Pearl Harbor, 1941: From a Sailor’s Perspective

Pearl Harbor, 1941: From a Sailor’s Perspective

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About 7:45 a.m., through the crackle and buzz of interference, gunnery and anti-aircraft officer Benny Mott was jolted by pilots’ voices rising with alarm over the radio transmitter aboard the USSEnterprise. They were shouting to one another.

“Hey, did you see that army plane shooting at me?”

“That’s no army plane! That’s a Japanese plane! Look at the red circles on his wings!”

“That bastard! I’m going to shoot back!” The charged back-and-forth continued as Squadron Six and the equally surprised Japanese pilots tangled in view of Pearl Harbor.

Relieved of his watch, Benny raced past the duty bugler and the officer of the deck, then past the quartermaster and the helmsman. He was heading for the secret radar console between the flag bridge and the ship’s bridge. Benny found Jack Baumeister, Enterprise radar officer, hidden behind a long black curtain. Heart at a gallop, Benny told Jack what he’d heard on the pilot’s frequency. “Can we get anything on radar?”

Perspiring, Jack leaned forward in his chair and peered at a cluster of echoing blips of unknown origin making their way across the screen of the ship’s new radar machine. “It’s strange,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of bogies, but I shouldn’t be getting any. We’re a hundred and forty-four miles away, so they have to be flying really high for me to even get them on radar—I mean at least twenty thousand feet.”

“Have you reported this?” Benny asked, incredulous. Jack replied that he had, but his tone betrayed a lack of confidence in the new radar technology. By then, however, numerous planes had sent messages back to Enterprise confirming the worst. Benny and Jack stood together staring at the screen, the top half seeming to crawl with ants. Within seconds, the ship’s sirens screamed. The radioman had received an official coded message: “Enemy air raid on Pearl Harbor X This no drill.”

The quartermaster pulled the general quarters alarm, triggering its seventeen spine-chilling buzzes. The message blared repeatedly over the ship’s loudspeakers as men scrambled to their battle stations. Back in Sky Control, Benny issued rapid but succinct instructions in preparation for a possible attack on Enterprise itself, first to the men on the large five-inch antiaircraft turrets and on down the line to the machine gunners amidships.

As Benny barked orders to his gunners, Halsey issued his own from the flag bridge. After sending up a combat air patrol (CAP) to search for enemy ships, the admiral motioned to the signalmen. In a finger snap, a new set of multicolored flags were yanked from their flag bag and hoisted up the yardarm. The message to the fleet: “Prepare for battle.” With Enterprise’s battle flags now flying from her forepeak, the signal went out to the ships in the convoy to do the same. Wordless, from the ship’s highest perch, Benny watched the opening scenes of Enterprise at war.

OVER THE NEXT TWO hours, the enemy force, commanded by Japanese admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, leveled the American fleet at Pearl Harbor. Enterprise’s Squadron Six, outnumbered ten to one, fought the swarming Zeros with everything it had. The pilots’ voices through the crackling radio static rang in Benny’s ears for days, especially that of Ensign Manuel Gonzales. “Please don’t shoot! This is Six-Baker-Three, an American plane!” Next came Gonzales’s urgent command to his rear gunner, “We are on fire—bail out!” The transmission went silent after that. They disappeared without a trace.

Brigham Young carried Admiral Halsey’s staff officer, Lieutenant Commander Bromfield Nichols, in the rear of his plane. Nichols was carrying the classified report on Enterprise’s delivery of the fighter planes to Wake Island. Through the wind and static, Benny heard Young say something about antiaircraft puffs over the harbor and army planes over the marines’ aviation hub, Ewa Air Station.

Next, Nichols shouted that bits of their left wing were gone. The next thing Benny heard was a long series of invectives, and then nothing. He later learned that Young barely made his landing—after taking more fire from confused US gunners on the tarmac than the Japanese pilots in the air.

News of the rest of Squadron Six trickled in. Lieutenant Clarence Dickinson and Ensign Bud McCarthy had been lucky. Under attack by six Zeros, they shot down one but were no match for the rest. Both their planes were riddled, but the men bailed out at low altitude and survived to tread water off Battleship Row, witnessing firsthand the entire horrific show. Ensign Edward Deacon landed in the water short of the runway. Holding his wounded gunner, he grabbed his raft from the sinking plane and paddled ashore.

Squadron Six leader Earl Gallagher miraculously avoided the enemy planes by flying back out to sea, low above the water. He felt sure the enemy ships had retired to the northwest. He then landed on Ford Island amid more confused American gunfire. After refueling, Gallagher flew 175 miles in the direction of the retreating planes but found nothing but empty seas. When the worst of it was over, Benny asked around for news of Ensigns Vogt and Miller.

Vogt’s Dauntless dive bomber was last seen by marines at Ewa Station in a dogfight with three Zeros, firing his fixed and free guns with everything he had. Then he got on the tail of one of them and poured tracers into it, but it pulled up so sharply that Vogt collided with it. He was able to bail out but his parachute failed to deploy, and he died after slamming into a tree. Roger Miller managed to take out a Zero also, but he, too, was killed. Benny’s two good friends had been struck down within minutes of each other in the first hour of the war.

STILL A RELATIVELY SAFE distance from Pearl, Enterprise searched for the retreating Japanese fleet for the next twenty-four hours. The Pacific Ocean had become a vast hiding place for an invisible foe, however, and the attackers were nowhere to be found.

The search was abandoned late on Monday afternoon, December 8. At sunset, Enterprise and her convoy nosed up the channel and into Pearl Harbor. It was a silent, ghoulish glide through thousands of feet of smoldering wreckage and floating bodies. Soot-smudged soldiers manning antiaircraft guns lined the docks. “Hey, you better get out, or they’ll get you too!” yelled one shell-shocked sailor. Another cried, “Where the hell were you?”

A dumbstruck Benny surveyed the devastation from the ship’s superstructure. Grim-faced sailors lined the ship’s rails, and thousands of faces fastened on the horror from every gun mount, hatch, and portal. Nevada was overturned and aground, Utah blown to pieces, its remains slouched in harbor mud. The capsized Oklahoma had rolled 150 degrees, her tripod mast jammed deep into the sludge.

