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1. First Attacks

Japanese submarines operated off the western coast of the United States on several occasions during World War II. When plans were made for the attack on Pearl Harbor, a directive was issued on November 5, 1941, by the Japanese Navy for its 6th Fleet of submarines to "make reconnaissance of American Fleet in Hawaii and West Coast area, and, by surprise attacks on shipping, destroy lines of communication." [1] After participating in the operations directed against Pearl Harbor, the 6th Fleet dispatched nine submarines to attack shipping along the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington. Seven of these vessels were equipped to carry planes for reconnaissance. These submarines began arriving off the coast about December 17 and operated on previously assigned stations from Cape Flattery in the north to San Diego in the south. [2]

The submarines remained off our coast for about ten days. Only four of the nine attacked any shipping. The tanker Agwi-world was shelled by a submarine off Santa Cruz, California, on December 19, but she escaped. Four other vessels, S. S. Emidio, Samoa, Larry Doheny, and Montebello were attacked off the California coast before Christmas. Two of these vessels, both tankers, were destroyed. [3]

Claims were voiced at the time that an army B-24 bomber sent a Japanese submarine to the bottom on Christmas Eve, at a point 50 miles off the mouth of the Columbia River. This was an error on the airmen's part, because the submarine assigned to that station, I-25, was destined to return to the Pacific coast in the late summer of 1942. The submarine flotilla had planned to engage in simultaneous shelling of coastal cities on Christmas Eve, but at the last moment, Japanese fleet headquarters ordered the submarines to abandon the plan and to return to their base at Kwajalein. [4]

2. Sinking of S. S. Emidio

One of the vessels attacked by the submarines was the General Petroleum Tanker Emidio. On Saturday, December 20, she was running down the coast, when at 1 p.m. the lookout sighted a large submarine bearing down. Capt. A. C. Farrow, in an effort to escape conned a zigzag course, which took the 6,912-ton tanker nearer the coast. The submarine, however, was too swift, and she soon drew in range. Her gunners then opened fire with their 5-1/2-inch gun. Six shells were fired, five of them bursting on the target. Several of the lifeboats were damaged, the tanker's radio put out of action, and three sailors knocked over board. The radioman, however, was able to get off an S. O. S. before his set went dead.

Captain Farrow and most of the crew then abandoned Emidio. While they were searching, unsuccessfully, for the men carried overboard, a patrol bomber of the U. S. Navy appeared and the submarine submerged. Emidio, with only a skeleton crew aboard, was wallowing and helpless, while Farrow and his people in the two lifeboats looked for the men hurled overboard by the exploding shells. As soon as the bomber disappeared, the submarine surfaced, closed to within 440 yards, and sent a torpedo crashed into the tanker. The torpedo exploded in the after engineroom, drowning two of the eleven men remaining aboard. After the submarine had disappeared, the two lifeboats took aboard the nine survivors of the skeleton crew and pulled for the coast. Twelve hours later, they reached Blunts Reef Lightship.

When interviewed by the press Captain Farrow and his crew called the attack, "shameful and ruthless," as they charged the Japanese with deliberately shelling their lifeboats before they could be lowered. "If they had been armed," they boasted, "we would have had a good chance against the submarine," as she was within easy range. [5]

Emidio refused to sink, however. Drifting northward with the current, she came ashore on Steamboat Rock, near the entrance to Crescent City harbor, on the night of December 25. Hundreds of people crowded Battery Point the next day to view the wreck. The tanker's bow was out of the water, and her after portion was submerged. One of the curious reported, "The bridge and forward deck are out of the water, the ship's stack with the letter, G, rising out of the water at the stern, which appears to be riding on the rocky bottom. The bow moves with the rise and fall of the waves." [6]

Emidio drifted free on Wednesday, January 14, and wallowed in the entrance to the harbor, threatening to run down the craft at anchor in Fish Harbor. To prevent the derelict from becoming a "Flying Dutchman," Leo Ward was taken out to the hulk and released its anchor. Although the vessel was in custody of the United States Coast Guard, Ward was interested in the possibility of salvaging the vessel, and he had contacted officials of General Petroleum in San Pedro. He believed the bow of Emidio was sound, and if the after portion could be raised with pontoons or cut away, the craft could be salvaged. [7]

R. C. Porter of San Francisco made a better offer for the hulk than Ward, and he acquired salvage rights to Emidio. He hired a crew of local fishermen and boats to carry out the project. Porter, however, failed to notify the Coast Guard of his plan, and he and his men were fired on by the guard as they sought to board the wreck. After identifying themselves, they were allowed to proceed. The anchor chain was cut, and the tides carried the hulk toward Fauntleroy Rock. [8] Nine years were to pass before the rusty bow was finally broken up for scrap, and the forward bollards placed at the foot of H Street as a memorial. [9]

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Last Updated: 15-Jan-2004