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Damaged USS California

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USS California listing to port and sinking in Pearl Harbor

USS California (BB-44)
at Pearl Harbor

The battleship USS California was moored at the southernmost end of Battleship Row on December 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked. She was particularly vulnerable to attack by torpedoes as she lay in line with the Southeast Loch waterway. In the first few minutes of the attack the California was hit by torpedoes from Nakajima B5N 'Kate' torpedo bombers and also suffered bomb damage from “Val” dive-bombers.

Since the United States was not at war, and not expecting an attack, ammunition on most ships was locked below deck. According to the February 15, 1942 action reports, “all types [of ships] had some ready ammunition at the guns. Battleships and Cruisers, 15 rounds per gun for two guns for the 5-inch anti-aircraft battery and 300 rounds per gun for half of the .50 caliber battery.” Machine guns were fired at the first planes and orders were immediately given to the California crew to retrieve all ammunition and break open any boxes that were locked.

Abandoning the USS California as burning oil nears

In addition to damage caused by the torpedoes and bombs, further complications arose because “[s]he was due for inspection Monday, and the covers had been taken off six of the manholes leading to her double bottom … The water poured in and surged freely through the ship,” Day of Infamy, Walter Lord (p95).

Flooding was ordered to the starboard void compartments to counter a port list and the crew tried to raise power for the pumps to keep her afloat. But at about 10:00 AM all were ordered to abandon ship as burning oil from the Arizona and the West Virginia was drifting towards the California, causing a fire threat.

Tugs and other ships attempted to keep the California afloat after Pearl Harbor attack.

Tugs and other ships attempted to keep the California afloat after the attack, but she slowly sank despite great efforts to control the flooding. (U.S. Navy Photograph, NHHC Collection). On March 26, 1942, facilitated by the fact that the California sank in the harbor and not at sea, she was re-floated and put in dry dock for repairs. On June 7, she was able to depart under her own power for Puget Sound Navy yard for reconstruction.


There were many acts of heroism among the crew of the California. Three crewmen were posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor for heroism during the Pearl Harbor attack. One such account is of Machinist's Mate First Class Robert R. Scott. According to the account as printed in the official publication "Medal of Honor, 1861-1949, The Navy", page 258, “The compartment, in the USS California, in which the air compressor, to which Scott was assigned as his battle station, was flooded as the result of a torpedo hit.

The remainder of the personnel evacuated that compartment but Scott refused to leave, saying words to the effect ‘This is my station and I will stay and give them air as long as the guns are going’.” The California's casualties from the attack numbered nearly one hundred and over sixty wounded.

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Damage report on USS California
Enclosure C to
CINCPAC action report Serial 0479
February 15, 1942

"California sank at her berth as a result of hits by two aircraft torpedoes and one or more near bomb misses. Also received one large bomb hit on starboard upper deck abreast of foremast, which caused a serious 5-inch powder fire. It sank gradually for about three or four days and is now resting rather solidly on a mud bottom. The quarterdeck is under about twelve feet of water, and the port side of forecastle is under about three feet of water."