Lest We Forget: Pearl Harbor Remembrances

By Bonner, Kit | Sea Classics, December 2007 | Go to article overview

Lest We Forget: Pearl Harbor Remembrances


Bonner, Kit, Sea Classics


As fewer and fewer Americans recall the events of 7 December 1941, it is imperative that tomorrow's generation be reminded of the tragic day that forever changed America's destiny

6 DECEMBER 1941 - THE NAVAL BASE AT PEARL HARBOR, TERRITORY OF HAWAII

The Pacific Fleet battleships were entering the harbor and had already been assigned to their moorings. A few were within rock throwing distance of Ford Island which was centered in the main harbor, and becoming a major Naval air station. These moorings were just off the west and east banks of Ford Island and embedded in the harbor bottom roughly parallel to the island. The east side had become the home of the battleships and known as "Battleship Row," and as a permanent remembrance, these quays are now identified by the names of the ships that were tied up on 7 December 1941.

The battlewagons would enter the harbor and then turn to face the harbor mouth in case they had to make a rapid exit.

Sometimes the ships moored singly, and depending on the number in harbor, they tied up in pairs. Rarely was an aircraft carrier tied up along Battleship Row, and destroyers and cruisers were completely unwelcome in this sacred place for the fleet's main battle force.

By the late afternoon of Saturday 6 December, seven of the nine Pacific Fleet battleships were moored along the Row. There was another battleship in port - the USS Pennsylvania, which was in dry-dock. The Pennsylvania was also the flagship of the fleet and sister ship to the Arizona. The ninth battleship was the USS Colorado which was at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard undergoing an overhaul. Along the Row, the USS California was alone at south end and the USS Nevada was at the north end. Forward of the Nevada was the USS Arizona with a repair ship (USS Vestal [AR-4]) alongside. Moving down toward the California the USS West Virginia was tied up outboard of the USS Maryland, and rounding out the battlewagons were the USS Oklahoma (outboard) and the USS Tennessee. To the people of Hawaii and the rest of the growing fleet and other armed forces being concentrated at Pearl Harbor, the sight of these 600-ft-long, 30,000+ton dark and menacing looking battleships was comforting. The battleships represented absolute power and the capability to defeat the Japanese should they mount a serious surface attack. Unfortunately, the test of air power against armored ships was yet to come. The outcome was predictable to air power enthusiasts - the contemporary battleship would be no match for bombers and torpedo planes.

Yet, it was Saturday 6 December 1941, and the battleship still reigned supreme. Amidst one war warning after another, there were eight of these behemoths in the harbor. The sailors were fatigued, and there seemed to be some confusion as to when the Japanese would attack. It was no longer a matter of if they would attack; it was when, where and how. Most were certain it would be somewhere in the Philippines. But the bars were open, the ocean was warm, and Pearl Harbor was still the paradise advertised by travel agents. There was even a battle of the bands between the battleships slated (the Arizona's band won) as well as a number of other pastimes ashore. Temporarily, the thoughts of war went away as the sparkling lights of the fleet proved that nothing had happened, and maybe nothing would. No one knew that this was to be the last night of peace for 1364 days to come, nor were the most cognizant of the fleet's intelligence officers aware that there were 32 Imperial Japanese Navy warships bearing down on Oahu at 26-kts. Just before midnight on 6 December, the Pearl Harbor Striking Force was within 500-mi of their intended target, and six hours later would be 230-mi north of Oahu. Liberty men began to stream back to their ships late on the night of the 6th, and planned to do very little on the following day, 7 December, Sunday. All over following day, 7 December, bunday. All over Pearl Harbor, men were being delivered in sober and not so sober shape to destroyers, cruisers, battleships and auxiliaries, hi all, there were 96 ships (half the fleet) in the harbor that Saturday, yet the three carriers assigned to the fleet were not in port. …

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