Japanese Submarine Attacks on Curry County in World War II
On Wednesday morning, September 9, 1942, the Imperial Japanese Navy submarine I-25 surfaced west of Cape Blanco and launched a small seaplane piloted by Chief Flying Officer Nobuo Fujita. Fujita flew southeast over the Oregon coast, dropping incendiary bombs on Mount Emily, 10 miles northeast of Brookings.
After Fujita’s bombing run on Mount Emily, the I-25 came under attack by U.S. Army Air Corps aircraft, forcing the submarine to seek refuge on the ocean floor off Port Orford. The American attacks were unsuccessful, and Fujita was able to launch an additional bombing sortie three weeks later. Shortly after this sortie, the submarine sank the SS Camden, the SS Larry Doheny, and the Soviet (Russian) submarine L-16.
Read the whole story below.
The story of the Imperial Japanese Navy Submarine I-25 (1941-1943)
The I-25 was one of eleven Japanese submarines configured to carry a seaplane. The aircraft provided a unique reconnaissance capability, but could also carry two bombs. Although the plane-equipped submarines were primarily intended for reconnaissance and scouting missions, they were heavily armed and capable of surface and submerged attack.
The I-25 was the sixth boat of the B-1 type, I-15 class. It was built by Mitsubishi in Kobe, Japan, and completed in October 1941. The submarine was positioned off Pearl Harbor during the attack on December 7, but damage to the aircraft precluded it from conducting scouting missions for the attack.
The I-25 displaced 2,584 tons submerged, with a length of 356 feet. Its twin diesel engines and two propeller shafts were capable of providing a cruising range of over 14,000 miles. The submarine carried a crew of 97 men, including a pilot and crewman for the seaplane.
Armament included 17 torpedoes and a 5.5 inch deck gun, as well as two 25mm antiaircraft guns.
The seaplane was housed in a watertight hangar forward of the conning tower. The wings and floats were removed and the horizontal stabilizer folded up to fit in the hangar. Two launch rails extended from the hangar to the bow. A compressed-air catapult launched the reassembled plane. For recovery, the pilot landed on the surface, taxied to the submarine and was hoisted aboard.
- The ‘Glen” seaplane
The Yokosuka E14Y1, nicknamed “Glen,” was powered by a 9-cylinder, 340-hp Hitachi Tempu 12 radial engine, capable of providing a maximum speed of about 150 mph, although speeds of 85 mph were more common. It could remain aloft for five hours with an operating radius of about 200 miles.
The frame was constructed of metal and wood, with fabric-covered wing and tail surfaces. It weighed 3,500 pounds, had a wingspan of 36 feet, and carried a pilot and crewman.
The Glen could carry a bomb payload of 340 pounds, and was outfitted with a rear-facing 7.7mm machine gun for self defense.
- The pilot – Nobuo Fajita
Chief Flying Officer Nobuo Fujita was born in 1911 and was drafted into the Imperial Japanese Navy in 1932, becoming a pilot in 1933. Although he was on the I-25 during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, non-battle damage to the aircraft prevented him from participating in the operation.
Fujita came up with the idea of using a submarine-based seaplane to launch attacks on the U.S. mainland, as well the strategic Panama Canal. His idea was approved and the mission given to the I-25. His two attacks on Oregon in September 1942 constituted the first attacks on the continental United States since the British invasion in 1814 during the War of 1812. He remains the only enemy pilot to have ever dropped bombs on the continental United States.
Fujita continued reconnaissance flying until 1944, when he returned to Japan to train kamikaze pilots. After the war ended, Fujita opened a metal sales business in Japan. Twenty years after the attack, Fujita was invited to several towns on the southern Oregon Coast near the area of his air attacks. The pilot presented the city of Brookings with a 350-year old samurai sword as a gesture of friendship. Fujita was also made an honorary citizen of Gold Beach. He died in 1997; some of his ashes were scattered on Mount Emily.
- The I-25 missions to the U.S. west coast
According to records of the Imperial Japanese Navy and the U.S. Navy, the I-25 conducted three missions to the American west coast. These missions came after an extensive reconnaissance patrol during February and March 1942 in the south Pacific. The reconnaissance mission included Sydney, Melbourne, Hobart, Wellington, Auckland, and Fiji.
December 1941 – early 1942:
The I-25 was positioned off the coast of Hawaii during the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. After the attack, the submarine conducted a patrol of the U.S. west coast from San Francisco to the Columbia River. No other information is available on this mission.
