Mt. Diablo Beacon
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Page 1 - Before the 2010 Ceremony
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After the ceremony Hank Fries gave me a printed copy of the following description of the Pearl Harbor attach, written by Captain Charles Burbage, who was on the Light Cruiser Detroit, along with Hank Fries.
I have retyped it here, so that others can benefit from this description.
Remembering Pearl Harbor
By Captain Charles Lee Burbage
I was officer-of-the-deck of the Light Cruiser Detroit, moored on the west side of Ford Island. When we returned from "picket" duty on Friday, the fifth of December, liberty had commenced. Half of the crew had been allowed to go ashore. While some of the married people were off the ship for the weekend, many of the others would return to the ship at various times throughout the night. On December seventh, I suspect we had approximately two thirds of the Detroit's crew aboard.
Sunday morning, I was standing my watch on the quarterdeck of the ship with four of five of the enlisted men helping me carry out the ship's routing. At 7:58a.m., we noticed a group of dive bombers diving on the aircraft hangers on Ford Island. We were surprised as no drills were scheduled that day, and even more surprised when the things they dropped began to explode.
Right after the first explosion, the signalman standing watch up on the wing of our bridge yelled to me that a signal was flying on the signal tower on Ford Island which said, "AIR RAID! THIS IS NO DRILL!" I had the Boatswain Mate sound the general alarm sending our men to their battle stations.
I headed to the captain's cabin to get the keys to the ship's ammunition magazines. Just as I went by the superstructure where I could see the port side of the ship, I saw a torpedo plane releasing his torpedo. He began strafing us, the bullets making incredible noise as they ripped into the superstructure right above my head. The navigator came running up from his stateroom below, and I told him we were under attack. As the senior officer, he relieved me immediately so I could go to my battle station above the quarterdeck in the superstructure. I remember thinking how stupid it was to be up in the superstructure with a formal white service dress uniform on during the attack, as the Japanese who strafed us certainly could see their "white" targets! However, in a few minutes, I was able to get control of our four three-inch, fifty caliber anti-aircraft guns, and we commenced firing.
The torpedo plane I had seen was flown by a Japanese Lieutenant Commander who was the flight leader of five aircraft. His torpedo, by some miracle, missed us and passed under our stern. It was later recovered intact. The second plane's torpedo hit the Raleigh and she sank immediately with the danger of capsizing. The third and forth aircraft each hit the Utah and she slowly capsized. There are still fifty-eight men entombed in her, a part of Pearl Harbor's national shrine. The fifth aircraft had no target, so this pilot crossed over Ford Island and dropped his torpedo. It passed under the Oglala, a shallow draft mine-layer, hitting the Helena, causing serious damage to her. The explosion blew the bottom plates off the Oglala and she started to sink. They were able to push her away from the Helena, and as they did, she capsized on the dock.
At the same time the five torpedo planes were striking us on the west side of Ford Island, the battleships were hit by the first wave of twelve aircraft, followed by a second wave of nine, a third wave of nine, and some scattered torpedo planes. When this was over, the Nevada had been hit by one torpedo and was taking on water forward. The Arizona took three hits and sank. The Oklahoma, which had all its water-tight hatches open preparing for inspection, took four hits and capsized. The California took two hits and almost capsized before they could counter-flood. She finally sank. In all, forty torpedoes had dropped on our ships.
The dive bombers attacked simultaneously with the torpedo planes. The main concentration of dive bombers was on battleships. However, all of us were subjected to dive bombing attack. The Japanese pilots reported later that anti-aircraft fire was so intense they could not get on their targets. One bomb, hitting just astern of the destroyers moored off our bow, did swamp two boat loads of men trying to get back aboard their ships, causing a lot of casualties.
About ten minutes after the attack began, I noticed a group of high altitude horizontal bombers approaching the battleships from the south-east. I shifted our gun onto them. We noticed they did not drop anything and finally turned back to the East. Commander Fuchida, the leader and attack coordinator, was in the first flight of aircraft. He said that as they approached the drop point, a cloud obscured the target and they decided to go back for another run. They fell behind the second flight and were coming up on their target just as there was a violent explosion. I thought it was an ammunition dump which exploded,. However, the second flight scored a hit on the forward magazine of the Arizona. Over eleven hundred men were forever entombed in her. Fuchida said a fireball went 3500 feed into the air, causing tremendous turbulence up at this altitude of 9000 feet.
The Neosho, a fleet oiler, had just arrived at Pearl Harbor with three million gallons of high octane gasoline aboard. It had tied up at Ford Island in order to pump gasoline into the tanks there. As the attack started, the skipper realized the vulnerability of his ship, as well as its close proximity to other ships. He cast off his lines and backed his ship away from the dock, barely clearing the Oklahoma which had capsized. He backed the ship up to the north part of the harbor during the heaviest part of the attack. The Japanese, who were so intent on sinking the battleships, completely ignored the Neosho. Had they caused her to explode, it is estimated that she could have caused more damage and personnel casualties than the entire Japanese attack.
The first wave assault continued until 8:35a.m. During the first attack, one torpedo plane was shot down off our port side and crashed into the water. A dive bomber was shot down on our starboard side crashing on Ford Island.
Around 8:50a.m., the Curtiss and the Tangier began shooting at a Japanese midget submarine coming down the channel. The destroyer Monaghan, moored in the north part of the harbor, had cast off its lines and was trying to get out of the harbor when the skipper saw the submarine. He increased speed and appeared to be making about fifteen knots when he went by us. He tried to run over the submarine, but side-swiped it as he went by. Then he dropped two depth charges, breaking the submarine in half. The two parts were later recovered along with the bodies of its crewmen.
