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70th Anniversary: Escape From Pearl Harbor

By Michael Olson 
Originally published by MHQ magazine. Published Online: July 17, 2007 
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Panorama of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. (U.S. Navy/National Archives)
Panorama of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. (U.S. Navy/National Archives)

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Of the many accounts to emerge from the "Day of Infamy," December 7, 1941, the story of the first ship to escape Pearl Harbor during the attack is relatively unknown. This is surprising given the fact that it represents one of the few success stories from an otherwise disastrous day for the U.S. Navy. USS Dale, the little destroyer that could, managed to dodge torpedoes, bombs, and machine gun fire to escape the Japanese onslaught nearly unscathed and without a single casualty. Here, in the words of Dale's crew, is a blow-by-blow narrative of action aboard the destroyer on that fateful day:

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Cliff Huntley: USS Dale was only about six years old when we first arrived at Pearl Harbor. At that time Dale and our sister Farragut-class destroyers were the cutting edge of the U.S. Navy's Pacific Fleet. Our job was to get in front of the nation's trouble, and we tin can sailors were mighty proud of that fact. Those of us who had been on Dale for a while walked with a swagger the new guys just couldn't step into right away.

Alvis Harris: Along about mid-November, we got orders to go out west of Pearl a couple of hundred miles with our sister tin can, Aylwin, to pick up the SS Komikura Maru with Japanese Ambassador [Kichisaburo] Nomura aboard, who was on his way to Washington, D.C., for peace talks. We escorted the ambassador into Pearl, where he disembarked from Maru and embarked on a Matson liner for the States and his meeting in Washington.

Herman Gaddis: While the Japanese ambassador was boarding the Matson liner, we took up an antisubmarine patrol off Diamond Head. Our orders were to pick up the Matson liner when she left Pearl and escort her to the States. We were all looking forward to liberty in San Diego. But almost immediately we picked up a submarine on sonar that we could not identify and nobody in the fleet would claim. While we were engaged with that sub the Matson liner left Honolulu with another ship as its escort. We missed our trip back to the States, which made us all very unhappy.

We sat on top of that submarine for about three days, waiting for something to happen. The sub would move here and there a little bit, but mostly it just sat on the bottom just off Diamond Head and did nothing. We didn't know who that sub belonged to, and as we were not at war or anything, there really was nothing we could do. So finally we just backed off and let it go.

When war with Japan became inevitable, the American government sent warnings to all of its military commands and political posts in the Pacific, including those of the Army and Navy in Hawaii. The Americans knew the Japanese were preparing to attack, but had convinced themselves the attack would take place in the Philippines.

Most certainly it would not come at Pearl Harbor. This wishful thinking provided the perfect cover for Vice Adm. Chuichi Nagumo's carrier strike force, which arrived at a point 200 miles north of Pearl Harbor early on the morning of December 7.

At 6 a.m. Nagumo's six carriers began launching the first wave of airplanes. Months of training were about to culminate in an operation that would commit Japan to a war with the industrial might of the United States.

Harold Reichert: Some mornings, the waters of Pearl Harbor would be so still the seaplane pilots could not see where to land, and so we'd have to send out the motor whaleboat to stir up the water a bit. On mornings like that, you could always pick up the smells of fuel oil mixed with tropical flowers, and after a week or two at sea those smells were mighty inviting. My Sunday morning ritual at Pearl was to sit out on the fantail with a cup of coffee and a newspaper and enjoy the early sun and those tropical airs.

There were ninety-six ships in Pearl Harbor that morning and no reason to expect any trouble. After all, the Honolulu Advertiser I was reading told how Japanese Ambassador Nomura was going to meet with Secretary Cordell Hull in Washington that very morning to talk about peace.

Dellman Smith: I was sitting on a forward torpedo tube with a cup of coffee, talking with Humphrey. We saw a big bunch of airplanes coming in over the mountains and got to wondering which carrier they belonged to.

They could not be coming from Saratoga, because she was in dry dock in Bremerton, nor Enterprise, because she was participating in an exercise way down south somewhere. And Lexington had just gone to sea Saturday, so it was doubtful her planes were flying back already. It just didn't make any sense. So we watched as they flew in from the mountains. Then, when they got to about a hundred yards away, Humphrey jumped up and said: "Goddamn! They're Japanese!"

