The US Coast Guard Cutter Tiger

January 24, 2018

In the early morning hours of December 7, 1941, a quiet Sunday in Hawaii, the United States Coast Guard Cutter Tiger was patrolling the waters just outside the naval base at Pearl Harbor. Expecting nothing but peace and calm throughout the day, the Tiger’s crew went about their business as the sun began to break over the horizon.

The USCGC Tiger—originally designed to assist in stopping alcohol smugglers during Prohibition—was outfitted with a 3-inch deck gun, machine guns, and a pair of depth charge racks. Since her commissioning in 1927, she hadn’t seen a lot of action, but she was prepared should trouble come her way. On that peaceful Sunday, action came for her in the most unexpected and nearly fatal way.

Before the Onslaught, There was Calm

Conning tower of midget submarine sunk by USS Ward (DD-139)

In the hours leading up to 6:45 AM on Sunday, December 7, 1941, the crew of Tiger had no warning that their day would take a turn for the worst. Over the radio, a dispatch from the USS Ward (DD-139), an American destroyer, claimed she had engaged an unidentified submarine and sank it. The transmission was a confusing one, especially considering that for the next 30 minutes there was no explanation as to why a foreign craft was in American waters.

Just over half an hour after Ward’s transmission, Tiger’s crew, at that time just off Barbers Point, saw a ping on the ship’s sonar, a submerged object that was believed to be another foreign submarine. The cutter moved into position and tried to track down the source of the ping, even killing both engines to reduce interference, but the object had been lost.

She then maneuvered back eastward, toward the entrance to Pearl Harbor, hoping to again catch a sign of the foreign craft. Instead, just before 0800, Tiger and her crew came under fire from an unknown source. Machine gun fire splashed the waters surrounding Tiger, sending her crew scrambling to determine where it was coming from. Commanding Officer William J. Mazzoni ordered the crew to general quarters as he watched Japanese aircraft flying southwest, moving away from Pearl Harbor.

Explosion of USS Shaw (DD-373) December 7, 1941

Though the crew scrambled to man anti-aircraft guns and prepare themselves for battle, Mazzoni took into account the distance of the planes and ordered the guns not to be fired, as the Japanese planes were too far away. Instead, Tiger was directed to her wartime station just off the entrance to Honolulu Harbor. For the duration of the two-hour attack, Tiger remained there, her crew forced to watch the attack unfold just out of their reach to provide any defense.

For the remainder of the day and into the following morning, Tiger remained at her patrol, which in the dark of night alarmed jittery Army soldiers. They fired on the cutter before realizing the ship was one of their own. Despite being fired on by Japanese aircraft and American soldiers, Tiger emerged from December 7, 1941 unharmed.

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