Naval History Magazine, December 2012
Shortly before the end of the midwatch on 8 December 1941, a radioman on board the destroyer-seaplane tender USSWilliam B. Preston (AVD-7), at anchor in Malalag Bay off Davao Gulf, Mindanao, in the Philippines, picked up an urgent message: JAPAN HAS COMMENCED HOSTILITIES. GOVERN YOU[R]SELVES ACCORDINGLY.
Lieutenant Commander Etheridge Grant, the ship’s commanding officer, seeing no mention of exactly where the Japanese had “commenced hostilities,” immediately put his ship on a full war footing. Bluejackets belted ammunition for the ship’s four .50-caliber water-cooled Browning machine guns on the galley deckhouse amidships.
Within hours, 13 Nakajima Type 97 B5N “Kate” attack planes and nine Mitsubishi A5M4 Type 96 “Claude” fighters from the carrier Ryujo swept in, destroying two Consolidated PBY-4 Catalina patrol bombers moored a mile from the ship, killing one man and wounding two. The William B. Preston slipped anchor and zigzagged out of the bay Noting the enemy approaching from downwind, Grant remembered he “had always had a tendency to over-shoot [in those situations] . . . thinking that the Japs weren’t any smarter than I had been I applied that lesson to good advantage.” Thus when the B5N pilots reached the drop point on the beam, Grant had the ship turned toward them. “We took aboard some muddy water and a few bomb fragments,” he noted later, “but no one got hurt.” The William B. Preston , the first ship of the Asiatic Fleet to come under Japanese attack at the start of the Pacific war, had survived her first battle.
Authorized on 6 October 1917, the William B. Preston (Destroyer No. 344)—named for the Secretary of the Navy under President Zachary Taylor—was laid down at the Norfolk Navy Yard on 18 November 1918, a week after the Armistice that ended World War I. At launching on 7 August 1919, however, it appeared as if the ship did not want to go to sea, for she proceeded just 28 inches in 45 minutes before she stuck fast. The next day a tug pulled her an additional 190 feet before she once again stopped. Divers discovered her weight had forced the ways apart some 10 feet. A 150-ton yard crane was positioned and put into use, allowing the William B. Preston finally to enter her element at 2022 on 9 August.