Only the bottom of Oklahoma’s hull was visible. As the Enterprise crew gawked helplessly, word traveled that hundreds of Oklahoma’s sailors were trapped alive inside. Men huddled on and around her hull, frantically working pneumatic drills to free them before their oxygen expired.

The spit-and-polish harbor Enterprise had departed nine days earlier was aflame and clogged with charred ship remains and floating death. A pall of black smoke fed by the still-burning Arizona hung heavy and low over the entire anchorage. For Arizona, it was too late for heroics. Four Japanese bombs found their mark on the ship, and 1,700 men perished, among them 23 sets of brothers. By Benny’s count, at least twenty ships had been sunk or damaged. He wondered with dread how many of the dead he knew.


Freeman’s father, Bill Mott, ran President Roosevelt’s map room at the White House while her uncle, Benny Mott, was a gunnery and anti-aircraft officer aboard the USS Enterprise during the Pearl Harbor attack. Bill and Benny’s half-brother, Barton Cross, served in the Navy Supply Corps until he went missing in the Philippines, leading Bill and Benny to attempt a rescue mission.

Pearl Harbor, 1941: From a Sailor’s Perspective - HISTORY

D ecember seventh, 1941: the surprise was complete. The attacking planes came in two waves the first hit its target at 7:53 AM, the second at 8:55. By 9:55 it was all over. By 1:00 PM the carriers that launched the planes from 274 miles off the coast of Oahu were heading back to Japan.

Poster commemorating
the attack, 1942
Behind them they left chaos, 2,403 dead, 188 destroyed planes and a crippled Pacific Fleet that included 8 damaged or destroyed battleships. In one stroke the Japanese action silenced the debate that had divided Americans ever since the German defeat of France left England alone in the fight against the Nazi terror.

Approximately three hours later, Japanese planes began a day-long attack on American facilities in the Philippines. (Because the islands are located across the International Dateline, the local Philippine time was just after 5 AM on December 8.) Farther to the west, the Japanese struck at Hong Kong, Malaysia and Thailand in a coordinated attempt to use surprise in order inflict as much damage as quickly as possible to strategic targets.

Although stunned by the attack at Pearl Harbor, the Pacific Fleet's aircraft carriers, submarines and, most importantly, its fuel oil storage facilities emerged unscathed. These assets formed the foundation for the American response that led to victory at the Battle of Midway the following June and ultimately to the total destruction of the Japanese Empire four years later.

The battleships moored along "Battleship Row" are the primary target of the attack's first wave. Ten minutes after the beginning of the attack a bomb crashes through the Arizona's two armored decks igniting its magazine. The explosion rips the ship's sides open like a tin can starting a fire that engulfs the entire ship. Within minutes she sinks to the bottom taking 1,300 lives with her. The sunken ship remains as a memorial to those who sacrificed their lives during the attack. Marine Corporal E.C. Nightingale was aboard the Arizona that fateful Sunday morning:

"We stood around awaiting orders of some kind. General Quarters sounded and I started for my battle station in secondary aft. As I passed through casement nine I noted the gun was manned and being trained out. The men seemed extremely calm and collected. I reached the boat deck and our anti-aircraft guns were in full action, firing very rapidly. I was about three quarters of the way to the first platform on the mast when it seemed as though a bomb struck our quarterdeck. I could hear shrapnel or fragments whistling past me. As

A captured Japanese photo shows
Battleship Row under attack.
Hickam Field burns in the distance
soon as I reached the first platform, I saw Second Lieutenant Simonson lying on his back with blood on his shirt front. I bent over him and taking him by the shoulders asked if there was anything I could do. He was dead, or so nearly so that speech was impossible. Seeing there was nothing I could do for the Lieutenant, I continued to my battle station.

"When I arrived in secondary aft I reported to Major Shapley that Mr. Simonson had been hit and there was nothing to be done for him. There was a lot of talking going on and I shouted for silence which came immediately. I had only been there a short time when a terrible explosion caused the ship to shake violently. I looked at the boat deck and everything seemed aflame forward of the mainmast. I reported to the Major that the ship was aflame, which was rather needless, and after looking about, the Major ordered us to leave.

"I was the last man to leave secondary aft because I looked around and there was no one left. I followed the Major down the port side of the tripod mast. The railings, as we ascended, were very hot and as we reached the boat deck I noted that it was torn up and burned. The bodies of the dead were thick, and badly burned men were heading for the quarterdeck, only to fall apparently dead or badly wounded. The Major and I went between No. 3 and No. 4 turret to the starboard side and found Lieutenant Commander Fuqua ordering the men over the side and assisting the wounded. He seemed exceptionally calm and the Major stopped and they talked for a moment. Charred bodies were everywhere.

"I made my way to the quay and started to remove my shoes when I suddenly found myself in the water. I think the concussion of a bomb threw me in. I started swimming for the pipe line which was about one hundred and fifty feet away. I was about half way when my strength gave out entirely. My clothes and shocked

The USS Shaw explodes
condition sapped my strength, and I was about to go under when Major Shapley started to swim by, and seeing my distress, grasped my shirt and told me to hang to his shoulders while he swam in.

"We were perhaps twenty-five feet from the pipe line when the Major's strength gave out and I saw he was floundering, so I loosened my grip on him and told him to make it alone. He stopped and grabbed me by the shirt and refused to let go. I would have drowned but for the Major. We finally reached the beach where a marine directed us to a bomb shelter, where I was given dry clothes and a place to rest."

Lord, Walter, Day of Infamy (1957), Prange, Gordon, At Dawn We Slept (1981), Wallin, VAdm. Homer N. Pearl Harbor: Why, How, Fleet Salvage and Final Appraisal (1968).

1. The first bomb likely dropped

A Japanese fighter plane drops what&aposs believed to be the first bomb on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. (Associated Press photo)

The above photo, which was taken by a Japanese photographer, was found by U.S> Navy photographer Martin J. Shemanski at Yokusuka Base near Tokyo Bay shortly after the Japanese surrendered.

The photo shows the Japanese fighter plane (the small black speck that almost looks like a bird) appearing to pull out of a dive after dropping the bomb on Battleship Row. Another Japanese fighter plane can be seen in the upper right corner.

Shemanski and four other U.S. military photographers were ordered to go through Japanese photo processing labs after the surrender, and he found it torn up in a trash can.

“It had a torn photo in it,” Shemanski told the Press-Enterprise in 2015.

