The story behind the picture – USS Shaw, Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941

Whenever I think of the Pearl Harbor attack, one picture always comes to mind; the picture below as taken from Ford Island NAS of the forward magazine on the USS Shaw (DD-373) exploding.

Among the drydocked ships in the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard when the Japanese attacked was the destroyer USS Shaw (DD-373). Raised out of the water in the floating drydock YFD-2, along with the old harbor tug Sotoyomo (YT-9), Shaw attracted the unwelcome attention of several dive bombers of the second strike wave. These hit her with three bombs at about the same time as they were attacking the then-nearby battleship Nevada. These bombs all hit the forward portion of the ship. The resulting fires proved uncontrollable, and Shaw was ordered abandoned. As efforts were underway to flood the drydock about a half-hour after she was hit, her forward ammunition magazines detonated in a spectacular blast, completely removing her bow. The blast also punctured YFD-2 and Sotoyomo. Both soon sank, the drydock partially and the tug completely, leaving Shaw’s after portion afloat, with an intense fire raging at its front.

Another view;

Sitting in a drydock, her bow blown off and partially flooded, the USS Shaw looked ready for scrap. Via the CO’s After Action Report;

The magazine explosion separated the bow from the rest of the ship with the exception of the keel structure. While the dock was sinking, the bow slowly toppled over to starboard and was submerged in the rising water. The forward fireroom filled with water due, as was ascertained days later, to a leaking forward starboard bulkhead and to empty rivet holes along the top edge of plating at the main deck, starboard side, between frames 68-75. Frames 70-75 had been under repair, necessitating removal of the rivets.
Some water was present – 10″-15″ – in No. 2 fireroom due to leaks around edges of bulkhead between the two firerooms. A portable gasoline pump obtained from the yard on the morning of 8 December was effectual in preventing further flooding of No. 2 fireroom.
It is believed that had there been water available to immediately fight the fire caused by the bombs, the magazines might have been kept from blowing up. Furthermore, it is believed that the magazines blew up as a result of the external fire and heat coming from the burning fuel oil and wooden blocks in the dock.
All machinery from the forward fireroom bulkhead forward was destroyed or rendered beyond economical repair with the possible exception of the anchor windlass which is now undergoing inspection in Navy Yard, Pearl Harbor, T.H., having been salvaged from the bow portion. One anchor and two chains plus miscellaneous chocks and bitts have also been salvaged.
It is believed, in connection with the above, that two or more bombs exploded in the dock between the ship and the starboard side of the dock which enhanced the oil fire within the ship. As the dock slowly sank, its tanks, which had been just refueled on the previous day, were ruptured covering the water around the ship with sheets of blazing oil. It was only due to a strong wind from the stern aided by the strenuous efforts of the remaining personnel, that the after portion of the ship was saved from the same catastrophe as overtook the Cassin and Downes, both being gutted by fire after the bomb explosions.
Practically all the records and files of the ship were completely destroyed. Those saved intact were all those engineering blue prints in the log room, one typewriter, and the medical records in the ship’s sick bay.

Ready for scrap? Not yet. Using materials from other ships, shipyard workers fashioned a temporary bow for the Shaw;

The USS Shaw steamed under hew own power to San Francisco Mare Island Navy Yard to have a new bow fitted;

USS Shaw (DD-373) Before New Bow

USS Shaw with new bow

31 August, 1942, the Shaw was back at Pearl ready for convoy escort duty. She ended up earning 11 Battle Stars and served until the end of the war, seeing action in at Guadalcanal, New Guinea, Saipan, and Guam, among others.

Yamamoto didn’t live long enough to know fully just how right he was.

About Erick Brockway

Living in Camarillo, CA, about 45 miles North of LA. I have a son, and two daughters. Working two jobs (welcome to California life), plus a (now retired) reservist in the US Navy Seabees so life is busy!
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