STATEMENT OF LIEUTENANT COMMANDER JOHN S. HARPER, U.S. NAVY, DAMAGE CONTROL OFFICER AND FIRST LIEUTENANT, U.S.S. West Virginia

 


 
Subject: Report of Action, Sunday Morning, December 7, 1941.

     

  1. This report is made up from notes made by me about 1230 Sunday, December 7, 1941, following the attack upon the ships in Pearl Harbor, T.H.

     

  2. I had just turned out of my bunk about 0755 when I heard the word passed to go to General Quarters. At the same time I heard guns being fired. Almost immediately I felt the ship shake from a heavy explosion which seemed to be below and forward. I ran forward to my battle station to Central Station, proceeding via the starboard side of the second deck and down through an armored hatch into compartment A-420. During this time, I felt further heavy shocks to the ship, but I do not recall exactly how many. Men were proceeding to their battle stations with a minimum of confusion.

    Upon reaching the third deck in compartment A-420, I noticed water entering the port side through the junction of the port bulkhead and the deck. The ship at this time had a considerable list. I continued down in Central Station and upon reaching there heard Ensign Kelley, the Assistant Navigator, pass the word to set condition Zed. Ensign Kelley has had a battle station in central only a very short time and I consider his presence of mind in taking correct damage control action, although not one of his duties, to be highly commendable.

    The inclinometer at this time shows a list of approximately 15, when reports were being received via the sound powered telephone from repairs II and IV that the third deck was being flooded from the port side. I immediately had the word passed over the loud speaker at the same time via the sound powered telephone to counter-flood all voids on the starboard side. At about this time all power went off the ship so that I do not believe the loud speaker system was operating.

    I received word from repair II and repair IV that they were commencing to counter-flood. For this quick action, Lieutenant Ricketts, Assistant Gunnery Officer and former Assistant Damage Control Officer, was deserving of the highest praise and commendation. On his own initiative and with the consent of the Commanding Officer, he left his station on the bridge and proceeded to the third deck for the purpose of counter-flooding the starboard voids.

    I noted that the pendulum inclinometer was off the scale to such an extent that I estimated a maximum list to port of 28. The list eventually stopped and commenced to decrease so that at the time we were forced to abandon central station it had decreased to about 21.

    Shortly after, or what seemed to be shortly after, as I now realize that time meant practically nothing, repair I reported a serious fire on the quarterdeck. They asked for water on the necessary fire main risers, but at this time communication with repair IV, Repair II, went out temporarily and I told repair I that they would have to send men below to try to communicate with repair II or IV and get them to open the necessary risers. Central never was in communication with repair III.

    At this time, water commenced to pour down the trunk leading to central station and the watertight door to that trunk was closed and dogged. However, the door was closed with one dog in such a position that it could not be tightened and water began to enter central. About this time personnel from Plot and the forward distribution room were entering central station through the starboard communicating door. These men were covered with oil and water but I do not recall any water entering through the door. Certain men banged and hammered on the port door from the trunk leading to central stating that there was water filling the trunk and wanted entrance into central. We asked how much water was in there and they stated that it was getting high. In as much as we still had communication and counter-flooding seemed to be taking effect, I refused to allow my men with me to open this door and directed the men outside to try to get through Plot and around to the starboard side in order to enter through the starboard door which was not yet leaking water. At the same time, I directed repair II to attempt to open the armored hatch above the trunk in order to let these men escape. Repair II reported back that there was about three feet of water above the hatch and they were unable to open it. I believe that these men were lost, as I am quite certain no further personnel entered central through the starboard door.

    Since central station by that time was filling rapidly with water, I directed all personnel except the telephone talker to evacuate via the armored tube leading to the conning tower. This was accomplished, Ensign Kelley being the last of this group to leave. The telephone talker, Rogers, yeoman second class, and I, remained there.

    Communication had been regained with repair II and Repair IV. About this time, Main Control came on the line and reported a number of men trapped in one of the engineering compartments, I do not recall now which one, and requested a repair party to attempt to burn a hole in the deck for the purpose of allowing these men to escape. I passed this work to repair IV and feel now that the correct information was given to repair IV regarding the exact compartment number. An acknowledgment was received for this word, but at this time communication with all but repair I failed, and since the port side of central station then had about six feet of water in it and water was rising rapidly, I decided to abandon central. Repair I was informed that central station was being abandoned. I sent Rogers up the ladder and followed immediately thereafter.

    I wish to take this opportunity of commending the coolness and the attention to duty of Rogers, who conducted all telephone communication without the slightest trace of excitement and in every was in the manner in which he had been taught.