“I picked up a couple pieces and I got a shot of a torpedo hitting the Oklahoma. I thought, &aposThis is Navy intelligence,&apos” he added.

The USS Oklahoma was a Nevada-class battleship that was sunk during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Shemanski told the Press-Enterprise that the picture was torn up in about 20 pieces.

Shemanski reassembled the photo and turned it over to U.S. naval intelligence on the USS Shangri-La aircraft carrier.


The attack caught American military personnel by surprise and was certainly costly, but it did not cripple the U.S. Navy as the Japanese had anticipated. By a stroke of luck, the three American aircraft carriers stationed at Pearl Harbor were not there on the morning of December 7th. The USS Lexington, the USS Enterprise, and the USS Saratoga had been sent on missions during the days before. Aircraft carriers are larger and more difficult to build than other ships, and their survival would prove vital during the Pacific War.

President Roosevelt, wearing a black armband, signs the declaration of war against Japan on December 8, 1941

On December 8th, President Roosevelt gave a speech in which he famously called the attack on Pearl Harbor “a date which will live in infamy,” while Congress quickly passed a declaration of war on Japan. Three days later, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States. The War Department completely reorganized itself, as key positions shifted to various trusted officers in order to prepare for the new conflict.

Prior to Pearl Harbor, the United States had sent large amounts of financial aid and military equipment to the Allied cause. The Japanese attack launched the U.S. into a complete struggle against Axis powers and brought American soldiers into the war for the first time. It also united the country, as a Gallup poll conducted during the days after Pearl Harbor showed that 97% of Americans approved of the declaration of war.

Thousands of young men rushed to serve in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. A New York Times article from December 9th reported that the armed forces were “receiving applicants in numbers unprecedented in the history of the nation” and that “many of the men had been in line [at recruiting stations] the whole night.” The Times added the next day that the Army had received 2,684 applications in the two days since declaring war on Japan.

Pearl Harbor also had a marked effect on the Manhattan Project. The S-1 Committee, which ran atomic research prior to the creation of the Manhattan Project, formally held its first meeting on December 18, 1941. This meeting initiated an official shift from the research to the development phase of the project. As S-1 official James Conant noted, “The atmosphere was charged with excitement – the country had been at war nine days, an expansion of the S-1 program was now an accomplished matter. Enthusiasm and optimism reigned” (Rhodes 398).

The Children of Pearl Harbor

Seventy-five years ago at dawn, more than 150 ships and service craft of the United States’ Pacific fleet lay at anchor, alongside piers, or in dry dock in Pearl Harbor on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. By late morning, the surprise Japanese air and mini-submarine attack had left 19 vessels sunk or badly damaged and destroyed hundreds of airplanes.

Death was everywhere. The toll that day among military personnel is widely known. Of the 2,335 servicemen killed in the attack, nearly half died on the USS Arizona when a Japanese bomb blew up the battleship’s forward gunpowder magazine, ripping the ship apart. Hundreds also died aboard other stricken naval vessels and in bombing and strafing attacks at nearby airfields.

But few people realize that 68 civilians were also killed in the attack. Japanese fighters strafed and bombed a small number. Most, however, died in friendly fire when shells from Coast Guard ships and anti-aircraft batteries on shore aimed at the Japanese fell into Honolulu and elsewhere on the island. Eleven of the dead were children ages 16 and younger.

The Hirasaki family suffered some of the worst losses that terrible morning. The Japanese-American mother, father and their three children. ages 2, 3 and 8, together with a 14-year-old cousin, sheltered in the family’s downtown Honolulu restaurant. An errant shell struck the building. Only the mother survived. Seven other patrons taking cover there also died in the blast.

1941: Fighting the Shadow War: A Divided America in a World at War

In "1941: Fighting the Shadow War, A Divided America in a World at War," historian Marc Wortman thrillingly explores the little-known history of America’s clandestine involvement in World War II before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Countless children throughout Oahu also witnessed the attack, perhaps none more closely than 8-year-old Charlotte Coe. I got to know Charlotte four years ago when I interviewed her for a book I wrote about the period before the Pearl Harbor attack. Charlotte, whose married name was Lemann, would die of cancer two years later, but when we spoke she recounted her experiences that fateful morning as if they were a film that had been running continuously in her mind ever since.

Charlotte lived with her parents and five-year-old brother, Chuckie, in one of the 19 tidy bungalows lining a loop road in an area known as Nob Hill, on the northern end of Ford Island. That island served as home to a naval air station in the middle of Pearl Harbor. Their father, Charles F. Coe, was third in command there. The Nob Hill mothers watched over their 40 or so young “Navy juniors” while their fathers went off to the air station’s hangars, operations buildings and aircraft operating from the island. The Coe family’s house looked out on the harbor’s South Channel and the double row of moorings known as Battleship Row.

The air station and Pacific fleet defined the children's days and nights. Charlotte, Chuckie and their friends often ran out the nearby dock to meet officers disembarking from the ships. Lying in bed at night, Charlotte could hear voices from the movies being shown to sailors on board. Until the Pearl Harbor attack, she recalled that she and the other children lived “free as birds” on Ford Island, taking a daily boat to school on the Oahu mainland. At home, Pearl Harbor’s lush tropical shoreline served as their playground.

But Ford Island was something else: a target. The eight battleships moored along Battleship Row were the Japanese attackers’ primary objective when they flew toward Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7, 1941.

The first explosion at 7:48 that morning woke Charlotte from a sound sleep. “Get up!" she remembered her father shouting. "The war’s started.” The family and the men, women and children from the other houses raced for shelter in a former artillery emplacement dug beneath a neighboring house. As they ran, a khaki-colored airplane with red circles under its wings zoomed past so low that Charlotte saw the pilot’s face.

Remembering Pearl Harbor: Interview with a Navy Survivor

The following interview is an excerpt from the oral history of Captain Douglas G. Phillips, USN (Retired), recorded in December 2010. Captain Phillips graduated from the New York State Merchant Marine Academy in 1937, and later obtained a commission with the U.S. Navy. His first Navy assignment was aboard USS Castor, and he later reported to the light minelayer (and former destroyer) USS Ramsay in Pearl Harbor on December 6, 1941, the day before the Japanese attack. The morning of December 7, Ramsay was at anchor and on the attack azimuth for Japanese planes aiming at the battleship USS Utah.

