There are a lot of familiar images from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941. Here is one of them:
Those who don’t know or haven’t looked closely might not notice that there are two destroyers in front of the battleship. The drydock had been dry when the attack began, but after raging fires began setting off ammunition aboard the destroyers, it was flooded in an attempt to douse the flames. Cassin slipped from her blocks and rolled against Downes.
Both ships were 1500-ton Mahan-class ships and had been commissioned in the mid-30s.
Here’s another image, taken from near where the two men in the first photo are standing at the head of the dock. The men on the Downes surveying the damage give a great sense of scale:
Notice the man in white uniform crawling on the Cassin, just behind the partially submerged #2 turret.
Here’s a shot from the rear of the destroyers:
Here’s an aerial view of the drydock area:
Also notice the undamaged tank farm in the lower left corner of the image. Failing to hit those was a tactical error that had strategic implications. Over the years I’ve come to the opinion that a third attack wave would have been a lot tougher to pull off than often described, and the defenders would have had even better luck than they did against the second wave (in which the Japanese suffered pretty heavy damage and losses), but they doubtlessly would have also caused more damage. Enough to change things much?
Here is a close view of the forward turrets on Downes:
Here is a view of the rear deck of Downes on the 8th:
Here are the ships on January 23rd, a month and a half after the attack:
The weaponry and much of the superstructure has been removed.
Here they are on February 5th. The Cassin has been refloated:
Cassin’s hull was, unsurprisingly, a total loss. But her machinery and weapons were put into a new hull built at Mare Island and the ship with transplanted organs and the same pennant number returned to the fight.
Here’s Cassin back in action:
Though not as badly damaged as Cassin, the machinery from Downes was also put into a new hull at Mare Island and she rejoined the fleet in 1943:
Here’s a story about Wallace R. “Jack” Seiber, a 16-year-old who lied about his age to join the Navy and served aboard the rebuilt Downes.
Here are the action reports for Downes and Cassin for December 7, 1941. Lot of interesting stuff.
Given that the Mahan-class ships were far outclassed by the destroyers built during the war, I’ve always wondered why the effort was spent building the new hulls. Was it to get Pearl Harbor survivors back into the fight for morale reasons, or was there more to it? Mare Island appears to have been out of the destroyer-building business by the start of the war to focus on submarines. Mare Island had built two Mahans, though, so they knew how to put these ships together.
Regardless of the reasons, these two ships suffered badly on that Sunday morning 68 years ago. But they rose again and kept up the fight, both of them seeing the war through.