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USS Ward Fires First Pacific War Shots.

Lookouts on USS Ward (DD 139) noticed a small featherwake at 5 a.m., Dec. 7, 1941, outside the entrance to Pearl Harbor. Moments later, Ward's general quarters alarm sounded, sending her crew from their bunks to battle stations. Many of her crew hailed from St. Paul, Minn.

Ward's Commanding Officer, Lt. William W. Outerbridge, took charge of the ship less than two days before and was sleeping in a make-shift bunk in the chart house. Outerbridge was on the bridge in seconds, pulling a life jacket over his pajamas. He wore a World War I style tin helmet.

The first shots of the Pacific war were fired from Ward's No. 1, four-inch mount at 6:45 a.m. They fell harmlessly beyond the Japanese submarine's small conning tower. As Ward raced past the submarine at 25 knots, her No. 3 gun, atop the galley deck house amidships, fired shots that went through the conning tower.

Four depth charges were previewed by four blasts of the ship's whistle. Black water was seen in the ship's wake after the bombs exploded, proof the submarine was doomed.

Outerbridge sent a terse action radio report that he had, "sighted and fired upon an unidentified submarine in the defensive sea area" to the Commandant, 14th Naval District Headquarters. He distinguished the attack from the many sightings of local patrol forces.

Confirmation delays and reluctance to heed the warning resulted in the message's slow transmission through communication channels.

Meanwhile, Ward echo-ranged for further contacts, found another submarine and dropped more depth charges.

On her way back to the purple and green hills of Oahu, Ward spotted a small Japanese fishing boat; a familiar sight in these waters at the time. The fisherman waved a white flag having probably heard the depth-charge attacks. To be safe, Ward took the boat in tow and later turned it over to the Coast Guard.

Nearing the harbor, Ward's crew heard explosions and gunfire as smoke rolled into the sky over Pearl Harbor. A strafing Japanese Zero ensured doubters that a war was going on.

The Japanese concentrated their attacks on the battleships anchored off Ford Island. More than half of the Army, Navy and Marine Corps airplanes on airfields were destroyed, while all but 29 of 361 Japanese airplanes returned to their carriers.

That day, the death toll was 2,403 American servicemen, with another 1,178 were wounded. And it was just the beginning ...

Busch is a Reservist assigned to NARC, Minneapolis.
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Author:Busch, Frederick C.
Publication:All Hands
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Dec 1, 2000
Words:414
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