• Mon. Oct 3rd, 2022

NNSY ships played a central role in the defense of Pearl Harbor


DECEMBER 7, 2021 – It wasn’t until a day later that President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared it “a date that will live in infamy.”

This December 7 marks the 80th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that changed the course of world history, plunging the United States into World War II and, by extension, transforming the size, workforce. Workmanship and Capacity of Norfolk Naval Shipyard (NNSY). But in fact, NNSY played a central role in our national defense from the first moments of the attack, having built many ships stationed at Pearl.

The Norfolk Navy Yard, as NNSY was then known, built the first three of the eight Bagley-class destroyers which were all present during the attack. The lead ship USS Bagley (DD-386), forced into wartime action less than five years after commissioning, was fortunate to have on board a particularly intrepid and quick-witted sailor. . As he left the mess bridges, radioman Robert Coles saw Japanese planes attacking the precious concentration of army planes on adjacent Hickam land. Holding the .50 caliber machine gun at the front of the harbor, Coles was credited with shooting down two Japanese bombers before being relieved, all despite no previous training on the gun.

During the two phases of the attack, Bagley reportedly shot down up to six planes. With Bagley in the thick of the action, another NNSY-built destroyer, the USS Blue (DD-387) was able to escape to safety. During this time, the USS Helm (DD-388) was the only ship already underway during the attack, and therefore took the defensive helm as it sailed towards the head of the harbor. The destroyer shot down a plane before engaging a small Japanese submarine minutes later. Helm endured the fire and narrowly avoided direct hits of two 100 lbs. bombs that still caused structural damage and flooded compartments. The destroyer managed to be repaired and started only a week later, earning 11 Battle Stars during the war.

The NNSY-built USS Tucker (DD-347), commissioned in July 1936, was undergoing overhaul during the attack, but that did not prevent the Mahan-class destroyer from retaliating. The ship was already firing its .50 caliber machine guns by the time the ship’s headquarters alarm sounded. According to Tucker’s captain in his report of the attack, “it is believed from numerous reports and comments by the personnel of this ship and others that [Tucker] fired the first shot fired by US forces at Pearl Harbor. The commander added that Tucker shot down “three or four enemy planes”.

Another Mahan-class destroyer built by NNSY, the USS Downes (DD-375) testified to the indomitable American spirit after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Bombed in drydock and ravaged by fires fueled by a ruptured fuel tank, the ship was destroyed and decommissioned on June 20, 1942. However, machinery and equipment were recovered to form the base of the new Downes built in Mare Island shipyard, which retained both the name and the hull number. The returned ship’s first mission was to escort convoys to Pearl Harbor in March 1944, before blockading Japanese strongholds, bombing enemy islands and bringing back Iwo Jima’s military.

Of the eight battleships making up the Battleship Row at Pearl Harbor, NNSY had completely modernized the USS Arizona (BB-39) from 1929 to 1931. The modernization of the ship was so thorough and important that it even attracted President Herbert Hoover for a tour of the shipyard. Tragically, just minutes after the attack began, an 1,800 pound bomb penetrated the deck of the battleship and landed in its forward munitions store, setting off a massive explosion and sinking the ship with more than 1,000 crew members. crew trapped inside.

Arizona was one of two battleships, along with the USS Oklahoma (BB-37), and among nearly 20 U.S. Navy ships destroyed in the assault that claimed the lives of more than 2,400 Americans. . While the sunk ship remained in place to become the famous USS Arizona Memorial, three 14-inch guns were recovered from the wreckage that NNSY installed on the USS Nevada (BB-36) during the modernization. of this battleship in 1942.

The memory of Pearl Harbor continued to resonate in the work of NNSY during World War II. As the ninth yard-built escort destroyer, the USS Barber (DE-161), commissioned in the fall of 1943, was named in honor of the three Barber brothers who died at their battle posts when Oklahoma sank at Pearl Harbor. The ship was sponsored by their mother, Mrs. Peter Barber.

While Roosevelt was precise in his assessment of a “date that will live in infamy” 80 years ago, he made another prescient statement towards the end of his Day of Infamy speech. He said: “No matter how long it takes us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people, in their just might, will achieve absolute victory.”

Thanks in part to the efforts of the people of NNSY throughout the war in building, maintaining and modernizing ships, Roosevelt was once again right.

Michael D Brayshaw story
Norfolk Shipyard