The Day a Japanese Sub-Launched Aircraft Bombed Oregon

  Virg Hemphill

Thanks to our Aviation News Scout, Virg Hemphill (at left), we bring you this little known story first posted by Mr. Norm Goyer of Aircraft Market Place, but we have added the photos and additional historical information of interest. Before finding this story, Virg and your editor had only heard of the several mainland Japanese launched balloons which had made it all the way to Oregon, but not this relatively obscure event.

The Day Japan Bombed Oregon

September 9, 1942

Originally Posted on May 12, 2010 and authored  by: Norm Goyer of  Aircraft Market Place.

 

September 9, 1942, the I-25 B1 type Japanese submarine was cruising in an easterly direction raising its periscope occasionally as it neared the United States Coastline. The B1 type was the most numerous class of Japanese submarines.  They were fast, long-ranged, and carried a seaplane behind watertight doors, which could be launched on a forward catapult. 

Above: The only plane ever to drop a bomb on the United States during WWII was this submarine based “Glen.”

Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor less than a year ago and the Captain of the attack submarine knew that Americans were watching their coast line for ships and aircraft that might attack our country. Dawn was approaching; the first rays of the sun were flickering off the periscopes lens. Their mission; attack the west coast with incendiary bombs in hopes of starting a devastating forest fire. If this test run were successful, Japan had hopes of using their huge submarine fleet to attack the eastern end of the Panama Canal to slow down shipping from the Atlantic to the Pacific. The Japanese Navy had a large number of I-400 submarines under construction. Each capable of carrying three aircraft. Pilot Chief Warrant Officer Nobuo Fujita and his crewman Petty Officer Shoji Okuda were making last minute checks of their charts making sure they matched those of the submarine’s navigator.

September 9, 1942: Nebraska forestry student Keith V. Johnson was on duty atop a forest fire lookout tower between Gold’s Beach and Brookings, Oregon. Keith had memorized the silhouettes of Japanese long distance bombers and those of our own aircraft. He felt confident that he could spot and identify, friend or foe, almost immediately. It was cold on the coast this September morning , and quiet. The residents of the area were still in bed or preparing to head for work. Lumber was a large part of the industry in Brookings, just a few miles north of the California Oregon state lines.

The Glen carried 2 incendiary 176 pound bombs and a crew of two.

Aboard the submarine the Captain’s voice boomed over the PA system, “Prepare to surface, aircrew report to your stations, wait for the open hatch signal” During training runs several subs were lost when hangar door were opened too soon and sea water rushed into the hangars and sank the boat with all hands lost. You could hear the change of sound as the bow of the I-25 broke from the depths, nosed over for its run on the surface.

A loud bell signaled the “All Clear.” The crew assigned to the single engine Yokosuki E14Ys float equipped observation and light attack aircraft sprang into action. They rolled the plane out its hangar built next to the conning tower. The wings and tail were unfolded, and several 176 pound incendiary bombs were attached to the hard points under the wings.

This was a small two place float plane with a nine cylinder 340 hp radial engine. It was full daylight when the Captain ordered the aircraft to be placed on the catapult. Warrant Officer Fujita started the engine, let it warm up, checked the magnetos and oil pressure. There was a slight breeze blowing and the seas were calm. A perfect day to attack the United States of America. When the gauges were in the green the pilot signaled and the catapult launched the aircraft. After a short climb to altitude the pilot turned on a heading for the Oregon coast.

The Glen was launched via catapult from a I-125 class submarine

Johnson was sweeping the horizon but could see nothing, he went back to his duties as a forestry agent which was searching for any signs of a forest fire. The morning moved on. Every few minutes he would scan low, medium and high but nothing caught his eye.

The small Japanese float plane had climbed to several thousand feet of altitude for better visibility and to get above the coastal fog. The pilot had calculated land fall in a few minutes and right on schedule he could see the breakers flashing white as they hit the Oregon shores.

