The Foxhole View
Where Military History Comes to Life
Pearl Harbor Survivor Went on to Perform Distinguished Service in World War II and After
By Don Hirst
Nearly 75 years ago, a small U.S. Coast Guard fighting ship was engulfed in the hell that was Pearl Harbor, but survived that surprise attack to fight with distinction during the rest of World War II and serve for many years thereafter. Today, she rests in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor as a floating museum.
That ship is the Coast Guard cutter Taney. Combat losses and the scrapyard have obliterated all other ships that were afloat at Pearl Harbor, but the Taney remains as a piece of living history.
While the 327-foot cutter is called the last surviving ship from Pearl Harbor, that distinction needs to have an asterisk next to it. The reason is found in a tiny U.S. Navy tugboat, the Hoga. While not big enough to be classified as a ship, the Hoga also was at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 and performed with distinction in the aftermath of the attack. The Hoga survives, too, and is being restored at a maritime museum in Arkansas. More on that valiant tug’s Pearl Harbor service later; for now, I’m going to focus on the Taney.
Originally commissioned as the Roger B. Taney (a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court before and during the American Civil War), the ship entered Coast Guard service in 1936. She was part of a class of large, fast cutters designed to perform rescue operations and interdict illegal drugs — primarily opium, according to the Coast Guard. In 1937, the Coast Guard shortened the ship’s name to Taney and she’s gone by that designation ever since.
Before the United States became engulfed in World War II following the Pearl Harbor attack, Taney was assigned to the Pacific. There, she performed a variety of duties, including supplying isolated way stations on small islands in the vast ocean.
“On 25 July 1941, the Coast Guard cutter was transferred to the Navy and reported for duty with the local defense forces of the 14th Naval District, maintaining her base at Honolulu., according to the Coast Guard. “..Taney operated locally out of Honolulu into the critical fall of 1941. She conducted regular harbor entrance and channel patrols, alternating often with one of the four old destroyers of Destroyer Division 80.”
When the Japanese attacked, Taney’s crew swiftly manned the ship’s antiaircraft guns to help defend the big naval base. After the attack, Taney patrolled the nearby waters and dropped depth charges on several occasions against suspected Japanese submarines.
In late 1943, Taney was ordered to sail for Boston, where the ship would help escort convoys across the Atlantic. She stopped at Mare Island, Calif., before heading to the East Coast. There, the ship was refitted with four single-mount 5-inch guns (the only ship of her class to get this upgrade, the Coast Guard said) and received other improvements, too.
Taney then went to the Norfolk area, where she departed in early April 1944 as a part of Task Force (TF) 66, according to the Coast Guard. The cutter served “as convoy guide for convoy UGS-38. The passage across the Atlantic proved uneventful, as the convoy made landfall off the Azores” on April 13. Then all hell broke loose a week later.
Waves of German bombers attacked the convoy, claiming several ships including one escort. But the rest of the convoy, including Taney, made it safely to Tunisia on April 21, 1944. From there, Taney escorted a returning convoy back to the United States, arriving in New York on May 21, 1944, the Coast Guard said.
After performing escort duty on two more convoys, Taney was dispatched to the Boston Navy Yard to be converted to an armed amphibious command ship. Then it was back to the Pacific, where Taney ultimately took part in the brutal 1945 campaign to capture Okinawa. Japanese suicide planes made their appearance during the intense fighting and Taney performed heroically during the kamikaze attacks.
“By the end of May, Taney had gone to general quarters 119 times, with the crew remaining at battle stations for up to nine hours at a stretch,” the Coast Guard said. “During this period off Okinawa in April and May, Taney downed four suicide planes and assisted in numerous other ‘kills.’ The command ship also conducted combat information center duties, maintaining complete radar and air coverage, receiving and evaluating information on both friendly and enemy activities. On one occasion, Taney’s duties took her close inshore close enough to even receive fire close aboard from a Japanese shore battery.”The kamikaze attacks by the Japanese “continued throughout June, although most were intercepted by combat air patrol (CAP) fighters and downed before they could reach their targets,” according to the Coast Guard. “Such raids took place on 18 out of 30 days that month… During this month-long period, at least 288 enemy planes attacked the ships in Taney’s vicinity, and at least 96 of these were destroyed.”
Taney survived Okinawa and the rest of the war. After World War II, she performed a variety of duties that included weather patrols, rescues and other missions. But the ship’s combat duties once again came to the fore during the Vietnam War. She served in the waters off Vietnam for 10 months, “providing gunfire support and preventing enemy infiltration along the coastal routes used by the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese forces,” the Coast Guard said.
“..During her tour of duty, Taney steamed for over 52,000 miles and inspected over 1,000 vessels. She participated in dozens of naval gunfire support missions, firing more than 3,400 5-inch shells at enemy positions. Her medical staff also treated over 6,000 Vietnamese villagers. For her service, the government of the Republic of South Vietnam awarded Taney the Vietnamese Presidential Unit Citation.”
In the 1970s and 1980s, the Taney’s missions included storm tracking and, later, the interdiction of drugs. The ship made her final bust on Oct. 4, 1985 when she seized a vessel “which was towing a barge that carried 160 tons of marijuana 300 miles off Virginia,” according to the Coast Guard.
The end of her long service career took place in December 1986. “Over her distinguished career, the Taney received three battle stars for World War II service and numerous theatre ribbons for service in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam,” the Coast Guard noted.
She was formally decommissioned on 7 December 1986 — the 45th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack — and given to the City of Baltimore, where she became a floating museum. There, the ghosts of Pearl Harbor echo aboard the Taney each December 7 when formal ceremonies are held on the ship to mark the attack. Typically, they end with a Baltimore Police Department helicopter dropping a wreath in the water near the ship that served at Pearl Harbor generations ago.
And now for the rest of the Pearl Harbor survivors. Coast Guard cutters are small, with ones like Taney roughly equivalent to a Navy destroyer. But compared to the tiny tug Hoga, Taney was a battleship. Hoga was a mere 100 feet long and displaced just 325 tons, compared to the Taney’s length — 327 feet — and displacement — 2,350 tons.
Hoga, recently commissioned at the time of Pearl Harbor, spent three continuous days fighting fires aboard the big battleships that were severely damaged, according to the Inland Maritime Museum in North Little Rock, Ark., where the tug is being restored. Hoga’s biggest feat — and one that prevented the loss of access to the big Navy base at Pearl Harbor — was coming to the aid of the stricken battleship USS Nevada that managed to get under way despite heavy damage.
Hoga helped fight fires aboard the Nevada and then pushed the battlewagon, in danger of sinking, away from the narrow channel that gave access to Pearl Harbor. Had the Nevada sunk in the channel, ships would have been unable to enter or exit the vital base for months, thus severely altering the course of America’s early World War II efforts. “For her work, Hoga, her commanding officer and his crew received a commendation from Admiral Chester A. Nimitz, Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet,” according to the museum.
That heroic performance was the highlight of Hoga’s wartime efforts. She spent the rest of the war performing various duties in Pearl Harbor and, after the war ended, Hoga was given to the city of Oakland, Calif., where the tug served as a fireboat for almost 50 years. The National Park Service granted the tiny tug National Landmark Status in 1989. Several years later, Hoga became part of the Mothball Fleet in 1996. Then, in 2015, Hoga arrived at the maritime museum and is now undergoing restoration. Once that is finished, Hoga will become a museum exhibit, a piece of living history just like the other Pearl Harbor survivor, the Taney.