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DEPARTMENT OF THE NAVY - NAVAL HISTORY & HERITAGE COMMAND

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 Maryland

Ensign W. O. Beach of Commander Battleships Staff wrote as follows:

Having the Communication Staff Duty, I was on board during the subject action and had just finished eating breakfast a minute or two before the first alarm. I was still sitting in the wardroom when I heard a short burst of machine gun fire which was immediately followed by the sounding of General Quarters. When General Quarters was sounded I walked to one of the open Ward Room ports and looked out, seeing a plane swoop up over the Oklahoma and Maryland, the plane having evidently just dropped a torpedo. I then walked aft to the Flag Office, finding Ensign Bradway there, getting what information he could from Radio Central and telephoning it to Flag Plot. Leaving the Flag Office, I went up the ladder to the port side of the quarterdeck and saw numerous Japanese aircraft were bombing us and that the Oklahoma was already listing to port. Returning to Ward Room country, I sent the mess boys to close the Ward Room ports and saw that Ensign Bradway was having the ports in the Flag Office closed.

A group of men from the Oklahoma, standing near number three turret on the starboard side, asked for orders; I directed them to dog down the hatch leading to Officers' Country, forward on the starboard side, which was still open and then get below the protective deck. On returning to the Flag Bridge, I found there was nothing in particular that I could do in Flag Radio to stayed out on the bridge to take Lt. Comdr. Horne's place as best I could until be returned to the ship.

I did not note very carefully the type or number of planes attacking Although there must have been fifty or more all told, Most of them seemed to be a low wing dive bomber type and their markings (the rising sun on the wings and fuselage), were very distinct. They seemed to attack in three or four waves, bombing and dropping torpedoes. the first and main attack being a torpedo attack. Our anti-aircraft guns were relatively slow coming into action but it was amazing to me how fast they did get into action considering the circumstances. The attacks were centered on the heavy ships with other attacks being made on Hickam Field and the Naval Air Station. I saw only one plane shot down during the action. This plane was hit squarely and blown to pieces as it dived on the Naval Air Station. I observed another plane apparently disabled and headed for a crash. This plane was going from Pearl toward Hickam Field when last seen.

Commander E. Kranzfelder of the Staff of Commander Battleships wrote as follows:

Commander Sabin and I were at the Moana Hotel in Honolulu when, at approximately 0820 on the morning of December 7th, we received a call from the telephone operator telling us that an emergency existed at Pearl Harbor and that we should return to our ships as soon as possible. We proceeded to Pearl Harbor as expeditiously as possible and arrived on board the Maryland at about 0925.

Upon boarding the Maryland I proceeded immediately to the bridge. While on the bridge a man from the Oklahoma contacted me and stated that assistance was required on the Oklahoma and that there was urgent need for cutting equipment. At this time Lieutenant Mandelkorn proceeded to the Oklahoma to assist in the rescue work. A short time later I informed the Admiral that I believed I could be of assistance in connection with the rescue work on the Oklahoma and he directed me to do all I could to release any entrapped personnel. Before leaving the Maryland I obtained a copy of the Oklahoma booklet of plans for use in connection with the cutting of holes in the Oklahoma's hull,

With the energetic assistance of Lieutenant Mandelkorn the efforts of the rescue group were organized. Lines were rigged from the bilge keel at intervals along the bottom, telephone communication was established with the Maryland, an air supply line was quickly rigged from the Maryland to the Oklahoma, strainers were removed from main injections and over board discharge in an attempt to gain access to the engine room. Contact was established with two men entrapped in the evaporator pump room through a small overboard discharge connection in the hull. Food and water was passed down to these men. From information obtained from these men as to their location in the ship and with the aid of the booklet of plans it was possible to determine the best locations to cut access holes in the ships bottom. Since, with the exception of the reserve feed bottoms, practically the entire bottom of the Oklahoma consists of oil tanks, considerable care had to be exercised in cutting holes with an oxyacetylene torch in order not to open holes in the bottom which would permit the egress of oil with the attendant fire hazard. Fortunately the information obtained from the entrapped men was correct and entrance holes were out in a cofferdam. In the meantime Lieutenant Commander W. L. Benson had arrived on the Oklahoma and since I considered that lieutenant Mandelkorn's and my services would be required in connection with the remaining battleships in distress, we returned to the Maryland and I reported to the Admiral that the rescue work had been placed in charge of Lieutenant Commander Benson who would keep me advised of the progress and of any additional assistance or equipment he needed for the rescue work.

