Marines in World War II Commemorative Series
Suddenly Hurled into War
They Caught Us Flat-Footed
They're Kicking the Hell OUt of Pearl Harbor
Lieutenant Colonel Daniel Russel Fox
Major Harold C. Roberts
Tai Sing Loo
Special Subjects
Browning Machine Gune Drill on Board Ship
Antiaircraft Gun Fired to a Range of 14,500 Yards
Pearl Harbor Remembered

INFAMOUS DAY: Marines at Pearl Harbor
by Robert J. Cressman and J. Michael Wenger

They're Kicking the Hell Out of Pearl Harbor (continued)

Meanwhile, Roberts directed Major Benner to have the 3d Battalion's guns operational before the ammunition trucks returned, and to set the fuzes for 1,000 yards, since the guns lacked the necessary height-finding equipment. The makeshift emplacements, however, presented less than ideal firing positions since the barracks and nearby yard buildings restricted the field of fire, and many of the low-flying planes appeared on the horizon only for an instant.

Necessity often being the mother of invention, Roberts devised an impromptu fire control system, stationing a warning section of eight men, equipped with field glasses and led by Lieutenant Swartz, in the center of the parade ground. The spotters were to pass the word to a group of field musics who, using their instruments, were to sound appropriate warnings: one blast meant planes approaching from the north; two blasts, from the east, and so on.

Taking precautions against fires in the temporary wooden barracks, Roberts ordered hoses run out and extinguishers placed in front of them, along with shovels, axes, and buckets of sand (the latter to deal with incendiary bombs); hose reel and chemical carts placed near the center hydrant near the mess hall; and all possible containers filled with water for both fighting fires and drinking. In addition, he ordered cooks and messmen to prepare coffee and fill every other container on hand with water, and organized riflemen in groups of about 16 to sit on the ground with an officer or noncommissioned officer in charge to direct their fire. He also called for runners from all groups in the battalion and established his command post at the parade ground's south corner, and ordered the almost 150 civilians who had showed up looking for ways to help out to report to the machine gun storeroom and fill ammunition belts and clean weapons. Among other actions, he also instructed the battalion sergeant major to be ready to safeguard important papers from the headquarters barracks.

Prior to Roberts' arrival, Lieutenant (j.g.) William R. Franklin (Dental Corps), USN, the dental officer for the 3d Defense Battalion's Headquarters and Service Battery, and the only medical officer present, had organized first aid and stretcher parties in the barracks. As the other doctors arrived, Roberts directed them to set up dressing stations at each battalion headquarters and one at sick bay. Elsewhere, Marines vacated one 100-man temporary barracks, the noncommissioned officer's club and the post exchange, to ready them for casualties. Parties of Marines also reported to the waterfront area to assist in collecting and transporting casualties from the ships in the harbor to the Naval Hospital.

By the time the Marines had gotten their new fire precautions in place, the Japanese second wave attack was in full swing. Although their pilots selected targets exclusively from among the Pacific Fleet warships, the Marines at the barracks in the Navy Yard still were able to take the Japanese planes, most of which seemed to be coming in from the west and southwest, under fire. While Marines were busily setting up the 3-inch guns, several civilian yard workmen grabbed up rifles and "brought their fire to bear upon the enemy," allowing Swartz's men to continue their work.

The Japanese eventually put Major Roberts' ingenious fire control methods — the field musics — to the test. After hearing four hearty blasts from the bandsmen, the .50-calibers began hammering out cones of tracer that caught two low-flying dive bombers as they pulled out of their runs over Pearl, prompting Roberts' fear that the ships would fire at them, too, and hit the barracks. One Val slanted earthward near what appeared to be either the west end of the lower tank farm or the south end of the Naval Hospital reservation, while the other, emitting great quantities of smoke, crashed west-southwest of the parade ground.

