Title banner: Pearl Harbor * Why, How, Fleet Salvage and Final Appraisal

"All Hands" Engaged In Salvage Work


No sooner had the attack been completed than Fleet Commanders got ready for another strike. Many put to sea in search of the enemy. Fortunately a repetition of the attack never came. The Japanese Commander considered that the mission was completed and missed his chance of finishing the job so efficiently begun. He could have set on fire the reserve oil supply of five million barrels, or he could have leveled the Navy Yard's shops and drydocks, thereby destroying the Navy's industrial capacity. Likewise he could have destroyed the submarine base which contained the headquarters of the Commander-in-Chief and which was of paramount value later in carrying on the submarine offensive against Japan's military and maritime ships.

As has been stated, each ship was under twelve hours notice to get underway in case of attack. Yet, the smaller ships required much less than twelve hours. Some ships at Pearl Harbor did get underway and put to sea, but the larger ships stayed in port due to a wise cancellation of the order. The two task forces then at sea were instructed to search for the Japanese and to intercept them if sighted. Fortunately they were not found; their strength was far greater than any American force that was available at the time. This included air power, of which the Japanese had a great superiority.

Of first importance to Fleet Commanders was the task of readying ships for a full fleet engagement with the Fleet of Japan. At that time no information was at hand on the enemy's location, the strength of his force, or his intentions with regard to landing or seeking a fleet engagement. The situation which confronted the high command was therefore to arrive at a priority of work on the various ships, since those needing a minimum of work should be taken in hand first and made ready for action.


We have seen from survivors' reports the spirit which pervaded our men. Both officers and enlisted were busy saving the lives of each other and in repelling the enemy. Cowardice was rare if not unknown. Heroism and bravery were the qualities shown by the military. Taking undue risks was commonplace.

The manning of anti-aircraft batteries and the replenishment of ammunition came first. The removal and comfort of the wounded were of almost equal importance. Fighting fires and watertight integrity were the tasks of many. Men were overcome by fumes from the fuel oil which was everywhere, but a shipmate was usually at hand to carry a person to fresh air, or to rescue drowning persons from the water, or from oil and water mixed. Helping shipmates through portholes was the only means of escape still available in certain ships and was responsible for saving many lives.


As ships capsized, in particular Oklahoma and Utah, some men were trapped in the ship's lower compartments. They made their presence known by tapping on the structures with wrenches or other tools. These were heard by the men on the hulls of the capsized ships and were answered; the Morse Code was used, and the rescue of the trapped men began. Oklahoma showed the maximum promise. The bottom of the ship was all that was visible above water. The ship had capsized through 170 degrees so that its bottom was nearest the surface. By cutting holes through the bottom of the ship the rescue party was able to reach the men who had sought refuge in that part of the ship which was near the open air.

A survivor who had escaped through a hatch at frame 117 stated that men were alive in that locality. At about that time, 0915, Commander Kranzfelder and Lieutenant Mandelkorn from the staff of Commander Battleships, were present, and at 0930 Lieutenant Commander Herbert Pfingstag from the Navy Yard arrived. At first they tried to gain access to the inside of the ship by acetylene torch, using it in locations free of oil and water, but found that the fumes from oil and the cork used for insulation were deadly to the men who were trapped in the locality. Accordingly, they thereafter



Image: 80-G-19941 Rescue parties at work on USS Oklahoma. USS Maryland is in the background.
Rescue parties at work on USS Oklahoma. USS Maryland is in the background.

used compressed air and corresponding tools which were furnished by the Navy Yard and various ships, including Maryland, Argonne, and Rigel. The Navy Yard and ships concerned provided submersible pumps, sound powered telephones, and air ducts for ventilating purposes.

Soon the trapped men were located in the vicinity of frames 131, 116, 78, and 22. The men were all near the bottom of the ship, which at that time was partly visible above the water level of the harbor. It was not until 0800 on 8 December that six men were rescued, and at 1100 eleven more were brought out. Five more were released at 1400 and eight at 1600 on that same date. The last man was not rescued from Oklahoma until 0230 on 9 December. All were in good condition except for lack of sleep, food, and sufficient oxygen. Some of the thirty-two men were dependent on an air bubble for sufficient air. Of course the air bubble gradually disappeared and water rose as soon as an opening was made in a compartment. A watch was


maintained on the hull of Oklahoma until 11 December but no further signs of life were detected.

