The surprise Pearl Harbor attack on December 7, 1941, is already etched in history whenever we talk about World War II. USS James H. Ward was one of many warships used during the war. But, there was something special about USS Ward that cemented its early popularity and its place in naval history – it fired the first shots of the United States in WWII during the Pearl Harbor attack on December 7th, 1941.

USS Ward: Defender of Pearl Harbor

The destroyer was a “Four Stacker” Destroyer hastily built for World War I at the Mare Island Navy Yard, in California. She also worked to support the trans-Atlantic flight of the NC flying boats in May 1919. The year after, she was designated the hull number DD-139.  After the war, she went into mothballs until she was recommissioned some 20 years later with the outbreak the WWII in Europe in 1939.  Obsolete in comparison to more modern destroyers in the US Navy she arrived at Pearl Harbor in 1941.


Photo from a Japanese plane during the torpedo attack on ships moored on both sides of Ford Island. This was shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor began. (Imperial Japanese Navy, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)


USS Ward: The Story of America’s First Shot in WWII

In an article released by Pearl, it recounted how USS Ward fired the shot against the Japanese,

On December 7, 1941, at 0358, minesweeper Condor signaled to Ward that an object looking like a submarine was spotted. The skipper of Ward, Lt. William Outerbridge, had taken command of the ward just that weekend. He immediately called general quarters and began ‘pinging’. The ‘pinging’ was useless, and Ward could not find the submarine that Condor had seen.

The U.S. Navy destroyer USS Ward (DD-139) off the Mare Island Navy Yard, California (USA). (Official U.S. Navy photo NH 50265 from the U.S. Navy Naval History and Heritage Command) (USN, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

At around 0630, a PBY plane spotted the periscope wake of a submarine following in the wake of the USS Antares, a repair ship. Antares was going to enter Pearl Harbor through an opening in the torpedo nets used to protect the harbor and the sub intended to slip through with her. Antares had also spotted the submarine, but it was Lt Outerbridge and the Ward that was in the position to react and she was bearing down on the sub at 25 knots. She took the submarine under fire firing at 50-60 yards, scoring a direct hit on the Japanese midget submarine that appeared to sink immediately leaving a small oil slick on the surface.

As it turned out, the submarine they just sank was one of the five top-secret Japanese vessels that was armed with two torpedoes intended to penetrate the harbor while lurking in the darkness of the vast sea. The air raid on Pearl Harbor and throughout Oahu began about an hour after the USS Ward attacked and sank the Japanese submarine.