The First Shot: USS Ward at Pearl Harbor

LT William Outerbridge was new to command. The Lieutenant and veteran of 14 years of service had taken command of the elderly destroyer USS Ward (DD 139) less than 24 hours before she began her weekend Anti-Submarine patrol of the entrance to Pearl Harbor. In the inter-war years promotion was slow and opportunities for advancement slim. Outerbridge had been commissioned following graduation from the Naval Academy in 1927. He was the only Regular Navy Officer on the ship.

The Ward was old but had very few miles on her. A Wickes class destroyer of 1250 tons and armed with four 4” 50 caliber and two 3” guns she was launched and commissioned in 1918 and was decommissioned and placed in reserve in 1921. Recommissioned in January 1941 she was assigned to Destroyer Division 80 at Pearl Harbor. This squadron of elderly ships  consisting of Ward along with USS Schley, USS Chew and the even older USS Allen was assigned to the Inshore Patrol Command.

As tensions between the United States and Japan increased the War Department and Department of the Navy issued a “War Warning” and Admiral Husband Kimmel, Commander in Chief Pacific Fleet ordered a “shoot on sight” against any ship or submarine operating in the security zone outside Pearl Harbor which effectively put the ships of DesDiv 80 on a war footing.

Outerbridge had taken command on Friday December 5th and taken the ship to sea 6th at 0628. He had no idea that in just over 24 hours the guns of his ship would be the first American warship to fire at an enemy combatant in the Pacific during the war.

As the Ward patrolled the area just a couple of miles off of the entrance to Pearl Harbor the minesweeper USS Condor (AMc-14) spotted a white wake near her at 0342.  The Officer of the Deck and Captain determined that it was the periscope of a submarine.  They signaled the Ward which was patrolling nearby: “Sighted submerged submarine on westerly course, speed nine knots” at 0348.

Outerbridge ordered the Ward to general quarters. After a futile search Outerbridge secured from General Quarters at 0443.  At 0458 Pearl Harbor’s anti-torpedo net gate was opened to allow passage of Condor and a number of other small ships including the Stores Ship USS Antares (AKS 14). Antares was towing a target back to base when at about 0635 a lookout on Ward noticed a wake following the auxiliary between her and her the raft.

Outerbridge returned to the bridge and sounded general quarters at 0640.  Outerbridge increased Ward’s speed to 25 knots and commended firing on the sub at 0645.  Ward’s number three gun scored a hit at the base of the sub’s conning tower and Ward charged the sub.  Coming close alongside the Ward dropped depth charges which sank the sub.

Outerbridge notified harbor control at 0651 sending the message “Depth bombed sub operating in defensive sea area.” Some of his own officers thought that it was possible that Ward had attacked an American submarine but Outerbridge was confident that the sub was hostile. To emphasize that this was different from false alarms that headquarters was accustomed sent another message at 0653 “Attacked, fired upon, depth bombed, and sunk submarine operating in defensive sea area.”  It was just over an hour before the first Japanese planes would begin their bombing runs.

Delays in seeking more conformation and reluctance to believe the report resulted in the message not being rapidly transmitted up the chain of command. It was a symptom of a parochial and divided command structure which did not respond quickly to the needs of war.

The rest is history. Within two hours the Battle line of the Pacific Fleet was sunk or crippled, all told 18 ships were sunk or damaged.  2402 Sailors, Marines and Soldiers were killed and another 1247 wounded.

USS Ward APD-16 burning after being hit by Kamikaze

Ward war was not over. She was converted to a Fast Transport and redesigned APD-16 in 1943. She participated in actions in the Solomons, New Guinea and the Philippines.

On December 7th 1944 while conducting operations at Ormoc Bay the veteran ship was hit by a Japanese “Betty” Twin engined bomber. The large aircraft acting as a Kamikaze crashed into Ward  and started fires and flooding that could not be controlled. One of the ships that came toWard’s assistance was the USS O’Brien (DD 725) commanded by LCDR William Outerbridge. The same officer who had commanded Ward at Pearl Harbor. Three years to the day after sinking the Japanese submarine LCDR Outerbridge was ordered to sink his former ship after rescuing her crew.

