Warfare History Network
Where were the carriers?
Key point: These capital ships had to suffice since the American carriers were away.
During the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 the primary target was Battleship Row. These capital ships had to suffice since the American carriers were away. Among the battleships lined up alongside Ford Island was the USS West Virginia, a twenty-year-old warship with a crew of over a thousand. During the battle the ship took seven torpedo hits along the port side along with two bomb strikes around its superstructure. The ship rapidly flooded, settling on the floor of the harbor with her superstructure above water.
In the aftermath of the attack frantic efforts were made to save survivors trapped below decks on the sunken and damaged ships. Hulls were cut open and divers darted beneath the waves in desperate attempts to save them. The minesweeper Tern lay alongside the “Weevee,” as the battleship was nicknamed, playing water over the fires burning aboard her. When the fires were extinguished at 2PM, the Tern moved over to the Arizona. Commander D. H. Clark, the Fleet Maintenance Officer, reported on December 9 the West Virginia was “doubtful,” estimating twelve to eighteen months for repairs if she could be saved at all.
Stripped for Useful Items
Since the ship couldn’t be quickly salvaged, it was stripped for useful items. Guards were posted on the ship starting on December 8 to protect against looting, theft or espionage. Sentry duty aboard the half-sunken wreck of their former home was a sad time for them. During the quiets times some sailors reported hearing tapping noises coming from below decks. They believed the noise came from trapped crew members signaling desperately for help. There were some 70 men missing from the ship’s complement. Their officers told them it was only the sound of wreckage and loose items floating in and around the ship, banging into the hull.
Not As Bad as First Suspected
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