Although the Marines' success against their tormentors must have seemed sweet indeed, a skeptical Captain Taxis thought it more likely that the crews of the two Vals bagged by the machine gunners had just run out of luck. Most of the firing, in his opinion, had been quite ineffectual, mostly "directed at enemy planes far beyond range of the weapons and merely fired into the air at no target at all." Gunners on board the fleet's warships were faring little better!

Navy Yard
Oily smoke from the burning Arizona (BB-39) boils up in the background beyond the Navy Yard water towers, one of them, in center, signal-flag bedecked. Note several Marines attempting to deploy a 3-inch antiaircraft gun in the foreground. Naval Historical Center Photo NH 50928

Almost simultaneously with the dive-bombing attacks, horizontal bombing attacks began. Major Roberts noted that the 18 bombers "flew in two Vees of nine planes each in column of Vees and [that] they kept a good formation." At least some of those planes appeared to have bombed the battleship Pennsylvania and the destroyers Cassin and Downes in Dry Dock No. 1. In the confusion, however, Roberts probably saw two divisions of Kates from Zuikaku preparing for their attack runs on Hickam Field. A single division of such planes from Shokaku, meanwhile, attacked the Navy Yard and the Naval Air Station.

Well removed from the barracks, Marines assigned to the Navy Yard's Fire Department rendered invaluable assistance in leading critical fire-fighting efforts. Heading the department, Sergeant Harold F. Abbott supervised the distribution of the various units, and coordinated the flood of volunteers who stepped forward to help.

One of Abbott's men, Private First Class Marion M. Milbrandt, with his 1,000-gallon pumper, summoned to the Naval Hospital grounds, found that one of Kaga's Kates — struck by machine gun fire from the ships moored in the Repair Basin — had crashed near there. The resulting fire, fed by the crashed plane's gasoline, threatened the facility, but Milbrandt and his crew controlled the blaze.

Antiaircraft Gun Fired to a Range of 14,500 Yards

A 5-inch/25-caliber open pedestal mount antiaircraft gun — manned here by sailors on board the heavy cruiser Astoria (CA-34) in early 1942 — was the standard battleship and heavy cruiser antiaircraft weapon at Pearl Harbor. The mount itself weighed more than 20m000 pounds, while the gun fired a 53.8-pound projectile to a maximum range (at 45 degrees elevation) of 14,500 yards. It was a weapon such as this that Sergeants Hailey and Wears, and Private First Class Curran, after the sinking of their ship, Oklahoma (BB-37), helped man on board Maryland (BB-46) on 7 December 1941.

antiaircraft gun

Other Marine firefighters were hard at work alongside Dry Dock No. 1. Pennsylvania had not been the only ship not fully ready for war, since she lay immobile at one end of the drydock. Downes lay in the dock, undergoing various items of work, while Cassin had been having ordnance alterations at the Yard and thus had none of her 5-inch/38s ready for firing. Both destroyers soon came in for some unwanted attention.

As bombs turned the two destroyers into cauldrons of flames and their crews abandoned ship, two sailors from Downes, meanwhile, sprinted over to me Marine Barracks: Gunner's Mate First Class Michael G. Odietus and Gunner's Mate Second Class Curtis P. Schulze. After the order to abandon ship had been given, both had, on their own initiative, gone to the Marine Barracks to assist in the distribution of arms and ammunition. They soon returned, however, each gunner's mate with a Browning Automatic Rifle in hand, to do his part in fighting back.

Utilizing three of the department's pumpers, meanwhile, the first firefighters from the yard, who included Corporal John Gimson, Privates First Class William M. Brashear, William A. Hopper, Peter Kerdikes, Frank W. Feret, Marvin D. Dallman, and Corporal Milbrandt, among them soon arrived and began to play water on the burning ships. At about 0915, four torpedo warheads on board Downes cooked off and exploded, the concussion tearing the hoses from the hands of the men fighting the blaze and sending fragments everywhere, temporarily forcing all hands to retreat to the nearby road and sprawl there. Knocked flat several times by the explosions, the Marines and other firefighters, which included men from Cassin and Downes, and civilian yard workmen, remained on the job.

