Friday, June 25, 2010

The First Submarines Arrive at Pearl Harbor

Today's date marks the ninety-first anniversary of the arrival of the first submarine division in Pearl Harbor.  Submarine Division Fourteen, consisting of six R-boats numbering R-15 through R-20, arrived in Pearl Harbor on June 25, 1919 and served in Hawaii for the next eleven years.
State of the art for their time, the Navy built R-class boats as the First World War came to an end.  The subs weighed in at about 600 tons, measured at 186 feet in length, and carried a crew of only twenty-nine Sailors.  The R-18 made history at the fledgling base as the first submarine to moor at Pier 1, located at Pearl Harbor’s Quarry Point.  The other five boats anchored at nearby Kuahua Island, along with the division’s tender, the USS Beaver, until more improvements occurred at the piers.  Kuahua functioned as a temporary submarine facility until February of 1920.  The construction of facilities at Quarry Point lacked funding at the time that the new submarines arrived.  As a result, the crews of the R-boats were forced to find shelter in tents provided by the Beaver.  Once described as a “swamp and cactus covered wasteland,” Quarry Point posed a challenge for the submariners to establish a livable environment.  They cleared the land and installed temporary facilities shipped over from  France following America’s withdrawal from Europe at the end of World War I. 
Lieutenant Commander Felix X. Gygax, a man with an unforgettable name and a distinguished career as a pioneer in the submarine business, was the first commanding officer of this small contingent.  He holds the distinction of the first Officer in Charge of the Submarine School in new London, Connecticut.  However, it was his replacement who eventually rose to naval legend. 
On July 17, 1920, the Executive Officer on board the battleship USS South Carolina relieved Commander Gygax as Commander of Submarine Division Fourteen, of the new division tender USS Chicago, and of the Submarine Base.  His name was Commander Chester W. Nimitz.  Despite the economic restraints placed on much of the military’s operations in the years following the war, Nimitz was largely credited with providing the base with its earliest infrastructure using surplus equipment left over from the wartime expansion.  The first permanent structure was built on Pearl Harbor sub base in 1923.  Nimitz left Pearl Harbor in 1922 for the Naval War College, unaware of the historic circumstances that would necessitate his return twenty years later.  
The submarine base at Pearl Harbor experienced many changes through the years.  The base remained inadequately funded until the 1930s drew to a close and the United States slowly awakened to the “gathering storm” in Europe.  Following America’s entry into World War II, hundreds of workers funneled through the base and dozens of temporary structures required wholesale changes to the geography of the base.  Inevitably, it became a vital center of undersea operations in the Pacific.
But what of the old R-boats, the first tenants of Quarry Point?
Surprisingly, all of the subs served through World War II as training vessels and most transferred to the U.K. under the Lend-Lease program.  Eventually, the Navy scrapped them.  
Tragically, the R-19, later redesignated SS-96, sunk when the Canadian vessel HMCS Georgian rammed the submarine on June 21, 1942 in the western Atlantic.  All hands were lost.

Friday, June 18, 2010

A Celebration of Pearl Harbor's History

Yesterday we unveiled nine new wayside exhibits around the naval station at Pearl Harbor.

Wayside exhibits have been referred to as "captions on the landscape".  When you visit a museum you see documents, photographs or objects on display and there will generally be some kind of signage that will describe what you are looking at.  A wayside exhibit accomplishes the same function but on a much larger scale by describing an entire area. 

Each exhibit highlights an area of Pearl Harbor's century long history.  It is hoped that the wayside exhibits will educate and inform the public who visit the base, as well as the civilian and military employees who live and work here.

Features a brief synopsis of Pearl Harbor's history and a description of the area before Western contact. Probably one of the more frequented areas on the base.

In many ways where it all began.  The coaling station was designed to provide ships with the needed coal to continue their transit across the Pacific.  Fully completed in 1918 as ships were beginning to make the transition from coal to oil, the USS Nevada (BB 36) commissioned in 1916 being the first American battleship to be built soley as an oil burning vessel.

Originally the area known as Hospital Point  contained a high powered radion station as well as the naval hospital.  The hospital eventually moved ts operations to Aiea Heights, but the homes once occupied by the commanding officer, surgeons and pharmacists are still here.  Inceidentally this was the site of the unveiling ceremony.