Don Schneider: I had messenger duty that night, which meant I didn't get to sleep until 4 in the morning. I was working as a mess cook, so my bunk space was down in the mess hall, where there were always a lot of guys coming and going. Mess cooks were at the bottom of the ship's totem pole, and sleeping mess cooks were fair game for whoever happened to come through. When someone came by yelling that the Japs were attacking, I yelled back, "Go to hell!" and rolled over for more sleep.

Warren Deppe: We were eating breakfast down in the mess hall. At the time, we had aboard this chief torpedoman we called "Sailor Boy White," who was the ship's practical joker. One of his favorite gags in those days, when everyone's nerves were on edge, was to sneak into a compartment when nobody was looking and yell: "The Japs are coming! The Japs are coming!" And so when Sailor Boy White came running into the galley with a terribly frightened look on his face that morning, nobody paid him any attention, even when he started pleading that he was telling the truth. Then we heard the explosions.

Reichert: Just then a plane flew by at about thirty feet. I could see the pilot plain as day. He wore a leather helmet with straps under his chin and a pair of goggles. I could see the whites of his eyes, and he was totally fixed on the old Utah, which was an old battlewagon the Navy had stripped down and converted to a target ship. She had a big wooden deck on her, so dive-bombers could practice bombing her with sandbags. She looked a lot like an aircraft carrier and was even anchored in the same berth Lexington had vacated the previous day!

I did not realize what the plane was until I finally got focused on the big red rising sun painted on the fuselage. And then I saw the torpedo drop and watched as it ran up on the old Utah. The explosion sent a huge fountain of water shooting way up high into the air. I remember dropping my newspaper and yelling, "We're being attacked!"

Johnny Miller: I had the radio duty and was sitting at my desk reading the Sunday morning funny papers when I heard some unexplained explosions. Just then one of the fellows came by the radio room yelling, "The Japs are attacking!" I ran outside just as a torpedo plane came across our bow and let go his torpedo at the battleship Utah. I even noticed the smile on the pilot's face, he was so close. Heck, I could have hit him with a rock!

J.E. McIntyre: I had just finished breakfast when the GQ [General Quarters] alarm went off. To get to my station in number one fire room, I had to go topside. When I did, a Japanese torpedo bomber flew by so close I could have hit it with a potato—if I had had one. I then went below to the fire room and didn't come up again until the next day.

Jim Sturgill: I was sleeping in when the General Quarters alarm clanged away and sailors began throwing gas masks, helmets, and elbows everywhere. I jumped out of bed, got dressed, and ran topside. When I stuck my head out the hatch, I saw explosions throughout the harbor and burning ships. My stomach fell, and I knew in that instant that we were at war.

Harris: I was down below, brushing my teeth and getting ready to visit a neighbor from back home who was stationed aboard the battleship West Virginia. There was a huge commotion, so I ran outside to see what was going on. The first thing I saw was a Japanese bomber dropping its torpedo, which then ran right up into the old Utah and exploded.

Mike Callahan: I was to have the duty at 12 noon and so went to early Mass. While the service was going on, we heard a tremendous amount of gunfire, and I wondered why they were having exercises like that so early on a Sunday morning. Then someone burst into the church and yelled, "We're being attacked!" I ran outside and knew in a second it was true.

Ernest "Dutch" Smith: I ran up to the OOD [officer on the deck], who was a young ensign, and said, "Sir, the Goddamn Japs are attacking!" He said, "Ah, you're full of baloney!" Then I said, "Well, go back and take a look at Utah, if you don't believe me." He went back and looked at Utah, which had just been hit with a torpedo.

Reichert: My General Quarters station was at gun two, which was up forward. So when that torpedo hit the old Utah, I took off as fast as I could. As I was moving along the length of the ship, I passed the wardroom, where a frightened-looking ensign was standing in the hatchway. "We're being attacked, Sir," I said without slowing down.

Within the first two minutes of the attack, all of the battleships along Battleship Row had taken hits from dive bombers. The torpedo attacks took longer, as many pilots made two or three runs before actually launching their torpedoes. The anchored Pacific Fleet was at a low state of readiness, and few of the ships' machine guns were manned. Nevada, for example, had machine guns manned in her fighting tops, and consequently suffered only one torpedo hit, as compared to the six that hit West Virginia, four on Oklahoma, two on California, and one on Arizona.