Explosions continued to wrack the two destroyers, while subsequent partial flooding of the dock caused Cassin to pivot on her forefoot and heel over onto her sister ship. Working under the direction of Lieutenant William R. Spear, a 57-year-old retired naval officer called to he colors, the firemen were understandably concerned that the oil fires burning in proximity to the two destroyers might drift aft in the partially flooded dry dock and breach the caisson, unleashing a wall of water that would carry Pennsylvania (three of whose four propeller shafts had been pulled for overhaul) down upon the burning destroyers. Preparing for that eventuality, Private First Class Don O. Femmer, in charge of the 750-gallon pumper, stood ready should the conflagration spread to the northeast through the dock.

Fortunately, circumstances never required Femmer and his men to defend the caisson from fire, but the young private had more than his share of troubles, when his pumper broke down at what could have been a critical moment. Undaunted, Femmer made temporary repairs and stood his ground at the caisson throughout the raid.

At the opposite end of the dry dock, meanwhile, Private First Class Omar E. Hill fared little better with his 500-gallon pumper. As if the fire fighting labors were not arduous enough, a ruptured circulating water line threatened to shut down his fire engine. Holding a rag on the broken line while his comrades raced away to obtain spare parts, Hill kept his pumper in the battle.

Meanwhile, firefighters on the west side of the dock succeeded in passing three hoses to men on Pennsylvania's forecastle, where they directed blasts of water ahead of the ship and down the starboard side to prevent the burning oil, which resembled a "seething cauldron," from drifting aft. A second 500-gallon engine crew, led by Private First Class Dallman, battled the fires at the southwest end of the drydock, despite the suffocating oily black smoke billowing forth from Cassin and Downes. Eventually, by 1035, the Marines and other volunteers — who included the indomitable Tai Sing Loo — had succeeded in quelling the fires on board Cassin; those on board Downes were put out early that afternoon.

USS Shaw on fire
While firefighters train massive jets of water from dockside at left, Shaw (DD-373) burns in the Floating Drydock YFD 2, after being hit by three bombs. Tug Sotoyomo (YT-9), with which Shaw has been sharing the drydock, is barely visible ahead of the crippled destroyer. Marines led these firefighting efforts on 7 December 1941. National Archives Photo 80-G-32739

More work, however, lay in store for Corporal Milbrandt and his crew. Between 0755 and 0900, three Vals had attacked the destroyer Shaw (DD-373), which shared YFD-2 with the little yard tug Sotoyomo. All three scored hits. Fires ultimately reached Shaw's forward magazines and triggered an explosion that sent tendrils of smoke into the sky and severed the ship's bow. Several other volunteer units were already battling the blaze with hose carts and two 350-gallon pumpers sent in from Honolulu. Milbrandt, aided as well by the Pan American Airways fire boat normally stationed at Pearl City, ultimately succeeded in extinguishing the stricken destroyer's fires.

In the meantime, after having pounded the military installations on Oahu for nearly two hours, between 0940 and 1000 the Japanese planes made their way westward to return to the carrier decks from whence they had arisen. With the respite offered by the enemy's departure (no one knew for sure whether or not they would be back), the Marines at last found time to take stock of their situation. Fortunately, the Marine Barracks lay some distance away from what had interested the Japanese the most: the ships in the harbor proper. Although some "shell fragments literally rained at times" the material loss sustained by the barracks was slight. Moreover, it had been American gunfire from the ships in the harbor, rather than bombs from Japanese planes overhead, that had inflicted the damage; at one point that morning a 3-inch antiaircraft shell crashed through the roof of a storehouse — the only damage sustained by the barracks during the entire attack.

