Thursday, January 12, 2012

Repairs at Pearl, 1942

The American forces at Pearl Harbor paid a fearful price. There was a total of 2,403 American dead, including 68 civilians. 1,178 military personnel and civilians were wounded. 21 ships of the U.S. Pacific Fleet were sunk or damaged. 188 aircraft were destroyed and 159 were damaged.

In the weeks immediately after the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor, one of history's greatest salvage operations took place. The crew of my dad’s repair ship, Vestal, was called upon for a myriad of jobs to help in the salvage of the fleet. Each of Vestal's crewmen, having been trained in ship repair, immediately began to patch up their own ship with the limited resources at hand. After just a week following the attack, the Vestal, patched and refloated, spent many months of the next year serving as one of the main repair vessels for the sunken battleships pulled from the mud at Pearl Harbor. Much of the work had to be performed in oil-fouled interiors of bombed and torpedoed ships that had been under water for months. A lot of the work had to be carried out in gas masks to guard against the ever-present risk of toxic gasses, and nearly all of it was extremely dirty.

Amazingly, almost all the ships that were damaged or sunk were repaired and returned to service in the war. The battleship Oklahoma was raised and moved, but soon sank at sea beyond recovery. Of course, the battleships Arizona and Utah were damaged beyond repair and were left in the harbor where they sunk.

Source: Dictionary of American Fighting Ships,

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