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The Day Japan Bombed the U.S. Mainland

By Norm Goyer

Editor's note: The United States mainland was bombed during World War II? Really? The following article written by Norm Doyer (Aircraft Market Place blog) describes the event which took place in September 1942 in Brookings, Oregon.

September 9, 1942 - The I-25 class Japanese submarine was cruising in an easterly direction, raising its periscope occasionally as it neared the U.S. coastline. Japan had attacked Pearl Harbor less than a year ago, and the captain of the attack submarine knew that Americans were watching their coastline for ships and aircraft that might attack the country. Dawn was approaching; the first rays of the sun were flickering off the periscope's lens.

Their mission: Attack the West Coast with incendiary bombs in hopes of starting a devastating forest fire.

If this test run was successful, Japan had hopes of using its 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 Petty Officer Shoji Okuda were making last-minute checks of their charts, making sure they matched those of the submarine's navigator.

The only plane ever to drop a bomb on the U.S. mainland during WWII was this submarine-based, float-equipped Yokosuka E14Y - Allied reporting name "Glen."

That fateful day, Nebraska forestry student Keith V. Johnson was on duty atop a forest fire lookout tower between Gold's Beach and Brookings, Oregon. Johnson had memorized the silhouettes of Japanese long-distance bombers and those of our own aircraft and 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 line.

The aircraft carried two incendiary 168-pound bombs and a crew of two.

Aboard the sub, the captain's voice boomed over the PA system: "Prepare to surface; aircrew, report to your stations, and wait for the open hatch signal." During training runs, several subs were lost when hangar doors were opened too soon and seawater 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 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 two 168-pound incendiary bombs were attached to the hard points under the wings. This was a small, two-passenger floatplane 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, and 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.

Johnson was sweeping the horizon but could see nothing; he went back to his duties as a forestry agent, 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 floatplane had climbed to several thousand feet of altitude for better visibility and to get above the coastal fog. The pilot had calculated landfall 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 shoreline, 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) floatplane prior to his flight.

Johnson watched in awe as the small floatplane with a red meatball on the wings flew overhead. The plane was not a bomber, and there was no way that it could have flown across the Pacific; so 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 pickle the bombs they would release. His instructions were simple: Fly at 500 feet, drop the bombs into the trees, circle once to see if they 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 it of what he was watching unfold.

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

A long boom swung out from the stern. His crewman caught the cable and hooked it into the pickup attached to the rollover 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.

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

This memorial plaque is located in Brookings, Oregon, at the site of the 1942 bombing.

Fifty years later, pilot Nobuo Fujita,who survived the war, would return to Oregon to help dedicate a historical plaque 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.


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