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USS Downes, Report of Pearl Harbor Attack


U.S.S. Downes (DD375)



December 17, 1941


From: The Commanding Officer  
To: The Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet  
Subject: Report of Action with Japanese Aircraft During Attack on Pearl Harbor, T.H., December 7, 1941.  
Reference: (a) U.S. Navy Regulations, Articles 712, 873(6).  
Enclosure: (A) Statement of Lieutenant W.O. Snead, U.S. Navy, Executive Officer, U.S.S. Downes.
(B) Statement of Lieutenant (jg) J.D. Parker, U.S. Navy, Senior Officer on Board during Attack. [not attached]
  1. At the time of the surprise attack of Japanese aircraft on fleet units in Pearl Harbor, T.H. during the forenoon of December 7, 1941 the U.S.S. Downes was docked in drydock No. 1, Navy Yard, Pearl Harbor. The Downes and Cassin occupied the southern end of the dock with the Downes to starboard. The Pennsylvania occupied the remainder of the dock astern of the two destroyers. The wind was from about 225 relative, force 2. The ship was receiving steam, electricity, fresh and salt water from Navy Yard sources. Navy Yard work was in progress on the stern tubing, strut bearings, shell plating forward, replacement of tripod mast with stick mast, and various minor jobs. Large sections of the shell plating had been removed on both sides forward preparatory to replacement with heavier plate.
  2. The following officers were ashore on authorized liberty: Lieutenant Commander W.R. Thayer, U.S. Navy, Commanding; Lieutenant W.O. Snead, U.S. Navy, Executive Officer; Lieutenant W.A. Hunt, Jr., U.S. Navy, Engineer Officer; Ensign J.B. Balch, U.S. Navy, Gunnery Officer. Four members of the crew were absent on authorized liberty leaving a total of 142 enlisted men and five officers on board. Lieutenant (jg) J.D. Parker, U.S. Navy was the Duty Officer and senior officer on board.
  3. The offensive weapons of the ship were in the following condition:
    1. 5"/38 caliber guns. Breech plugs and tripping latches removed for an approved BuOrd alteration.
    2. 5"/38 caliber ammunition. 310 rounds removed to Naval Ammunition Depot to permit yard work in connection with depth charge stowage. The remainder of the 5"/38 ammunition was distributed throughout all magazines.
    3. .50 caliber machine guns. Dismounted and stowed in locker.
    4. All belted .50 caliber ammunition removed to Naval Ammunition Depot to permit yard work. Remainder of .50 caliber ammunition in forward magazines, unclipped.
    5. Twelve torpedoes with war heads fitted in tube mounts with air flasks bled down.
    6. Eight depth charges in racks.
    7. Six F.S. tanks charged and mounted.
    8. Several battle telephones under repair.
  4. The following account of the action is based upon reports submitted to me by all officers and men on board during the attack. While the action in the later stages was very rapid and the ship subjected to several bombings in rapid succession, it is believed that the essential facts can be set forth with reasonable accuracy.
  5. The attacking planes were sighted coming in out of the clouds at about 0755 by several men on deck including the Chief Petty Officer with the day's duty. The C.P.O. with day's duty immediately had general quarters sounded and notified the duty officer, Lieutenant (jg) J.D. Parker, U.S. Navy. The crew proceeded to their stations quickly, set condition Afirm, except where prevented from so doing by the temporary ventilation ducts forward, checked closure of sea valves, and began intensive efforts to prepare the ship for fighting. The machine guns were quickly prepared for firing and work was begun on assembling the breech plugs of the 5" battery. Ammunition details broke out ammunition for both the machine guns and the 5"/38 caliber. As there was no belted .50 caliber on board, two magazines of