Captain Phillips retired from the Navy in 1965, and passed away in June 2011. The interview was conducted by Rear Admiral Oakley E. Osborn, USN (Retired). Those interested in the full transcript of the interview, which includes detailed information on his life in and out of the Navy, should contact the Naval Historical Foundation.

OAKLEY E. OSBORN: Doug, we are in Pearl Harbor. You’re in USS Ramsay and you reported on the 6 th of December, 1941. Let’s go into the next day and tell me what you were doing that morning if you remember.

An undated photo of Lieutenant Douglas Philips, USN. Courtesy of Rear Admiral Oakley E. Osborn, USN (Retired).

CAPT PHILLIPS: I remember very well what I was doing. It was my first day aboard. It was a beautiful sunny day. I was up and had breakfast – first one in the Wardroom. Then I was up on deck admiring the scenery and was pretty happy. Then in about three minutes I saw planes coming over and finally it dawned on me that those were Japanese planes, and they came very, very close to the Ramsay. They were lined up to torpedo the Utah. The Utah berth was one of their designated targets. A spy had sent a map to Tokyo showing the location of the ships in Pearl Harbor, so they had an exact spot for the carriers and battleships and other ships they decided to take out. In a matter of minutes after the attack started our running boat was coming back one of our whaleboats was coming back with some cargo. They later testified that they had been under fire by the planes that were going toward the Utah. Anyway, that boat got aboard. We had the Ready Duty starting at 0800 which meant we had the steam up. I was up on deck. I didn’t go in the engine room because it was a different plant altogether and I figured I’d be in the way and I thought I could do something on deck. I knew a little bit about what was going on. We had some 4-inch rapid fire guns that were installed on the galley deckhouse.

In the meantime the planes were successful in getting several torpedoes into the Utah and we watched there dumbfounded just a short distance away to see the Utah battleship roll over in a matter of minutes after the first attack. The Utah was an old battleship being used as a target vessel. They had planks or beams 8-by-8s or 7-by-7s, on deck and they would bomb it. The Navy bombers would practice on it. They could bomb it with inert bombs and that’s what it was used for primarily but it was configured as a battleship. The Japanese thought – we were told – that that was a carrier berth so that’s why they went after the old Utah. We watched in amazement as she rolled over right in front of us with men falling off, because as the ship rolled it wasn’t buttoned up at all. They didn’t have time to close watertight doors. As it rolled the crew couldn’t stand up after a little while. They were coming off the ship and these timbers that had not been attached to the deck started rolling off when the men were coming off. I understand why they had some casualties. That was the introduction. In the meantime, a midget submarine had gotten in. When they opened the harbor entrance gate for the early departure of a ship, one of the midget submarines sneaked in. The midget submarines there were several of them that were brought to the harbor entrance waters just previous without the U.S. knowing it. I think there were two men per submarine. The one that got inside Pearl Harbor came up near our anchorage and the Curtis threw a smoke bomb to mark where they last saw the periscope. By that time I went up on the galley deckhouse where there was a 4-inch gun on either side. I had earlier been a loader as an enlisted man so I knew a little bit about it. The Captain called back from the bridge and said, “Is that gun loaded”, because we had started to train up. He said, “Is that gun loaded?” I thought he said, “Load it.” I was in new whites. I grabbed a shell out of the case – all our ammunition was at the ready – and loaded it and got an enlisted man there and said, “Come on, get aboard here”. He sat in the other side and we trained around and depressed it to where we would fire at this target if we had to. Low and behold, right as we lined up our sights the Navy hospital was in the background so we knew enough not to try that shot. By that time we couldn’t see anything. The smoke pot had left a mark but we couldn’t be sure what we were shooting at. But the Captain just said, “Is that gun loaded”? All I heard was, “Load”, and I did it.

Later, we got orders to get underway and we went out on a couple of different missions. One was to steam back and forth with another ship toward the entrance where we would set up enough underway noise to keep the Japanese from laying torpedoes in the entranceway where you have to slow down and it would be an easy target. We had that duty for several hours and then they got someone else to do that. For the next several days, until the following Wednesday we went out on what we called “Witch Hunts”. We steamed Darken Ship and had ammunition at the ready. We were under condition watches – every gun wasn’t manned at that time – and we went out on these “Witch Hunts” to the other islands, among other places. Then on the following Wednesday we came back in and we were horrified at the destruction. During the attack we had been on the opposite side of Ford Island from the battleships so we didn’t see the damage going out. We were intent on going out because one Japanese plane flew right over us. If he had found us in the channel or sunk us there we would have fouled up the channel. Anyway, we got out okay. We did the sound business for a while and then went on these “Witch Hunts”. During those patrols we dropped a number of depth charges. We had a crude sound detection system which would show deflection on a meter if there was any kind of an on anomaly. When we got a good contact we assumed it was a submarine and let go with the depth charges. The following Wednesday when we came back in we saw the amount of damage. Everybody was very gun shy. Not many of us went ashore.

OEO: Do you remember about how long the attack was going on?

CAPT PHILLIPS: Yes, it went on for a little over an hour and then they came with the second wave. So it was all over by 10 o’clock they were all on their way back to their carrier groups to the North.

OEO: What do you remember about that two hour period? What was happening on your ship?

CAPT PHILLIPS: We first put the other boiler on the line so that we had two boilers. And we stood by weapons. We had machine guns in the foredeck in the main deck space where you go off and on the ship. We had two machine guns there and they fired at the torpedo bombers that took out the Utah. Mostly we wanted to get moving, “What are we waiting for? We’re ready to go.” Finally, about the time it ended – it was still going on briefly as we got underway – we got a glimpse of the other side of Ford Island at that time. The two hours goes in a hurry when you’re running around doing things and so on. Anyway, we did that high speed sweep thing, running up and down either side of the ship channel just making noise to interfere with submarine listening devices.

OEO: What was your impression of your skipper’s performance during these two hours?

CAPT PHILLIPS: Very good. Lieutenant Commander Gelzer Sims. He and the Exec conferred about what to do. He was a real leader, a gentleman of the old school. He later commanded the USS Maury at Midway and was a Navy Cross winner.

OEO: Were there any outstanding things with the rest of the crew that come to mind?