During the remainder of the day and until after midnight Lieutenant Mandelkorn and I made numerous trips to the other battleships in distress. I considered that we could be of most use in coordinating the delivery of essential salvage equipment such as submersible pumps, diving equipment and arranging for tug service for the California and Nevada. At about 1930 the list on the California had increased to about 9 and recommendations were made to the Commanding Officer to counter flood two of the starboard firerooms to prevent the ship from capsizing. Likewise, arrangements were made with Commander Base Force to carry out two anchors from the bow of the Nevada to prevent her from slipping further into the channel.

At about 2100 Lieutenant Mandelkorn and I were aboard the tug Vireo when all batteries in the harbor opened fire on approaching planes. A short time after firing subsided, a man was rescued from the water over the stern of the Vireo. The man was placed in a stretcher and taken on board the California. From conversations with personnel of the Vireo it was learned that be had been in an Enterprise plane.

Of the observations as to conduct of personnel that came to my notice during the day, I consider that of Lieutenant Commander W. I. Benson, Engineer Officer of the Oklahoma as outstanding. His vigorous efforts in connection with the work of rescuing his entrapped shipmates on the Oklahoma deserves recognition.

Commander W. F. Fitzgerald, Jr., Operations Officer, Staff of Commander Battleships wrote as follows:

I was the regularly assigned Staff Duty Officer on the morning of 7 December 1941 . . . Shortly before 8 o'clock I was undressed and ready to take a bath when I became conscious of intermittent explosions. I quickly jumped into my trousers and grabbed a hat and blouse and started for the top side. I was hardly out of my room when General Quarters were sounded. I proceeded immediately to the Flag Bridge, telling all men I encountered enroute to the bridge to man their battle stations and to be calm. Upon arrival on topside, which I estimate to be about 8 o'clock, I noticed smoke, flame and many explosions throughout the harbor. I believe I heard machine gun fire from the Maryland at this time but I am not positive. I am conscious of having seen the Oklahoma upright but with a perceptible list to port. My first glance did not indicate to me that she was rolling over. Heavy explosions continued. Upon arrival on the Flag Bridge I immediately checked with Captain Godwin to see if be was making all preparations for getting underway. He said that he was. Shortly after my arrival on the Flag Bridge, Captain W. R. Carter, Chief of Staff, said, "We can't do much good up here. Lets go down to the guns and give them a hand." We both proceeded to the 5" AA batteries and split up, each one doing what be could to assist in organizing the gun crews, ammunition parties, and assigning to stations men who were not otherwise engaged. During all this time the flame, smoke and noise were terrific. My memory indicates that there was some 5" gunfire on the Maryland upon my arrival at the guns but of this I am not certain since it was impossible to tell just who was firing, and the fact that I concentrated on getting in action guns which had not yet opened fire, I judge this time to be about 0810. At about this time I noticed Lieutenant Mandelkorn and gave him various directives such as organizing a party to obtain steel helmets for all men topside, getting air to the batteries, getting spare tools for the guns, etc. I judge that about 0815 there was sufficient air pressure to use the power rammers on the starboard battery. It was not until an appreciable interval afterwards that the port battery obtained sufficient air. However, in the meantime the port battery fired by hand power. During the ensuing 10 or 20 minutes I was greatly assisted by the cool headed actions of Anderson, Charles C., Coxswain and Heiteman, Raymond A., GM3c of the Maryland. The actions of these two men were outstanding in every respect. They got not only their own gun into action but also assisted other guns. It may be doing an injustice to any number of other excellent men who performed their duties in an equally outstanding manner but who, due to their location, did not come particularly under my observation.

Shortly after my arrival at the guns the Oklahoma rolled over. Numerous men from the Oklahoma swam to the Maryland and upon coming aboard I immediately assigned them gun stations or details in the ammunition party. After the gun crews were organized and in action, and under command of their own battery officers, I returned to the Flag Bridge. Upon arrival on the Flag Bridge I noted that a great number of bombs were still falling. A terrific explosion took place on what I thought was the stern of the Tennessee but which I have since learned was on the Arizona. A large fire was in progress on the West Virginia. I believe it was about this time that I noted that the Nevada was underway and standing down the channel. She seamed to be in good shape until about the time she arrived abreast of 10-10 dock at which time she was heavily bombed. I noted that she later turned around in the channel and was apparently aground. Up until this time I cannot definitely state that I saw any formation of enemy planes. However, I did see numerous planes which seemed to be conducting single dive bombing attacks. While on the starboard side of the Flag Bridge I felt the Maryland shudder from what was apparently a near miss off the port bow. Within a second or two I saw a bomb land on the forecastle of the Maryland and shortly thereafter (a matter of a few seconds) a large geyser of water sprung up on the starboard how of the Maryland apparently from another near miss.

