Expedition Locates Wreckage of the USS Ward, the Destroyer that Fired the First American Shots of World War II

uss ward wreckage
The USS Ward’s wheelhouse with steering-wheel visible. Photo: RV Petrel

The expedition team aboard Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen’s research vessel RV Petrel have located and now documented the deepwater wreckage of the USS Ward, which is credited with firing the first American shot of World War II during the attack on Pearl Harbor.

The expedition team released detailed video and images of the historic wreckage this week in the lead up to today’s 76th anniversary of the attack.

The wreckage is located in Ormoc Bay off Ponson Island in the Philippines, and until recently had been unseen since it sank at the hands of Japanese kamikaze planes in 1944.

The USS Ward was a Wickes-class destroyer that is famously known for firing the first American shot of the war at 6:45 a.m. on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941 just outside of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, when the ship and its crew sighted and sank a Japanese midget submarine. The submarine they sank was one of five top secret Japanese vessels, each armed with two torpedoes that intended to penetrate the harbor under cover of darkness before the attack began. 

The enemy air attack on Pearl Harbor, and throughout Oahu, started about an hour after the USS Ward sank the midget submarine, according to historians.

 

uss ward

On December 7, 1944, three years later to the day, the USS Ward was lost after coming under attack by several kamikazes. Amazingly, only Ward crew member was injured, but the damaged ship was eventually scuttled by another Navy vessel, the USS O’Brien.

“The USS Ward found herself in the crucible of American history – at the intersection of a peacetime Navy and war footing. She took decisive, effective and unflinching action despite the uncertain waters. Now 76 years on, her example informs our naval posture,” said Adm. Scott Swift, commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

The 250-foot RV Petrel was purchased by Paul Allen in 2016 and is one of the few ships on the planet capable of exploring to 6,000 meters deep. Following a 2017 retrofit, Petrel and its crew use state-of-the-art underwater technology for deep-sea search and exploration expeditions.

“The Petrel and its capabilities, the technology it has and the research we’ve done, are the culmination of years of dedication and hard work,” said Robert Kraft, director of subsea operations for Mr. Allen. “We’ve assembled and integrated this technology, assets and unique capability into an operating platform which is now one among very few on the planet.”

To ensure the location of the ship was accurate, the USS Ward’s wreckage was identified and cross-referenced with historic drawings and schematics of the ship.

The survey of the USS Ward was part of a combined mission to document the Imperial Japanese Warships that were lost during the Battle of Surigao Strait in the Philippines. During the November expedition, the RV Petrel was able to capture video of IJN Yamashiro (FUSO class dreadnought battleship), IJN Fuso (FUSO class dreadnought battleship), Yamagumo (Asashio class destroyer), Asagumo (Asashio class destroyer) and Michishio (Asashio class destroyer). These ships and more than 4,000 men were lost during a decisive battle on October 25, 1944, considered the largest naval battle in history.

Allen-led expeditions have also resulted in the discovery of the USS Indianapolis (August 2017), Japanese battleship Musashi (March 2015) and the Italian World War II destroyer Artigliere (March 2017). His team was also responsible for retrieving and restoring the ship’s bell from the HMS Hood for presentation to the British Navy in honor of its heroic service.