Johnson was about to put his binoculars down when something flashed in the sun just above the fog bank. It was unusual because in the past all air traffic had been flying up and down the coast, not aiming into the coast.

The pilot of the aircraft checked his course and alerted his observer to be on the lookout for a fire tower which was on the edge of the wooded area where they were supposed to drop their bombs. These airplanes carried very little fuel and all flights were in and out without any loitering. The plane reached the shore line and the pilot made a course correction 20 degrees to the north. The huge trees were easy to spot and certainly easy to hit with the bombs. The fog was very wispy by this time.

Warrant Officer Fujita is shown with his Yokosuka E14Y (Glen) float plane prior to his flight

Johnson watched in awe as the small floatplane with a red meat ball on the wings flew overhead, the plane was not a bomber and there was no way that it could have flown across the Pacific, Johnson could not understand what was happening. He locked onto the plane and followed it as it headed inland.

The pilot activated the release locks so that when he could pickled the bombs they would release. His instructions were simple, fly at 500 feet, drop the bombs into the trees and circle once to see if they had started any fires and then head back to the submarine.

Johnson could see the two bombs under the wing of the plane and knew that they would be dropped. He grabbed his communications radio and called the Forest Fire Headquarters informing them of what he was watching unfold.

The bombs tumbled from the small seaplane and impacted the forests, the pilot circled once and spotted fire around the impact point. He executed an 180 degree turn and headed back to the submarine. There was no air activity, the skies were clear. The small float plane lined up with the surfaced submarine and landed gently on the ocean, then taxied to the sub.

A long boom swungout from the stern. His crewman caught the cable and hooked it into the pickup attached to the roll over cage between the cockpits. The plane was swung onto the deck, The plane’s crew folded the wings and tail, pushed it into its hangar and secured the water tight doors. The I-25 submerged and headed back to Japan.  Destroyer USS Patterson sank I-25 off the New Hebrides on 3 September 1943, almost exactly one year after the Oregon bombing.

This event ,which caused no damage, marked the only time during World War II that an enemy plane had dropped bombs on the United States mainland. What the Japanese did not count on was coastal fog, mist and heavy doses of rain, which made the forests so wet they simply would not catch fire.

This Memorial Plaque is located in Brookings, Oregon at the site of the 1942 bombing


FIFTY YEARS LATER

(UPDATE October 2, 2015:)

Fifty years later the Japanese pilot, who survived the war, would return to Oregon to help dedicate a historical plaque (see above colored image) at the exact spot where his two bombs had impacted. The elderly pilot then donated his ceremonial sword as a gesture of peace and closure of the bombing of Oregon in 1942.

Thanks to David Kiernan, who sent in the following additional information about this incident.  This is from historynet.com

Japanese Warrant Officer Pilot Nobuo Fujita . . . .                    Click on image to see full size.

After returning to I-25, Fujita was more determined than ever to drop the four remaining incendiary bombs carried aboard the submarine. Captain Tagami shared his enthusiasm. He advised his pilot, we’ll make the next one a night attack, Fujita, for the Americans will be expecting another sunrise one. True to his word, Tagami surfaced I-25 after midnight on September 29,1942, about 50 miles west of Cape Blanco.

This time the entire west coast of Oregon, except for the Cape Blanco lighthouse, was blacked out. Fujita’s floatplane was catapulted into the darkness, and the pilot flew east beyond the Cape Blanco lighthouse for about half an hour before dropping the two incendiary bombs. Again Fujita was satisfied with the attack, as he observed two explosions of red fire in the forest below. In order to avoid detection, Fujita cut the Glen’s engine after passing the coastline and glided down to 1,000 feet before starting it again well out at sea, west of Cape Blanco. After some difficulty, Fujita located I-25 by an oil slick caused by a leak, and his plane was hoisted aboard.