CAPT PHILLIPS: We were still at battle stations all that time because it kind of diminished but then it picked up again after the first hour. We were on battle stations, which was ready to man any and all guns we had which weren’t very many. After we’d fired extensively on the planes going for the Utah it was pretty quiet. Most of the planes we saw were too high for us to handle and neither of the bigger guns were for anti-aircraft. They were surface guns. Under a situation like that the time goes quickly. We were just standing by saying, “Why don’t they give us orders? Why don’t they give us orders?” We were ready to go. By that time there was no question about what was going on in the Pearl Harbor area. As it quieted down the Exec came down the deck and I saluted and said, “Sir, I’m a Reserve officer. I volunteered for active duty a little over a year ago. I’m ready to go home now”. I was being a wise guy of course. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “No, we’d like to have you stick around for a little bit.”

The Captain told a story after we settled down and went back in port. He said he met an old admiral friend and the admiral said to him, “Well Captain, how many Jap subs have you sunk out there”, and he said, “Admiral, we made some attacks. Some were pretty good, others we couldn’t tell. I can’t honestly say that we sunk any.” The admiral said, “Let me shake your hand. You are the first honest destroyer skipper I’ve met since this damn war has started.” That is what a lot of ships did. It was easy to do. You make an attack and think its good but a lot of them weren’t. So we operated that way. We went over to one of the other islands and patrolled in there mostly looking for Jap submarines because at that time we didn’t know how many were loose in there. We operated in and around Pearl Harbor for several weeks.

After the first of the year, we got orders to Pago Pago, Samoa. We were with another ship plus the hospital ship, so we were in a convoy of three ships. We got a good contact en route but it went away and we never had a chance to drop depth charges. At Pago Pago they sent a working party ashore up into the jungle where there were a whole bunch of mines stored World War I vintage mines. We had to get a truck and haul them down and set them up because we were going to lay mines. They had been stored away for just such an emergency I guess. We mined American Samoa and then we had enough to drop some mines over on British Samoa. Finally, we went further west and spent a lot of time in Suva. In Fiji there is a nice port but Suva has a wonderful natural anchorage just a few miles from Suva Proper. That was going to be the fleet anchorage, and we were going to mine that. We did drop some mines in the channels near Suva but they cancelled the mining operation for the area that was going to be the future anchorage because the war was moving forward. We moved on to Efate in the New Hebrides Islands, and laid a few mines there and then that was all of them. Later in the year, in the summer, we came back to Pearl and not long after, got orders to the Aleutians.

OEO: Stepping back, when you went back into Pearl after a few days of maneuvers outside the channel you then went over and anchored on the side of Ford Island where the battleships were. What could you see from that position?

CAPT PHILLIPS: Not too much because the island was in between us but we knew some of the ships were still burning. There was some smoke coming up. We didn’t see the whole thing. We saw a good view of it as we came in the harbor and hung a left to go to Middle Lock. We saw enough to know that the battleships had rolled over. Our flagship the Ogallala, had sunk and it was alongside another ship. The torpedo wound up sinking the Ogallala which was the Minecraft Battle Force flagship. She was on her side. Coming back in the devastation was all there for everybody to see.

OEO: Any more on Pearl Harbor on December 7 th ?

CAPT PHILLIPS: The real aftermath story of Pearl Harbor was the salvage work. They did one heck of a job getting those ships together and pumped out. They had a lot of good divers all ready to go and they had the equipment. That is one of the best stories of World War II, the rapidity of getting things back together. The Japanese really screwed up. There are two tank farms on the edge of Pearl. They didn’t bother them. And there was an ammunition depot. If you come in the harbor you hang a left and that’s West Lock. You go there and unload your ammo if you’re going in for ship’s overhaul. We were lucky being at a mooring but the other four ships in our division were in for an overhaul and they lost men because the Navy Yard and all that area was bombed. We were the lucky ones. We saw those planes come down to sink the Utah. From then on they were high and we were using machine guns. Someone gave me a BAR (Browning automatic rifle) but I didn’t know how to work it. The problem with our guns they weren’t for airplanes, they were for surface shooting. Shooting at an airplane flying by with a machine gun is kind of difficult. Anyway, we avoided any casualties where we were. They were busy at other places. The Japs should have been after the tank farms and the ammunition depot.

On one of the Pearl Harbor anniversary trips I was on a bus with Pearl Harbor survivors and authors of various books and historians as well as several Japanese aviators that flew on December 7 th . One of the Japanese had his wife and daughter and her daughter’s husband. I had earlier purchased a large Japanese flag and had pictures of the flag with me. I went to the daughter of this pilot, because he didn’t speak any English, and told her my story and showed her the pictures and they told me what the flag was. It has a lot of names on it for one thing and it’s also got some brown spots. It is silk and in good shape. They said when a guy was going off to war they would have a party for him and they would all sign the Japanese flag. They would sign all their names and wish him well and then he would wear it on his person.

OEO: Are there any other recollections about December 7, 1941 and Pearl Harbor?

CAPT PHILLIPS: Oh, there were a lot of stories going around. One comes to mind. The Officer of the Deck, when the attack started, sounded General Quarters and the Captain came up on deck and said, “Who sounded General Quarters?” The OOD said, “I did Sir.” And Captain said, “I’m the only one that gives the order to General Quarters”. And the kid said, “Yes Sir. But those are Japanese planes. And Sir, I have to go to my battle station.” The Captain didn’t know there was an attack. That is the kind of thing that went on because naturally there was a lot of confusion.

USS RAMSAY (DD 124, prior to being reclassified as DM 16) underway in the 1930’s during war games. NHHC image NH 101654.

Pearl Harbor: 16 Days To Die – Three Sailors trapped in the USS West Virginia

The sunken battleship USS West Virginia (BB-48) at Pearl Harbor after her fires were out, possibly on 8 December 1941. USS Tennessee (BB-43) is inboard. A Vought OS2U Kingfisher floatplane (marked 𔄜-O-3”) is upside down on West Virginia’s main deck. A second OS2U is partially burned out atop the Turret No. 3 catapult.

In the aftermath of the attacks on Pearl Harbour during World War Two stories emerged of sailors who were trapped in the sunken battleships, some even survived for weeks.

