Pearl Harbor: Firing the First Defensive Shot

Photo103237It was at last my senior year in high school. We were so excited to be graduating at the end of this school year. We had several new teachers that year because the school had enlarged. One of the new teachers was a Chemistry teacher named Mr. Outerbridge.  None of us knew at the time he would change our lives as he had the lives of many others 30 years prior.

Let me introduce you to Mr. Outerbridge. He was an older gentleman probably about mid 70’s in age. He always had a lot of neat stories to tell when we completed our chemistry lessons for the day. William Woodward Outerbridge was born in Hong Kong, China, on 14 April 1906. He matriculated at MMI from Middleport, Ohio, and graduated from the high school program in 1923. A member of “E” Company, he was a cadet private and held membership in the Yankee Club and, ironically, in the Stonewall Jackson Literary Society. He graduated from the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD, in the Class of 1927.

One day in December he told us we would take a break from Chemistry. He needed to tell us a true story about himself and Pearl Harbor. Of course all of us thought we knew all about Pearl Harbor since we have been taught about that since our earliest memories. Little did we know we had a true war hero in our midst. That man was Captain William Woodward Outerbridge, Captain of the USS Ward. The Ward was advised by the USS CONDOR that a mini-sub was headed to the entry channel of the port of Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii.

At the beginning of World War II, Captain Outerbridge skippered the USS Ward, a recommissioned ship built during the World War I period.  Reportedly in his first command and on his first patrol off Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December 7, 1941, Outerbridge and the USS Ward detected a Japanese two-man midget submarine near the entrance to Pearl Harbor. The USS Ward detected the midget sub at 6:45 AM and sank it at 6:54 AM, firing the first shots in defense of the U.S. in World War II. Captain Outerbridge was reportedly awarded the Navy Cross for Heroism.

Noted for firing the first shots in defense of the United States during World War II – just prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor – then Captain William W. Outerbridge served as the skipper of the destroyer USS Ward. He reported the action and the sinking of the submarine before the attack by Japan.

During World War II, Captain Outerbridge served in both the Pacific and the Atlantic, taking part in operations at Pearl Harbor, Normandy and Cherbourg, France, and at Ormoc, Mindoro, Lingayon Gulf and Okinawa.  He also participated in the carrier task force strikes against Tokyo and the Japanese mainland.
Outerbridge later both attended and taught at the Naval War College; he also taught at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces. William Outerbridge retired from the Navy in 1957 as a Rear Admiral (RADM).2309755

RADM Outerbridge married the former Grace Fulwood of Tifton, Georgia.  They were the parents of three sons.  The Admiral died on 20 September 1986.  His last address was Tifton, Georgia.

In 2002, the submarine was discovered in 1200 feet of water off Pearl Harbor with the shell holes in the coning tower confirmed Outerbridge’s report.

(This information is presented from this author’s personal conversations with RADM Outerbridge, from her notes and from personal research. Additional information may be located in the Eisenhower Library Papers, the USN Archives re: investigation of the sinking of the mini sub.)

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