Meanwhile, below in Oregon, a work crew of forest rangers was remodeling for winter occupation the Grassy Knob lookout station about seven miles east of Port Orford. At 5:22 a.m. they reported to ranger headquarters at Gold Beach the presence of an unidentified aircraft. Noise from the aircraft was described as like a Model T with a rod out. A fire-fighting patrol was sent out from Grassy Knob after daylight on September 29, but it found neither smoke nor any bomb debris during a fruitless two-day search. Neither of the incendiary bombs dropped by Fujita on his second attack has ever been found.

Bad weather and heavy seas precluded a final bombing attack with the remaining two bombs. Captain Tagami canceled the third mission, having decided to spend the rest of his patrol time in attacks on shipping. On October 11, I-25 fired her last torpedo and returned to Yokosuka, where Fujita discovered he was something of a national hero.

How significant were these two bombing attacks on Oregon? They were only times in history that America has been bombed from the air. For the Japanese, they were clearly a major propaganda victory, one that made banner headlines on the home front and to some extent evened the score for the April 18, 1942, Jimmy Doolittle raid on Tokyo, itself a retaliatory raid in return for the Pearl Harbor attack.

From a military standpoint, however, the bombing raids were virtually meaningless, because no serious fires were started or significant collateral damage inflicted. Likewise, although some public apprehension was caused by the attacks, no widespread panic developed on the U.S. West Coast, at least partially due to heavy press censorship. The raids were not repeated, because aircraft-carrying submarines gradually disappeared into the increasing category of obsolete weapons. Only one more Japanese submarine, I-12, operated off the West Coast during the remainder of the war. I-25 was sunk less than a year later by USS Patterson (DD-392) off the New Hebrides Islands on September 3, 1943.

Warrant Flying Officer Fujita continued reconnaissance flying until 1944, when he returned to Japan to train kamikaze pilots. His crewman, Petty Officer Okuda, was later killed in the South Pacific. After the war, Fujita opened a successful metal products sales business in Japan. Forestry student Johnson later became a U.S. Navy Captain and on January 24, 1974, held a luncheon reunion with Fujita in Tokyo. Executive officer Tatsuo Tsukudo of I-25 retired from the IJN as a vice admiral.

See these related pages: 

 

Japanese Balloon Bombs

Sub Raiders of Tomorrow


 

How the Man Who Bombed Oregon Became an Honorary Citizen

BY STACY CONRADT

OCTOBER 20, 2016

Most people think the only attack on United States soil during WWII happened on December 7, 1941—Pearl Harbor. Actually, the U.S. was hit again, less than a year later … to much less drastic effect.

In September 1942, a Japanese navy pilot named Nobuo Fujita dropped firebombs over a forested area near the small town of Brookings, Oregon. By dropping incendiary devices and starting massive forest fires, the Japanese believed they could divert U.S. resources and potentially cause panic.

Luckily, the plan didn’t work. Despite being spotted by a fire lookout, Fujita managed to drop two bombs—but due to light winds, rain, and speedy firefighters, the fires were quickly contained. The pilot eventually returned home, but what he had tried to do never left him.

In 1962, Fujita came back to Brookings to make amends, toting a family heirloom—a 400-year-old Samurai sword to (see – and click on – below photo) give to the town. If they refused to forgive him, the pilot intended to commit seppuku (ritual suicide) with it. “I was quite sure that once in Brookings I would be beaten up, people would throw eggs at me and shout insults at me,” he later admitted.

 1961 – Fujita in Brookings, OR with his family’s heirloom Samurai Sword – his gift to the city he’d bombed in WWII

To Fujita’s surprise, the people of Brookings welcomed him with large crowds, a special reception, and a key to the city.

He later returned the favor, footing the bill for three Oregonian teenagers to visit Japan. He also gave $1000 to the local library to purchase books for children to learn about his country, hoping that understanding each other would prevent more wars from happening. Fujita made another three visits to Oregon throughout his lifetime, even planting trees on the spot where he dropped the bombs.

Shortly before his death in 1997, the town of Brookings made their onetime attacker an honorary citizen. The following year, his daughter visited the town to honor her father’s last request: to have some of his ashes buried at the bomb site.

