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XIII. WORLD WAR II (continued)


Two enemy submarines were off the Pacific coast in February 1942. The first to arrive, I-8, patrolled northward from the Golden Gate to the Washington coast without encountering any shipping, and then returned to her home port. The second was I-17, a large plane-carrying submarine. I-17 arrived off San Diego about February 19. Four days later, on the 23d, just as President Franklin D. Roosevelt was beginning a "fireside chat," she surfaced off the California coast, near Santa Barbara, and from a range of 2,500 yards pumped 13 rounds of 5-1/2-inch shell into the oil installations. Damage, however, was negligible. She then headed northward and cruised the Humboldt Coast before returning to Japan. [10]

The night after I-17 shelled the oil installations near Santa Barbara, there occurred the "Battle of Los Angeles." Tensions had been building up for some time as agitation for removal of resident Japanese from coastal California had mounted. At 2 a.m. word spread that an unidentified plane had appeared on a radarscope bearing in from the Pacific toward Los Angeles. A blackout was ordered and all antiaircraft units alerted. The guns roared into action at 3 a.m., the first shot aimed at a balloon (probably a meteorological balloon over Santa Monica). Within the next hour, the gunners expended over 1,400 rounds of ammunition against a variety of "targets" in the Los Angeles area. Exhaustive hearings led to the conclusion by the army that from one to five unidentified planes had penetrated the area, whereas the navy decided that there had been no excuse for the firing. [11]

Fears were voiced on the Pacific coast, following the Doolittle raid on Tokyo in April 1942, that the Japanese would retaliate. Steps were accordingly taken by the United States to beef up its west coast defenses. Victory over a powerful Japanese task force at Midway on June 4, 1942, with the loss of four enemy aircraft carriers, all but ended the threat of a serious attack on the west coast. In effect the Battle of Midway restored the balance of naval power in the Pacific, which the Japanese had upset at Pearl Harbor.

The Japanese occupation of the western Aleutian Islands (Kiska, Attu, and Agattu) in June 1942 caused some members of the American military to fear a further Japanese thrust toward the Alaskan mainland. Japanese submarine operations helped spark these apprehensions. In conjunction with the air attack on Dutch Harbor and the occupation of the western Aleutians, two of the big plane-carrying submarines, I-25 and I-26, had been sent to reconnoiter to the south of Alaska. I-26 at the end of May departed from the neighborhood of Kodiak Island and made her way toward the Washington coast. One Japanese source claims that the reconnaissance plane of I-26 "scouted Seattle Harbor and reported no heavy men-of-war, particularly carriers, there." [12]

On June 20 the Japanese established their presence by torpedoing a Canadian lumber schooner southwest of Cape Flattery and then shelling the Canadian radio compass station at Estevan Point on Vancouver Island. The next night, June 21-22, a submarine sent six to nine 5-1/2-inch shells crashing into the Fort Stevens Military Reservation in Oregon, at the mouth of the Columbia, inflicting neither casualties nor damage. This bombardment, insignificant in itself, was the first foreign attack on a continental military installation since the War of 1812. On June 23 two torpedoes missed a tanker off the southern coast of Oregon. [13]

The final Japanese submarine patrol off the Pacific coast was undertaken in reprisal for the Doolittle raid. I-25, with its reconnaissance plane equipped for bombing, reached the coast near the California-Oregon boundary at the end of August 1942. On September 9 the plane dropped an incendiary bomb into a heavily wooded area on a mountain slope, near Brookings, Oregon. The bomb started a forest fire, but it was quickly brought under control by fire-fighters. I-25, after staying out of sight of American forces charged with her destruction, attacked with torpedoes and sank two tankers on October 4 and 6 off the coast of southern Oregon. These attacks marked an end to submarine warfare off the west coast. [14]

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Last Updated: 15-Jan-2004