Pearl Harbor memories of
LAWRENCE NELSON BATES, USN
U.S.S. TangierOn the fifth day of July in 1940, I received orders from the Navy recalling me to active duty. I reported to the Twelth Naval District in San Francisco on the eighth of July, was given a physical examination, then issued orders to report to the USS Sea Arrow at Moore Dry Dock in Oakland for the rebuilding and commissioning of that ship as a sea plane tender and renaming her the USS Tangier (AV-8). I found that it would be over a year in rebuilding the ship, so I moved my family to Hill Mont Drive in Oakland. We started to accumulate a crew and requisition supplies necessary for the ship. Our purpose was to tend 20 big sea planes. We would lift the planes from the water and place them on the poop deck where the planes were overhauled and then lifted back into the water. We sould supply them with five hundred pound bombs, machine gun ammunition, gas and oil. The plane crews were attached to our ship. In September of 1941, we were outfitted with all necessary supplies. We had two doctors, one dentist, and eight Hospital Corpsmen. I was the Chief Pharmacist Mate and Aviation Technician. We took on ammunition, gas, and were sent to Long Beach to pick up the plane crews, then to Hawaii where we had gunnery exercises and manuevered with the fleet. Our Medical Department was beautiful. I have never seen a better equipped Naval vessel. Our cabinets, operating room equipment, and tables were the best stainless steel. Even our wash basin and ice box were stainless steel. Moore Dry Dock at Oakland had done us proud. Our senior medical officer Dwight J. Wharton was an outstanding surgeon. We did several appendectomies and major surgical operations in training the crew. We then went to Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu and were given a berth on the east side of Ford Island at Pier Eleven. We tied up stern to stern with the USS Utah, an old decommissioned battleship that was used as a target ship, automatically controlled for training battleship crews in gunnery. The week of the first of December, orders were issued from the Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet to remove all ammunition from the ready boxes from all deck guns of the fleet. The ammunition was to be padlocked in the ship's magazines and the keys kept in the captain's safe of each ship. The Battle Fleet was to be prepared for Admirals Inspection on the week starting the eighth of December, so all the hatches were to be opened to the double bottoms of each ship to air out the water tight compartments for inspection. Our ship the Tangier was an auxiliary ship, and we were not scheduled for inspection on Monday, but we had an Aviation Captain of the ship by the name of Clifton Sprague, a down east skipper. He was hard-boiled, and when the order came out to stow all ammunition below, he told the gunners mates to keep the ammunition in the ready boxes. He had "come out here to fight a war!" If one of the brass hats came to visit his ship he would have to signal the ship first for side boys at the gang way, then he would hide all the ammunition before the admiral came on board. Saturday night the sixth of December, there was a big party and dance given for the Fleet Officers by the Japanese of Honolulu. The enlisted men were not allowed overnight liberty in Honolulu because the town could not house all of the great number of enlisted men ashore. The USS West Virginia was duty ship, her captain Bennion was designated duty officer. Our Junior Medical Officer, Dr. Fruin, was emergency medical officer of our group. The USS Ford (a destroyer) was duty ship in ther restricted area off the entrance of Pearl Harbor. She patrolled an area where our submarines were submerged or surfaced when going on or returning from undersea patrol. At 0600 on the morning of December 7th, I arose and got into my dress uniform in preparation to go to Honolulu to church on the eight o'clock boat that went to the Navy Yard. At five minutes to eight, we heard two loud booms. the general quarters alarm sounded throughout the ship, the load speaker manned by the Boatswain Mate on duty blared out, "General Quarters! General Quarters! The Japs are here!". We then heard a load boom of an aerial torpedo that blew a hole in the Utah moored on the next dock fifty feet stern to stern off the Tangier. We hurried to our battle stations which was on the second deck on the bow of the ship. All water tight dorrs were automatically closed throughout the ship. In five minutes we could hear the fifty caliber machine guns starting to fire from their mountings thwart ship on the boat deck aft of the bridge. We soon heard the three inch guns which were mounted aft of the poop deck on the bow of the ship. We could hear the bombs exploding as they tore into the battleships. Also all the sea plane and air plane hangers on Ford Island that contained planes were being bombed. The Japanese intelligence was so good that they didn't bomb the empty hangers. We later found out that the Japanese had a commercial gold fish breeding area consisting of several ponds of fish at Pearl City, just east of Ford Island. They would instruct the Japanese fishermen in Honolulu, who had some fast fishing boats equipped with powerful radios. These ships would put to sea and broadcast by japanese code all fortification information to the Japanese Military in the Gilbert Islands, who would then inform Japan via Japanese Cable. Our ships Chaplain whose genearl quarter station was in our after Battle Dressing Station disappeared. He then came back and said "I have just gone to my state room and said Absolution for us all." I looked at him and said, "You don't need to say any for me, I am down here working mine out." He looked at me and said "You are right." I asked the doctor for permission for several of the other Corpsmen to help me place the First Aid Boxes with Morphine Syrettes in their brackets beside each gun. We went out on deck. collected the