this ammunition were obtained from the Cassin in order that fire might be opened as soon as possible. Yard power was lost at 0810 which necessitated passing much of the 5" ammunition up by hand. Ammunition passers worked in total darkness until flashlights could be obtained, and as a result no tracer ammunition was located for the machine guns. Men not occupied, which included men of the engineers force and most of the 5" gun crews, were turned to belting machine gun ammunition. The speed with which this operation was carried out was most gratifying. The machine guns were firing within 15 minutes of the start of the attack. The 5" guns crews were retained in the ammunition supply and belting details until their guns could be made ready to fire.
  6. After loss of yard power at 0810, several men of the engineers force under Chief Machinist's Mate JOHNSTON and Chief Electrician's Mate RAIDY succeeded in starting the emergency diesel generator. As the ship was in drydock, it was necessary to connect a hose to the fire main to supply circulating water to the diesel. This was done by the light of the battle lanterns. At 0823, the power and light load was taken by the emergency diesel generator. Switches were thrown to supply power to the ammunition hoists. The hoist for gun No. 2 was used thereafter in bringing up ammunition.
  7. During the first hour the Downes was untouched. The first attacks were made by torpedo planes against the battleships. These were followed a few minutes later by horizontal bombing attacks on the battleships. During these attacks the Downes opened fire with machine guns, but the range was too great for effectiveness and fire was stopped. The horizontal bombers attacked in groups of about five planes each, at an altitude of about 9,000 to 12,0000 feet.
  8. With the loss of yard power, no power was available for the operation of the 5" battery or director. However, as soon as gun No. 3 could be made ready (about 0845), it was loaded by hand and fired. This was a test shot to see how the ship would stand the shock of firing while drydocked. The test successful, Ensign Robinson, who had been in charge of the forward machine guns, took charge of gun No. 3 and stood by to open fire in local control. Ensign Stewart had been sent to control the after machine guns. Ensign Sebbo took control of the forward machine guns. Ensign Comly was in charge of the ammunition details. Lieutenant (jg) Parker directed operations from the bridge.
  9. At about 0850, there was a lull of some six minutes. Lieutenant (jg) Parker was asked at this time if the Downes was ready for the dock to be flooded. After a quick check, he replied in the affirmative. Shortly thereafter, dive bombers attacked the ship. Three dive bombers came from the Southeast in a steep dive. They were immediately taken under fire by the forward and after machine gunners. Attempt was being made to get 5" gun No. 3 on the horizontal bombers attacking the battleships. Almost simultaneously with the first bomb hit, this gun got off one shot at the horizontal bombers. At 0827 the dive bombers dropped an incendiary bomb, which hit in the drydock between the Cassin and Downes about abreast of gun No. 4. Two men were killed outright. Fire enveloped the after part of the ship instantaneously. The diesel fuel oil tank was ruptured and set afire, and the emergency diesel generator stopped. The ship was now without power or lights. Flames spread very rapidly covering the after deck house and gun shelters. The heat was intense. The incendiary material used was described as a yellowish-green liquid. Fire hoses were quickly manned by the repair party and gun crews aft and water turned on the flames. The initial flow of water was inadequate; after this had been corrected, it was found that water was ineffective, spreading rather than reducing the fire.

