Did you know that the Japanese attacked the West Coast of the U.S. at least four separate times during World War II? One took place in southern California and three in Oregon—all four happened in 1942 and all involved Japanese submarines.
The first attack was by the Japanese sub I-17 on 23 February and was directed at Ellwood Oil Field, a few miles north of Santa Barbara. The sub arrived around 7 p.m. and began firing at the refinery around 7:15. It targeted the fuel storage tanks but didn’t have very good aim and thus didn’t do any serious damage. Most of the damage was to a derrick, pumping station, catwalk, and pier, and the damages only totaled about $500. Two shells landed on nearby ranch properties, but neither caused any harm.
The second attack was to Fort Stevens, which protected the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon. This time the sub was the I-25, and to avoid the floating mine fields, it followed some fishing boats. On the night of 21 June, the sub opened fire on one of the batteries, but the commander of the fort ordered a blackout and refused to return fire, which made it hard for the sub to find its target. Although most of the shells landed harmlessly in a nearby baseball field and swamp, shells did manage to land close to the battery and a pillbox and to take out some telephone wire.
The third and fourth attacks were very similar. On 9 September, then again on the 29th, a floatplane was launched from the same I-25 sub that had shelled Fort Stevens. The plan was to have the plane drop incendiary bombs over the Oregon forests in hopes of starting large forest fires. The plane was flown both times by Nobuo Fujita, and both times he dropped his bombs and made it back to the sub in safety. However, the areas of forest that he bombed were too wet for the bombs to cause major fires, and each time, the small blazes were spotted and kept under control.
While none of the Japanese attacks on the U.S. mainland caused any major physical damage, they were responsible for creating panic along the Pacific Coast and were part of the justification used for the internment of Japanese Americans living in the West.
Find more stories from the war in Fold3’s World War II collection.