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USS Utah, Report of Pearl Harbor Attack

  U.S.S. Utah  
(Serial No. 3)
    Pearl Harbor, T.H.,
December 15, 1941.



From: The Commanding Officer.
To: The Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet.
Via: (1) The Commander Train Squadron SIX
(2) The Commander Base Force.
Subject: U.S.S. Utah – Loss by Enemy Action.
Reference: (a) Art. 1712, U.S. Navy Regulations, 1920.
Enclosure: (A) Statement of Lt.Comdr. S.S. Isquith, U.S. Navy.
  1. The U.S.S. Utah was attacked by Japanese torpedo planes and bombing planes at about 0813, December 7, 1941, and was lost by capsizing at about 0813 that date.
  2. The Utah had been engaged in operations as a bombing target and all of her 5" and 1".1 guns were covered with steel houses. All .50 cal. and .30 cal. machine guns were dismounted and stowed below decks in storerooms. The ship was covered with two layers of 6" x 12" timbers for protection against practice bombs. All ammunition was in the magazines and secured. Because of this, it was impossible to make any effort to repel the attack.
  3. The Commanding Officer was on shore on authorized leave during the action. The Executive Officer, Commander John F. Warris, U.S. Navy was on shore on authorized leave during the action.
  4. The senior surviving line officer who was on board during the attack is Lieutenant Commander S.S. Isquith, U.S. Navy, and his report is forwarded herewith as enclosure (A).
  5. Statements have been obtained from all officers on board at the time of the action, and from a review of these statements, it is the opinion of the Commanding Officer that Lieutenant Commander Isquith's report is accurate.
  6. Reports of dead, missing, and survivors have been forwarded to the Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet.
  7. The Commanding Officer concurs in paragraph 11, of the enclosure, and makes the following recommendations:
    1. That VAESSEN, John B., 413 35 79, F2, V-6 U.S.N.R. be awarded a Navy Cross.
    2. That the following officers and men be awarded letters of commendation:

      Lt.Comdr. S.S. Isquith, U.S. Navy.
      Lt.(jg) P.F. Hauck, U.S. Navy.
      Ensign B.C. Moyer, U.S. Naval Reserve.
      Machinist S.A. Szymanski, U.S. Navy.
      MACSELWINEY, Terrance, 320 90 45, CMM(PA), USNR.

  8. That the following officer and men who lost their lives while ensuring that others escape be awarded the Navy Cross posthumously:

    Lt. Comdr. Rudoph P. Bielka, U.S. Navy.
    Lt. Comdr. Charles O. Michael, U.S. Naval Reserve
    Lt.(jg) John C. Little, III, U.S. Navy.
    Lt.(jg) Harold A. Harveson, U.S. Navy.
    Lt.(jg) John E. Black, U.S. Navy.
    Ensign David W. Jackson, U.S. Naval Reserve.
    TOMICH, Peter, CWT(PA), U.S. Navy.





[Enclosure (A)]

  U.S.S. UTAH  
AG16/   Pearl Harbor, T.H.,
December 14, 1941.


