From: NAVY DEPARTMENT COMMUNIQUES 1-300 AND PERTINENT PRESS RELEASES,
DECEMBER 10, 1941 TO MARCH 5, 1943, Office of Public Relations, U.S.
Navy, 1943, pp. 3-8.
DECEMBER 15, 1941
BRIEF REPORT OF CONDUCT OF NAVAL PERSONNEL DURING JAPANESE ATTACK, PEARL HARBOR, T. H., DECEMBER 7, 1941
The Secretary of the Navy, after making a full report to the President
this morning on behalf of the Navy Department, issued the following
statement this afternoon concerning the air attack on the island of Oahu
on Sunday, December 7:
My inspection trip to the island enables me to present the general facts
covering the attack which hitherto have been unavailable.
1. The essential fact is that the Japanese purpose was to knock out the
United States before the war began. This was made apparent by the
deception practiced, by the preparations which had gone on for many
weeks before the attack, and the attacks themselves which were made
simultaneously throughout the Pacific. In this purpose the Japanese
2. The United States services were not on the alert against the surprise
air attack on Hawaii. This fact calls for a formal investigation which
will be initiated immediately by the President. Further action is, of
course, dependent on the facts and recommendations made by this
investigating board. We are all entitled to know it if (a) there was any
error of judgment which contributed to the surprise, (b) if there was
any dereliction of duty prior to the attack.
3. My investigation made clear that after the attack the defense by both
services was conducted skillfully and bravely. The Navy lost:
(a) The battleship Arizona which was destroyed by the explosion
of first, its boiler and then its forward magazine due to a
bomb which was said to have literally passed down through
(b) The old target ship Utah which has not been used as a combatant
ship for many years, and which was in service as a training
ship for antiaircraft gunnery and experimental purposes;
(c) Three destroyers, the Cassin, the Downes, and the Shaw;
(d) Minelayer Oglala. This was a converted merchantman formerly a
passenger ship on the Fall River Line and converted into a mine
layer during the World War.
The Navy sustained damage to other vessels. This damage varied from
ships which have been already repaired, and are ready for sea, or
which have gone to sea, to a few ships which will take from a week to
several months to repair. In the last category is the older battleship
Oklahoma which has capsized but can be righted and repaired. The entire
balance of the Pacific Fleet with its aircraft carriers, its heavy
cruisers, its lights cruisers, its destroyers, and submarines are
uninjured and are all at sea seeking contact with the enemy.
4. The known Japanese materiel losses were 3 submarines and 41 aircraft.
5. Army losses were severe in aircraft and some hangars, but
replacements have arrived or are on their way.
6. The up-to-date figures of Navy killed and wounded are: officers, 91
dead and 20 wounded; enlisted men, 2,638 dead and 636 wounded.
The Secretary of the Navy told in some detail of many individual actions
of outstanding courage.
"In the Navy's gravest hour of peril, the officers and men of the fleet
exhibited magnificent courage and resourcefulness during the treacherous
Japanese assault on Pearl Harbor. The real story of Pearl Harbor is not
one of individual heroism, although there were many such cases. It lies
in the splendid manner in which all hands did their job as long as they
were able, not only under fire but while fighting the flames afterward
and immediately starting salvage work and reorganization.
"Prompt action saved many lives and a vast amount of material. Without
exception, all ships and stations rose to the emergency. Less than 4
minutes after the first alarm, guns of the fleet went into action
against enemy aircraft. Seconds later the first Japanese plane was shot
"To a recruit seaman aboard a battleship probably goes the honor of
striking the first telling blow in the fleet's defense. Even before
'general quarter' sounded, this youngster single-handedly manned a
machine gun and blasted an attacking torpedo plane as it leveled against
"The dying captain of a battleship displayed the outstanding individual
heroism of the day. As he emerged from the conning tower to the bridge,
the better to fight his ship, his stomach was laid completely open by a
shrapnel burst. He fell to the deck. Refusing to be carried to safety,
he continued to direct the action. When the bridge became a blazing
inferno, two officers attempted to remove him. But he ordered them to
abandon him and save themselves. The latter found themselves blocked by
the flames. Only the heroic efforts of a third officer enabled
them to escape. He climbed through the fire to a higher level from which
he passed one line to an adjoining battleship, and another to his
trapped shipmates. By this frail means they made their way to safety.
"Entire ship's companies showed exemplary valor and coordination. Drama
was thus crowded into a few seconds on board an aircraft tender moored
at the naval air station, target of the enemy's fiercest bombing and
strafing. With the ship already on fire from repeated high-altitude
attacks, her antiaircraft batteries downed a plane which crashed in
flames on deck. At this moment her captain observed the shadow of an
enemy two-man submarine approaching within a few yards of the vessel. It
was placed under fire. Hits were scored immediately and the submarine
exposed her conning tower. At that instant a destroyer stood down
channel, passed directly over the submarine, and sank it with depth
charges. Doubtless saved from this craft's torpedoes, the tender then
shot down a second plane, which fell on land nearby.
"Men fought with the cool confidence that comes from complete
indoctrination for battle. In one case, a single bluejacket manned a 5-
inch antiaircraft gun after his 10 battery mates had been shot down by a
strafing attack. He would seize a shell from the fuze-pot, place it in
the tray, dash to the other side of the gun, and ram it home. He would
then take his position on the pointer's seat and fire. After the third
such round, a terrific explosion blew him over the side of the
battleship. He was rescued.