Known as Moku'ume'ume to the native Hawaiians, part of the island was eventually purchased by the War Department in 1917 for the construction of Luke Field.  In 1923 a naval air station was established which functioned until 1962.

For over 100 years, the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard has been servicing vessels for the U.S. Navy earning the motto, "We keep em' fit to fight."

Established between 1914 and 1916, this area has been a welcome respite for officers and their families in times of peace and war.  Hale Alii means "Royal Homes" in Hawaiian.

Originally a "swamp and cactus covered wasteland" these piers have been home to submarines of the pacific Fleet since its construction in the 1920s.

Once an island similar to Ford Island, the area now known as Kuahua Peninsula has seen the transformation from a naval magazine to a supply center.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Golden Ballast of the USS Trout

The picture above documented the USS Trout (SS-202) returning to Pearl Harbor from the Battle of Midway on June 14, 1942.  On board were two Japanese prisoners, Chief Radioman Hatsuichi Yoshida and Fireman 3rd Class Kenichi Ishikawa, survivors of the sunken cruiser Mikuma.  Admiral Nimitz awaited her arrival on the pier.  The USS Trout, a 1475-ton Tambor class submarine built by the Portsmouth Navy Yard, was commissioned in 1940. 

A highlight of her commendable war career occurred on January 12, 1942, when the Trout left Pearl Harbor to deliver 3,500 rounds of ammunition to American forces on Corregidor.  On February 3, she arrived at the besieged island.  Twenty tons of gold bars and silver pesos, evacuated from the Philippines, was loaded on the submarine since neither sandbags nor concrete was available for additional ballast.  Escorted through the mine fields to the open ocean, she left the next day.  On the afternoon of February 10, 1942, she scored two torpedo hits on the Japanese freighter Chuwa Maru.  That evening, she scored another kill on a patrol vessel while avoiding a hit by enemy torpedos.  Finally, on March 3, the Trout finally made her way back to Pearl Harbor.  She transferred her "golden ballast" to a waiting cruiser.

One of 52 American submarines now on eternal patrol, the career of the USS Trout came to an unfortunate end.  According to the Dictionary of American Fighting Ships,
On 8 February, the submarine began her 11th and final war patrol. Trout topped off with fuel at Midway and, on the 16th, headed via a great circle route toward the East China Sea. She was never heard from again.  Japanese records indicate that one of their convoys was attacked by a submarine on 29 February 1944 in the patrol area assigned to Trout.  The submarine badly damaged one large passenger-cargo ship and sank the 7,126-ton transport Sakito Maru.  Possibly one of the convoy's escorts sank the submarine.  On 17 April 1944, Trout was declared presumed lost.  Trout received 11 battle stars for World War II service and the Presidential Unit Citation for her second, third, and fifth patrols.
Pearl Harbor Submarine Base Memorial Park features plaques representing each American submarine lost in World War II. 

This plaque lists the names of the 81 crewmembers who lost their lives aboard the Trout in 1944.

Lt. Commander Albert Clark - Commanding officer of the USS Trout when she went down in 1944.

