On this date in 1942, a Japanese I-25 submarine surfaced just miles from the Northwest Oregon coastline using night as its cover and the soldiers inside ran to their battle stations. Their target was an area of land on the northwest corner of the state where they believed a U.S. Naval Station, complete with submarines and destroyers, was stationed. Their goal was to strike back at the U.S. Mainland, after being caught off guard by the U.S. Doolittle Raid on Japan, and divert further military resources to shoring up the protection of the mainland. An earlier shelling of the Ellwood oil production facilities near Santa Barbara, California had caused no casualties and only $500-1,000 worth of damage.
In reality, a Naval Station had been approved, but was not yet under construction. However, it was home to the American military installation, Fort Stevens, that served to protect the mouth of the Columbia River. It was home to 2,500 soldiers who immediately ran to their stations when the first shell was fired. Because the Japanese were cautiously keeping their gun sight free in case of American reinforcements from the air, they fired at nothing in particular, attempting to draw return fire to hone in on their target. However, orders were quickly dispersed at Fort Stevens not to return fire (either because they were concerned about giving away their positions or that the submarine was out of range of their cannons). In total, 17 shells rained down on the Oregon coastline before the Japanese submarine re-submerged and escaped into the night.
The only reported casualty of the shelling was a baseball diamond backstop. The closest the shells came to a military post was about 300 yards in front of Battery Russell. The concrete artillery battery dated back to the early 1900s and it would be decommissioned before the end of the war. Today it is a popular tourist destination in the park, and home to a ghostly night watchman according to some. Another shell that reportedly landed nearby is marked today by a historical landmark that relates the seldom reported attack. While the attacks were less than successful in causing major casualties and/or damage, it did create widespread panic up and down the West Coast of America and helped reinforce the need to “relocate” Americans of Japanese ancestry into internment camps for the duration of the war.
Check out the historical landmark and read more stories of Battery Russell.
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