1940

Pearl Harbor Attack

By CDR Benjamin Frana, USN (Ret.) '40

I was assigned to the battleship USS Tennessee.  One of my first jobs was as Junior Officer in the Electrical Division, which has charge of the ship’s generator.  My battle station was in the Division, but due to shortage of officers in the ship, I was also assigned to the station in the Gunnery Department as a spotter in the main mast for the ship’s fourteen-inch caliber guns.  Thus I had a choice of which battle station I should go to when the call came to “Man battle stations.”

I was in my room in the Tennessee at about 7:30 on December 7, 1941.  I had eaten breakfast and was reading a magazine in my room while waiting for the 8:10 boat to take me to mass.  The Tennessee was moored to a pair of dolphins abaft of and behind the West Virginia.  The West Virginia was then moored outboard to the Tennessee.  About 7:55 through the open port hole in my room I heard explosions.  Shortly thereafter the general alarm sounded and a voice was on the radio loudspeaker system.  “General Quarters! Man your battle stations! This is not a drill!”

I had a question.  Which battle station should I go to?  I reasoned that it would take about an hour for the West Virginia to get underway and for the Tennessee to be able to use her fourteenth-inch gun main battery, so I decided to go to the Engineering control room and grabbed my steel helmet.  As I was leaving my room I saw a crew member come running along the passageway yelling “The Japs are here!”

I ran along the passageway and descended the stairs to the Engineering Control Room.  The telephone talker came to the room at the same time, and I put on the telephone headset and directed him to report to the Bridge, since Engineering Control was manned.  The Chief Engineer was not aboard, so I had charge of the Engineering Plant. 

Japanese planes were dropping bombs and launching torpedoes.  Four of the torpedoes were launched against the West Virginia.  Bombs were dropped on her as well as on other ships in the harbor.  The Arizona was so heavily damaged that she sank to the floor of the harbor which was ten feet below her.  She was in an upright position.  The West Virginia shoved Tennessee against the dolphins, making it impossible for her to move ahead or backwards.  “The Nevada is standing out,” came the word from the bridge at about 8:40 a.m.  The Japanese bombers concentrated on her.  She was so badly damaged that the commanding officer was afraid that she would close the channel leading out of the harbor and grounded her near a hay field south of Ford Island. 

Meanwhile, the Oklahoma, which was moored outboard of the Maryland, capsized.  Further south of the California settled on the floor of the harbor. 

At 11:00 a.m. “Secure from General Quarters,” came the word on the Tennesse’s loud speaker.  My visiot topside was a sight to remember.  The West Virginia was damaged with fires still burning.  The same with the Arizona and the capsized Oklahoma.  As I recall the Tennessee lost several crew members.  Their battle stations were at the anti-aircraft guns.  The ship had minor damage. 

As the day wore on conditions returned to normal.  Darkness came about 7:30.  The alarm sounded and the loud speaker came on.  “Man your battle stations,” as gun fire could be heard.  As I raced toward my gunnery station past the active anti-aircraft guns I heard an officer yelling, “Don’t shoot.  Don’t shoot.  They are ours.”  Later it was learned that the carrier USS Enterprise, which was cruising south of Hawaii, had sent some planes to Ford Island and had sent messages to Navy activities in Hawaii.  The reason for the anti-aircraft gunfire was “there is always someone who doesn’t get the word.” 

 

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