General Quarters

Sea Stories

An all hands evolution that required every officer and man on the ship to be at a particular station. In the war zone, the greatest danger of Japanese air attack was at dawn and dusk. General Quarters (battle stations) were held one hour before dawn and, again, one hour before dusk. When that call came over the ship’s public address system, everything was interrupted as the crew ran to battle stations and made ready to defend the battleship against attack.

“The average time it took us to have the conditions set, which means full battle readiness set, is five minutes. I don’t know whether you appreciate how fast that is. If General Quarters sounds at 4:30AM, the entire ships except the people on watch are in their sacks. You have to get out of bed. There are men everywhere. Put on your clothes; travel probably a city block. Up and down a ladder or two, through hatches and then get to your battle stations. Make sure all the hatches, the bells, the ready boxes, and the gun crew, everything that you have to do when the ship is ready to fight. Fully ready to fight in five minutes. It is extremely fast.”

-Donald Wickham, Musician 2/c


“Drill, drill, drill. Until you are blue in the face. In the daylight. In the dark. You know, General Quarters in the middle of the night. Darkened ship. You knew where all the steps were on the ladders. You knew where all the instructions were. In fact, you could tell how old the people were aboard ship because if they had beat up heads and scraped shins, they hadn’t been here too long.”

-John VanSambeek, Boatswain’s Mate 3/c


“General Quarters would sound anytime and I’ve been to battle stations more than once just in my skivvies with my clothes under my arm. Down the hatch I’d go.”

-Ortho Farrar, Machinist’s Mate 1/c


“When you went to battle stations, you had to have shoes, socks, trousers, your dungaree shirt on especially. You must remember that at Pearl Harbor most of the men died from flash burns from explosions. You would have to have your shirts — shirts were long-sleeved to give you protection from flashing guns or explosions, to keep you from being burned. We dyed our white hats blue so they wouldn’t be quite so obvious (the wood deck was painted blue also); so easy to see from the air. Blue hats against the ship’s color would be better. What you would do if you weren’t completely naked is grab your clothes and get up there and dress at your battle station as best you could. We took pride in the fact that we used to man the Signal Bridge so quick.”

-Jackson Belford, Signalman 3/c