On This Date In Twin Cities History - December 7, 1941

The USS Ward's number three gun and its crew circa 1941
The USS Ward’s number three gun and its crew circa 1941

On this date in 1941, at 6:45 AM the USS Ward, a 1247-ton Wickes class destroyer, attacks and sinks a Japanese 2-man midget submarine outside Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The crew manning the ship’s No. 1 gun fired at the sub first missing the target.  Subsequently, the nine-man crew of the No. 3 gun from St. Paul fired a shot that sank the sub.  These were the first shots fired by Americans in World War II, hours before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

After the war, The Ward’s crew members formed the “First Shot Naval Vets,” which held annual reunions on Dec. 7.  The group arranged to have the No. 3 gun, which had been removed as part of the ship’s conversion to a high speed transport, moved to Minnesota for the state’s centennial celebration in 1958.

For years, there were doubts that the crew of the Ward had actually fired upon and sunk a Japanese midget submarine. In 2002 however, a team of deep-sea researchers found a perfectly preserved Japanese midget sub, exactly where the crew of the Ward reported it would be. The researchers found that the conning tower had a hole where the #3 gun pierced it. The sub still had its two torpedoes which had never been fired. This discovery proved the Ward had indeed fired the first shots of World War II for the United States and sunk the Japanese submarine as reported.

Today, the #3 gun that fired this historic shot can still be seen on the grounds of the Minnesota State Capitol.

USS Ward Gun number 3 on grounds of Minnesota State Capitol (St. Paul Pioneer Press)
USS Ward Gun No. 3 on the grounds of Minnesota State Capitol (Photo courtesy of St. Paul Pioneer Press)