MORE

Fujita dropped both bombs, but nothing much happened. The forest fires never started. America won the war, and by 1962 – in the interests of improving Japanese-American relations – the Jaycees in Brookings invited Fujita to come to the United States and to be grand marshal of the town`s annual Azalea Festival. (I just realized that this may be starting to sound like some kind of satire; believe me, it isn`t.)

At the 1962 Azalea Festival, Nobuo Fujita presented to his American hosts the samurai sword he had carried on his bombing missions; he told the people of Brookings that turning over the sword represented “the final gesture of my surrender.“

Fujita, it turns out, is still alive. He is 76 years old, and works here in Japan as a manager at a factory that manufactures copper wires. With the assistance of the person who is helping me out on this trip, Chieko Kuriki, I prepared a list of questions for Fujita (he speaks only Japanese; I speak only English). I had been totally unaware that bombs had ever been dropped on our mainland. Graciously, Fujita agreed to answer.

“The purpose of my mission was to cause a big fire in the forest which would discourage American citizens to fight with Japan,“ he said. “To make them feel anxiety-therefore to make them feel (as if they should) stop fighting with us sooner.“

Fujita said that his mission was strictly a result of a military directive: “Personally, I didn`t hate Americans.“ But when his superiors told him to drop the bombs on Oregon, “It is natural for me to obey.“

Question: All this time later, after all this history, does Fujita regret what he did?

“I don`t regret,“ he said. “It was an order. If I had been killed, I wouldn`t have had any regret, either. In fact, I didn`t think I could return alive from the mission.“

Would he do it again?

“I don`t think Japan will fight with America again.“

And what went through his mind on those two missions-as he was approaching the West Coast of the United States, what was he thinking about?

“While I was flying over the sea, I was thinking only this: not to be shot down before I flew over the land. Otherwise, my mission was going to be a total failure. If (the plane made it) over the land, I thought, it would cause at least a small fire or something.

“While flying, I saw the sun rising from the mountains. It was so huge, so wonderfully gorgeous. I was knocked down by the sight. It was probably only for five minutes. I was flying, and watching at the same time if any plane would come to attack me. But I couldn`t ignore the sun. The rising sun made the mountains first in red, then later orange with yellowish tone. The whole scene was so impressive. I`ll never forget it.“

He said that the bombings of Oregon were not planned as the first step in a series of attacks on the U.S. “It was a mission assigned to me. We had six bombs prepared. So the mission was going to continue until we used up all the bombs.“ He said he was selected for the attack because “I was a very good pilot.“ After the first two missions failed, the project was called off. Then, in 1962, the town of Brookings invited him to its Azalea Festival,

“I was simply surprised and couldn`t figure out why they wanted to invite me. They wrote me that after the war U.S. and Japan must become friends.“

So he came back to America. “I`ll never forget my visit,“ he said.

“I flew over the forest by small airplane.“ That`s right-the people of Brookings flew him over the same wooded areas he had unsuccessfully bombed.

The pilot offered me to fly, so I flew.

Here`s where the story really gets good. During that 1962 trip to Brookings, Fujita promised that someday he would finance a trip to Japan for several Brookings youngsters. But the company he owned at the time went bankrupt, and Fujita became totally broke. Still, for more than 20 years he worked his way back up the Japanese corporate structure, saving every yen so that he would not default on his promise to the citizens of Brookings. “I  (was) not famous,“ he said. “I don`t talk a lot about my background. If (people in Japan) ask, I will say yes. But I don`t tell them first.“

By 1985, Fujita had saved enough money. Three teenagers from Brookings-Robyn Soifeth, 17; Lisa Phelps, 16; and Sarah Cortell, 17-visited Japan as the guests of the pilot who had once tried to bomb their small town.

“It was a short visit,“ Fujita said. “But at the (Tokyo) airport, on the day they returned to Brookings, they cried. I felt like crying, too. Please write this: As long as I am fine, I`ll take care of anyone from Brookings if they visit Japan. They are indeed very, very good people.

 End

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