75 years ago today - December 7 1941
Destroyers USS Downes DD-375 (left) USS Cassin DD-372 (leaning against Downes) and the Battleship USS Pennsylvania BB-38.
When the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, USS Downes was in dry-dock with ‘Cassin’ and 'Pennsylvania’. The three came under heavy attack and an incendiary bomb landed between the two destroyers, starting raging fires fed by oil from a ruptured fuel tank. Despite heavy strafing, the crews of the two destroyers got their batteries into action, driving off further attacks by Japanese planes.
The dry-dock was flooded in an effort to quench the fires, but the burning oil rose with the water level and when the ammunition and torpedo warheads on board the destroyers began to explode, the two ships were abandoned. Later 'Cassin’ slipped from her keel blocks and rested against 'Downes’. Both ship’s hulls were damaged beyond repair but machinery and equipment were salvaged and sent to Mare Island Navy Yard where entirely new ships were built around the salvaged material and given the wrecked ship’s names and hull numbers.
USS Pennsylvania managed to escape the dubious honor of having been on Battleship Row during the attack on Pearl Harbor, but this fortunate set of circumstances also did not give her as much visibility in the public eye. For the older battleships present during the attack, 'Oklahoma’ and 'Arizona’ were destroyed and 'Nevada’ gained fame attempting to escape out of the harbor. And the newer “Big Five” battleships would be resurrected and some would be completely transformed to the point they were almost unrecognizable. But 'Pennsylvania’, stuck in drydock, became best known for being in the background. In this case, the background for the wrecks of the destroyers 'Cassin’ and 'Downes’.
'Pennsylvania’ sustained relatively minor damage during the Pearl Harbor attack, then spent much of 1942 training and conducting patrols of the United States west coast. In early 1943 she was sent to the Aleutians to help force out the Japanese forces on Attu and Kiska.
(Colourised by Royston Leonard from the UK)