boxes from the store room three decks below, brought then to the top side, and places them in position. The skies were full of Japanese planes flying overhead and machine gunning and dropping bombs on the ships and air base, the red sun visible on the underside of each plane wing. The USS Utah had turned bottom side up after taking two bombs. A pounding noise was heard coming from the bottom side of the ship by some sailors on the dock where she was tied up. They hurried over to our ship and reported to the Captain who was on the bridge. The Captain then sent a welder over to the Utah to cut a hole in the bottom of the ship and rescue the pounder. One welder went over to the Utah with an acetylene torch and cut a hole in the bottom of the ship large enough to get a man out. The air from the ship kept blowing the torch out, but he did get one hole cut. Unfortunately it was in the wrong compartment, so he had to move aft closer to the stern and cut another hole in the ship. All that time, planes were flying overhead and shrapnel from bombs and exploding shells and machine gun fire from the planes were falling all around. Our decks were spotted with pieces of shrapnel and spent machine gun bullets. This welder sat on the bottom of the Utah and burned the two holes while all of this was going on. He took a young seaman about twenty years old from the second hole and brought him over to the Tangier. Our doctor examined the man, and he was all right so he helped pass ammunition to the machine guns. Our captain was on the port wing of the bridge, out in the open directing the gunners. Every time a Jap plane flew over he would wave his fist in the air and yell, "Shoot the son of a bitch down!!!". As one plane flew over the ship, the gunners shot a wing off the plane. The Jap pilot threw the plane into the five-inch anti-aircraft gun on the starboard side of the USS Curtis, which was anchored halfway between us and Pearl City east of us, killing the pilot the pilot and the entire gun crew when the plane exploded. A harbor buoy was observed from the bridge gloating on the north west area from Ford Island. Our quartermaster thought it was a buoy that had broken loose. He sighted it through his glasses and said it was going against the tide, the tide going out, the buoy coming in. He rechecked it and found it was a two man Jap sub painted exactly like a Pearl Harbor buoy. He notified the Captain and we opened fire with our two three-inch bow guns. The sub started to turn in circles, and a destroyer came out of the Navy Yard, side-swiped the sub and dropped a depth charge. The sub turned end for end and sank in the ship channel. I saw this fifty foot battery driven sub three weeks later. It had been floated and placed on display. It was necessary for the pilot of the sub to come into the harbor with the conning tower above water so that the pilot could follow the channel. Both Japanese had been killed. There was a three-inch shell hole through the conning tower. The shell had gone through but not exploded, but had gone through the pilot and killed him. This sub carried two torpedoes and was intended for the cruiser Raleigh that was moored at Pier Nine east of the Utah. Captain Bennion of the West Virginia was struck in the abdomen by bomb shrapnel and died on the deck of his ship, telling the first aid men to help the others. We remained at General Quarters all day of the 7th. The Japanese attack stopped about one that afternoon. We stationed the medical crew members throughout the ship in various compartments. I was lucky, I was assigned to the Captain's Ward Room below the bridge. We re-outfitted the new stations. In the afternoon, the Army men appeared on Ford Island, they dug trenches around the periphery of the island. Along the beach they ran cross trenches to the center hub where headquarters was set up. A soldier was placed with a thirty caliber machine gun about every fifty feet in expectations of an invasion, but none came. Our two large carriers, the Lexington and Enterprise were at sea on the gunnery range south and west of Pearl Harbor. About 8 pm at dusk, seven planes tried to land on the airfield at Ford Island. the field was not lighted and the planes tried to touch down, but going to fast to judge the landing they took off. We thought they were Jap planes and opened fire. Those machine guns in the trenches and the ships' larger machine guns opened up and we shot down every one of them - they were our own planes from the carriers. There had been daily sea plane patrols over the waters for 500 miles, but no patrol had gone out on the sixth. The USS Ford's captain had told us that he was on patrol outside Pearl Harbor on the restricted waters where submarines surfaced and submerged. This area was restricted for any surface craft. At three o'clock in the morning the Ford's Captain sent a wireless message to the Fourteenth Naval District stating "The sea is full of Japanese submarines". He received a message to re-investigate and report. At 0500 he again sent a message to the District, "The sea is full of Japanese submarines and I have depth charged and sank one". He received another message: re-investigate and report. The mouth of Pearl Harbor Channel is only about 500 yards across. Each night at 2000 (or 8 pm), a chain was hung across the harbor closing it until morning. On the night of the sixth, no harbor chain was used.
LTjg Lawrence Nelson Bates was born April 25, 1900 and died November 13, 1993. He joined the Navy in 1919 after World War I as a Hospital Corpsman. He sailed up the Yangtze River in China in 1937 on Yangtze River Patrol. After surviving the attack on Pearl Harbor, Mr. Bates went on to serve in other Pacific campaigns. He participated in the ill-fated Wake Island Relief force, the Coral Sea Battle, and Guadalcanal. He was a member of the Fleet Reserve Association and a volunteer for the American Red Cross. After his Navy service, he worked as an Industrial Nurse for General Motors until retirement.