Those who were trapped underwater banged continuously on the side of the ship so that anyone would hear them and come to their rescue. When the noises were first heard many thought it was just loose wreckage or part of the clean-up operation for the destroyed harbour.

However the day after the attack, crewmen realised that there was an eerie banging noise coming from the foward hull of the USS West Virginia, which had sunk in the harbour.

It didn’t take long for the crew and Marines based at the harbour to realise that there was nothing they could do. They could not get to these trapped sailors in time. Months later rescue and salvage men who raised the USS West Virginia found the bodies of three men who had found an airlock in a storeroom but had eventually run out of air.

They were Ronald Endicott, 18, Clifford Olds, 20, and Louis Costin, 21. Within the storeroom was a calendar and they had crossed off every day that they had been alive – 16 days had been crossed off using a red pencil. The men would have been below deck when the attack happened, so it is unlikely that they knew what was happening.

Those who survived the attack and were crew on the USS West Virginia have remembered the story and retold it quietly as a story of bravery and determination of the young soldiers.

In truth, the US Navy had never told their families how long the three men had survived for, instead telling them that they had been killed in the attack on the harbour. Their brothers and sisters eventually discovered the truth but were so saddened that they did not speak of it.

One of Clifford’s friends and comrades Jack Miller often returned to the harbour and would pray for his friend at the site of the sunken wreck. He says that just the night before the attack they had been drinking beer together, and he had wanted to rescue him desperately in the days after the attack.

However there was no way of any rescue crews getting to them since if they cut a hole in the ship, it would flood it, and if they tried to use a blowtorch it could explode since there was too much oil and gasoline in the water.

Survivors say that no one wanted to go on guard duty anywhere near the USS West Virginia since they would hear the banging of trapped survivors all night long, but with nothing that could be done.

The Complicated Lead Up to Pearl Harbor

Today, on the 75 th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, Curator Laurence Burke took a step back and explored the long and complicated history that led up to the Japanese attack.

Burke, to an audience outside the Museum’s Sea-Air Operations gallery, said the story of Pearl Harbor often focuses on the events of December 7, 1941, but not what happened before the day that President Roosevelt called, “a date which will live in infamy.”

To understand Pearl Harbor, Burke took the audience back to 1853-1854 when U.S. Naval Captain Matthew C. Perry sailed to Japan and negotiated the opening of Japanese ports for trade. After more than 200 years of self-imposed isolation, Japan wanted to engage with the rest of the world.

To compete globally, Japan needed resources—a theme that persistently pushes the narrative of Pearl Harbor to its climax. Iron and coal were key natural resources in the steam era at the end of the 19 th century, but were not available in any significance on the Japanese island. Japan needed to look elsewhere.

Japan engaged in war in 1894-5 with China and in 1904-5 with Russia to secure resources. It was a 1905 win against the Russian Navy that shocked the world and alerted the U.S. that they needed to be prepared for a potential war with Japan.

As early as 1911, the U.S. Navy drafted plans for dealing with a possible war with Japan, known as War Plan Orange. The 1921 Washington Naval Treaty set out to prevent expensive naval building races between nations, but limited Japan to a much smaller navy than the U.S., a result that further soured the relationship between the two countries.

In September 1940, Japan aligned with Germany and Italy. Japan hoped the war would result in a boon of new resources and saw the alignment as a way to push back against the U.S. If America wanted to declare war on Japan, they would also have to declare war on Germany meaning a fight across two oceans.

In the summer of 1941, Japan moved to take the rest of Indochina. This aggression launched major diplomatic negotiations between Japan and the United States that would continue up until the attack on Pearl Harbor. While the U.S. had put embargoes on Japan in the past, in 1941 it completely froze all trade with Japan. This cut Japan off from key resources like scrap iron and petroleum.

The U.S. believed that Japan would run out of necessary resources in six months and would have to agree to negotiations or cease military action. Japan did the same math and realized they needed to act. Japan began to plan the attack on Pearl Harbor.

“This is not a unanimously acclaimed idea,” Burke noted. Many within the Japanese military were wary of the risks—Japanese carriers did not have the range to make it to Pearl Harbor and would need to refuel at sea, a maneuver that was unfamiliar to their navy. But to Japan, the potential reward outweighed the risks. They believed an attack on the U.S. would prevent America from entering the war for up to six months. In that time, Japan could shift the balance of power and take Malaya and the Dutch East Indies. Japan also hoped the attack would demoralize the United States into inaction.

The Japanese Marshal Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto knew that to be successful secrecy was key. Few within the military were aware of what was conspired. Japanese carriers would take an extremely northern path to avoid shipping routes, and while travelling they were under complete radio silence. Even ship-to-ship communication was done using flags or blinker lights.

The final orders to attack Pearl Harbor were delivered to the ships by hand before they sailed on November 26th.

Pearl Harbor and Hitler’s devastating conclusions: why December 1941 was the most important month of the Second World War

On 11 December 1941, Adolf Hitler declared war on the United States of America, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor four days earlier. There is a strong case to be made, says historian Laurence Rees, that December 1941 was the most decisive month of the entire Second World War…

This competition is now closed

Published: December 11, 2019 at 9:00 am

How did the attack on Pearl Harbor affect Adolf Hitler and Germany? Why did Hitler declare war on America on 11 December 1941? Here, writing for History Extra, Laurence Rees explains why December 1941 was such a significant month during World War II…

Winston Churchill instantly knew what Pearl Harbor meant for the British. He later wrote that when he heard the news that now that the United States was “in the war, up to the neck and in to the death” he felt the “greatest joy” because it meant that “we had won after all” and “England would live Britain would live the Commonwealth of Nations and the Empire would live”.

But while the benefits to Britain of the entry of the US into the war were clear, it is sometimes forgotten that Pearl Harbor also had an enormous impact on two other countries: Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor affected the Soviet Union in two important ways. First, it confirmed that Japanese forces would no longer pose any foreseeable threat to the Soviet Union in the Far East. Indeed, reports two months earlier from Richard Sorge, the Soviet spy in Japan, that the Japanese intended to attack in the south rather than invade the Soviet Union, had informed Stalin’s decision to move divisions from the Siberian border to help in the defence of Moscow.