A great part of the credit goes to the Navy Yard. One of its men showed intrepidity of the highest nature by staying on the job and risking his life as leader until all known survivors had been released from the hull of the ship. He was Julio De Castro, Leadingman Caulker and Chipper, who was awarded a Commendation by the Commandant, Fourteenth Naval District.

Utah lost fifty-eight men in the action. Of those saved one man was rescued through the bottom after the ship had capsized. This was John B. Vaessen, Fireman Second Class, who was later lost. Nearly all of the men who had not been killed or wounded were clear of the lower compartments except Vaessen who remained at his post in the forward distribution room in order to keep lights on the ship as long as possible. He was rescued by helpers from Raleigh as well as by a volunteer crew from Utah consisting of Machinist S. A. Szymanski, Chief Engineman MacSelwiney, and two seamen. They heard tapping on the bottom and after answering, they cut a hole by acetylene torch, obtained from Raleigh, near enough to free Vaessen.


Rear Admiral William L. Calhoun was in charge of salvage operations by virtue of his position as Commander of the Base Force. He was assisted by officers on his staff, especially Commander Rufus G. Thayer and Commander James H. Rodgers. It happened that Lieutenant Commander Lebbeus Curtis was enroute to the Far East for salvage work and, because of his considerable experience was put in charge as Salvage Engineer. He later was retained in the Base .Salvage Organization for several months, at which time he was put in charge of all salvage in the Pacific as Mobile Salvage Engineer. He ultimately was promoted to Rear Admiral.

Considerable progress was made in repairing ships which had only minor damage, especially by furnishing small craft to fight fires and supply pumping equipment. A hero of the times was the lowly garbage lighter, YG-17, which had a large pumping capacity. She tied up alongside West Virginia to fight her many fires and was successful in her work though beset by Japanese aircraft and continuous strafing. This craft, which won commendations from the Commander of Battleships, had a nostalgic effect on the


Image: 19-LC-15AA-1 Garbage Lighter YG-17 which performed such heroic duty on 7 December 1941 in fighting fires.
Garbage Lighter YG-17 which performed such heroic duty on 7 December 1941 in fighting fires.

author because her all-welded sister ship, YG-16 (often called Petunia) was built under his jurisdiction at Mare Island and won a prize of $7500 in 1932 for himself and another officer. YG-17 which was commanded by Chief Boatswains Mate L. M. Jansen won a well-merited commendation for brave work following the Japanese surprise air raid.


The formal Salvage Organization began on 14 December 1941, an even week after the Japanese attack. It was under the direction of then Commander James M. Steele, who was previously in command of Utah. He remained in command of salvage under the Base Force until relieved by the author, Captain Homer N. Wallin, on 9 January, 1942. At that time the Salvage Division became a part of the Navy Yard under the Manager, Captain Claude S. Gillette.

The author is indebted to Vice Admiral William S. Pye and his Chief-of-Staff, then Captain Harold C. Train, for releasing him, first on a part-time basis, from his duties on the Battle Force Staff so that he could take direct


charge of the salvage work. These officers were boosters of the salvage work and were extremely active in showing their support. So were all officers of the Battle Force Staff, especially Captain Allan E. Smith who was Operations Officer for Admiral Pye.

The Staff of the Battle Force moved from the uninhabitable California and joined the Staff of the Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet at the Submarine Base. Thus the three senior material officers of the fleet were in a single office and were called upon for a variety of duties. These were Commander David H. Clark of the Staff of the Commander-in-Chief; the author, Captain Homer N. Wallin, of the Battle Force; and

Image: USN NR&L (MOD) 39741 Insignia for Pearl Harbor Navy Yard
USN NR&L (MOD) 39741
Insignia for Pearl Harbor Navy Yard


Commander Ralph S. McDowell of the Scouting Force. Commander Clark and Commander McDowell were very helpful to the author in all aspects of salvage work.

In view of the Navy Yard's industrial importance its Commandant was switched from the Commandant of the District, Rear Admiral Bloch, on a part time basis, to the former Commander of Minecraft whose flagship, Oglala, capsized and sank. He was Rear Admiral William R. Furlong who was very interested in all Yard work and gave to salvage operations a great impetus. Formerly he was Chief of the Navy's Bureau of Ordnance.

