WHEN THE JAPANESE BOMBED OREGON

The E14Y Type 0 recon seaplane flew with a pilot…

The E14Y Type 0 recon seaplane flew with a pilot and observer/gunner, could carry four 168-pound incendiary bombs, and mounted one Type 92 7.7mmR (.303 British) Lewis flexible machinegun. It had a range of 548 miles at a cruising speed of 104 mph. (Photo courtesy IJN, via U.S. Navy)

Fortunately for us, the Imperial Japanese Navy thought we had a lot more going for our continental defense after their attack on Pearl Harbor than we actually did. We were Island America, not Fortress America. Nearly a year after Pearl Harbor, Japan’s naval forces were still preoccupied in the South Pacific, and so were we—because that’s where the enemy was.

The submarine forces of Japan, however, were running rampant from their South Pacific bases in Kwajalein in the Marshall Islands to the West Coast of North America. They were preying upon allied shipping with telling effect, because early in the war we did not have the forces to challenge them. Practically unfettered, one of the Japanese submarines most active along the North American West Coast was the I-25. Longer than a football field, the I-15-class, B-Type submarines were unique in that they had an airplane hangar forward of the conning tower, which held a Yokosuka E14Y “Glen” two-seater floatplane, disassembled. It was launched from a 20-meter steel catapult ramp forward of the hangar, and on its return the Glen landed in the water and was lifted aboard with a crane, and re-stowed disassembled in the hangar.

The I-25 and her crew of more than a hundred had been very busy. She took part in the attack on Pearl Harbor, and Warrant Officer Nobuo Fujita had flown his Glen from the I-25 to photograph the Allied build-up in Wellington, New Zealand, and again on March 13, 1942, over Auckland, as well as flying over Sydney, Melbourne and Bass Strait, Australia. With unrestrained success, the I-25 had been preying upon Allied shipping in the Pacific and along the American West Coast. She returned to Kwajalein on March 31, then to Yokosuka for refit. The I-25 was in dry dock 5 on April 18, 1942, when the Doolittle raiders blasted the carrier Ryuho next to her in dry dock 4.

fujitanobuo
Warrant Flight Officer Fujita Nobuo would become an honorary citizen of Brookings, Oregon, and an unofficial goodwill ambassador after the war. Some of his ashes are buried at the site of his Oregon bombing. (Photo courtesy IJN)

You Bomb My Homeland, I Bomb Yours
In a long-range game of counting coup, Warrant Flight Officer Nubuo Fujita was specifically chosen for a special incendiary bombing mission to create forest fires in North America. The I-25 left Yokosuka on August 15, 1942, carrying six 76kg (168-pound) incendiary bombs. On September 9, the crew again deployed the Glen off Cape Blanco in southern Oregon. Piloted by Fujita with observer/tail gunner Petty Officer Shoji Okuda, the plane flew inland about 50 miles and dropped two bombs in the Siskiyou Forest near Brookings, Oregon—the first time the continental U.S. was bombed by enemy aircraft.

The Oregon coast had been at times extremely vulnerable to fire—the monstrous Tillamook Burns of 1933 and 1939, and the destruction of the town of Bandon for example—but in this instance, light winds, wet weather and alert fire lookouts held the damage to a few startling headlines.

Fujita returned to the I-25, and about as fast as they had stowed the Glen, the I-25 was bombed by an A-29 Hudson from McChord Field, Washington. The American plane’s time-fuzed bombs caused only minor damage, but the fast response of a Coast Guard cutter and three more aircraft made I-25’s skipper Lieutenant Commander Meiji Tagami more cautious on a similar raid on September 29. Launched in pre-dawn darkness using Cape Blanco Lighthouse to navigate, the plane was heard at 5:22am by a work crew at the Grassy Knob Lookout 7 miles east of Port Orford, Oregon. But this time fire crews from the Gold Beach Ranger Station were unable to locate any evidence of the two incendiary bombs dropped.

On the September 9 raid, fire lookout Howard Gardner spotted and reported the incoming Glen from his tower on Mount Emily. He heard the engine of the airplane and it sounded like the backfiring of a Model-T.

Load Comments
  • Jim Edwards

    This is an excellent article that serves as a primer for more research. There are several threads in here which could be pulled to unearth more stories, such as a Western Defense Command history, or perhaps research to determine if the Germans and their U-boats had any exploits on the East Coast. As Mr Swift points out in his comment, we lose valuable opportunities everyday as WW2 veterans leave us…the time is ripe for more research in this area.

  • Fred Warner

    …our nation’s history has to be complete! Article like this tell a broader scope of our history and specifically a first hand account–how much better can you get for a History lesson. What a story! more please!

  • Benjamin Kupershmidt

    I was born in Russian but grew up in the US, I had no idea the Japanese had ever reached Main Land. Not one of my school book has ever mentioned it. I wish more detailed stories like this come to light as the other reader said, before all of our WWII vets have passed.

  • Dwight Swift

    I hope you run more articles like this. This is the kind of oral history we will lose if we don’t start documenting first-hand accounts from WW2 veterans and people who knew them.