As the attacking planes sent torpedo after torpedo slamming into the battleships, Oklahoma rolled over onto its side and sank into the bay. West Virginia also took on a severe list, but counterflooding by daring seaman prevented the ship from rolling over and allowed it to settle onto the bottom on an even keel. California, Maryland, and Tennessee also suffered varying degrees of damage in the first half hour of the raid.

At about 8:10, Arizona was hit by an armor-piercing round dropped by a level bomber. The round penetrated the battleship's deck near turret two and ignited the forward ammunition magazine. The resulting explosion and fire killed 1,177 crewmen. Those serving on ships near the exploding Arizona that day would say, "It rained sailors!"

Reichert: I got to my General Quarters station at gun two before anyone else and even before the GQ klaxon sounded. By then, there were explosions everywhere, and I looked around for what to do next.

Each of our five-inch guns needed a powderman, shellman, pointer, gun captain, and phone talker. Trouble was, most of our crew was ashore, including the older married guys, who were the ones who knew how to do everything. And that was not the least of it either, because we were tied up at Berth X-14 with three other cans. The order was Aylwin, Farragut, Dale, and Monaghan, which meant we were sandwiched tight between two other cans and none of our forward guns could bear without shooting up our sister ships.

Miller: I dashed down to the radio shack and started the ball rolling. We came up on every important frequency I could think of. The harbor frequency was the one on which all the important messages were coming over. The first message I copied was: "Air raid on Pearl Harbor. This is no drill!" Next was a message for all ships to get underway. Then the frequency became almost useless due to the Japs causing interference and sending out messages for all to cease fire.

John Cruce: We had no gunnery officer, no firing pins, no powder, no first-class petty officer to install the firing pins—if we could ever find them—and no orders to fire!

Gaddis: The officer of the deck up on the bridge, Ensign Radell, hadn't been in the Navy more than a year and was shaking like a leaf because he was now the acting captain of a U.S. Navy ship at war. But we also had a thirty-year chief petty officer up there, and he said: "Relax, son. We'll make it out of here just fine!" So they worked things out together and soon put out orders to set material condition "Affirm" and light off all the boilers.

McIntyre: When I got to my GQ station in number one fireroom, the only person there was Lead Fireman Schnabel. I asked, "What are we supposed to do now?" "Get the hell out of here as fast as possible!" Schnabel answered.

"Get out of this fireroom, or get out of Pearl Harbor?" I responded. "Let's light her off, and get her out of Pearl Harbor!" he said. Luckily, we had the ready duty Saturday, and our boilers were still warm. Otherwise, we were cold iron.

But then I said, "We can't fire the boilers because they're full of water!" He told me, "You take care of the fire, and I'll take care of the water." And with that he opened the drain valves and started to drain the warm water straight into the bilges. Usually we lowered the water levels gradually by pumping the water overboard, but that morning time didn't allow for that.

Reichert: I looked up and saw a guy climbing way up to the top of the stacks. I watched him for a moment and realized he was trying to cut loose the stack covers. Whenever the burners weren't lit, the stacks would be covered to keep the rain out. But when the stacks were covered, there was no way to light off the burners because they couldn't get enough air. The bosun mates that had covered the stacks were all ashore when the Japanese attacked. So someone had to climb up there and cut the stack covers free, and all he had was a small pocket knife!

Gaddis: Up on the bridge, things became pretty intense when we found ourselves looking straight down the muzzle of one of Farragut's five-inch guns. Now the Farragut was tied up directly to our port side, and they were shooting wildly at anything that moved. Ensign Radell ran out on the flying bridge yelling, "Point that damn thing the other way!"

"Dutch" Smith: I was the pointer on the forward five-inch gun. But there was no place to point because Farragut was tied up to port, Monaghan was tied up to starboard and the Japanese torpedo bombers were flying real low.

Gaddis: We had this black mess attendant aboard named Dixon who was very popular with the crew. He came running up to the bridge and said, "Our five-inch guns can't fire because they don't have firing pins!" We then realized that all the firing pins were in the gunners mate's locker, and the gunners mate was ashore somewhere. While the rest of us froze with the impossibility of the situation, Dixon ran down to the locker, broke in, grabbed up all the firing pins, and handed them out to the gun crews.