Outerbridge retired as a Rear Admiral in 1957 and died in 1986.  Like others of his generation he served in war and peace.  As we remember the attack on Pearl Harbor let us not forget him as well as the fine crew of the USS Ward.  These men were alert that quiet Sunday morning 70 years ago and took action. They sunk a Japanese midget submarine intent on entering Pearl Harbor and reported their actions.  One wonders what might have happened if Outerbridge’s reports had been acted on, interceptors scrambled and anti-aircraft defenses on ships and ashore been ready when the Japanese attackers swept in to attack Pearl Harbor.  Of course we will never know.


Padre Steve+


Filed under History, Military, Navy Ships, world war two in the pacific

25 responses to “The First Shot: USS Ward at Pearl Harbor

  1. John Erickson

    Thanks for the great story of the USS Ward. With all the naval destruction wrought on Battleship Row, the tales of other ships at Pearl are often lost in the mists of history.
    Part of the reason I try to be an advocate for the “forgotten” USS Utah, also sunk like the USS Arizona but not remembered in the same light due to her status as a gunnery training ship. As the attack drifts from memory to book story, we need to remember these forgotten heroes and victims.

    • William Warren

      I agree: the UTAH is a tale of some weirdness! The Japanese expected aircraft carriers! No aircraft carriers, confusion, what ship doesn’t have guns and has flat concrete decks …? AHA!! Must be the carrier, and Utah was obliterated (arguably taking a lot of disappointed “target of opportunity” weapons that *might* have been used on the drydock facilities, the fuel depot, etc …) When I lived in Hawaii (1963-65+/-) we took the (then-boat-only) tour of the Arizona Memorial and Ford Island, which included the turned-turtle Utah on its itinerary. Still mostly intact fifty years ago, it resembled a beached whale: a bloated underbelly, few if any signs of battle. I wonder what it really looks like now. I’d also love to see the Mo docked next to AZ, but got to visit the Mo nearby at Bremerton on a separate occasion, so it’s cool.

      Those swords we don’t beat into ploughshares should, properly, be preserved as tributes to past bad ideas never to be repeated. Before I revisit Pearl Harbor, I want to visit Hiroshima. \\//_

      PS: Thanks for that bit about Outerbridge having to sink his own historic vessel!! Awesome, I learned something new (to me) today! War is always hell, but sometimes it’s also very ironic.

      PPS: I’ve also apparently misattributed a quote from the “Ward” and apologize to historians, fans, friends and critics: “SAW SUB, SANK SAME” was apparently not Outerbridge’s report, first or second version. I stand corrected and thank you, please don’t quote me or cite me as a source on this topic.

      • William Warren

        wow, I *could* do that today, fly nonstop from SeaTac to Hiroshima, and on a 787 or 777 (tough choice: I accidentally helped design a small part of the 777 in my early Boeing days and haven’t flown on one yet) … been aboard many Trips in the course of Uncle Boeing assignments … and THINK I’ve seen one 787 in the air (Boeing livery, test aircraft over Ellensburg doing crosswinds at Moses Lake) very recently … awesome because I just caught it out of the corner of my eye, low enough I could recognize the livery … BUT I NEVER HEARD THE AIRPLANE, even knowing where to listen, it was amazingly quiet!!!
        If it ain’t Beech or Boeing, I ain’t a’going.

  2. Hi Padre Steve –
    I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog today – many fasciniating topics. I stumbled upon it while researching the USS Raleigh/Omaha Class cruisers, which you’ve referenced in several blog entries. I was really intrigued when I discovered this entry, because I have a blog entry with nearly the same title, although it follows a somewhat different path than yours – my blog (in it’s infancy) is about the ship that my dad was on during WW II – the USS Tryon, an evacuation transport. The executive officer on the Tryon during it’s first two years or so in the Pacific was Hartwell T. Doughty, who had been the exec on the Ward at the time of “the first shot.” My post is more of a look at his career. Check out the post if you’re interested:
    My interest in the Raleigh is due to the fact that after her near-sinking at Pearl Harbor and her subsequent overhaul in San Francisco, the Raleigh served as escort to the Tryon on the Tryon’s first trip to the South Pacific in October, 1942.