Within a few minutes a dive bombing attack was noted coming in from the port side across the forecastle of the Maryland at an altitude which appeared to be at the lowest point not over 200-250 feet. There were about six or seven planes in this particular attack. One of the planes burst into flames and crashed from what I believe was a direct hit from the 1.1" starboard battery of the Maryland. This was followed in a few moments by another plane which was shot down over Ford Island but which apparently was not in flames. About this time I noticed a bombing attack over the ships in the North Channel. One of the planes in flame apparently landed directly on the Curtiss. By this time the guns of both the port and starboard batteries were firing continuously at the enemy planes. The ships seemed to be recovering from the shock of the original surprise and were performing excellently. The fires on the Arizona and West Virginia seemed to be increasing and frequently the Maryland was entirely coveted with heavy black smoke. In the meantime various officers of the staff had reported back on board and had immediately taken their stations. As near as I can remember I saw Commander Battleships on the Flag Bridge for the first time about 0905.

I cannot speak too highly of the conduct of the men during the entire action, There was no panic whatever. As I went from gun to gun and ammunition party to ammunition party I noted that even though there might have been surprised and fear present every man was willing and anxious to do his bit and after only a word or two of encouragement turned to his task with zest and efficiency.

During the entire action broken clouds covered the entire sky. There were many patches of blue but in general the clouds and smoke made a low ceiling.

Various tugs, lighters, and small boats were directed by Commander Battleships to proceed to the West Virginia and Arizona to assist in putting out the fire. In addition rescue parties were sent to the Oklahoma, which by now had rolled over about 150 degrees, in order to cut holes in the bottom and rescue the men who were trapped inside.

In regards to extinguishing the fires, two incidents stand out prominently my mind, One was the action of Garbage Lighter YG-17 which, without hesitation, went alongside the West Virginia and for over 24 hours poured water on the flames both on the ship and on the edge of the burning fuel on the water. The other was the outstanding action of a motor whaleboat from the Honolulu which made repeated trips directly along the edge of the burning fuel oil on the water in order to extinguish it and prevent its spreading. This boat repeatedly caught fire itself but as soon as the flames were extinguished would return to its task of extinguishing the dangerous fire on the water. Incidentally, this fire on the water was a real menace to all the ships at the interrupted quay wall. Extraordinary efforts were made by all concerned to keep the flames away from the Tennessee and the Maryland.

At some time during the morning I saw an explosion in the vicinity the Pennsylvania and at another time saw a destroyer in drydock being blown up. It was not until later in the morning that I realized the California had been badly damaged. I had noticed that she was hit but at first did not appreciate the heavy list which I subsequently noticed.

Lieutenant Commander D. H. Johnston of Commander Battleships Staff wrote as follows:

About 0825, December 7, I received information via phone regarding the attack on Pearl Harbor. At this time I was at my home, Apt. 29, Edgewater Beach.

I proceeded to Pearl Harbor with Comdr. Curts, CincPac Staff and Ens. Tyng, USS Helena. Enroute we observed heavy smoke over Pearl Harbor and Hickam Field. At the Fleet Landing I embarked in a Maryland motor launch in company with Commander Haines, Lt. Comd. Horne and several other officers attached to the Maryland. At this time the second attack began. Planes plainly marked as Japanese were dive bombing on the vessels in the harbor. Heavy AA fire was being maintained by all vessels in the Yard and harbor

Upon arrival on board about 0915 I proceeded directly to my station in Flag Plot, supervising the recording of information and plotting such contacts as were received.

At 1030 Captain Bode (Oklahoma) was directed to go to the Naval Air Station to take charge of survivors from the disabled ships and to arrange for delivery of ammunition.