Cruce: I asked for permission from the bridge to open fire, but no one answered. Since there was nobody up there to say "No," we went right ahead and blasted away at the next Jap plane to fly by. Our ammo was really bad, and our shots kept going off way behind the targets. I kept yelling down to the fuse cutter: "Cut the fuses! Cut the fuses!"

A.L. Rorschach, Captain's Log: The presence of ships on either side of Dale prevented the use of all forward guns. The forward twenty-four inch searchlight made it impossible to bring the [gun] director to bear in the direction of the level bombing attacks on the battleships. The five-inch guns operated in local control with very poor results, the shots bursting well behind and short of the targets, a squadron of level bombers flying at about 10,000 feet above the battleships on alternately northerly and southerly courses. 08:15 an enemy dive-bomber attacking USS Raleigh from westward came under severe machine gun fire from all the ships in the nest, nosed down and crashed into the harbor.

Sturgill: Back aft on gun five, we had enough clearance from the other ships in the nest to aim and shoot, but our ammunition was locked up tight, and no one could find a key. So I took a hammer and broke open the locker. The gun captain said, "You're going to be court-martialed for this!" I just shrugged him off and started shooting just as a big torpedo bomber came lumbering by. We blasted him, and he went down in flames.

Harris: In the radio shack we were up on the air raid, harbor, and channel frequencies. Orders and information came in fast and furious like, "All ships get underway immediately" and "DesDiv Two, establish offshore patrol. Enemy submarines sighted inside and outside Pearl Harbor!" I was running messages back and forth to the bridge and got to see a lot of the action. I saw Utah, Raleigh, and Detroit being bombed, torpedoed, and machine-gunned. I saw Raleigh settle down on the bottom and Utah turn upside down. The sky was a mass of exploding AA, with Japanese bombers flying in and out of them.

Miller: The next time I dashed up to the bridge I saw a horrible sight. USS Utah had turned over and was lying with only her bottom showing. I could see the big bomber hangar over on Ford Island alive with flames. USS Arizona was afire and sinking fast. West Virginia was hit with six or seven torpedoes and was afire. USS Nevada was hit by a torpedo and was heading for the beach so she wouldn't get sunk.

McIntyre: While tied up in the nest with the other tin cans, we got all of our steam and power from Monaghan's boilers. So when she cast off, we were cold iron. Under normal conditions, it took us about a hundred and fifty minutes to fire up our boilers. But there was nothing normal about that Sunday morning! After Schnabel flushed the water, I lit off all four boilers and began pumping the crude oil. Since our boilers were still warm, we were able to get up enough steam to get underway in nineteen minutes.

Schneider: When I got up to gun one, things were moving real fast. Someone handed me a fire ax and told me to chop the line to Monaghan, which was tied up to starboard. When I finished chopping, they sent me to the ammunition handling room. Someone was down below in the magazine and they were sending up powder and five-inch rounds as fast as they could. Trouble was, we weren't shooting at anything yet, so the ammunition was piling up and crowding us out of the handling room, and whoever was down there wouldn't stop. I started stacking some of the rounds out on the deck, but someone running by bumped into my stack and sent a couple of the five-inch rounds rolling across the deck and over the side.

Reichert: Monaghan had the ready duty that Sunday morning and so was ready to go first. I was happy to help throw off her lines, because it meant that gun two would finally have a clear field of fire to the east.

Miller: Monaghan backed away from the nest and headed for the channel entrance. A Jap submarine periscope was sticking up out of the water, and USS Curtis was firing into the water with her guns, trying her best to sink the sub. Monaghan let out a blast on her horn to signal she was making a depth-charge attack. She had to have a lot of speed on to clear the area of the explosion or be damaged from her own depth charges, and this caused her to run aground.

"Dutch" Smith: Immediately after Monaghan cast off, it made a high-speed run on a midget Japanese submarine it had spotted and dropped two six-hundred pound depth charges. The explosions lifted the rear end of Monaghan clean out of the water. If I close my eyes, I can still see her screws spinning wildly in the air.

A few moments later we cast off, and as we were backing out I happened to look up through the open turret of the gun and saw two white torpedo streaks coming straight at us just under the surface of the water. Luckily for us, Dale was due to tie up at the tender on Monday, so we were low on everything and only drawing about nine feet of water. Those torpedoes streaked right underneath us and blew up on Ford Island.

