oil was knee deep on the third deck after the first five to seven minutes.

Bunks and bedding interfered considerably with people trying to get around. They were all over the deck at all angles and in everyone's way. The ladder to the second deck was bent and twisted and the lights went out after approximately the fourth hit.

I got out a port on the second deck. I think that ports should not be sealed up but left open for personnel to escape Ladders should be fastened at the lower end and not be allowed to hang loose as when the ship turns over the ladders jam up the hatches. There should be more hatches in more compartments. Ships should not be overcrowded with people "training" if ships are in dangerous areas. Let the people train in peaceful waters on ships not likely to be hit.

Shipfitter, First Class, W. T. Link wrote as follows:

Time was short and in such time word was passed, "Japanese Airplane Attack--All unengaged personnel seek cover on the third deck--Set condition Zed--Man your Battle Stations."

By sending the men to seek cover on the third deck, jammed ladders prevented quick access to repair stations and also crowded repair stations.

Repair One was never fully manned and three men were dropping large hatches. Oil made it necessary to turn nuts with wrenches.

Chain stanchions secured with nuts could not be removed in the short time we had and hatches were not closed at all. Countless parts were not closed because of the necessity of using a wrench to turn the slick oily nuts.

I never did hear "Abandon ship" and Repair One did not all escape.

I escaped through a port in the A Division living space, had no trouble, and ran around or up to the bottom of the ship. I obtained a life jacket out of the water along side of the ship and put it on. I helped another sailor back on the ship and was pulled on the ship again myself by Birnel SF2/c. Then I swam to the rescue boat. I did not dive off the ship, only shoved off into the water, I was never excited but was covered with oil.

Chief Water Tender, L. C. Bickley wrote as follows:

On or about 0800, 7 December 1941, the word was passed to man all battle stations. I went to #2 Fireroom Pumproom and was starting pumps until the water came in through the air ducts and flooded the pumprooms. The hatch to #2 Pumproom was down and I couldn't get it up, so I dived and swam into #1 Pumproom and out. The lights were out and I couldn't see where the two men went that were with me. I got to H Division living compartment and water started coming in so I went out through a port hole in the wash room after the ship rolled over, and was picked up by a motor launch and put ashore in the Navy Yard. The only word I got over the phone was to get ready to get underway.

Many men were lost in the lower handling rooms of turrets. Falling 14-inch shells killed and injured a great many. About 125 men remained in an air pocket in the shipfltters shop, but when the space was opened, water rushed in as air rushed out. Only one man of this group saved himself by swimming to the CPO [Chief Petty Officer] pantry on the third deck and out through an open porthole. His story is as follows as gained from excerpts of statement given by Chief Machinist, Second Class I. M. Hull:

The lights were out. I went to the shipfitter shop and tried to get up the hatch leading to the CPO quarters but water washed me back. The ship had listed 90 to port so I tried to swim out through the same hatch but was washed back again and landed in the C100s along the Conveyor. I dogged the door down to the shipfitter shop. The ship listed another 90 thus being all the way over. We had about 125 men in the C100s. After 4 hours, the men tore the door off the shipfitter shop. Water and oil came into the C100s and rose to waist level. I swam to the CPO pantry and out a port hole. None came with me. I left the ship about 1300, 5 hours after the ship sank,

The story of D. Weissman, Seaman, First Class is as follows:

I was in the lower handling room of Turret IV. After the first hit, I went to the shell deck. The lights went out and the ship started to turn over. I went to the lower handling room and followed a man with a flash light. I entered the trunk just outside of handling room on the starboard side. The lower handling room flooded completely. Water entered the trunk. I dove and swam to the bottom of the trunk and left the ship through the hatch at the main deck and swam to the surface.

Eleven men in the lower handling room of turret IV escaped through the lucky bag. When the rescue party cut a hole in the lucky bag, the water rose rapidly but all men were removed before the water flooded the lucky bag completely.

Five men were in the five inch twenty-five caliber handling room preparatory to sending up anti-aircraft ammunition. They escaped to the five inch handling room and reduced flooding through ventilation ducts by stuffing rags in the lines. They were eventually saved by the rescue party by way of the shaft alley.

Eight men with water up to their necks were rescued from the steering compartment after these men, who had set condition "Z," were enabled to enter the steering room through the hole made for them. Three holes were made in all; pumps were in use constantly to keep the level of the water and oil below the danger point.

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25 May 2001