The Forgotten Story of How One U.S. Battleship Fought Back During Pearl Harbor
“Man, I was firing so fast that the barrel got so hot the rifling went out and I had to replace the barrel,” Winsett remembered. “You could tell because the rounds started falling short and way off target. It was no big deal, my assistant gunner and I changed it very quickly.”
Hours of drilling paid off. Winsett stayed at his gun and kept fighting back “for what seemed like 8 to 10 hours, but after it was over the battle was not even two hours long.” He is thankful that his gun position was well protected with a four-foot wall with deflection shields to protect the sailors manning the gun from enemy fire. “It was tough moving around as the shell casings fell to the floor of our little area and began to pile up as deep as our ankles,” he said.
Early in the action, three Japanese planes came in low from the port beam, firing their machine guns at the Pennsylvania, but Captain Cooke reported, “Strafing attack not effective.” During the torpedo attacks, one enemy plane was seen to burst into flames about 2,000 yards on the starboard bow.
Sometime between 8 and 8:30 am, the battleship USS Nevada was getting underway and reached a point on the Pennsylvania’s starboard quarter about 600 yards distant when a dive bombing attack approached the Pennsylvania off the port bow. It appeared that 10 to 15 Japanese planes were coming in succession at low altitude. This attack apparently was directed at the Pennsylvania and the two destroyers in drydock, and the attackers were taken under heavy fire. Just before reaching the Pennsylvania, about two-thirds appeared to swerve to the left, a number of them dropping bombs near the Nevada with some misses ahead and astern and at least one hit near the bridge. The Nevada stopped temporarily.
At the same time, other planes passed to port and over the Pennsylvania, dropping bombs that fell in the water beyond the caisson. Except for machine-gun bullets, the Pennsylvania was not hit during this attack wave. One of the dive bombers dropped a bomb on the destroyer USS Shaw in the floating drydock off Pennsylvania’s starboard side, setting it on fire. The Nevada then slowly swung around and headed to port, later beaching at Hospital Point.
Between 8:30 and 9:15 at least five Japanese bomber formations passed over the Pennsylvania, one from the port bow, one from ahead, one passing to starboard, and two from astern. These attackers were generally in “V” formations with four to six planes in each. The Japanese planes maintained straight courses and were estimated at an altitude of 10,000 to 12,000 feet. The sailors aboard the Pennsylvania believed their first attack was against Battleship Row across the channel.
The second attack came in on the port bow and dropped bombs on the ships in the drydock. One bomb hit Downes at approximately 9:06. Another one hit the starboard of the Pennsylvania, and a third hit the boat deck of the battleship a few feet abaft 5-inch gun no. 7, passing through the boat deck and detonating in the casemate of 5-inch gun no. 9.
“We had a lot of Marines manning that gun that were killed during that time,” Winsett said.
Yet another bomb is believed to have fallen harmlessly into the harbor outside the dock.
Sporadic attacks on the Pennsylvania continued for some 15 minutes. The last enemy run was from a plane passing to the south at a low altitude along the port beam. About 30 machine-gun hits in the shield around the maintop machine gun where Winsett was positioned may have come from this plane. None of the bullets that struck the shield managed to penetrate it. This particular plane was taken under heavy fire by Pennsylvania’s port batteries and was hit by the machine gun on the port side of the stack. It crashed on the nearby hospital grounds.
In after-action interviews, crewmen of the Pennsylvania claimed to have destroyed six enemy planes. However, Captain Cooke noted in his report, “There is fairly good proof of two having been hit by this ship, but there is no way to confirm the other claims.”
At 9:20 drydock flooding was started to assist in putting out fires. Both Downes and Cassin were on fire from stem to stern. Flaming oil on the water in dock set fire to the paint on the Pennsylvania’s starboard bow below Winsett’s position. The bomb hit on the dock had cut electrical power, and the Pennsylvania switched to reserve battery power.
About 9:30, the destroyers were rocked by explosions, and at 9:41 torpedo warheads on Downes exploded on the starboard side of the destroyer, covering the area with debris. A section of torpedo tube, weighing between 500 and 1,000 pounds, struck the Pennsylvania’s forecastle. Precautionary measures were taken on the bow of the Pennsylvania to prevent the spread of the fire internally. Luckily, the flames were brought under control before serious damage to the battleship resulted. The Cassin, from which part of the hull had been removed for dock work, rolled over on the Downes.
The damage to the Pennsylvania was relatively light considering the number of attacks she endured. The 500-pound bomb hit that damaged the 5-inch guns blew a hole roughly 20 feet by 20 feet in the boat deck. The explosion wrecked galley equipment and caused fuel oil from the service tanks to run into the decks below.
Bomb fragments on the boat deck struck a 40-foot motor sailing launch in its skids, perforating the side in a number of places. This motor launch probably saved some of the personnel manning the portside guns. Fires erupted on the main deck and on the second deck, and these were difficult to put out because of the lack pressure in the water mains. Fire, water, and leaking oil caused damage to officers’ rooms on the second deck.