Paul Allen's vessel finds remains of 1st U.S. ship to fire shots in WWII

Photo from Paul Allen's research team shows the marine growth-encrusted wheelhouse of the USS Ward.

SEATTLE - Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen's research expedition team has found and documented the wreckage of the destroyer USS Ward, the first American Navy ship to fire shots in World War II.

The discovery of the ship, at the bottom of Ormoc Bay in the Philippines, was made Dec. 1 using a remotely operated undersea vehicle from Allen's research ship, the R/V Petrel.

The USS Ward, a Wickes-class destroyer, had been patrolling the Pearl Harbor entrance on the morning of Sunday, December 7, 1941, when the officer-of-the-deck spotted an 80-foot-long midget Japanese submarine trailing the USS Antares into the harbor.

The USS Ward accelerated to bear down on the submarine. Just three minutes later, the USS Ward fired the first American shot in World War II.

“We have attacked, fired upon, and dropped depth charges on a (Japanese) submarine operating in defensive sea areas,” Lt. William Outerbridge reported in a dispatch to the commandant of the Fourteenth Naval District in Pearl Harbor.

It was 6:45 a.m. on the day of the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor - “A date which will live in infamy,” as then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt said.

The USS Ward's second shot successfully struck and sank the Japanese submarine. It was one of a few small wins on that tragic day that inflicted mass death and destruction on the U.S. Pacific fleet.

On December 7, 1944 - three years to the day of the Pearl Harbor attack - the USS Ward was lost after being struck by a kamikaze. The ship had been patrolling Ormoc Bay and serving as a high-speed transport for troops.

A direct hit to the destroyer's hull caused fires that could not be contained, and the crew was ordered to abandon ship. USS Ward was then sunk by gunfire from the USS O'Brien, whose commanding officer, Lt. William Outerbridge, had been in command of the Ward during her action off Pearl Harbor three years earlier.

In a news release about the ship's discovery, Paul Allen's team wrote that USS Ward’s historical significance will not be forgotten.

"It has been 76 years since she fired that first shot, and in memory of the thousands of people lost in the attack on Pearl Harbor, the USS Ward can be honored once more," the team wrote.

The R/V Petrel is a 250-foot research and exploration vessel purchased in 2016 by Allen. The ship’s advanced underwater equipment and technology makes it one of the few ships in the world capable of exploring to 6,000 meters deep - or more than 3.5 miles.

Allen-led expeditions have also resulted in the discovery of the USS Indianapolis in August 2017, the Japanese battleship Musashi in March 2015 and the Italian World War II destroyer Artigliere in 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. Allen’s expedition team and R/V Petrel are dedicated to continuing exploration, marine archaeology and oceanographic research.

On Pearl Harbor Day, on Thursday, Allen and the expedition crew aboard the R/V Petrel will honor the USS Ward, its crew members and those lost in the attack at Pearl Harbor.

Allen is the founder and chairman of Vulcan Inc., which manages his various business and philanthropic efforts. He owns the Seattle Seahawks of the National Football League, the Portland Trail Blazers of the National Basketball Association and is part-owner of the Seattle Sounders FC of Major League Soccer.

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