May – July 1942:
The first operation on this mission to the west coast was a reconnaissance flight over Kodiak, Alaska on May 27. The intelligence derived from this flight was to support planning for a diversionary attack on Dutch Harbor. The attack was to divert American attention from the upcoming carrier attack against American positions on Midway island. So important was the expected information from the reconnaissance flights that a second I-15 class submarine — the I-26, sailing with its hangar empty — was positioned in the area to recover the aircraft should something happen to the I-25.
While moving south toward Washington, the submarine attacked the freighter SS Fort Camosun on June 20 with her deck guns; the freighter survived.
Heading further south, on the night of June 21, the submarine fired 17 rounds from its deck gun at Fort Stevens – a coastal defense installation on the north coast of Oregon. The only reported damage was to the baseball backstop. However, the real impact was the alarm to the American public when it was reported that the Japanese Navy had attacked the American mainland.
On July 30, on its return to Japan from this mission, the I-25 is believed to have sunk the U.S. Navy submarine USS Grunion (SS-216) near Kiska in the Aleutian Islands. However, Japanese navy records indicate that the I-25 had returned to Yokosuka by July 27.
August – October 1942:
In the summer of 1942, the Japanese high command developed a plan to attack the dense forest in the Pacific Northwest. The Japanese hoped that a large forest fire would draw American attention to defense of the west coast and cause the U.S. Navy to reposition its Pacific fleet closer to the mainland. The I-25 was ordered to undertake this operation, and was provided with six incendiary bombs for the mission.
So began a very successful patrol for the I-25. The submarine departed Yokosuka on August 15, 1942, and arrived off the Port Orford Heads on the Oregon coast by early September in bad weather. By September 9, weather conditions had improved. The I-25 surfaced just before dawn and the Glen seaplane was assembled and readied for the attack. Fujita took off at sunrise and flew northeast toward the easily visible Cape Blanco lighthouse. After flying southeast for about 50 miles, Fujita dropped one of his two incendiary bombs on Mount Emily, releasing the second a few minutes later several miles east of the first. The bad weather that had delayed his mission a few days earlier had saturated the woods, and rendered the bombs ineffective. Otherwise, the bombs could have started large forest fires.
After releasing the bombs, Fujita descended to low level and returned to the waiting submarine. A U.S. Army A-29 bomber aircraft on patrol from McChord Field in Tacoma spotted the submarine, now on the surface to recover Fujita’s aircraft. The A-29 attacked the submarine with several bombs, but only inflicted minor damage as the submarine dove to the relative safety of the ocean floor just west of Port Orford.
The captain of the I-25 mounted a second attempt to ignite a large fire in the Oregon forests. The submarine surfaced just after midnight on Tuesday, September 29, about 50 miles west of Cape Blanco. Although the entire west coast of Oregon was blacked out, the Cape Blanco lighthouse was still in operation. Using the light as a navigation beacon, Fujita flew east over the coast for about 90 minutes and dropped his bombs. Although Japanese Navy records indicate that Fujita observed flames on the ground after this attack, no traces of the attacks have ever been located. The only U.S. records of this attack were of an unidentified aircraft flying east of Port Orford.
The I-25 did not use its last two incendiary bombs, and reverted to torpedo attacks on American shipping. On Sunday, October 4, the submarine sank the freighter SS Camden off Coos Bay on the south Oregon coast; one crewman was killed. The following Tuesday, the I-25 was successful again, this time sinking the tanker SS Larry Doheny off Cape Sebastian. Two crewmen and four U.S. Navy Armed Guards manning guns on the Doheny were killed in the attack.
The I-25 departed the Oregon coast a few days later. On October 11 while en route to its homeport of Yokosuka, the Japanese submarine attacked and sank the Soviet submarine L-16 while the Russians were in transit from Dutch Harbor, Alaska, to San Francisco. The captain of the I-25 believed he was attacking an American ship; Japan and the Soviet Union were not at war at this time.
Later operations of the I-25:
On May 18, 1943, the I-25 torpedoed and shelled the American tanker H.M. Storey in the south Pacific. The I-25 was again noted conducting aerial reconnaissance of Espiritu Santo in the New Hebrides island chain.
However, the I-25’s luck had run out. On September 3, 1943, U.S. Navy warships sank the I-25 approximately 150 miles northeast of Espiritu Santo. Which American ship sank the I-25 remains unknown. Three destroyers – USS Ellet (DD-398), USS Patterson (DD-392) and USS Taylor (DD-468) were involved in the naval engagement that day.