Schneider: We figured out later how the miniature Jap submarines managed to sneak past the submarine nets into Pearl Harbor. That Saturday we escorted Lexington out to sea, picked up the old Utah and then followed her back into the harbor. There was quite a bit of room between Utah and Dale going in. Those little subs must have just jumped in line between the two of us and followed the sound of the Utah's screws as she worked her way up into the harbor.

Miller: One torpedo came whizzing by our bow, but missed us by a few feet. Another came from the stern and went under us, hit the beach, exploded and tore the beach up for yards around.

By 8:30, the first wave of attacking Japanese airplanes had spent themselves and were winging their way north to the carriers. A lull settled in over Pearl Harbor as sailors and soldiers prepared for further attacks.

During this lull in the action, Nevada, the one battleship capable of getting up steam, got underway and began moving slowly down the channel toward the harbor entrance and the open sea. The sight of this towering battleship moving along amid the flames and smoke brought hope to those trapped in the flaming hell of Pearl Harbor. But before Nevada could move very far, it was jumped by the second wave of Japanese attackers. Pilots of this wave saw Nevada as a target of opportunity that, if sunk in the channel, could bottle up Pearl Harbor for weeks. In a few frenzied moments, the Japanese pilots dropped five armor-piercing bombs onto the lumbering giant. Nevada then received orders from the harbor control tower to stay clear of the channel, leaving only one possible course of action, to beach the battleship and thereby prevent it from sinking.

Harris: When we got underway, the first ship we passed was Monaghan, which was stuck in the mud after making a high-speed depth-charge run on a Japanese submarine. Eight Jap planes were attacking her, and she was shooting back at them like mad. We could see her screws backing furiously trying to get her off that mud.

Miller: As we passed Monaghan, guys on both ships waved a friendly goodbye.

Harris: Then we passed by the old Utah, which was rolling over and going under. All this time I was just a standing there in the hatchway of the radio shack, a-gawkin' at all this like some old country boy.

Ernest Schnabel: As we left our berth and got underway, the deck force was still engaged in getting ready for combat. One young bosun named Fuller had the job of clearing the deck of all the wooden objects that collected in port. And there was a lot of it, because in port we had all these awnings rigged to keep the tropical sun off the decks. You also had to get rid of all the wooden swabs, buckets, and boxes because if a machine gun bullet from a Japanese plane were to strike any of it, slivers would fly all over the place just like shrapnel.

So Fuller was making his way aft, just tossing stuff like a madman when he came to the wooden ice cream gedunk. He grabbed it and was just starting to push it over the side when one of the guys said, "Hey, wait a minute!"

Back in 1941, ice cream was a mighty precious commodity in the destroyer Navy. Today you can find ice cream and sugar candy on almost any street corner. But back then, we tin can sailors had to get our ice cream off the bigger ships that had the equipment to make it. They almost always figured out ways to make us pay for it, too! So that young bosun struck a nerve when he made moves to toss all the ship's ice cream over the side.

In a matter of seconds, the lock was broken and the ice cream distributed among the crew. Then Fuller kicked the empty wooden gedunk over the side. So what you saw was USS Dale steaming hell bent out into the channel, while the guys back aft were standing by their guns eating ice cream and watching World War II break out all around them.

Reichert: Then we passed by Nevada, which was backing down the other channel. Her crew was pumping water over the side like crazy with portable pumps rigged-up with handy-billys. You could tell she was going to try and beach herself on the mud to keep the channel clear.

"Dutch" Smith: The minute we got around Nevada, all hell broke loose. Before that, we were like spectators at someone else's fight. The Japs didn't pay us much attention, attacking the bigger ships instead. But when we rounded Nevada they came after us with just about everything they had. We were the first ship to head out of Pearl Harbor, and they wanted to sink us in the channel and bottle up the fleet.

Miller: We were in a select position to be the first ship in the channel, and the high-level bombers were waiting for us. If they could sink us they would block up the channel and then have a field day with all the ships trapped in the harbor. The bombs they were using were sixteen-inch armor-piercing battleship rounds with fins welded to them. Being only thirty-four feet wide, the bombs straddled us and sank deep into the mud before they exploded and showered us with mud and rocks.

