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Appendix IV: Events at Battery D, 7 December 1941

The following narrative, prepared by Lieutenant Colonel Jean H. Buckner, then in command of Battery D, a 3-inch antiaircraft unit which played a leading role in the action on 7 December 1941, is reprinted in full because of its informative account of the enemy raid on that date, and because it describes in considerable detail the typical sequence of preparations undertaken by Marine units not only at Midway but at many other Pacific advanced bases on the day war came:
On Sunday morning, 7 December 1941, I was at breakfast in the officers' mess with the other officers of the Battalion when Lt. William R. Dorr, officer of the day, came into the mess and told us a message had been received from Pearl Harbor, which stated that the Japanese had attacked Oahu. * * * We all though he was joking and said so, but Lieutenant Dorr stuck to his story and added that he had awakened Lieutenant Colonel Shannon and informed him of the contents of the message.

Shortly afterward Lieutenant Colonel Shannon and Major Archie O'Neil came into the mess, confirmed Dorr's report, and told all battery commanders to alert their men and have them ready to man battle stations within the hour.

My feelings at that time, and that of nearly all the other officers I am sure, was that this was a realistic war game. I believe that Lieutenant Colonel Shannon also doubted that the warning was a report of a real attack.

We notified our men to be ready to march to the batteries in light marching order within an hour and hurriedly finished breakfast. As I recall, Dorr said the message from Pearl Harbor had been received about 0700. The siren sounded for general quarters at about 0900, at which time all batteries * * * were marching to their positions.

On 5 December 1941 (it may have been 6 December 1941), a ship had arrived at Midway bringing SCR-268 fire control radars and a quantity of 3-inch AA ammunition armed with 3-inch Navy common, base-detonating projectiles. The 268-Radars and the ammunition had not been distributed to the AA batteries, so a major portion of the daylight hours of the 7th was taken up with the selection of radar positions, installing the sets, and distributing the new ammunition to each gun.

Technical data on the Navy base-detonating ammunition was not furnished with the shipment. In order to satisfy myself and the gun captains that it would fit the guns, I had a round placed alongside a round of our standard antiaircraft HE ammunition and checked all bearing dimensions. They checked, and a few rounds (probably 10) were placed in each of the four ready-boxes in each gun pit.

A few days prior to the 7th the range section had started a sand fill to provide an adequate O-1 (or battery commander's position) next to the director. This job was about half complete on the morning of the 7th, but by nightfall a small sandbag revetment had been constructed which provided at least some protection.

Another project which was only partially complete was that of burying the gun-data-transmission cables in 6- by 6-inch wooden conduit. The attempt to place the remainder of the cables in these conduits was given up, and the cables hastily buried without protection. This kept the gun crews busy for most of the day.

The work in progress at the battery was interrupted two or three times during the day by false air raid alarms caused by returning PBY patrol planes. I remember one of these alarms occurred while the noon meal of fricasseed chicken was being gulped. It was about this time that the members of the battery reached the conclusion that they were not playing war games, but were involved in the real thing.

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All personnel were at their stations for Condition I as darkness settled down. Condition III was set after evening twilight had failed to produce an attack. During Condition III half the battery were allowed to sleep in the gun- or range-section pits, but the entire battery had to be able to fire within one minute.

I seriously doubt if anyone in the battery was actually asleep at about 2130 when the lookouts reported flashes on the horizon in a slightly south by west direction. After a brief observation, the thought crossed my mind, and stuck there, that Battery A (5-inch seacoast, located on the west side of Sand Island in general line between Battery D and the flashes) thought it had located a target to the west and was firing. I assumed that the flashes we observed close to the beach were caused by Battery A guns, and those we observed at a distance were caused by Battery A projectiles striking the water and exploding. In view of the fact that no real target was visible, I was quite amused by the antics of Battery A and remarked as much to Lieutenant Dorr, the range officer. About this time many of the men, including the battery commander, climbed on top of the parapets to get a better view of what was going on.

After a few minutes the flashes to west ceased. I was still standing on top of the O-1 parapet trying to discover what I still assumed had been Battery A's target, when suddenly several guns flashed relatively close to the island to the west but at great enough range not to be mistaken for Battery A. In addition, my illusions and those of the entire battery were further shattered when something that sounded like a freight train passed immediately over our heads followed by explosions in the vicinity of the powerhouse. The tops of the parapets were deserted without order.

