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Ship’s log: December 7, 1941

“Ship’s Log, Stardate, 381067.5…”  For many of us, the Captain’s log, the dramatic tool used in just about every Star Trek episode is the image that comes to mind when we think of a ship’s log.  Captain Kirk always had plenty to say.  But, alas, with apologies to the good Star Fleet Captain that’s not how a ship’s log is kept.  At least, that’s not the way they’re kept in our time.  In the Navy a ship’s log is a precise record of a ship’s activity.  It includes weather conditions, ship’s course and speed, how fast the engines are running, the names of arriving and departing personnel, and as appropriate, specific observations on the current tactical situation.  There is little, if anything, that can be considered personal in a ship’s log.  
However, while often dry, a ship’s log can also be a remarkable record of events.  This precise and detailed record, made first hand by the people that were there, makes great reading.  The attack on Pearl Harbor, 69 years ago, this week, offers just this kind of insiders view of what happened on December 7, 1941.

The attack on the Hawaiian Islands was launched early in the morning from four Japanese aircraft carriers.  The first wave of the assault reached Pearl Harbor at just a few minutes before eight.  As is practice for all Navy ships in port, each ship was preparing to raise the colors.  It was, as Hawaiian’s still like to say, “…just another day in Paradise.”  But it didn’t last long.  According to the log of the U.S.S. Tangier, an aircraft tender, at “0758, General Quarters sounded.  Planes came in 50° true, flying down Ford Island on the port side of the ship.”
Another vessel, the USS Sumner, a hydrographic survey ship anchored near the submarine base, noted in its log, “Sighted 10 dive bombers marked with “red discs.”  The entry went on with a simple, “gave the alarm.  Commenced firing on attacking aircraft.”
At 0806 the Tangier’s log recorded “U.S.S. Arizona exploded internally, foremast capsized, forward part of ship on fire.”  The U.S.S. Arizona was a battleship.  1,177 members of her crew, including her commanding officer, would be killed.  The wreck is still there where she sank and is now a military gravesite for 900 of those onboard that were killed.  Even today, the oil bunkers on the Arizona still leak about 2 liters of  #6 fuel oil each day.  As one old veteran once told me, “It’s almost as if the ship were still bleeding.”
Later, in the simple straightforward language of a ships log, but with a meaning that was hard to miss, the log of the Tangier notes that it received a message from the Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet (CINCPACFLT).  The irony is hard to miss.  With several ships already sunk, and a massive battle taking place, the log reads, “0812: CINCPACFLT Message.  Hostilities with Japan commenced with air raid on Pearl Harbor.”  Alas, the news reached the fleet a little late.
The log also reported the expenditure of ordnance.  This is just the sort of accounting that’s expected in a ship’s log and this doesn’t change even in wartime.  The ship had fired 23,000 rounds from its 50 caliber machine gun, and over 400 rounds from its three inch guns.  That’s a lot in just two hours.
The Tangier survived the day.  But four battleships, three cruisers and three destroyers didn’t. One battleship, the only one that was able to get underway, was the U.S.S. Nevada.  It was a brave effort, but badly damaged and taking on water, its captain had to beach the ship on Hospital Point.  But the damaged warrior, sunk and mired in the mud, true to Navy regulation and tradition, still kept a log and reported damage from an incredible six bombs and one torpedo.  They also recorded downing five aircraft.  Though suffering extensive battle damage the Nevada was raised and returned to service the next year.
The attack ended shortly after ten in the morning.  Pearl Harbor, which began the morning pristine in its island charm, was now a mass of damaged, sunk, or sinking ships.  Everything seemed to be on fire.  The wounded overwhelmed the Base’s Hospital, and before it was all through 2,402 people would be killed and another 1,282 wounded.  
But the log of one destroyer, the U.S.S. Alywin, captured the mood for many.  Namely that of resolve and defiance.  The ship’s senior officers were all ashore.  The only officers on board were four ensigns.  The most senior had only 8 months of sea duty.  But the entry, even in the cryptic language of ship’s log, said a great deal.  “Vessel left anchor chain and stern wire at the buoys [they severed their anchor chain] and was underway at 0858. Continuous fire was kept up while proceeding out of the channel.”  The ensign who wrote those few words 69 years ago, managed in those few cryptic words to capture the feeling of the Navy and the nation.  The war was on and we were in a fight that we intended to win.
You may reach David Kerr
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