"Dutch" Smith: There were bombs falling all around. And they were armor-piercing bombs, which buried themselves deep in the mud on the bottom of the channel before blowing up. The explosions sent huge fountains of water and stinking mud up higher than Dale's radio mast. That's when we really opened up with every gun we had.

Eugene Brewer: On the way out, I was stationed aft at the manual steering hatch cover in case we lost steering on the bridge. An enemy plane dropped two bombs at us. One hit to the starboard, and the other fell into the water right next to the boat davit where I was standing. The explosion sent up a huge fountain of stinking mud that fell all over us. But nobody panicked. It was like being in a movie where everyone was calm even though all hell is breaking loose.

Deppe: Our depth charges and torpedoes were locked up in the magazines down below, and our job was to get them all up on deck and ready to use. We had to lift them up to the deck with chainfalls and then get their exploder mechanisms together. The exploders were little tubes about two inches long that contained fulminate of mercury, which was very explosive and could easily blow up in your hands. You had to load that tube of mercury into the torpedoes and depth charges while Dale was steaming full speed up the channel and the Jap planes were dropping bombs on us.

Reichert: We saw a plane flying low and slow out in the sugar cane fields and started blasting away at it. Thinking back, I also remember seeing a few civilian cars on the road that were most likely out for a Sunday morning drive. Our ammo and our aim were so erratic, I'll bet we scared the hell out of those drivers! Probably the safest place to be that morning was in that Jap plane!

McIntyre: We usually steamed out of Pearl Harbor at a very careful five knots. But on December 7 we steamed out at twenty-five knots!

Cruce: The big question on the way out was the sub net. Was it open or closed? The net was a barricade stretched across the harbor entrance to prevent submarines from sneaking into the harbor. It had a little tender that stretched it back and forth. If the net was closed, we were in big trouble because we'd be penned in and a perfect sitting duck for the Jap planes trying so hard to sink us. So everyone aboard was hoping to see it open. And it was!

Miller: When we passed the submarine nets we were making thirty knots. Shrapnel was falling like rain around us as a result of all the anti-aircraft fire. As we passed the first entrance buoy to the channel we sighted a formation of silver bombers flying high in the clouds. Next a bomb struck close to the starboard side and blew mud and salt water all over the ship. Another skipper bomb landed close to the port side, barely missing us. Another passed our stern and still another crossed our bow. They were trying their best to sink us and block the channel. Dale must have been wearing her good luck charm, for nary a thing touched us.

Rorschach, Captain's Log: At 09:07, cleared the entrance buoys and by stopping the port engine and coming hard left rudder, caused a flight of three enemy dive-bombers to overshoot their mark. As they went by on the starboard side close to the water, machine gun fire from Dale struck the leading plane causing it to burst into flame and crash into the water on the outer starboard side of the restricted area. The remaining two planes made a half-hearted attempt to attack again but were driven off by machine gun fire.

Cruce: We darned near took a bomb running out of the channel. We made a hard turn to port, and the bomb landed exactly where we would have been. The explosion threw mud clean up over the bridge and the entire ship. Though it missed us, the concussion did knock out a circuit breaker on our port lube pump. And nobody noticed it was out. This would cause us big trouble a little later.

Schneider: When we got out of the harbor we got orders over the radio to look for the Jap fleet, as nobody knew where it was. We were all afraid the Jap battleships would steam in from over the horizon and finish off what the airplanes had missed. It would have been pretty easy for them to do, as Pearl Harbor was a complete shambles and unable to protect itself. They could have steamed back and forth ten miles offshore and just wiped us clean out with their big guns.

Rorschach, Captain's Log: 09:11, Dale established offshore patrol in sector one. Due to repeated airplane attacks the ship was forced to make frequent changes of course and to run at high speed, thereby rendering the sound gear inoperative. It may be of interest to note that a great number of the bursts on the water were of the nature of exploding five-inch shells rather than bombs. It is believed that either the fuses were not cut on many of our five-inch projectiles, or that they were not operative.

Sturgill: Outside, we passed some Japanese sampans running for Honolulu. They were flying white flags from their masts. And they were white flags, not rags or pieces of clothing! Without thinking, I grabbed a rifle and took aim. But before I could shoot, someone grabbed the rifle away.

