Friday, August 13, 2010

The First Shot at Pearl Harbor

Early on the morning of December 7th, 1944, the USS Ward (DD-139), an old four-stacker destroyer left over from WWI, was patrolling outside the entrance of Pearl Harbor. Lookouts spotted a small submarine trying to enter the channel, and the Ward’s commanding officer William Outerbridge ordered the gun crews to open fire. The Ward’s log indicates that at 0652, the ship’s gunfire sank the submarine. Outerbridge then reported the incident to Pacific Fleet headquarters. Unfortunately, the duty officer disregarded that warning (Outerbridge, a naval academy graduate class of 1927, was a rookie skipper, so he was the Cassandra of Pearl Harbor). Its hard to say how differently the Day of Infamy might have gone that day if higher ups had heeded his warning.

For many years, some historians doubted Outerbridge’s story until August 28, 2002, when the wreck submarine was located just five miles off the Hawaiian coast (and seven miles inside American territorial waters). What is truly frightening is that today some Japanese revisionists try to argue that America actually started the Pacific war because the Ward fired the first shot. They ignore the fact that that Japanese midget submarine was 3,000 miles from Tokyo. With such people it is vain to argue. There was one more striking irony about the history of the USS Ward. Outerbridge soon received another command (the USS Obrien, DD-725: the hull number certainly indicates how much the US Navy expanded during WWII). Exactly three years to the day after Pearl Harbor, the USS Ward was hit by a kamikaze pilot off the Philippines. The crew could not bring the resulting fires under control and had to abandon ship. It was Captain Outerbridge’s duty to sink his old ship by gunfire.

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