USS Sotoyomo: The Oldest Ship at Pearl Harbor

February 23, 2018

The attack on Pearl Harbor that unfolded on December 7, 1941 left the United States reeling. More than 2,400 lives were lost, and massive damage was inflicted on the ships in the harbor and hundreds of aircraft at bases across Oahu. It was an attack intended to completely cripple the US Pacific Fleet, but American resilience and an incomplete job done by the Japanese ensured that the mighty naval fleet would be able to take part in—and win—the war in the Pacific that would follow.

Explosion of the USS Shaw at Pearl Harbor

USS Shaw exploding at Pearl Harbor

The story of the USS Sotoyomo (YTM-9) embodies that resilience. Along with many other vessels at Pearl Harbor that quiet Sunday morning, the Sotoyomo wasn't expecting any action. In fact, she was laid up in dry dock YFD-2, right beside the destroyer USS Shaw (DD-373). Sotoyomo was scheduled to undergo an overhaul, but those plans were changed drastically when, just after 0800, the Shaw erupted in a burst of fire and smoke.

Before the crew could respond to the events that were unfolding around them, the stricken Shaw began burning uncontrollably. Before long, fires from the destroyer spread to the nearby Sotoyomo. Like much of the rest of the US Pacific Fleet, the harbor tug suffered extensive damage that morning and actually sank before the day was over. Like the battleships l USS Arizona and USS Oklahoma, the Sotoyomo was at first considered a complete loss.

Like the United States itself, however, the little harbor tug was resilient and still had fight left in her. In the days that followed, the Sotoyomo was refloated and was found to be repairable. Before long, like many of the other ships that had been damaged during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the USS Sotoyomo was back in service.

The Oldest Ship in the Fleet

Crew posing on the deck of the USS Sotoyomo in 1930

USS Sotoyomo crew ca. 1930

The early service of the USS Sotoyomo is mostly unrecorded. It’s known that she was launched in August of 1903, although she wasn't commissioned into service for another eight years, on July 1, 1911.

Though much of her service history prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor is unknown, she was known to have served at the Puget Sound Navy Yard during World War I.





The Awards of the USS Sotoyomo

By the end of World War II, which the old vessel miraculously survived, the Sotoyomo had earned multiple honors, but World War II wasn’t the only conflict for which she was recognized.

Before being scuttled off Leyte a year after the Japanese surrendered, the USS Sotoyomo had earned the World War I Victory Medal, the American Defense Service Medal, the Combat Action Ribbon for the Attack on Pearl Harbor, the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, and the World War II Victory Medal. She was also awarded one battle star for her service during World War II.

After a long service that spanned 43 years, the small harbor tug was finally put to rest.

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