Rorschach, Captain's Log: 11:14, USS Worden (Commander Destroyer Squadron One) sortied. Dale formed on Worden as the third ship in column. After investigating the falsely reported presence of the three enemy transports off Barbers Point, formed inner anti-submarine screen on the USS Detroit, Phoenix, St. Louis, and Astoria. Dale was assigned station nine. The Task Force speed was twenty-five knots. At 14:10, the L.P. pinion bearings on the reduction gear of the port engine wiped. An attempt was made to stay with the assigned Task Force, but as the maximum speed attainable with one engine was twenty-two knots, Dale fell steadily behind. The starboard engine began heating excessively, forcing a further reduction of speed to ten knots. Retired to the southward at 16:54. Stopped at 19:30 and lay to attempting repairs.

Reichert: When we lay to, things got real quiet, real fast. There were no other ships. We did not know where the Japs were. We did not know where our task force was. There was just us, stopped dead in the night under complete radio silence.

Sturgill: There were two crews aboard Dale that night. One crew was made up of all of us trying to fix the burned-out pinion bearing. The other crew was made up of those waiting for the bearing to get fixed. I'm glad I was one of the fixers, because the waiters really had it tough that night!

Harris: We were under radio silence all night long, but that didn't keep us from monitoring the traffic. And there was a lot of it to monitor. All night long, we got plain language broadcasts out of Pearl. Some broadcasts said Pearl was being attacked again. Others said the Jap fleet was steaming in for another attack. It was all panic gossip, but since we were under orders not to use our radio, we just had to sit there and listen all night.

Brewer: We were the perfect target for the Japanese subs that seemed to be just about everywhere that day. Why heck, we had been dropping depth charges on them all day long, and now it was night, and we were dead in the water! But maybe even worse than the Japanese subs were our own ships, which were shooting first and asking questions later. Someone got the bright idea to drape our largest American flag over the torpedo tubes so our own forces wouldn't shoot us up. But that sure didn't solve our submarine problem!

Cruce: Dale's decks were crowded with crew that night, because nobody wanted to be caught down below if we were going to be torpedoed. The only sailors down below were those trying to fix the bearing. Everyone else stayed topside and watched for submarines.

"Dutch" Smith: I had been without sleep for thirty hours and was still too afraid to go below. Sometime, way deep in the early hours, I finally just curled up on the deck and fell asleep.

Reichert: It hit me hard that night we were laying to outside Pearl Harbor. We were at war! And I just knew it was going to be a long, long war. Where would it take me? Would I survive? Would I ever get to see home again? And I knew the war was going to be just like that day, December 7, had been. We simply would never know what was going to happen to us next.

Sturgill: We pulled the pinion bearing out, saw that it was scoured pretty badly and took it up to the machine shop. We had a lot of help up there. Too much help! Nobody liked being dead in the water with all those enemy subs out there, so everyone wanted to help fix the bearing.

Gaddis: We caught sight of the task force returning in the pre-dawn light and were very frightened. We had no radar and were under orders to maintain radio silence, so we had no way to signal our position to task force. The chief quartermaster "suggested strongly" to Ensign Radell that we break radio silence and call out our position before the task force blasted us out of the water. Much to the relief of everyone on the bridge, Radell picked up the mike and called us in. We soon formed up on the task force. Boy, was that ever a good feeling after a night of being dead in the water!

Rorschach, Captain's Log: Rendezvoused with Task Force at dawn but as full repairs to the engine were impossible without the assistance of the tender, Dale could not maintain her assigned screening station. Under orders of Commander Destroyers, Battle Force, Dale established offshore patrol in sector one until the entrance of Task Group 8.4.

Reichert: When we went into Pearl that night with the task force it was very dark. We could barely make out the fires still smoldering on Ford Island, but couldn't see much more. We'd move up the channel thirty yards, drop anchor, get our bearings, wait our turn and then move up another thirty yards.

Huntley: The harbor was a mess. The battleship Nevada was partially sunk and grounded, nearly blocking the harbor entrance. As a result, the ships in the task force entering the harbor had to anchor in the neck and wait for orders to proceed. Everyone aboard and ashore was very nervous. Any sudden movement or flashes of light justified a few exploratory rounds of fire from the jittery guards posted all around the harbor.

My job that night was to let the bridge know when the anchor was free of the bottom. The job quickly became a nightmare, because every time I turned on my flashlight to check on the anchor, some nervous guard on the beach would send a few rounds of .50-caliber tracer bullets over our head.

