On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, the United States came under fire by a fleet of planes from Imperial Japanese Navy aircraft carriers. The attack resulted in the loss of 2,403 American lives and the start of World War II for the United States. But hours before the tragedy unfolded, a skirmish occurred that served as the prelude to the devastating attack on the harbor.
Though Japan sent a fleet across the Pacific to launch the attack on Pearl Harbor, the IJN wasn’t responsible for firing the first shot. That distinction belongs to the USS Ward (DD-139), a US Navy destroyer.
Lost for 73 Years
On Dec. 5, 2017, it was announced that her wreckage had finally been found, resting at the bottom of the Pacific over five thousand miles from Pearl Harbor. As part of an expedition helmed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the wreckage of the sunken destroyer was discovered by the Petrel research vessel, which was also responsible for locating the USS Indianapolis (CA-35) in August of 2017. The wreckage of the Ward was found near Ponsol Island in the Philippines, where she was sunk by kamikaze pilots on Dec. 7, 1944, exactly three years after firing the first rounds at Pearl Harbor.
Service in the Pacific
Hours before daylight began to break over the Hawaiian Islands, the Ward and a minesweeper, the USS Condor (AMc-14), were patrolling near the entrance to Pearl Harbor. At 0357, the Condor radioed that her crew had made visual contact with a periscope breaking the water’s surface. As they were patrolling waters near a military installation and no American submarine was scheduled to be in the area at that time, it was determined to be a potential threat.
For just under three hours, the Ward searched for the elusive submarine. At 0637, her crew sighted the submarine, which was tailing an Navy cargo ship, the USS Antares (AG-10). Immediately, the Ward opened fire and struck a Ko-hyoteki-class Japanese midget submarine.
Three years later, she was patrolling off the island of Leyte in the Philippines, serving as a transport between islands for American troops. On the morning of December 7, 1944, she was attacked by multiple kamikaze, causing fires to spread rapidly across the vessel. When it was determined that the fires couldn’t be controlled, the crew was ordered to abandon ship.
After evacuation, the Ward was scuttled by the USS O’Brien (DD-725), and for 73 years, she waited at the bottom of the sea for an expedition team to find her.