From: Lieutenant Commander S.S. Isquith, U.S. Navy.
To: The Commanding Officer.
Subject: Report of Loss of the U.S.S. Utah.
  1. On Sunday, December 7, 1941, while moored at Berth FOX-11 Pearl Harbor, T.H., 3 planes whose identification were not questioned but taken for U.S. planes maneuvering, were observed just as colors were being hoisted at 0800, heading northerly from the harbor entrance. They made a low dive on the southern end of Ford Island and each dropped a bomb.
  2. Immediately thereafter the air was filled with planes clearly distinguished as yellow colored planes with brilliant red Rising Sun insignia on fuselage and red wing tips, flying low at about 100 knots speed and dropping aerial torpedoes and bombs. They appeared to [be] Henkle 113, or similar type, with very silent engines. The general alarm was immediately rung and word was passed "All hands to bombing quarters". At about this time, 0801, a severe underwater hit, at approximately frame 84, port side, was felt and the ship immediately commenced to list to port. Another underwater hit was felt almost immediately thereafter in about the same general location and the listing of the ship increased immediately to about 15 degrees. At this time I realized that the ship would capsize and word was passed "All hands on deck and all engineroom and fireroom, radio and dynamo watch to lay up on deck and release all prisoners.["]
  3. All hands were ordered to the starboard side, which was the high side, to escape danger of loose timbers pinning men down. Word was passed for all hands to equip themselves with life jackets but due to the fact that the life jackets were stored in canvas bags in the air castle, it was not practicable for many men to obtain life jackets due to miscellaneous gear stored in the starboard aircastle moving and bomb explosion in the port aircastle which took place at that time. At about that time the engine room reported that steam had dropped and that they were unable to cut in the drain pumps, that the port engine room was flooded and that the starboard engine room was taking water rapidly, the water at that time being above the high pressure turbine and reduction gear. The lights were still on in the engine room. The engine room watch cleared the starboard engine room. No. 2 fireroom, No. 4 boiler steaming, reported steam dropping rapidly and additional burners cut in to hold steam. The second hit put out all fires. The fireroom watch then abandoned the fireroom, closed the quick closing fuel oil valve, leaving the auxiliary feed pumps operating but slowing down due to lack of steam.
  4. By about 0805, the ship had listed to about 40 degrees to port. Lights were still on., No report had been received from the dynamo room; word was again passed "All hands on deck and abandon ship, over starboard side." The crew commenced getting over the side, the ship continuing to list but somewhat slower. The attacking planes were now returning from a northerly direction flying low and straffing the crew as they abandoned ship. The loose timber about the decks were moving to port, interfering greatly with the efforts of the crew to abandon ship.
  5. Observing the straffing and the moving of the timbers and loose gear in the aircastles, I directed that the crew divide into three groups, one group going up the ladder leading from the starboard aircastle to the Captain's cabin, one going up the ladder from the starboard wardroom country to the passage inboard of the Captain's cabin stateroom, and one going up the ladder leading from the starboard wardroom country near the wardroom pantry to the forecastle. A large number of these men escaped through the ports in the Captain's cabin.
  6. Lieutenant (jg) P.F. Hauck, Machinist S.A. Szymanski, and myself were the last to leave the ship going through the ports in the Captain's cabin. At this time, about 0810, the ship was listing about 80 degrees to port and the planes were still straffing the ship. Mooring lines were parting and two motor launches and the motor whale boat were picking up men in the water. Many men were observed swimming to the north and south keys of Pier FOX-11, and as planes were still straffing, the men were ordered to the sides of the keys for some protection.
  7. At about 0812, the last mooring lines had parted and the ship was capsized, the keel plainly showing. All men picked up by ship's boats were taken ashore to Ford Island and boats ordered to return and pick up any men still swimming about.
  8. On reaching shore on Ford Island, all hands were ordered into the trenches that had been dug there for some Public Works Project, in order to protect themselves from the straffing planes. Noting that many men were injured and wounded, Commander G.H. Larson, (MC), U.S. Navy, with KERNS, Jean W., HA1c., U.S. Naval Reserve, who had brought a first aid kit ashore with him, set up a first aid station in the quarters of Lieutenant Church (CEC), Building No. 118 Ford Island. Commander Larson, GRAY, CPHM., and two other pharmacist's mates proceeded with the first aid treatment of all men who had been injured and necessary cases were sent to the Naval Air Station Dispensary in Naval Air Station trucks supplied for this purpose.
  9. While in the trenches, a short time later, knocking was heard on the ship's hull. At this time planes were still straffing and dropping bombs. I called for a volunteer crew to return to the Utah to investigate the knocking heard. Machinist Szymanski and a volunteer crew consisting of MacSelwiney, CAM, and two seaman, names unknown, returned to the ship and located the tapping coming from the void space V-98, under the dynamo room. They answered the knocking with knocks on the outside which in turn were answered by knocking within the ship.
  10. Realizing that there were personnel trapped inside the ship, Machinist Szymanski obtained a cutting torch and equipment from the U.S.S. Raleigh and cut a hole in the bottom of the ship and rescued VAESSEN, JOHN B., F2c, V-6, USNR, who reported that he had been the last man in that part of the ship. He was on watch on the forward distribution board and when the ship was hit and the voltage commenced dropping, he cut out power forward and then aft, in an endeavor to maintain lights in the ship. Finally the lights dimmed and went out and he, then being unable to escape to the deck proceeded to the dynamo room. entered the starboard dynamo work shop, opened the manhole to compartment V-98 and climbed up to the ship's bottom taking his wrench and flash light with him.
  11. The following personnel are especially recommended for exceptional conduct under fire:
    Lt. (jg) P.F. Hauck, U.S. Navy, for assisting in getting men safely out of the ship without thought of his own safety.
    Ensign B.C. Moyer, U.S. Naval Reserve, for especial coolness and assisting men out of the ship without thought to his own safety.
    Machinist S. A. Szymanski, U.S. Navy, for rescuing VA[E]SSEN, John B., F2c, V-6, USNR, by cutting a hole in the bottom of the ship while planes were still straffing.
    VAESSEN, John B. F2c, V-6, USNR, for remaining at his post in forward distribution room and in order to keep lights on the ship as long as possible while realizing that the ship was capsizing and without thought of his own safety.
    MACSELWINEY, Terrance, CMM (PA), USNR, for operating a motor whale boat making trips to and from the ship during the cutting operations without regard to his own safety from straffing planes and for inspecting the engine room. clearing out the watch and securing the engineering plant prior to abandoning ship while well realizing that the ship was capsizing.
    Tomich, Peter, CWT (PA). (MISSING), for insuring that all fireroom personnel had left the ship and the boilers were secured prior to his abandoning the ship which resulted in the probable loss of his own life.
  12. All other officers and enlisted personnel are to be commended for the initiative and prompt execution of all orders during the entire period and I am of the opinion that the coolness and lack of excitement as well as the small loss of life was due to a great extent to the training they had received during the previous nine weeks of duty as a bombing target. The boat crews acted in a manner well worthy of commendation, picking up men from the water during the entire straffing period.


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: Fri Mar 16 09:10:28 EDT 2018