By this time oil from the Arizona burning on the surface of the harbor was being blown down on the Tennessee, West Virginia and the Maryland. The Yard garbage lighter YG-17 took position on the port quarter of the West Virginia and rendered invaluable service in fighting the fire. She maintained her position in spite of repeated explosions of ammunition in the West Virginia's ready boxes. Several ships' boats assisted by cutting in close to the flames and using CO2 extinguishers. At 1142 the USS Tern was directed to assist.

About 1300 divers reported on board and under the direction of Commander Kranzfelder and Lieutenant Mandelkorn proceeded with rescue operations on the hull of the USS Oklahoma.

I had no opportunity to observe the conduct of the men during the actual engagement except for the crews of small boats which continued returning personnel to their ships in spite of the bombing attacks. The conduct and spirit of the men after the engagement I considered excellent.

Lieutenant E. P. Holmes, Staff of Commander Battleships, wrote as follows:

Early in the morning of December 7, 1941, I was proceeding with Lieut. Comdr. (MC) A. C. Hohn enroute to Fort Shafter. We observed the sky in the general location of Pearl Harbor to be filled with bursts and heard heavy firing.

We decided to proceed to Pearl Harbor and to go to our ship. Enroute we observed the firing to continue and at one point saw a great explosion in or near Pearl Harbor which we thought to be an oil tank explosion, but which we have come subsequently to believe to have been the explosion of the Arizona.

I saw numerous groups of airplanes in the sky, but have no knowledge of their identity or number. I noted at this time that there was considerable cloud-cover over most of Pearl; otherwise clear.

When we arrived in the Yard the first attack was over. I ran to the Officers Club Larding; Lieut. Comdr. Hohn stopped near the Fleet Landing to attend to some injured men who were just beginning to get ashore. At the landing I saw the Oklahoma had turned over. Great fires on the surface of the water were burning near the West Virginia and Arizona, completely obscuring the latter. The West Virginia was already settling low in the water. I jumped in the first boat available, ComDesRon One gig, with a junior officer, from the California; left him at the California (he stepped from the boat to the Main Deck of the California); and proceeded to the Maryland, arriving at about 0840-0850. A lull in the attack occurred at this time and when I boarded the Maryland. I went to my room to put on some shoes and get binoculars, Signal Book and revolver. While there another attack started. As soon as I could get out (Main Deck hatches were closed at this time), I proceeded to the Signal Bridge, passing over the Boat Deck. Somewhere enroute I felt a considerable shock which I thought a near miss. In passing across the Boat Deck I noted a large number of empty cartridge cases. All hands at the guns seemed to be very tense but collected and determined.

I remained on the Signal Bridge the rest of the day. Much intermittent firing occurred and several groups of Japanese planes were sighted and fired at. The planes observed were single wing, single-motored types of moderate speed, probably not over 200 mph, at the most. I saw but one that gave evidence of being hit in the air. It was over the location of Hickam Field; broke, into smoke and appeared to be in difficulty but I did not see it crash.

When the Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet order was received not to sortie our bridge passed it by visual to the Phoenix, Raleigh, and Detroit who were underway. When later the order was intercepted for all cruisers and destroyers to sortie we made a hoist to all cruisers and destroyers to sortie indicating the originator as the Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet,

When the fire was raging in and alongside the West Virginia, YG-17 promptly and without orders put its bow into the fire and pumped water onto it for hours. The Tern and Widgeon were ordered by Commander Battleships to assist. Their able work eventually checked the fire. At one point in this fire fighting episode a motor whale boat from the Honolulu expended CO2 extinguishers in the fire by the West Virginia by making repeated runs along the edge of the fire. Each time this was done the sides of the boat broke into flames, which had to be put out before the next run The heat was so intense that the men in the boat had to lean way over the unexposed side to protect themselves.

The Maryland delivered a heavy AA fire from all AA batteries on each occasion of opening up. The 1.1 mounts near the Signal Bridge functioned very well. It is believed, however, that both these guns and the .50 cal. machine guns had a tendency to open fire at too great ranges. This was caused, no doubt, by eagerness to engage the enemy but should be guarded against in the future.

After the West Virginia fire had been brought under control, YG-17 and the Tern were directed to shift their efforts to the fire burning in the Arizona. This was done in the forenoon of December 8. During that same day the Navajo reported to Commander Battleships for orders. After determining that the California did not need her services she was likewise ordered to assist in fighting the fire in the Arizona.



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25 May 2001