In early October 1941, Vasily Borisov was a soldier in a Siberian division in the remote east of the Soviet Union where, he says, “we were expecting Japan to attack”. But on 18 October his unit received orders to board trains immediately and head west to face a different foe: “In the summer [of 1941] we knew the Germans were advancing very fast and were capturing Soviet territory and we knew they were technically more advanced than us… we knew that the situation was bad”. As they travelled towards the west, Borisov and his comrades thought “that a lot of us would be killed. We knew that the war would be hard, and that’s what it turned out to be. It was very hard… we felt fear”.

But in the freezing Soviet winter, all the Germans’ technological advances counted for nothing. This was a more straightforward struggle – one in which the Red Army could compete on equal terms. And once Red Army soldiers began to counterattack against the Germans outside Moscow on 5 December, they became more and more confident. “We are very strong and very fit,” said Vasily Borisov. “This is Siberian spirit. This is how people are raised from childhood. Everyone knows that Siberians are very tough… I am a true Siberian, everyone knows that we are tough”. Vasily Borisov believed that he and his comrades held firm during the battle for Moscow because of this “Siberian stubbornness… The commanders used to say that the Siberian divisions saved Moscow…”

The second reason that Pearl Harbor had an instant effect on Stalin, and increased the chances of the Red Army winning against the German Wehrmacht, was because it led almost immediately to Germany declaring war on America, and so brought Stalin an unexpected ally of colossal potential power.

Hitler’s decision to declare war on America, announced on 11 December 1941, has often puzzled people who are not aware of the details of the history. Why, as German forces faced the immensity of the challenge of the war on the eastern front, did Hitler voluntarily add such a powerful additional enemy to his list of adversaries?

Why did Hitler declare war on America on 11 December 1941?

The answer is straightforward. Hitler, like Stalin, was a political leader who had an eye for reality, not just rhetoric. And to Hitler it had been obvious that war with the United States was inevitable. The key moment on that road to war had occurred not at Pearl Harbor but several months before, when President Roosevelt had ordered American warships to accompany British convoys to the middle of the Atlantic. As Churchill noted, by the time of the Atlantic Conference in August 1941, Roosevelt was determined “to wage war, but not declare it”. This was also the conclusion the German Grand Admiral Raeder had reached, and he had told Hitler months prior to Pearl Harbor that unless U-boats were allowed to sink American ships, the battle of the Atlantic could not be won.

Inevitably, following Roosevelt’s decision to order American warships to patrol the western Atlantic in support of convoys, a series of incidents followed – notably a U-boat attack on the USS Greer in September and the sinking of the USS Reuben James, causing the deaths of more than 100 American sailors, on 31 October 1941.

So, by December 1941, Hitler must have felt that by declaring war on America he was doing little more than accepting the inevitable – with the added benefit of retaining apparent control of events. Hitler further reasoned that the immediate entry of the US into the war would do nothing substantively for at least a year to alter the course of the struggle in the Soviet Union – and it was this fight against Stalin that he believed would decide the entire conflict one way or the other. Moreover, he thought the Japanese would now tie down the American fleet in the Pacific and threaten British interests in the Far East.

Hitler also drew another devastating conclusion from the entry of America into the war. For Hitler this was proof that “international Jewry” had orchestrated a world conflict, and in a radio broadcast to the German people immediately after the declaration of war he explicitly stated that “the Jews” were manipulating President Roosevelt just as they were his other great enemy, Joseph Stalin.

Hitler went still further in a speech he gave to the Nazi leadership, both Gauleiters and Reichleiters, the following day. He now linked the outbreak of this “world war” with his prophecy uttered in the Reichstag on 30 January 1939 in which he had threatened that “if the Jews succeed in causing world war” the result would be the “extermination of the Jews of Europe”. On 13 December, Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels wrote in his diary: “As far as the Jewish question is concerned, the Führer is determined to make a clean sweep. He prophesied to the Jews that if they once again brought about a world war they would experience their own extermination. This was not an empty phrase. The world war is here, the extermination of the Jews must be the necessary consequence. This question must be seen without sentimentality.”

Further proof that the air was thick with talk of “extermination” that week is provided by a speech that Hans Frank, ruler of a part of Poland the Nazis called the “General Government”, made to senior Nazi officials in Krakow on 16 December: “As an old National Socialist, I must state that if the Jewish clan were to survive the war in Europe, while we sacrificed our best blood in the defence of Europe, then this war would only represent a partial success. With respect to the Jews, therefore, I will only operate on the assumption that they will disappear… We must exterminate the Jews wherever we find them”. Frank, who had been one of those briefed by Hitler on 12 December, also added that “in Berlin” he had been told that he, and people like him, should “liquidate the Jews… themselves”.

The events of Pearl Harbor and the subsequent decision by Hitler to declare war on Germany did not ‘cause’ the Holocaust. Many Jews had already died before this date – Nazi killing squads, for instance, had been murdering Jews behind the lines on the eastern front since the start of the German invasion in June 1941. But what happened at Pearl Harbor and immediately afterwards brought a murderous clarity to Hitler’s thinking. And it was surely no coincidence that the year of the greatest killing in the Holocaust – 1942 – was just about to begin.

Much of the content of this article is taken from two books written by Laurence Rees: Auschwitz, the Nazis and the ‘Final Solution’ (BBC books, 2005) and World War Two – Behind Closed Doors (BBC books 2008).

Rees is also the author of The Holocaust: A New History (Viking/Penguin, 2017).


Miller was born in Waco, Texas, on October 12, 1919, to Connery and Henrietta Miller. He was named Doris, as the midwife who assisted his mother was convinced before his birth that the baby would be a girl. [9] He was the third of four sons and helped around the house, cooked meals and did laundry, as well as working on the family farm. He was a fullback on the football team at Waco's Alexander James Moore High School. [10] He began attending the eighth grade again on January 25, 1937, at the age of 17 but was forced to repeat the grade the following year, so he decided to drop out of school. [11] He filled his time squirrel hunting with a .22 rifle and completed a correspondence course in taxidermy. He applied to join the Civilian Conservation Corps, but was not accepted. At that time, he was 6 feet 3 inches (1.91 m) tall and weighed more than 200 pounds (91 kg). [11] Miller worked on his father's farm until shortly before his 20th birthday,

Miller's nickname "Dorie" may have originated from a typographical error. He was nominated for recognition for his actions on December 7, 1941, and the Pittsburgh Courier released a story on March 14, 1942, which gave his name as "Dorie Miller". [12] Since then, some writers have suggested that it was a "nickname to shipmates and friends." [11]