The headquarters of the Salvage Division was a contractor's shack near the waterfront. It was very unpretentious but served satisfactorily. As the Salvage Division grew, a number of other unpretentious waterfront buildings were added.

The original organization had liaison with the Navy Yard, and project officers in charge of each job. Originally Lieutenant Emile C. Generaux was project officer for Nevada, Lieutenant Commander Thayer for Tennessee, and Lieutenant Commander Rodgers for California. In addition to Lieutenant Commander Curtis, Lieutenant Commander Thayer and Lieutenant Commander Rodgers were general assistants to Commander Steele. Each specialty had an officer in charge. For instance, Boatswain W. A. Mahan under Lieutenant Commander O. L. De Tar was in charge of all diving, Lieutenant Commander E. E. Berthold of ammunition, and Lieutenant Commander F. C. Stelter, Jr. of all other ordnance material. Office work was under Lieutenant Commander Solomon S. Isquith, aided by Lieutenant Hal C. Jones.

Each officer had help from civilian groups. Mr. Dillingham of Honolulu was available with necessary hoisting barges and other waterfront equipment. One of the most helpful organizations was the Pacific Bridge Company. This company was accustomed to underwater concrete and large excavations with proper bulkheading, and therefore proved invaluable.

The Pacific Bridge Company recommended underwater concrete in lieu of complete cofferdamming of ships resting on the bottom. An expert from the Navy Department finally agreed to this solution, but not until after Lieutenant Commander Curtis had ordered a large supply of steel sheet piling for cofferdams around California. The underwater concrete proved entirely satisfactory, and the cofferdamming material was later used for other purposes in the far reaches of the Pacific.


Sight should not be lost of the part which Navy Yard civilians gave to the salvage work. This is well illustrated by the letter which was written by a Chinese photographer of the Yard named Tai Sing Loo. It follows:

On the 6th of December, Saturday afternoon, I had [made] arrangement with Tech. Sergeant Christen to have all his Guard be at the Main Gate between 8:30 to 9:30 o'clock Sunday morning to have a group of picture taken in front of the new concrete entrance as a setting with the 'Pearl Harbor' for Christmas card to send home to their family.

Sunday morning I left my home for Pearl Harbor after 7 :00 o'clock. I was waiting for my bus at corner Wilder Avenue and Metcalf Street. Saw the sky full of antiaircraft gun firing up in the air, I called my friend to look up in sky, explain them how the Navy used their antiaircraft gun firing in practicing, at that time I didn't realize we were in actual war. Our bus stop at Bishop and King Streets. We heard the alarm ringing from the third story building of the Lewers & Cooke, Ltd. Saw the window shattered. I walk up to Young Hotel corner and cross the street. Stop for a cup of coffee at Swanky and Franky. Suddenly all excitement arouse the Honolulu Fire Engine rush down Bishop Street and all directions. Taxi full of sailor and marine dashing toward Pearl Harbor. I'm very much surprise what's all this excitement. I wave the taxi to stop and get on it to go back to Pearl Harbor. When I approached to Pearl Harbor surprise with great shock. Thought one of our oil tanks caught on fire, showing black velum of thick smoke in the air. I got off at the main gate of Pearl Harbor, met all the guards with arms and Machine Gun in placed. I was great shock with surprise the war are on. Watching many Japanese war planes attacked Pearl Harbor, dropping bombs right and left on dry docks and Ford Island. Suddenly terrific explosion. Fire broke out. I was very calm and waiting for the opportunity to get a ride to the Studio to get my camera. I was at the Main Gates standby with Marines. Guards at the Main Gates were bravery and cool headed to keep the by-standing away for safety and clear traffic. There were the young, fighting marines. We were under fire. The Japanese planes painted in aluminum, Red Ball under each wing, flew very low toward the Main Gates.