After several more salvos had been fired I could discern what appeared to be the mast-heads of a ship in a position apparently in prolongation of the south coast of Sand Island. The range section also picked up this target, and I asked what the range was, but Lieutenant Dorr replied that there was insufficient light for the range finder to obtain a reading. Sometime previously word had been received by telephone from the AA Group CP (Captain Tingle) to "fire on all enemy targets." A searchlight (No. 8, I think), located on the south coast, struck arc and illuminated a ship steaming at high speed in an easterly direction parallel to the south coast at a range of about 3,000 yards on a bearing southwest from Battery D. Through binoculars a large Japanese flag was plainly visible flying from the foremast.

I gave the order to commence firing. The range being only about 3,000 yards, the gun angle of elevation was very small. As a matter of fact the gun captains told me afterward that the elevation transmitted by the director to me data receivers on the guns was zero. This was probably because there was actually a minus angle of sight from the director to the water line of the target. Gunnery Sergeant M.C. Pulliman was wearing the telephone for transmitting orders to the gun captains and when he heard my order to commence firing, realizing the gun angle of elevation would be low, he passed the word approximately as follows: "You can commence firing, but check your line of fire and be sure you don't hit any part of the battery in front of you."

Guns 3 and 4 (Platoon Sergeant Staid and Sergeant Hurtig) began firing at a very slow rate and continued firing until the illuminating searchlight was shot out of action by the ship. I learned afterward that both Platoon Sergeant Staid and Sergeant Hurtig held the breeches of their guns open after each round in order to sight through their bores to determine that the projectiles would clear the dunes between them and the target. Sergeant Lefert on Gun 2 loaded his gun but upon checking for safety of line of fire discovered that it was pointed directly at the O-1 pit occupied by Gunnery Sergeant Pulliman and me. He informed Pulliman of this fact over the gun control phone and wisely held his fire during the entire action. Platoon Sergeant Peel, gun captain of Gun 1, also made the decision not to fire because his gun would have delivered fire dangerously close to the heads of the men at Gun 3.

The Japanese ship, which I identified as either a light cruiser or destroyer, continued on its course as Gun 3 fired six rounds and Gun 4 fired seven rounds (all Navy common, base-detonating ammunition). Immediately after the battery commenced firing the ship began to make a black, heavy smoke from its stack. Many observers assumed that this smoke was the result of hits in the engine room, but I am convinced it was merely part of the Japanese plan of attack, which probably called for the making of smoke in order to screen a withdrawal if hostile fire was received. About the time the searchlight which had been illuminating from Sand Island went out, the ship executed a sharp 90º turn to starboard, which placed it on a course heading south directly away from the island, and retired behind the smoke screen. I gave the command to cease fire when the searchlight veased illuminating.

The results of Battery D fire appeared to me to be approximately three hits in the superstructure. Other observers claimed the bow gun was hit, but I cannot verify this. I had the feeling that the announced range from the range section was too small and that our fire would be short. I therefore particularly watched for short splashes which would certainly have been visible in the excellent illumination. However, I observed no splashes whatsoever, and therefore it can be assumed, provided the angle of train was correct, that the angle of elevation of the guns and the range were such that the shells passed either over the ship, hit the superstructure,

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or passed directly into the hull before exploding (in which case the flash would not have been visible from the battery).

I was aware of two other events taking place during the firing on the 7th. One was the firing of a machine gun * * * located on the south coast between Battery D and the searchlight position (I thought at the time that it was a .50-caliber AA position but later learned that a .30-caliber heavy Browning had opened up). A solid stream of tracers were observed to arch toward the ship. The effect of this fire I did not observe. The other event, which occurred, I think, immediately after the Sand Island searchlight had gone out, was that a searchlight on Eastern Island struck arc and proceeded to direct its beam directly on Battery D for a few seconds. This made us feel as if we were in a goldfish bowl before the eyes of the world and especially those aboard the Japanese ship. We were all very thankful when the beam was trained out to sea in search of the enemy.

That concluded the events of the 7th. As for a second Japanese ship being present, I do not believe that during the firing I was aware of it. Immediately afterward, however, reports either from other members of the battery or nearby searchlight or machine gun positions, revealed that a second Japanese ship had followed the one I had observed on the same course at a position off its starboard quarter. I remember hoping at the time that some of our "overs" had possibly hit this ship, but could get no confirmation that this had occurred.

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