    It was soon evident that the fire was out of control. The engineroom was abandoned at 0912. Lieutenant (jg) Parker ordered the abandonment of the after part of the ship, however the flames were already driving the men off the ship. Orders were given to flood the after magazines, but it is not known whether this was accomplished or not. A few seconds later, at about 0920, the situation then being hopeless, Lieutenant (jg) Parker gave orders for all hands to abandon ship. Shortly after orders had been given to abandon ship another incendiary bomb hit between the Cassin and Downes abreast the bridge structure setting the quarterdeck and the forward part of the Downes afire. Lieutenant (jg) Parker attempted to make a personal check to see that all men were off the ship but was prevented from doing so by the flames, and was forced to leave himself. The flames, fed by diesel and fuel oil as well as the painted surfaces of the ship, and fanned by the wind, swept diagonally across the ship, setting it on fire from bow to stern.

  10. Most of the men escaped over the brow which was located on the 02 deck just forward of the chart house but some men, finding themselves trapped aft, were forced to escape over the sides into the drydock. As the last survivors were leaving the ship a bomb, believed to be a small high explosive one, struck the bridge completely destroying the director platform, bridge, and chart house.
  11. Having released their bombs, the Japanese then made a strafing attack on personnel on the dock, but none were injured. Upon completion of these strafing attacks, some of the Downes men proceeded to the windward side of the dock to man yard fire hoses, others assisted in removing the wounded to the hospital or first aid stations, while several others, including two gunner's mates proceeded to the Marine Barracks to assist in giving out arms and ammunition. Two of the latter obtained guns and ammunition and returned to take up stations where they might fire on attacking planes.
  12. Soon after the ship was abandoned, a terrific explosion occurred amidships, at torpedo tube number 3. After the fire had been extinguished it was discovered that the warheads in tube 3 had blown up leaving a large hole in the side and main deck in the vicinity of the tube mount and demolishing the number 2 stack. Fragments of the tube mount were found on the bow of the U.S.S. Pennsylvania.
  13. The powder in the forward magazines blew out through the sides of the ship, however most of the projectiles and the .50 caliber ammunition in the forward magazines were apparently unharmed.
  14. The men who manned the hoses on the dock displayed unusual courage. Some of these men had already been badly burned on the ship and were later hospitalized. The 5" ammunition in the gun shelters exploded, sending out frequent showers of metal fragments in all directions. lieutenant (jg) Parker and several men tending hoses were injured by these fragments. The explosions became so dangerous that, for a few minutes, it was necessary to abandon the hoses, which, however, were futile against the fire at that time. Later the hoses were concentrated on the sterns of the two ships to save the depth charges.
  15. One depth charge of the Downes dropped into the dock, but all others were later removed, apparently in a serviceable condition. The torpedo warheads on the torpedoes in mounts number 1 and 2 melted off.
  16. Flooding of the dock was considerably delayed, commencing sometime after both Downes and Cassin had been abandoned. The flames were brought under control after the dock had been flooded, and the fire was extinguished in the late afternoon.
  17. The conduct of the officers and crew in these trying circumstances was magnificent. Each officer and man did his job. All are deserving of the highest praise. It is difficult to single out individual men or acts of bravery among such a fine crew, but the conduct of the following was outstanding:
    1. Lieutenant (jg) J.D. Parker, U.S. Navy.
      As Senior Officer on board, Lieutenant Parker commanded the Downes during and for some time subsequent to the attack. He displayed leadership, good judgement, resourcefulness, coolness, and courage to the highest degree. His handling of the emergency under the most trying conditions was above reproach. With utter disregard for his own safety, he remained on the ship until further efforts to insure that all personnel had left the ship were blocked by the fire. After leaving the ship, he engaged in fighting the fire. During this phase, he suffered head injuries from flying fragments, but after first aid treatment he returned to continue fighting the fire.
    2. Ensign R.L. Stewart, U.S. Navy.
      Ensign Stewart was placed in control of the after machine guns. Together with the two after machine gunners, he remained at his station and continued firing until the entire machine gun platform was enveloped in flames. He suffered a broken foot when forced to jump to safety. In spite of his injury, Ensign Stewart commandeered an automobile and made several trips to take injured personnel to the hospital.
    3. Riley, John B., C.B.M.(PA), U.S. Navy.