I wish my Graflex with me. I would had a wonderful close up shot of the Japanese. Again the Japanese flew around the Navy Housing Area and turn back, head direct to Hickham Field, very low to drop a bomb to the Hangers, with terrific explosion, set fire the buildings. More planes flew direct the dry dock. Suddenly, I saw one plane had a hit. It flew direct toward West Locke Stream of smoke screen. Now this my opportunity to get in the Yard, one of the Leadingman of Machine Shop drove in his automobile. I hop in, he take me to the Studio and pick up my Graflex Camera to take some picture, second thought I change my mind, reason is because first place I didn't had no order, the second place I didn't had


USN NR&L (MOD) 39742 USS Nevada's patch for torpedo hole. Note photographer Tai Sing Loo at lower left.
USN NR&L (MOD) 39742
USS Nevada's patch for torpedo hole.  Note photographer Tai Sing Loo at lower left.

my famous Trade-Mark helmet on. I had a new English Helmet from Singapore, given by Admiral Murfin a year ago, so I'm afraid some one will make a mistake me as a Jap and shot me down.

I went up to the Administration Building everything OK. I met Mr. Wm. McIlhenny and Mr. W. C. Bohley at the stairway. We talk and both went toward the dry dock. I went to the Supply Dept. and saw many boy had a Steel Helmet on, so I went to see Lt. Cdr. Supply Officer for permission to hat one, the size are too large and heavy for me so I select one smaller size, painted green and white stripe. I went direct to the dry dock to help put out the fire on U.S.S. Cassin had the depth charges on her stern the U.S.S. Pennsylvania bow between Cassin and Downes. I knew it was very dangerous it may explode damage the dry docks and the U.S.S. Pennsylvania. We put our hoses directed the depth charges keeping wet. An Officer came near by and keep up the good work we had out hose right at it all the time, and I turn around and saw Lt. Spear, order all men stand back, some things may happen, so I obey his order and ran back


toward U.S.S. Pennsylvania, suddenly really happen the terrific explosion came from the Destroyer few people were hurt and some fell down. I notice some large pieces of Steel Plates blew over the dry dock when I turn around and look, afterward I notice two extra hoses without nozzles, so I went to the Fire Station and brought back 2 volunteers pointed direct the depth charges, I call for more volunteers to help me clear and straighten up the hose around the First Street to clear for traffic at the same time purpose to gave the fire fighters a chance to extend the hose across over the bow of U.S.S. Pennsylvania to fight the fire at the Downes on Starboard side. Here come another Fire Engine from Submarine Base, I direct them to place their engine and connect this Hydrant #151 and direct them to the depth charges, so everything are well done and successful accomplishment their service. A few words of my appreciation and vote of thanks and successful credit to Lieut. Spear, in charge with his gallant spirit to kept his staff and volunteers calms, right at the job to see the depth charges were wet and kept away the fire. The Marines of the Fire Dept. of the Navy Yard, are the Heroes of the Day of Dec. 7, 1941 that save the Cassin and Downes and U.S.S. Pennsylvania in Dry Dock No.1.

I saw the crew throw out empty 5" shell on the Dock, I gather up in Piles with some sailors so I met Chief LeTendre to help me order some hose from Supply Dept to place in this Hydrant No.151, corner Avenue D and First Street. I also request Lt. Foster to order me more hoses, with in half an hour and hour the Chief brought back 6 new hoses and other load from Lt. Foster and other Chief which I have about 12 length of hose to stand by. Why I order this hoses for ? The Answer-for emergency something may happen I will be there with readiness, reason why, the magazines were taking out from the U.S.S. Pennsylvania, and many casing and empty shell, at the same time were under fired the Jap Airplanes flew over head where up in the clouds. The U.S.S. Pennsylvania Antiaircraft crews were in full action, I wasn't excited and very calm about Street to protect the 2 new hoses, I were little worry -- because I have no nails and lumber to nail between the two planks separated while the heavy traffic going by with Emergency Cases to the Naval Hospital without crushing the hoses. I met Captain Swain passing by I had his permission to have the Carpenter of the Boat Shop to help me nail this planks together. He went to telephone, within few minutes four men marching down with nails and lumber. I were very happy, here comes the Carpenters ready to start nailing suddenly the roaring Anti Air Craft Guns in action, I call my men to dodging for safety, after the Enemy Planes disappear we all returns to our duty, the four men didn't come back at all left the hammers, nails and lumber, so I was very fortunely for two of our local boys passing by and helping me to finish the job, it were very thankful to volunteers their service to stand by with me during the Emergency, I had two men standing by the Hydrant #119 locate Corner Ave E and First Street near the


head of Dry Dock No. 1, four men guarding the two hoses in emergency for readiness in case of fire broke out from the Magazine Casing.

