At 0640 on 7 December 1941, the USS Ward spotted a periscope at the entrance to Pearl Harbor and fired upon it. Little did they know that they had just fired the first shots of World War Two for the United States.

A Shot for Posterity. The USS Ward's number three gun and its crew, cited for firing the first shot the day of Japan's raid on Hawaii. Official U.S. Navy Photograph, from the collections of the Naval History and Heritage Command.

The periscope belonged to a Japanese midget submarine, one of five that sneaked into the harbor before the Japanese attack began. The submarines almost gave away the attack, as did radar detecting a group of aircraft heading for Pearl Harbor. The radar was mistaken for a group of B-17s expected from the mainland, and by the time calls were made to investigate the submarine, it was too late. When the Japanese dropped the first bombs, America was caught completely by surprise.

Air Raid on Pearl Harbor. This is not a drill.

Radio transmission from Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941.

The Japanese targeted the American ships and aircraft, particularly the battleships docked at Battleship Row. A second wave of Japanese bombers continued to rain destruction upon the base. A few sailors managed to man anti-aircraft guns and fire back at the Japanese. Finally, by 0945, the Japanese broke off their attack and returned to their ships. The entire attack lasted less than two hours.

  • USS Ward Gunsight

  • USS Ward Gunsight

  • USS Ward Gunsight

USS Ward Gunsight

This gunsight belonged to the USS Ward, which fired the first shot of the Pacific War for the Americans by sinking a Japanese mini submarine that was trying to sneak into Pearl Harbor. The Ward was later converted to a high-speed transport and designated APD-16. The ship served off Guadalcanal, New Guinea, Cape Gloucester, Emirau Island, Leyte Gulf, and Mindoro. The Ward was badly damaged when it was struck by a Japanese “Betty” bomber in Ormoc Bay. Its crew was forced to abandon ship and it was scuttled on 7 December 1944.