      Exemplified the highest type of leadership. Always cool, self reliant, and resourceful, he refused to leave his station after being badly injured, he continued to fight the fire from the dock.
    4. Cradoct, Henry E., C.G.M.(PA), U.S. Navy.
      Cradoct was largely responsible for the speed with which the machine guns were mounted, ammunition belted and supplied to the machine guns, ammunition gotten up for the 5" battery, and 5" guns number 2 and number 3 made ready to fire. His leadership, coolness, knowledge of his specialty and of the ship, energy, and loyalty are deserving of the highest commendation. Both officers and men considered his work to have been outstanding.
    5. Odietus, Michael G., G.M.1c, U.S. Navy;
      Schulze, Curtis P., G.M.2c, U.S. Navy.
      These two men did a splendid job of getting 5" guns number 2 and number 3 ready to fire as quickly as possible. When the ship caught fire Odietus tried to connect the hose on dock single-handed, but was unsuccessful. After abandoning ship, they both proceeded, on their own initiative, to the yard marine armory to assist in giving out arms and ammunition. They were issued two Browning Automatic rifles by the Marines and returned to take up stations to fire upon enemy planes.
    6. Johnston, Charles B., C.M.M.(PA), U.S. Navy.
      Knew his job thoroughly and did it. He was cool, collected, and courageous. Successfully fought minor fires in the engineroom, ordered men to abandon engineroom when flames were out of control, then fought flames on deck until forced to leave the ship. He undoubtedly saved the life of Raidy by rolling him on deck to smother the flames which had caught on his clothing.
    7. Raidy, James M., C.E.M.(AA), U.S. Navy.
      The spirit shown by this man was remarkable. He fought the fire on the topside until nearly everyone else was off the ship and his person set on fire by an incendiary bomb. After abandoning ship he manned a hose on the dock. He was taken to the hospital with severe burns.
    8. Richardson, Shirley W., C.Ph.M.(AA), U.S. Navy;
      Blaszak, Adam A., Ph.M.3c, U.S. Navy.
      Both men performed their duties in an excellent manner during the engagement and afterwards. Blaszak continued dressing a man at after battle dressing station with flames all around outside. He barely escaped in time. Richardson tried to lead several men off the ship, but they were lost.
    9. Hite, Lewis, G., B.M.1c, U.S. Navy.
      Displayed real leadership. Instrumental in saving life of Kemp, whom he led part way off ship. Returned to connect fire hoses. Chased other men off ship in time to save them.
    10. Ernst, William, M.M.2c, U.S. Navy.
      Tore Kemp's burning shirt from him. Passed word in crew's washroom to abandon ship when after part of ship was on fire. After leaving ship proceeded to lumber pile in yard to stand by fire plug there.
    11. Skjerven, Mylo H., Y.2c, U.S. Navy.
      His presence of mind and training saved the Muster Rolls and Transfer and Receipt Book, the only records saved from the ship.
    12. Hooke, Charles M., Sea.1c, U.S. Navy;
      Stadelman, Elmer S., Sea.1c, U.S. Navy;
      Foundation, James J. Jr., Sea.1c, U.S. Navy;
      Thompson, Eric L., Sea.1c, U.S. Navy
      Hooke and Stadelman on the forward machine guns and Foundation and Thompson on the after machine guns displayed remarkable courage and coolness in the face of grave danger. They all fired whenever a target was available notwithstanding the fire, strafing and bombing to which the ship was subjected. They way they remained at their posts was superb.
    13. Rau, Armand F., Jr., Sea.1c, U.S. Navy.
      Displayed complete disregard for personal danger and a high degree of loyalty when he was the first to volunteer to handle the hose on the dock even though large splinters were being thrown out of the dock by the explosions on the ship.
    14. Kwolik, Edward T., F.2c, U.S. Navy.
      This man remained on the ship in the face of grave danger even after being ordered off in order to keep a fire hose on the after engineroom hatch. His conduct permitted the men in the engineroom to escape.
    15. Postlethwaite, Paul O., Sea.2c, U.S. Navy.
      This man was injured while checking the setting of condition Afirm prior to reporting the ship ready for the dock to be flooded. He continued in his duties, fighting a fire in the ship then fighting the fires from the dock until hit by fragments and wounded severely. He was forced to leave the ship over the fantail.
  18. The ship was lost, but the Commanding Officer has naught but praise for the officers and men of the crew who fought her under such unfortunate circumstances. They did their utmost to inflict damage on the enemy, working against almost unsurmountable odds. They did all in their power to save the ship from fire. They showed that they were real shipmates with a concern for each other's safety. They were loyal and determined. Their primary concern during the engagement was to get the guns in action, and their biggest regret was that they couldn't meet the enemy in a fair fight at sea. I am proud to have commanded the U.S.S. Downes.