"At the several naval air stations attacked, crews dashed into the
flames enveloping planes set ablaze by incendiaries, stripped off free
machine guns, and with them returned the enemy's fire. In at least one
instance an enemy craft was shot down.
"Two cruiser scouting seaplanes, their speed and maneuverability reduced
by heavy pontoons, destroyed an attacking Japanese pursuit ship of
thrice their speed.
"Simultaneously throughout the navy yard examples of personal heroism
developed. Several workmen of Japanese ancestry deserted their benches
to help the Marine defense battalion man machine-gun nests. Two of them
with hands blistered from hot gun barrels, required emergency treatment.
"Cool as ice, the men who manned the navy yard signal tower from which
flashed orders to the anchored fleet, carried out their assignment under
a hail of machine-gun fire and bombs from the enemy, as well as
shrapnel from their own force's antiaircraft batteries. None left his
dangerous post. First to observe the invaders through their long glasses
from their high vantage point, they sent out the astounding air raid
warning by visual signals. Then they settled into the complex business
of transmitting the scores of orders to the ships that fought back at
the attackers from their berths, or prepared to stand out to sea.
"Men from ships out of action managed at any cost to return to the
battle. There were the survivors of the capsized ship who swam through
blazing oil to clamber aboard other ships and join gun crews. Crews from
another disabled vessel swam into mid-channel where they were hoisted
aboard outward-bound destroyers. Proof that getting back into battle
took precedence over their own lives was the fact that the comparative
safety of the shore lay only a few yards away. Lying in a hospital bed
when the first air raid alarm sounded, one officer leaped up, brushed
aside nurses and ran across the navy yard to his ship. He fought with
such gallantry and zeal, despite his illness, that his captain
recommended him for promotion.
"There was the case of the destroyer tender which lay alongside a dock
undergoing major overhaul, powerless and without armament. Unable to
assume an active defense role, she concerned herself with the vital task
of rescue with her available ship's boats. One Naval Reserve ensign
volunteered as skipper of a motor launch. With four men he proceeded
across Pearl Harbor's reverberating channel through a hail of enemy
machine-gun fire and shrapnel. They saved almost 100 men from 1
battleship—men who had been injured or blown overboard into the oil-
fired waters. The attack on this vessel was at its height as these
rescue operations proceeded. Suddenly the launch's propeller jammed.
Coolly, the ensign directed the work of disengaging the screw as flames
licked around its wooden hull, meantime also supervising the picking up
of more victims from the harbor. His captain cited him for 'initiative,
resourcefulness, devotion to duty and personal bravery displayed'.
"Four motor-torpedo boats had been loaded aboard a fleet tanker for
shipment. Their youthful ensign-captains put their power-driven turret
machine guns into immediate action, accounting for at least one enemy
"To the unsung heroes of the harbor auxiliaries must go much of the
credit for helping stem the onslaught. Even the lowly garbage lighters
shared the grim task. One came alongside a blazing ship which
threatened momentarily to explode. Calmly the yardcraft's commander led
fire-fighting both aboard the warship and on the surface of the harbor.
He kept his tiny vessel beside the larger one for 24 hours.
"Men's will-to-fight was tremendous. One seaman had been confined to his
battleship's brig for misconduct a few days earlier. When an explosion
tore open the door, he dashed straight to his battle station on an
antiaircraft gun. On the submarine base dock a bluejacket, carrying a
heavy machine gun for which there was no mount immediately available,
shot the weapon from his arms, staggering under the concussion of the
"Quick-thinking in the dire emergency probably saved many lives—and
ships. An aviation machinist's mate aboard one ship saw that flames from
the huge vessel threatened a repair ship alongside. He ran through the
blaze and single-handedly slashed the lines holding the two ships
together. Freed, the smaller craft drew clear. Only in the final
moments, when remaining aboard appeared utterly hopeless, would men
leave their ships. Then they went reluctantly. Once ashore, instead of
finding some dry place to recuperate from their terrific pounding, they
pitched emergency quarters as near their vessels as possible. And with
portable guns they continued to fight; later they stood guard at these
same camps as repair operations began on their ships, setting regular
shipboard watches. Like all treacherous attacks, the bombing of Pearl
Harbor by the Japanese caught certain vessels of the fleet under
periodic overhaul. While in this condition of repair, such ships were
not able to utilize their offensive powers to the greatest
effectiveness. These ships, therefore, turned to with a will at many
useful purposes. One ship rescued with its boats, hundreds of survivors
thrown into the water by the force of explosions; meanwhile the surface
of the water was becoming a raging inferno from burning oil. Other ships
sent their repair parties to help the fighting ships keep afloat. Others
sent ammunition parties to maintain the flow of powder and shells to the
guns. Without doubt the whole spectacle was the greatest spontaneous
exhibition of cooperation, determination, and courage that the American
Navy has been called upon to make. The crew of one ship followed it
around on its outside as it capsized, firing their guns until they were
under water. Those same men stood on the dock and cheered as one of the
more fortunate ships cleared the harbor and passed by, en route after
the Japanese. Of all the accounts submitted on that memorable day, the
record shows a con-
tinual demonstration of courage, bravery, and fearlessness of which the
American Nation may well be proud."
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