Chief John Boland from Boston, Massachusetts.  28

FC1 Norbert Brandt from Denver, Iowa.  24

F2 Roy Abbot from Columbus, Ohio.  18

Sunday, June 6, 2010


On the morning of June 6, 1944, a vast armada of Allied ships moved in close to the coast of Normandy and began an artillery barrage on German held coastal positions.  It marked the beginning of the long anticipated invasion of France that would free Europe from Nazi tyranny.
On station that morning off Utah Beach was the battleship USS Nevada.  Her main battery of ten 14” guns lobbed shell after shell on the German shore defenses.  Considering the difficult road she took to get there, what a sight it must have been to see this proud warship providing naval gunfire support on this historic day. 
The Nevada had been one of the eight battleships tied up in Pearl Harbor on the morning of December 7, 1941.  This battleship’s historic dash to the sea to escape the harbor was the “stuff of legends.”  Despite her spirited efforts, the attacking Japanese aircraft laid several bombs into her deck and she was forced to beach off Hospital Point.  Fifty brave crew members lost their lives.  However, this would not mark the end of the Nevada’s career.  In many ways, it was only the beginning. 
It is a great credit to all of the workers of the naval shipyard at Pearl Harbor who salvaged the Nevada, along with five of the other eight battleships that suffered various degrees of damage in the attack.  Only the USS Arizona and the USS Oklahoma were lost forever.
By the summer of 1943, the USS Nevada was back in action and contributing to the war, both in the Pacific and the Atlantic theaters.  Because of the perseverance and grit of those shipyard employees the Nevada and the other crippled battleships at Pearl Harbor found a new lease on life.  Though they quickly lost their place as the centerpiece of naval strategy, their roles in shore bombardment and anti-aircraft support proved vital in the long war.
On this 66th anniversary of D-Day we remember all of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice to free people they didn’t even know.  We also honor the fortitude and ingenuity of the American people who rose up to the challenge of war, against all odds.  
Nothing symbolizes this better than the resurrection of an old and battered battleship crossing an ocean to liberate the world.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Listen to the Gooney

"The realization of a dream come true" is how I would describe my feelings as I stepped off the plane on the Sand Island runway of the Midway Atoll.  The other thing I felt right away was the heat, but at the moment I really didn't care.

As a historian with a great deal of interest in World War II I have always wanted to visit the place where The United States’ fortunes turned in 1942. I was struck by how beautiful the atoll was. I have seen it in pictures but never up close and personal. As we flew the three hours that it took to reach the island from Honolulu, I also stared out at the endless stretch of ocean and couldn’t help but contemplate how amazing it was that this tiny atoll would be a scene of such monumental events. Standing on the airstrip at Sand Island, I thought, “this is where it all went down.”  I tried to imagine the Japanese aircraft flying in and the American planes lifting off to meet them. I squinted my eyes a bit and wondered if I could imagine the smoke rising from the attack and listened for the voices of the Marines and Sailors who fought back.

And then there were the island’s most prominent residents -- the Layson Albatross, more popularly known by the less dignified name Gooney Birds. I had heard that there are a lot of these birds on Midway, but I was not prepared to have to avoid them with almost every step. When asked if I had taken any pictures of the birds I would respond, “How can you take a picture without them? They are everywhere.”

The ceremony commem-orating the Battle of Midway went off without a hitch and I would like to commend the members of the Fish and Wildlife Service, Military Historical Tours and the Pacific Aviation Museum who co-sponsored the event. They all did an outstanding job of not only honoring those who fought the battle, but taking care of their visitors who had come to be a part of this once in a lifetime experience.
I was especially moved to see the veterans from both sides meeting here sixty-eight years later. They all watched the ceremony unfold and later shook hands as they visited the memorial that had been erected at the site years before.
Kaname Harada was a Zero pilot assigned to the Hiryu on June 4, 1942. In an interview later in the day, the 93 year old Harada mentioned how beautiful the atoll looked today. He said it looked the same way those sixty-eight years ago. It’s interesting that he would think of the beauty of the islands as he winged his way into combat. He was a gentle man who seemed more interested in preserving a lasting peace than in relishing in the bygone glories of war. This is often the case with those who have seen first-hand what war can do.

Marine Sgt Crook, stationed on Midway’s Eastern Island that morning and responsible for servicing the obsolete F2 Brewster Buffalos that were mauled by the Japanese Zeros, remembers events in much the same way. “I knew many of those pilots,” he recalled.  “None of them came back.”  “There were 10,000 Japanese out there and they were coming to take Midway. That’s all we knew. We didn’t have anymore airplanes…they were all gone. They told us to dig in and take as many out as you could because they were coming in….it was three or four days before we had any information on the outcome of the battle.”

He went on to say how familiar the islands looked after all these years. “The buildings I remember are all gone but everything else looks the same. The runway is still there but it is grown over…it was all a long time ago.”

As I stood on the North Beach of Sand Island, I looked out to the north west wishing I could somehow see hundreds of miles past the horizon, and almost seventy years in the past to see the great carriers of the Japanese Empire and the U.S. Pacific Fleet sailing toward their epic clash. It was sobering to realize that five of them were still out there resting at the bottom of the sea.