Gaddis: Ensign Radell had been in continual command of Dale from the first moments of the attack, and was plenty glad to see Captain Rorschach come aboard outside of Pearl that Monday afternoon. In appreciation, Captain Rorschach allowed Radell to keep the conn on the way back into Pearl that night with the task force.

I was standing watch up on the flying bridge when Captain Rorschach lit up a cigarette to calm his nerves. There was a lot of incredible maneuvering we had to do in the dark that night, so there was a lot for him to be nervous about. But when his match flared, we took a couple of rounds from one of the guards posted along the harbor. I quickly walked to the other side of the bridge, but the captain followed. He took a deep drag, his cigarette flared, and we took another few rounds. I walked to the other side of the bridge, the captain again followed, and several more rounds again smacked into steel behind us. "What the hell are those guys shooting at?" he exclaimed.

"I think they're shooting at your cigarette, Sir!" I answered. He then flipped the cigarette over the side, which drew a few more rounds, and that was the end of Captain Rorschach's cigarettes for the night.

Schnabel: Dawn brought a scene of unimaginable disaster. Fires smoldered and smoke rose everywhere you looked in the harbor. We tied up to the tender, which went right to work repairing our burned-out bearing. The crew was still very much on edge, and we went to General Quarters many times throughout the day.

Reichert: Looking up Battleship Row that morning, I couldn't see a single mast standing tall and straight. All of them were cocked sideways, which meant our battleships were either sunk or sinking.

"Dutch" Smith: You know, if the big battleships like Nevada had their watertight integrity together, they would have been darn hard to sink. But it was Sunday morning, and all the hatchways were wide open. They just caught us with our pants down. There's one thing the Japanese didn't count on, though. By taking out all the old battleships, they increased the speed of the fleet from twenty-one knots to thirty knots!

Michael Olson interviewed 44 crewmen of USS Dale before writing Autobiography of a Tin Can (Zenith, 2007), from which this article is adapted. He writes for newspapers and magazines from Santa Cruz, California.


This article was written by Michael Olson and originally published in the Summer 2007 issue of MHQ Magazine. For more great articles, subscribe to MHQ magazine today!

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5 Responses to “70th Anniversary: Escape From Pearl Harbor”


  1. 1
    dave mordal says:

    My grandfather was an officer onboard the USS Dale when Pearl Harbor was attacked. His name was Kenneth Rietman. Did his name come up at all during any research? He rarely talked about the war, but I know he was on the Dale as it escaped the harbor

  2. 2
    Jeff hoppe says:

    Fen 27, 2011, I was visiting the USA Arizona, I met a crew member
    Of the USS Dale, he was visiting with his family, does anyone know his name?, please let me know,
    My name is Jeff Hoppe, I can be contacted at jhoppe65@wi.rr.com
    ThNk you

  3. 3
    Kathy DANCY says:

    My father also served on the USS Dale during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, joining the crew in either 1939 or 1940. I do know that he was aboard when the Dale sailed to Panama prior to the war. His name was William Dancy and I was also wondering if his name came up while researching this book. Growing up I rarely heard him speak about Pearl Harbor and being African-American I think he felt that the contributions of Black sailors were largely ignored and an unwritten part of history.

  4. 4
    Kirk Sinn says:

    My wife's father was aboard the USS Dale from 27 Jan 1941 as an Ensign; until 18 April 1943 as a Lt. His name was Richard T. Schaeffer. This information is from a copy of his service record.

    He may have been called by the nickname "Schaef".

    I bought the book about the Dale, but was disappointed not to see his name mentioned at all, anywhere.

    He told one story I can relate, which was when he was in charge of the menu the men hated it, because he was used to a bland New England diet, unspiced boiled potatoes for instance.

    I would like to hear from anyone connected to the USS Dale in regard to Ens/Lt. JG/Lt. Schaeffer and his 2 and a half years aboard. I would like to find out where he was during the Pearl Harbor attack.

    Please see the website dedicated to Richard Schaeffer, which is VBF-85.com and anyone can contact me from that web site.

    Thank you very much

  5. 5
    A. Williams says:

    My grandfather, Herman Wilson Hoke, was a first class Petty Officer on the USS Dale on this day. I would love to know if his name came up in this research at all. Please e-mail me with any information: alexa.j.williams@us.army.mil

    Thank you,
    A. Williams



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