USS Ward Destroyer at Pearl Harbor

By: Bruce D.

USS Ward (DD-139) is the most talked about destroyer from the Pearl Harbor attack.  Not because the ship is incredibly impressive, but because she fired the first shots of WWII in the Pacific. This was disputed until 2002 when a University of Hawaii submarine found the wreckage of a Japanese submarine at the bottom of the ocean floor. This confirmed not only did USS Ward fire the first shot, but she sunk a submarine as well.

Ward was an old ship in WWII. She was launched and commissioned in 1918 and was decommissioned just a few years later in 1921. In 1941, after the outbreak of WWII in Europe, USS Ward was recommissioned.

On December 7, 1941 at 0358, minesweeper Condor signaled to Ward that an object looking like a submarine was spotted. The skipper of Ward, Lt. William Outerbridge, had taken command of the ward just that weekend. He immediately called general quarters and began “pinging”. The “pinging was useless and Ward could not find the submarine that Condor had seen.

Finally, at about 0630 a submarine was spotted by a PBY plane. It was targeting repair ship, USS Antares, which also spotted the submarine. The Ward spotted it and began bearing down on the sub at 25 knots.  As she reached within 500 yards, she was firing a had a direct hit on the Japanese midget submarine.

The submarine heeled over and began sinking. Four depth charges were dropped from Ward. Visible from both Ward and Antares was the oil from the submarine leaking to the surface.

USS Ward Painting firing on submarine

At 0653 Outerbridge sent a message to shore: “We have attacked, fired upon, and dropped depth charges upon submarine operating in defensive sea area.”  The message was passed on and passed on eventually to reach Admiral kimmel by 0730.

There were many similar reports in the recent past that turned out to be false attacks. The men who passed the message to Kimmel and Kimmel himself, were not sure that this report was any different. The Pearl Harbor attack started at 0755. The Navy was not at full alert after Ward sunk the midget submarine. The Army was never even notified of the attack.

Without proof, the sailors on board the Ward, had many disbelievers when they claimed to have sunk a submarine.  It wasn’t until 2002, 61 years later, when the sunked submarine was discovered. Hawaii Undersea Research Laboratory sent two exploratory subs down 1,200 feet to look at an object that showed up on sonar.

A crew member of the USS Ward, Willett Lehner, helped in the search. It has been called the most significant find since the War.

Ward continued to fight in WWII and was hit by a Kamikaze plane in the Philippines in 1944.  Her crew abandoned ship and that was the end of the USS Ward.

USS Ward in Philippines after Kamikaze hit.

USS Ward afire after she was hit by a “Kamikaze” in Ormoc Bay, Leyte, on 7 December 1944. She sank later in the day.


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