Which brings me back to Midway’s winged residents. They are the one thing that remains constant on this far away outpost. The Layson albatross come and go year after year, completely unaware of the gigantic struggles of man. As I watched them soaring gracefully through the air and sitting perched on every available scrap of real estate in the atoll I felt a sense of awe that events here really do carry on much as they always have. Things are quiet on Midway now, and there is very little left to remind anyone of its historic past, but seeing the birds in flight, soaring seemingly effortlessly on the Pacific breeze, reminded me that because of our victory in the Battle of Midway, we remain free.

You can learn a lot from a Gooney bird.


Today, we mark the 68th anniversary of the Battle of Midway. On June 4, 1942 the Imperial Japanese fleet bore down on the United States from several directions in an effort to draw out the carriers of the U.S. Pacific Fleet. If all went as planned within days, the Japanese would control the Midway Atoll and several islands in the Aleutian chain. These footholds would allow Japanese forces to harass the Hawaiian Islands and provide Japan with a security screen to all but close the North Pacific from American naval traffic.

From where we stood as a nation the situation was grim. Japan had overwhelmed the Allied forces in the Pacific since the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. One after another the British, American, French and Dutch strongholds in the region were overrun and Japan’s forces seemed increasingly unstoppable.

Politically the President had a difficult problem. How to stop the Japanese offensive, while still committing the main focus of American forces in Europe to stop Nazi Germany from defeating England and the Soviet Union. After all, the United States had entered this war as a result of Imperial Japan’s attack on America and the American people wanted to see Japan defeated so how would Roosevelt justify assigning a secondary focus to the Pacific.

Japan hoped to cripple the United States once and for all and force a negotiated peace, allowing for Japan to reinforce their mastery of the Western Pacific unhindered by her Eastern Pacific rival. Admiral Yamamoto’s bold plan would marshal Japan’s naval forces in much the same way as the Pearl Harbor expedition six months prior. Though Japan would invade the Aleutian Islands and Midway, the real hope for Japan would be that the remaining American naval forces would come out to defend the atoll only 1,100 miles from the military facilities in and around Pearl Harbor. If things went as planned then the Japanese carriers would pounce on the precious few carriers of the American Pacific Fleet and effectively end America’s ability to defend the Pacific for the near future.

Admiral Chester Nimitz found himself in a difficult situation, how to meet the Japanese challenge, at the risk of losing the three precious carriers that stood between the Powerful Imperial Japanese Navy and the west Coast of the United States. Fortunately Admiral Nimitz at least had the element of surprise thanks to the brilliant intelligence work conducted by the Combat Intelligence Unit in Pearl Harbor which, following the breaking of the Japanese JN-25 code had ascertained, not only Japan’s planned assault on Midway, but also where and when to expect the attack. If the Admiral was correct he could send his three available carriers the Yorktown, Hornet and Enterprise on a sneak attack of their own and inflict a defeat on Japan. If his gamble failed, then the remainder of America’s offensive capabilities in the Pacific could be lost forever, furthering not only the war in the Pacific but perhaps jeopardizing America’s war effort as a whole.

On the that Summer morning of June 4, 1942 in a span of only about six minutes, three of the four Japanese carriers the Akagi, Kaga and Soryu would be set aflame and would eventually sink. The fourth carrier the Hiryu would launch her aircraft against the Yorktown in two attacks which would lead to the death of that great ship, but the Hiryu’s time would come as well when Dive-Bombers from the Enterprise and Yorktown would send her to the bottom. America had survived and Japan’s fortunes in the Pacific would soon turn.

Thanks to the ingenuity and aggressive “calculated risk” taken by Nimitz and his commanders both at sea and on the ground the United States won arguably its most decisive naval battle in history. The victory has been referred to as the turning point in the Pacific theater but an argument could certainly be made that its consequences were far broader. The destruction of a large portion of Japan’s naval air fleet and the experienced pilots who flew in it set the Japanese navy into a position of defense and America took an offensive stand that they never relinquished. America’s forces could be safely focused on the European theater while the Americans public had reason to believe that Japan’s defeat would be imminent.

Today on Sand Island of the Midway atoll a memorial marks the occasion of this epic battle which refers to June 4, 1942 as, “the day when the American spirit reached unparalleled heights, and in so doing, saved democracy for the Western World.”

Our gratitude remains