Then and Now: Century of Service Shows Need for Shipyard Investment at Pearl Harbor

By Capt. Greg Burton, Commander, Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard & IMF

They rushed to put out hundreds of fires around Pearl Harbor,
organized an ammunition-passing party, worked on disabled engines and cut men
out of the hulls of sunken ships. These workers saved dozens of lives and were
charged with resurrecting the fleet that brought peace to a world that was
burning. Just six months after the initial bombing
of Pearl Harbor
, the battered and bloodied USS Yorktown aircraft carrier
limped back to Pearl Harbor following the Battle of Coral Sea. Once again, these
heroes answered the call. I’m not talking about sailors or soldiers. I’m
talking about tradesmen who loved and served their country.

After the Pearl Harbor attack, Pearl Harbor Naval
workers helped turn the tide of the war at Midway and
also repaired and maintained the ships that would sail triumphantly into Tokyo
This support continued through the Korea
conflict, Vietnam
Cold War, Gulf War and in combat operations in support of ground forces in
Afghanistan and Iraq. Along the way, they prioritized environmental stewardship
and safety programs and supported the Navy in its transition to nuclear

As in years past, today’s shipyard workers possess the
grit, determination and capacity unique to and necessary for sustaining the
most powerful Navy in the world.

Next month, Lionsgate will release Midway, a new movie that will highlight epic stories from Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard’s 111-year history. One story is repairing the USS Yorktown (CV-5).

The USS Yorktown
saw its first major battle after the Japanese Imperial Navy sent an invasion
force through the Coral Sea and the U.S. Navy moved to intercept. The enemy hit
Yorktown with a bomb that exploded on
the fourth deck. Later, a near miss landed close enough to open up her hull.
Following orders, the crippled Yorktown
returned to Pearl Harbor trailing an oil slick 10 miles long.

skipper prepared an action report detailing the carrier’s damage for Adm.
Chester W. Nimitz
, Commander-in-Chief. U.S. Pacific Fleet. It
would be a preliminary estimate of the necessary repairs for returning the
carrier to the high seas. An effort that put the Pearl
Harbor Naval Shipyard
workforce in the history books.

The sobering report detailed a 551-pound
armor-piercing bomb plunging through the flight deck and penetrating 50 feet into
the ship before exploding above the forward-engine room. It destroyed six
compartments, the lighting systems on three decks and took out her radar and
refrigeration systems. The bomb also damaged the gears controlling an elevator while
the near misses opened seams in her hull and ruptured the fuel-oil

Adm. Aubrey Fitch
speculated that repairs would take 90
days. Adm. Nimitz didn’t have 90

Thanks to the intelligence work by Cmdr.
Joseph Rochefort
and his team at Station

(also located at the shipyard in Building 1)
the Navy broke the Japanese Imperial code and intercepted plans detailing a pending
Japanese attack at Midway.
Adm. Nimitz had already started sending battle groups and air wings to Midway.
The question in his mind was whether shipyard workers could repair the Yorktown in time for that battle.

After Yorktown eased
into Dry Dock 1 with the
caisson closing behind the ship and the pumps draining out the water, Adm. Nimitz
in waders trudged through about a foot of water to inspect the ship. After
staring at the burst seams and hull damage, Adm. Nimitz turned to the
technicians and said, “We must have this ship back in three days.” After a long
silence, a repair expert replied, “Yes, sir.”

Within minutes, repairmen swarmed the dry dock. Eventually,
1,400 of them would work around the clock for almost 72 straight hours to get
the job done. To meet the vast electricity needs for the repairs, the Navy
contacted the Hawaiian Electric Company who supported the massive effort with a
series of rolling blackouts throughout the island.

Workers made only the most urgent repairs. Instead of
fixing all of the hull’s ruptured seams, they welded a massive steel plate over
the damaged section. Yorktown arrived
at 11 a.m. on May 28 and on the morning of May 30, with shipyard workers still
onboard mending the ship, Yorktown steamed out of Pearl Harbor and sped
to one of the most decisive battles in history.

Through this monumental repair effort, which deserves to be honored and glorified on the silver screen, those workers who completed this nearly-impossible task cemented Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard as a national strategic asset; and today’s shipyard workers are still writing history today. People are our Navy’s and our nation’s greatest asset and we have amazing people. They develop innovative solutions to challenging problems and maintain the most powerful Navy in the world. They are the force behind the fleet!

As we recount and honor the shipyard’s past, we must
look to its future.  Pearl Harbor Naval
Shipyard’s strategic importance cannot be overstated due to its proximity to Indo-Pacific
area of operation. A frank assessment of the shipyard reveals a need to invest
in its dry docks, infrastructure, and capital equipment – much of which
predates Yorktown’s 1942 docking.

Dry Dock 1 is the location of the “Yorktown miracle.”
In 1913, it imploded under faulty piling and a bad foundation, but after
painstaking redesign and reconstruction, it rose again. On December 7, 1941, it
was the overhaul site for the battleship USS
(BB-38), as well as USS
(DD-372) and USS Downes
(DD-375) with both destroyers sustaining severe damage from Japanese bombs. In
August 2019, Dry Dock 1 turned
100 years old
. It is still capable of docking all ships
and submarines homeported at Pearl Harbor, however, the Navy is taking a
proactive approach with the Shipyard
Infrastructure Optimization Program
(SIOP) to ensure the
Navy can use facilities like Dry Dock 1 well into the future. This is necessary
to support new ships and submarines such as Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft
carriers, Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines and new variants of
Virginia-class fast-attack submarines.

Since 1937, Pearl Harbor Navy Shipyard workers have used this hydraulic steam press for metal forming operations. Today it must be serviced after each use. The proposed $21 billion Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Program would replace aged capital equipment in addition to repairing and upgrading dry docks while optimizing shipyard layouts to improve productivity and throughput. (PHNSY & IMF photo by Amanda Cartagena-Urena)

Just as the shipyard was so important to national
defense then, it remains so today and investment in infrastructure is critical
to allow us to keep our ships in the fight. According to Adm. Nimitz, the enemy’s
failure to destroy the shipyard’s dry dock facilities and other critical
infrastructure during the Pearl Harbor attack shortened the War in the Pacific
by two years. That drives home the point that investing in the modernization of
the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard is of supreme importance to our nation’s
security as we look to a new Great
Power Competition

The Navy’s four shipyards are
more than a century old. Designed and laid out to build ships of wood, sail,
and coal, their mission has changed over time; now, used to repair our nation’s
most complex ships – nuclear powered aircraft carriers and submarines.  SIOP is a once-in-a-century undertaking that
will deliver modern facilities to maintain today’s and tomorrow’s fleet and
will help ensure the on-time and on-cost delivery of submarines and

SIOP focuses on repairing and upgrading our dry docks,
optimizing the layout of the shipyards to improve productivity and throughput,
and replacing aged capital equipment.  The
Navy estimates this work will take about 20 years and cost $21 billion across
the four public shipyards, phasing the work so we can continue to support the ongoing
maintenance needs of the fleet. 

Executing SIOP allows us to continue to keep our ships
in the fight, strengthens naval power and increases our capabilities while
recovering 300,000 workdays per year through improved productivity. 

What an opportunity we have to shape the future while
honoring our legacy and supporting current mission success. We are the force
behind the Navy the nation needs!

Since 1942, Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard’s electrical shop has used this bridge crane. While some parts have been replaced, all original beams, gears, and tracks remain. The proposed Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Program is a once-in-a-century undertaking that will deliver modern equipment and facilities to maintain today’s and tomorrow’s fleet. (PHNSY & IMF photo by Amanda Cartagena-Urena)

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