I was self volunteer to be Traffic Police and directing the Traffic during the rushing hours of Emergency, I get a big piece of Maroon cloth to signaling the ambulance to look at those planks easily passing over, to save my hose and other word to give the wounded patients rest easily from rough crossing on the heavy plank I direct all four hours to kept the First Street clear of right away to the Naval Hospital. Many heavy Contractor Trucks passing by with all Defenders and Emergency Call Employee, to report to the Shop for standby. I direct all this group of trucks turn up to Avenue E and unloaded the Employees. Every things were successfully appreciated to my volunteers friends of their bravery and courageous to their service, during the emergency and Under Fired. Every thinks were under control and we all secure and roll up the hoses and returns to the Supply Dept. We were hungry no lunch so I brought each one a Box Ice Cream for lunch and we all dismissed about 3: 30 p.m.

One of the Marine Patrol approaching toward me, if I will do the boys a great service of the Marine Guards and Sailor, which their have no lunch and some without breakfast, so I went to the garage to take my Red PutPut to the 3rd Defense Fleet Marine Mess Hall to see my friend Tech. Sergt. Newland for help, I told the story regards the Post Guard have been neglected to release for lunch. Tech-Sergt. Newland were very kind and his Cook to prepared some sandwiches ham and chicken, fruit all I can delivery to the Post. You should hear what were their saying. Charles, you are one life saver. I have been riding round and round the dry dock until everyone had a sandwiches on every post except the Fuel Oil Farms. I send 50 chicken and hams sandwiches apples and oranges and buns with ham to the shops supt. office. After I returns the Mess Sergt. report no breads be served and water are being poison. I serving some civilians and the Post and Guards Hot Tacks, apples and orange. The water is poison. At the Dry Dock all the workmen have no lunch and hungry, working on the U.S.S. Downs and U.S.S. Cassin, I ran short of everything about 6 :00 p.m. I told the men go to the Mess Hall of the 3rd Defense to have their meal without charges and drink tomatoes juice and fruit. About 7 :00 p.m. I went to the garage to have them take me to the Main Gates.

At the last thought I have the driver drove me to the Mess Hall, the Mess Sergt. gave me 3 gals. can iced cold tomatoes juice and 3 dozen oranges and bag full of Hot Tacks, I gave the driver to take back to Garage night force. I left the Navy Yard at 7:30 p.m. at Main Gates. I was very fortunely an automobile pass by. Lady invited me to take me back to town, she just drive off the Ferry boat from Ford Island. She left me off the Hawaiian Electric Co. It was a black out night, I walk across the Army and Navy Y.M.C.A. to the Beretania Street to walk direct to


the Thomas Square and stopped for a rest. I ask the soldier guard on patrol, with appreciated very kindly if he will halt an automobile to take me home, if convenience on their way home. I told him I came back from Pearl Harbor, I'm Chinese. He shake my hand and glad to be of service, to the Chinese friend. An automobile approach and stop, the soldier request the owner if he will help to take me home to the University. Happening the driver knew me very well, he heard my voice, so he invited me in his car and drove me to my home at the front door, I extended my appreciation and thanks him very kindly to see safe home. My wife and four children were happy and thankful I were safely at home.

As the Confucious say, 'Every Kind Deeds its return many, many time Folds.'[1]


One of the most important projects of early salvage was the recovery of anti-aircraft guns and ammunition from sunk or disabled ships. Such guns with their directors and other necessary equipment were then installed around air bases and the Pearl Harbor compound.

Much of this material was recovered by divers. Some of it was under-water and had to be unbolted and manhandled by men using diving gear. Likewise, much of the ammunition recovered was in magazines which had been flooded.


The men of the Medical Department were commended for their efficiency during and following the attack. Many medical officers and their staffs reported to the hospital or dispensaries for duty after their own facilities were no longer usable. They rendered first aid to the injured at the Naval Hospital, at various dispensaries, in the hospital ship Solace, or at the Navy Yard. Dispensaries were set up on Ford Island. Medical officers and pharmacist mates won high commendations for staying at their posts giving first aid treatment even though severely wounded or burned themselves.



1 Tai Sing Loo, Narrative of Experiences of Chinese Photographer Employed by Pearl Harbor Navy Yard during Japanese Raid on 7 December 1941, no date.

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