    At no time throughout my stay in central station, was I able to get in touch with the captain by telephone, either conn or the bridge.

    Upon reaching the Flag Bridge, I was informed that the Captain was seriously injured. I saw him and reported to him that the list on the ship had been stopped, that the starboard voids had been counter-flooded and that the ship would remain upright. I then proceeded down to the forecastle and four Lieutenant Commander Beattie who informed me that I was the commanding officer of the ship (neither of us knew that the Executive Officer was on board and in the after part of the ship). There seemed to be a lull at this time and boats were alongside the forecastle for the purpose of evacuating the personnel. I told Beattie to take charge in the evacuation of the wounded, but not to abandon ship because I did not think it was necessary and that I was going aft to inspect the ship.

    I proceeded aft along the starboard superstructure deck and down on the quarterdeck. There appeared to be no fire there and I went below through the after starboard hatch. I found considerable smoke and talked to Williams, MM2c in charge of the repair patrol there. He informed me that the fire was out, but that oil between the Tennessee and the West Virginia was burning and that the port side of the Tennessee was on fire. I directed him to close all air and battle ports on that side and then to bring his party topside. I attempted to go forward again on the starboard side, but found my way blocked by flames approximately at the mainmast. I worked my way then up the port side of the quarterdeck, which was already about 4 feet underwater, and so up to the superstructure deck and to the forecastle.

    I then went below to the starboard side of the main deck and directed that all wounded men be placed in blankets, brought up to the forecastle, and placed in boats on the port side. Several men told me that various personnel were dead. I directed that they be left alone and moved out of the way. At this time, also, men were still being brought up from the second deck, the starboard side not yet being underwater. About this time a second strafing or bombing attack commenced and all exposed personnel were directed to seek cover. Boats left the s hip and lay off in the water some little distance on the beam.

    When this attack seemed to be finished, evacuation of the wounded was then continued and I directed that the Captain be brought down and placed in the boat in spite of the fact that the pharmacist's mate said that it would be dangerous to move him. I determined on this action because I felt that the ship would have to be abandoned in the near future on account of fire. Evacuation of the wounded was continued through another burst of gunfire, but I do not know whether the West Virginia was being attacked or not. I went to the boat deck and saw that the port side was partly on fire and seeing that arrangements had been made to lower the captain the port side directed that lines be shifted to the starboard side which was clear of fire.

    About this time I looked aft along the boat deck port side in the water and saw that the entire water front was covered with oil and that flames were proceeding rapidly up the port side, having already passed the break of the deck. I ordered all hands to abandon ship, but at the same time directed that the boats stay near the ship until the last possible moment. I then went below on the starboard side of the main deck and passed the word All hands abandon ship immediately over the port bow. I am quite certain that at this time, no wounded were left below. I proceeded to the forecastle and shoved off all boats but one at the extreme bow. The fire, by this time, had reached the forecastle and was proceeding forward with great rapidity. I looked around and could see no one left on the forecastle with the exception of one or two officers preparing to dive over the starboard side into the water, and then I got into the boat and ordered it away. At this instant two ensigns appeared and jumped into the boat. The boat then cleared the ship and cleared the flames, by not more than three feet.

    We proceeded to the submarine base and disembarked, sending the wounded and a few shell shocked cases to the hospital. Lieutenant Commander Berthold was with me in the boat and since I began to feel the slight effect of shock, after we arrived on shore I requested that he take charge of the men and use his own judgment in any necessary steps. He directed a collection of all men into a group and then after getting coffee and sandwiches, evacuated the men to the Receiving Barracks. During this period Lieutenant Commander Berthold kept me informed as to what steps he was taking and at each instance I approved of them.

    I desire to invite the attention to the highly commendable conduct on the part of every officer and every enlisted man with whom I talked or had contact with or observed throughout the entire action. Although I have singled out two or three in the foregoing for special commendation, this only means that their action was forcibly brought to my notice and does not mean that equally meritorious initiative and action was not performed by every other officer and man.

    I particularly desire to comment also on the highly commendable work done by Lieutenant W. White during the period of salvage and fire fighting following our return to the ship on Sunday afternoon. lieutenant White was not aboard during the majority of the action, arriving just a few minutes before it was necessary to abandon ship. From his actions in entering burning spaces and directing the fire fighting, I feel sure that his performances of duty under fire would have been equally as commendable as any other. Ensign Lamiman and Ensign Bergner likewise deserve high praise for their direction of salvage and fire fighting following the action.

[signed]
J.S. HARPER.

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