Considering the carnage at the airfields on Oahu, and especially, among the units of the Pacific Fleet, only four men of the 3d Defense Battalion had been wounded: Sergeant Samuel H. Cobb, Jr., of the 3d Defense Battalion's 3-inch Antiaircraft Group, suffered head injuries serious enough to warrant his being transferred to the Naval Hospital for treatment, while Private First Class Jules B. Maioran and Private William J. Whitcomb of the Machine Gun Group and Sergeant Leo Hendricks II, of the Headquarters and Service Battery, suffered less serious injuries. In addition, two men sent with the trucks to find ammunition for the 3-inch batteries suffered injuries when they fell off the vehicles.

USS Pennsylvania, Cassin, Downes, Helena, Arizona
In the aftermath of the attack, Pennsylvania (BB-38) lies astern of the wrecked destroyers Cassin (DD-372) and Downes (DD-375) in Dry Dock No. 1. Light cruiser Helena (CL-50) lies alongside 1010 Dock in right background; pall of smoke is from the still-burning Arizona (BB-39). Marine firefighters distinguished themselves in battling blazes in this area. National Archives Photo 80-G-19943

In their subsequent reports, the defense battalion and barracks officers declined to single out individuals, noting no outstanding individual behavior during the raid — only the steady discharge of duty expected of Marines. To be sure, great confusion existed, especially at first, but the command quickly settled down to work and "showed no more than the normal excitement and no trace of panic or even uneasiness." If anything, the Marines tended to place themselves at risk unnecessarily, as they went about their business coolly and, in many cases, "in utter disregard of their own safety." Major Roberts recommended that the entire 3d Defense Battalion be commended for "their initiative, coolness under fire, and [the] alacrity with which they emplaced their guns."

Commendations, however, were not the order of the day on 7 December. Although the Japanese had left, the Marines expected them to return and finish the job they had begun (many Japanese pilots, including Fuchida, wanted to do just that). If another attack was to come, there was much to do to prepare for it. As the skies cleared of enemy planes, the marines at the barracks secured their establishment and took steps to complete the work already begun on the defenses. At 1030, the 3d Defense Battalion's corporal of the guard moved to the barracks and set the battalion's radio to he Army Information Service frequency, thus enabling them to pass "flash" messages to all groups. The Marines also distributed gas masks to all hands.

The morning and afternoon passed quickly, the men losing track of time. The initial confusion experienced during the opening moments of the raid had by that point given way to at least some semblance of order, as officers and noncoms arrived from leave and began to sort out their commands. At 1105, the 3d Defense Battalion's Battery G deployed to makeshift defense positions as an infantry reserve in some ditches dug for building foundations. All of the messmen, many of whom had taken an active hand in the defense of the barracks against the Japanese attack, returned to the three general mess halls and opened up an around-the-clock service to all comers, including "about 6,000 meals ... to the civilian workmen of the navy yard," a service discontinued only "after the food supply at the regular established eating places could be replenished."

By 1100, at least some of the 3-inch batteries were emplaced and ready to answer any future Japanese raids. At the north end of the parade ground, the 3d Defense Battalion's Battery D stood ready for action at 1135 while another battery, consisting of three guns and an antiaircraft director (the one originally earmarked for Midway) lay at the south end. At 1220, Major Roberts organized his battalion's strength into six task groups. Task group no. 1 was to double the Navy Yard guard force, no. 2 was to provide antiaircraft defense, and no. 3 was to provide machine gun defense. no. 4 was to provide infantry reserve and firefighting crews, no. 5 was to coordinate transportation, and no. 6 was to provide ammunition and equipment, as well as messing and billeting support.

By 1300, meanwhile, all of the fires in Dry Dock No. 1 had been extinguished, permitting the Marine and civilian firefighters to secure their hard-worked equipment. Although the two battered destroyers, Cassin and Downes, appeared to be total losses, those who had battled the blaze could take great satisfaction in knowing that they had not only spared Pennsylvania from serious fire damage but had also played a major role in saving the drydock. As Tai Sing Loo recounted later in his own brand of English: "The Marines of the Fire Dep[artmen]t of the Navy Yard are the Heroes of the Day of Dec. 7, 1941 that save the Cassin and Downes and USS Pennsylvania in Dry Dock No. 1."