Miller enlisted in the U.S. Navy as a mess attendant third class at the Naval Recruiting Station in Dallas, Texas, for six years on September 16, 1939. [1] Mess attendent was one of the few ratings open at the time to black sailors. [13] He was transferred to the Naval Training Center, Naval Operating Base, Norfolk, Virginia, arriving on September 19. [1] After training school, he was assigned to the ammunition ship Pyro (AE-1) and then transferred on January 2, 1940, to the Colorado-class battleship West Virginia (BB-48). It was on the West Virginia where he started competition boxing, becoming the ship's heavyweight champion. In July, he was on temporary duty aboard the Nevada (BB-36) at Secondary Battery Gunnery School. He returned to the West Virginia on August 3. He advanced in rating to mess attendant second class on February 16, 1941. [3] [13]

Attack on Pearl Harbor Edit

Miller was a crewman aboard the West Virginia and awoke at 6 a.m. on December 7, 1941. He served breakfast mess and was collecting laundry at 7:57 a.m. when Lieutenant Commander Shigeharu Murata from the Japanese aircraft carrier Akagi launched planes that fired the first of seven torpedoes that hit West Virginia. [11] The "Battle Stations" alarm went off Miller headed for his battle station, an anti-aircraft battery magazine amidships, only to discover that a torpedo had destroyed it.

He went then to "Times Square" on deck, a central spot aboard the ship where the fore-to-aft and port-to-starboard passageways crossed, reporting himself available for other duty and was assigned to help carry wounded sailors to places of greater safety. [11] Lieutenant Commander Doir C. Johnson, the ship's communications officer, spotted Miller and saw his physical prowess, so he ordered him to accompany him to the conning tower on the flag bridge to assist in moving the ship's captain, Mervyn Bennion, who had a gaping wound in his abdomen where he had apparently been hit by shrapnel after the first Japanese attack. [14] Miller and another sailor lifted the skipper but were unable to remove him from the bridge, so they carried him on a cot from his exposed position on the damaged bridge to a sheltered spot on the deck behind the conning tower where he remained during the second Japanese attack. [14] [4] Captain Bennion refused to leave his post, questioned his officers and men about the condition of the ship, and gave orders and instructions to crew members to defend the ship and fight. [14] Unable to go to the deck below because of smoke and flames, he was carried up a ladder to the navigation bridge, where he died from the loss of too much blood despite the aid from a pharmacist mate. [14] He was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. [15]

Lieutenant Frederic H. White had ordered Miller to help him and Ensign Victor Delano load the unmanned number 1 and number 2 Browning .50 caliber anti-aircraft machine guns aft of the conning tower. [16] Miller was not familiar with the weapon, but White and Delano instructed him on how to operate it. Delano expected Miller to feed ammunition to one gun, but his attention was diverted and, when he looked again, Miller was firing one of the guns. White then loaded ammunition into both guns and assigned Miller the starboard gun. [11]

Miller fired the gun until he ran out of ammunition, when he was ordered by Lieutenant Claude V. Ricketts to help carry the captain up to the navigation bridge out of the thick oily smoke generated by the many fires on and around the ship Miller who was officially credited with downing at least two enemy planes. [4] "I think I got one of those Jap planes. They were diving pretty close to us," he said later. [3] Japanese aircraft eventually dropped two armor-piercing bombs through the deck of the battleship and launched five 18-inch (460 mm) aircraft torpedoes into her port side. When the attack finally lessened, Miller helped move injured sailors through oil and water to the quarterdeck, thereby "unquestionably saving the lives of a number of people who might otherwise have been lost." [17]

The ship was heavily damaged by bombs, torpedoes, and resulting explosions and fires, but the crew prevented her from capsizing by counter-flooding a number of compartments. Instead, West Virginia sank to the harbor bottom in shallow water as her surviving crew abandoned ship, including Miller [3] the ship was raised and restored for continued service in the war. On the West Virginia, 132 men were killed and 52 were wounded from the Japanese attack. On December 13, Miller reported to the heavy cruiser Indianapolis (CA-35).

Commendation Edit

On January 1, 1942, the Navy released a list of commendations for actions on December 7. Among them was a single commendation for an unnamed black man. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) had asked President Franklin D. Roosevelt to award the Distinguished Service Cross to the unknown black sailor. The Navy Board of Awards received a recommendation that the sailor be considered for recognition. On March 12, an Associated Press story named Miller as the sailor, citing the African-American newspaper Pittsburgh Courier [18] additional news reports credited Lawrence D. Reddick with learning the name through correspondence with the Navy Department. [19] In the following days, Senator James M. Mead (D-NY) introduced a Senate bill [S.Res. 2392] to award Miller the Medal of Honor, [20] and Representative John D. Dingell, Sr. (D-MI) introduced a matching House bill [H.R. 6800]. [21]

Miller was recognized as one of the "first US heroes of World War II". He was commended in a letter signed by Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox on April 1, and the next day, CBS Radio broadcast an episode of the series They Live Forever, which dramatized Miller's actions. [11]

Black organizations began a campaign to honor Miller with additional recognition. On April 4, the Pittsburgh Courier urged readers to write to members of the congressional Naval Affairs Committee in support of awarding the Medal of Honor to Miller. [22] The All-Southern Negro Youth Conference launched a signature campaign on April 17–19. On May 10, the National Negro Congress denounced Knox's recommendation against awarding Miller the Medal of Honor. On May 11, President Roosevelt approved the Navy Cross for Miller. [23]

On May 27, Miller was personally recognized by Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet, aboard the aircraft carrier Enterprise (CV-6) at anchor in Pearl Harbor. [3] [24] Nimitz presented Miller with the Navy Cross, at the time the third-highest Navy award for gallantry during combat, after the Medal of Honor and the Navy Distinguished Service Medal on August 7, 1942, Congress revised the order of precedence, placing the Navy Cross above the Distinguished Service Medal in precedence.

Nimitz said of Miller's commendation, "This marks the first time in this conflict that such high tribute has been made in the Pacific Fleet to a member of his race and I'm sure that the future will see others similarly honored for brave acts." [3] [24]

Watch the video: Japanese news films about attack on Pearl Harbour 1946