  3. My grandfather, Richard E. Farwell, was First Officer on the USS Ward on 7 December 1941 and Captain on 7 December 1944. I really appreciate your history of the Ward here; several of the photos you posted are familiar from my childhood as my grandfather had them hanging on his family room walls. I remember my grandfather attending Outerbridge’s funeral, too. Thanks for a wonderful post!!

    • padresteve

      So wonderful to hear about men like your Grandfather. I am glad that this small article brought back the memories of him and Commander Outerbridge. Blessings!

  4. Nancy Kirby

    Just heard this morning after my cousin Jim Morgan returned from Hawaii, (he is the son of David J. Morgan, US Navy, and was living with his parents on Pearl Harbor on that fateful day). There is a movement afloat to have the gun from the USS Ward moved from its dedicated spot at the State Capitol in MN to a memorial in Hawaii. My Dad was also a member of the First Shot Naval Vets in MN and attended the dedication of the gun in 1958 as well as all the Dec 7th get-togethers of the group. I think it is a great dis-
    service to all those guys and their families to even think of relocating that gun. Would love to hear comments about the proposal from other family members. Nancy 11/25/12

  5. padresteve

    Reblogged this on Padresteve's World…Musings of a Passionate Moderate and commented:

    Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
    Another older post about Pearl Harbor. his one about the USS Ward and her crew. Sometimes war comes at a people unexpectedly and sometimes a relatively Junior Officer figures things out before more senior commanders. Had the word been passed and ships in Pearl Harbor gone to General Quarters and interceptor aircraft been launched the Japanese assault might have taken a different turn.
    Padre Steve+

  6. Thanks for reposting this fine history of the USS Ward and Captain Outerbridge. As my post above mentions, my grandfather was Richard Edward Farwell, First Officer on 7 December 1941 and Captain on 7 December 1944 when the USS Ward was kamikazi’ed and then sunk by Outerbridge’s orders. Today we’re also celebrating my youngest son’s birthday; Benjamin Edward was named for my grandfather and happened to be born on 7 December 1999.

    • padresteve

      What a heritage and what a day to celebrate your son’s birthday. Thanks for your comments and blessings!
      Padre Steve+

  7. Ron

    Actually, in hindsite it probably worked out for the best. Had the Navy took heed, they would have had 5-10,000 extra sailors on those battlewagons W/O any better access to guns or getting the ships boilers online. But they would have TRIED…. and DIED!!!! That is the miracle of the attack, that the US lost so FEW casualties in comparison to having the ships fully manned and then sunk or destroyed. And any ships with the boilers up may have been sunk in the channel ie one US battleship almost did this.

  8. My father was on the Ward shortly before Pearl harbor He trained the Gun Crews…He later was on the USS Cummings @ Pearl Harbor during & after the attack. He later ended up on the USS Fletcher. ( any info on Joseph w. Friebis ) ?.

  9. Mike Austin

    I appreciate reading this story. My Uncle, Irvin Holley, was on the Ward that morning. It was difficult to get him to talk in detail about his wartime experience, but this is one story that I heard him share many, many years ago. He was regular navy – possibly already a chief petty officer. He retired from the Navy after 20 years of service. Thanks again for sharing this story.

  10. Nile Mills

    Do you or anyone else know where a list of the crew that was aboard the Ward on Dec 7, 1941 is located?

    • padresteve

      Sadly I don’t. Possibly the Naval History Center. I don’t know if Ward had a veteran or survivor association, if there is one that might also be a possibility. Wish I could be of more help. Many blessings,


    • Nancy Kirby

      The gun from the Ward on display by the MN State Capitol has a crew list on the plaque. Am not sure if it’s a complete list or just the MN guys.

      • padresteve

        Thanks Nancy, I know there were a good number of Minnesotans in her crew, many were reservists.

  11. Dana Rominger Adams

    Thank you for the history of the USS Ward. My Father was on the ship when it was sunk in 1944. I have since tried to find a crew list for that day so I may show it to my children and grandchildren, but had no luck. If you know where I can get one please let me know. Thanks again.

    • padresteve

      Thank you for your comments. The one place I would check is the Center for U.S. Naval History in Washington DC. Apart from that if there is any survivors association from the Ward still functioning you may want to check with them, but I believe that will be a hard as any survivors will be in their late 80s or 90s. I wish I could help you more on the crew list and I thank your father for his service. If he is still alive give him my best. Thank you again, Steve+

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