When the Japanese Bombed Oregon

On 9 September 1942 the Japanese submarine aircraft carrier, I-25, surfaced quietly off the Oregon coast and at 0600 Warrant Flying Officer Nobuo Fujita took-off in a Glen floatplane on the only aerial bombing mission over the US mainland during the Second World War.

Fujita’s mission was to drop two 170lb incendiaries and start extensive forest fires in the Pacific Northwest near Brookings, Oregon. The Japanese had hoped that the mission would draw valuable US military resources away from the war in the Pacific, but heavy rain the night before had meant that the forest was still very damp and the US Forest Service were able to quickly extinguish the fires.

Fujita was spotted by Howard Gardner and Bob Larson at the Mount Emily fire lookout tower in the Siskiyou National Forest and soon the I-25 was attacked the USAAF. The submarine was forced to dive quickly and subsequently hid on the seabed off Port Orford. Three weeks later, on 29 September 1942, Fujita unsuccessfully attempted another mission. Fujita claimed to have seen extensive fires spreading as a result of his bombing, but no reports of any damage were made in the US.

The first shelling of the United States mainland took place on 23 February 1942 when the Japanese submarine I-17 attacked the Ellwood Oil Field near Santa Barbara, California. A pump house and a single catwalk were damaged. Nishino Kozo, captain of I-17, sent a message back to Tokyo claiming that he had reduced Santa Barbara to a flaming ruin.

Later in the war, between 1944 and mid-1945, as Japan became increasingly desperate, the Japanese Navy launched more than 9,000 fire balloons toward North America. The Pacific jet stream was used to carry the balloons across the ocean, where they would be expected to start forest fires and cause extensive damage. Around three hundred balloons made it across the Pacific, mostly without causing any damage or injury.

However, on 5 May 1945, in Bly, Oregon, Reverend Archie Mitchell and his wife Elsye took a party of children for a picnic in the woods just outside the town.Elsye found a Japanese balloon in a tree and as one of the children tried to remove it, the bomb exploded, killing Elsye and five children. The Mitchell Monument was erected at Fremont-Winema National Forests near the city of Bly to mark the tragedy, which resulted in the only deaths on the United States mainland caused by enemy bombing during the Second World War.

For more information on military conflict in the Pacific in the first half of the twentieth century take a look at The Rise and Fall of the Japanese Imperial Naval Sir Service by Peter Edwards.

The book is published by Pen and Sword Books (Aviation) and is currently available in hardback, priced at £25.00. The ISBN reference number is 9781848843073. Click here to order your copy.