At 8:55, the second wave of the attack group arrived. Commander Fuchida, circling above, could not see any of the battleships because of the heavy smoke and fire. He ordered the second wave to attack the ships in the (I think a line is missing here) minutes, all of us were subjected to the full concentration of the second wave. There were dive bombers on all of us, as well as some of the fighters. Again, they apparently had trouble getting on the target as no one was hit on our side of Ford Island. The bombs they dropped on us, hit off our port side.
During these attacks, someone hit one of the dive bombers which was trying to bomb the group of destroyers moored off our bow, and caught fire. This Japanese dive bomber was piloted by Lieutenant Suzuki. When he flew by us, he was completely on fire and I expected him to explode. Either he was World War II's first Kamikaze pilot, or else he was lucky, because the aircraft crashed on the Curtiss, setting her on fire. A short time later another dive bomber actually hit the Curtiss with a bomb causing more fires and casualties. Someone shot down another bomber, diving on the Curtiss and I saw it explode over a cane field. A third aircraft was shot down near us, crashing on Ford Island.
About ten minutes into the attack, I saw a group of high altitude bombers approaching us, and we shifted our guns onto them. As the first three aircraft dropped their bombs, we could see them with the naked eye as they left the airplanes. They were coming straight at us with no deflection. I was convinced we were finally going to be hit. These were 800 pound battleship gun shells they had converted to bombs by welding fins onto them. They used long-delayed action fuses to penetrate our ships before exploding. There was no question that we all felt helpless. There was no place to duck into, so all we could do was watch them come. By miracle, these three bombs hit the water on the starboard side of our ship, just missing us. When they exploded, they covered us with mud and water.
The next three bombers dropped their bombs on the Raleigh which had already sunk to the bottom. Two of the bombs hit the water on her starboard quarter, and the third went through her fantail, just missing the aviation gasoline storage tank. Then these bombs exploded, they still did not capsize the Raleigh as the crew had put over a number of extra lines and they held fast.
Shortly after the horizontal bomber attack, we noted a large concentration of aircraft over battleship row again. Black burning oil from the Arizona was encroaching upon the Nevada, which had already been hit by one torpedo from both sides. The Nevada's officers were afraid this oil would get inside the big hole in her bow, possibly setting off one of the forward magazines. She got underway. When she cleared the smoke and fire Commander Fuchida circling above, saw her. He ordered a concentrated attack in the hopes of sinking her in the channel. They hit her with several bombs, causing numerous fires on the deck. The Nevada's officers realized she would probably sink in the channel, and ran her aground opposite the Naval Hospital. In order to keep the channel open, a couple of tugboats pushed her stern out of the channel, as well.
There, over the shipyard, the Japanese spotted the battleship Pennsylvania in drydock, with two destroyers in the same drydock ahead of her. A number of the dive bombers concentrated on the Pennsylvania, doing very little damage with only one bomb hit. However, a bomb fell between the two destroyers, knocking them off their chocks. They both fell over on their sides in the dry dock, creating a real mess.
One lone dive bomber spotted the destroyer Shaw in another dry dock. He got a lucky hit on her forward magazine, setting off a spectacular explosion.
When the second wave of attack was over, undamaged ships got underway and left the harbor. The St. Louis left first. When she was in the outer channel, a submarine fired two torpedoes at her, but they apparently were set at too great a depth as they hit the bottom and exploded. We were next out, clearing the channel at twelve o'clock. Sometime later, the Phoenix got out. A half dozen destroyers also mode it out of the harbor.
The Detroit was the flagship of the rear Admiral Milo F. Draemel, Commander Destroyers Battleforce. He was ordered to take charge of the St. Louis, the Detroit, and a small group of destroyers, and proceed to the north to search for the enemy. We, of course, did not make contact with the Japanese, as they had already retired to the west.
On our way back to Pearl Harbor, a Japanese submarine fired a spread of torpedoes through our formation, but none of the ships were hit.
On Wednesday, December tenth, we again entered Pearl Harbor to the most disheartening sight I have ever seen. Eighteen ships were sunk or capsized. Aircraft on the parking aprons were burned. The hangers were destroyed. Many other ships were in various stages of damage. The surface of the harbor was covered with black oil, debris, and floating bodies.
In the days that followed the attack, all ships, other than the Utah and the Arizona were salvaged. Debris, oil, and bodies were quickly removed. The Detroit left almost immediately with a convoy, carrying the wounded and dependents back to San Francisco.
The navy and Army hospitals and the Hospital Ship Solace cared for the 1178 wounded soldiers, sailors and civilians. We lost 2403 Americans during the onslaught, compared to the Japanese, who lost just twenty-nine aircraft and crew, five midget submarines, and one large submarine. In addition, seventy-six Japanese aircraft, which had retuned to their carriers, were severely damaged by AA fire. Thirty-two of these were pushed over the side as unrepairable.
On our ship, only one man was wounded by a piece of shrapnel. It really was a miracle. The "Old Man up there" was truly on our side that day.
ED: Captain Burbage's first assignment, after graduation, was to the Light Cruiser, Detroit at Pearl Harbor. He was Officer of the deck on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He served aboard the Detroit in the South Pacific and in the Aleutians until March, 1943 when he was ordered to flight training.
Upon receiving his wings, he reported to Fighting Squadron Five, attached to the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Franklin. Capt. Burbage was aboard when she was hit by a kamikaze off Japan, resulting in nine hundred killed and fifteen hundred wounded.
After WWII, he commanded the carrier USS Franklin D. Roosevelt. He is now retired and living in Memphis, Tennessee. (Note: Captain Burbage died on October 15, 2006 - an obituary can be found here.).
All photos by Bill Nale of eLivermore.com