Later that afternoon, Battery D's four officers and 68 enlisted men, with four .30-caliber machine guns sent along with them for good measure, moved from the barracks over to Hickam Field to provide the Army installation some measure of antiaircraft protection. Hickam also benefitted from the provision of the 2d Engineer Battalion's service and equipment. After the attack, the battalion's dump truck and two bulldozers lumbered over to he stricken air base to assist in clearing what remained of the bombers that had been parked wingtip to wingtip, and filling bomb craters.

Around 1530, a Marine patrol approached Tai Sing Loo, a familiar figure about the Navy Yard, and asked him to do them a favor. They had had no lunch; some had had no breakfast because of the events of the day. Going to the garage, Loo rode his bright red "putput" over to the 3d Defense Battalion mess hall and related to his old friend Technical Sergeant Joseph A. Newland the tale of the hungry Marines. Newland and his messmen prepared ham and chicken sandwiches and Loo made the rounds of all the posts he could reach.

In the afternoon and early evening hours of 7 December, the men received reports that their drinking water was poisoned, and that various points on Oahu were being bombed and/or invaded. In the absence of any real news, such alarming reports — especially when added to the already nervous state of the defenders — only fueled the fear and paranoia prevalent among all ranks and rates. In addition, most of the men were exhausted after their exertions of the morning and afternoon. Dog-tired, many would remain on duty for 36 hours without relief. Drawn, unshaven faces and puffy eyes were common. Tense, expectant and anxious Marines and sailors at Pearl spent a fitful night on the 7th.

Tai Sing Loo
Photo courtesy of Mrs. Evelyn Lee,
via Paul Stillwell, U.S. Naval Institute

Tai Sing Loo and His Bright Red 'Putput'

Tai Sing Loo, Navy Yard photographer, had scheduled an appointment to take a picture of the Main Gate guards at the Navy Yard on the morning of 7 December 1941. While he ended up not taking pictures of the Marines, he gallantly helped the Marines of the Navy Yard Fire Department put out fires in Dry Dock No. 1 and later delivered food to famished Leathernecks. He is seen here on his famous bright red "putput" that he drove around the yard that day delivering sandwiches and fruit juice.

It is little wonder that mistakes would be made that would have tragic consequences, especially in the stygian darkness of that first blacked-out Hawaiian night following the raid. Still some hours away from Oahu, the carrier Enterprise and her air group had been flying searches and patrols throughout the day, in a so-far fruitless effort to locate the Japanese carrier force. South of Oahu, one of her pilots spotted what he thought was a Japanese ship and Enterprise launched a 31-plane strike at 1652. Nagumo's fleet, however, was homeward bound. While Enterprise recovered the torpedo planes and dive bombers after their fruitless search, she directed the fighters to land at NAS Pearl Harbor.

Machine guns on board the battleship Pennsylvania opened fire on the flight as it came for a landing, through, and soon the entire harbor exploded into a fury of gunfire as cones of tracers converged on the incoming "Wildcats." Three of the F4Fs slanted earthward almost immediately; a fourth crashed a short time later. Two managed to land at Ford Island. The 3d Defense Battalion's journalist later recorded that "six planes with running lights under 4500 feet altitude tried Ford Island landing and were machine gunned." It was a tragic footnote to what had been a terrible day indeed.

The Marines at Pearl Harbor had been surprised by the attack that descended upon them, but they rose to the occasion and fought back in the "best traditions of the naval service." While the enemy had attacked with tenacity and daring, no less so was the response from the Marines on board the battleships and cruisers, at Ewa Mooring Mast Field, and at the Marine Barracks. One can only think that Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto's worst fears of America's "terrible resolve" and that he had awakened a sleeping giant would have been confirmed if he could have peered into the faces, so deeply etched with grim determination, of the Marines who had survived the events of that December day in 1941.

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Commemorative Series produced by the Marine Corps History and Museums Division