Copy to:

    Comdesflot One
    Comdesron Three
    Condesdiv Five



U.S.S. Downes (DD375)

December 17, 1941


From: The Executive Officer
To: The Commanding Officer
  1. I was not on board during the Japanese air attacks on fleet units in Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7, 1941 having left the ship on authorized liberty the previous evening.
  2. I received the radio announcement of the order for all naval personnel to return to Pearl Harbor at about 0830 and immediately made hurried preparations to return. As I entered my car I saw a group of planes, about five, make a dive bombing attack on Pearl Harbor. I saw no more attacks as my attention was focused on getting back as quickly as possible. Unfortunately a traffic jam about half-way to Pearl harbor delayed me for what seemed to be at least half hour.
  3. On reaching the dock I found both the Downes and the Cassin enveloped in smoke and flames from bow to stern. Both ships had been abandoned. Some of the Downes men came up to me and told me that most of the crew had been saved. A few seconds later Lieutenant (jg) Parker, his head bandaged where he had been hit by flying fragments, came up and warned me about explosions, which had been taking place on board. The explosions continued, and were forced to leave the dock temporarily for safety.
  4. A few minutes later we returned to the dock where several hoses, manned by men from the Downes and Cassin, were being played on the Cassin. Explosions were still taking place with consequent grave danger to the men, and inasmuch as the fire was beyond control, I suggested to the Division Commander, who had just arrived, that the men be directed to clear the dock. The Division Commander directed that all men be cleared off the dock immediately. After the explosions decreased the hoses were concentrated on the sterns of the two ships to prevent flames from getting at the depth charges. Lieutenant (jg) Erly of the Cassin did fine work in saving the depth charges.
  5. Ensign Stewart, whose foot had been broken when he was forced to jump from the after machine gun platform of the Downes, drove up in a borrowed car and said there were many injured men in the vicinity of the floating drydock. He drove there followed by Ensign Sebbo in a yard truck and me in my car, but when we arrived all injured had been removed. While in the vicinity of floating drydock, several enemy planes at high altitudes were taken under fire by ships in the harbor but apparently escaped over the city of Honolulu. After the dock had been flooded the flames on the Downes and Cassin were brought under control. As soon as the fires subsided, several yard workmen boarded the two ships to direct hoses on those parts still burning. These men did excellent work in the face of great danger. I understand that one of them was severely injured by an intended [sic]
  6. From my own observations of their work on the dock and from accounts of their conduct on the ship, I feel that the officers and men of the Downes are deserving of the highest praise. There were numerous instances of personal bravery and disregard of danger. Their courage and determination to do all they could was magnificent. The crew stood by the ship until there was no hope of saving her or of inflicting damage on the enemy. They did everything possible to save the lives of their shipmates, who were lost; many more would doubtless have been lost had not so much coolness been displayed. The statements from the members of the crew are unanimous in praising the work of all hands in this distressing engagement. They did all they could to fight the ship. One leading Petty officer expressed the general situation most aptly, "I never felt so helpless in my life!"
  7. Lieutenant (jg) Parker displayed the highest qualities of leadership. His handling of the difficult situation is above reproach. He displayed sound judgment, coolness, courage, and bravery. Even after being injured by a flying missile from the ship, he returned to direct the fire fighting parties on the dock.
  8. The determination of the Downes crew to avenge the loss of their ship will make them valuable members of any crew. It is extremely regretable that they could not have had the chance to prove their worth under more favorable circumstances.

Lieutenant, U.S. Navy

Source: Enclosure (E) to CINCPAC action report Serial 0479 of 15 February 1942, World War II action reports, Modern Military Branch, National Archives and Records Administration, 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740. 


Published: Tue Feb 20 10:16:39 EST 2018