On June 21, 1942, a 5.5" shell exploded here, one of 17 fired at the Columbia River Harbor Defense installations by the Japanese submarine I-25. The only hostile shelling of a military base on the U.S. mainland during World War II and the first since the War of 1812.
It is off of DeLaura Beach Road (Warrenton, Oregon), where such words are inscribed on a stone, memorializing the said event. The memorial represents the hallmark event of the HDC's war-time tenure. The irony of the entire affair may be best found in the tranquilty which characterized that Sunday in June. The high tempreture was seventy-two degrees, the winds travelled, out of the northwest, at an easy 4 knots, and it was the longest day of the year, (Webber, pg. 53-54). Little did those in command, at the HDC, know that the Japanese submarine I-25, entered the Columbia's approaches by way of a local fishing fleet, (Webber, pg. 54). As the boat positioned itself to fire its deck gun, its chief gunner, Sensuke Tao, could see the lights of a city on shore, presumably either Seaside or Astoria, (Webber, pg. 54). With the weapon raised to an arc of 30-40 degrees, the I-25 commenced firing.
On shore, the weapon's report created an understandably "mad" scene. As darkness ruled and panic soon ensued, men ran into each other and/or their belongings, and, in some cases, soldiers were injured during the melee, (Click on P. Jordan, W. Wilson for veteran reaction to the attack). When the chaos had abated, fire-control, gunners, and searchlight teams were all at the ready. However, the command to fire never came. The Senior Duty Officer on post at the Group Fire Control Station at Fire Control Hill (see map for location), Robert M. Huston, determined that fire not be returned because, one, the submarine was not in range (the flashes were resolved to be at roughly 20,000 yards, while the 10-inch rifles had a maximum range of 16,200 yards), two, I-25 was ostensibly firing to draw out the positions of the HDC rifles, and three, while there was no radar at the time, relying on visual observation of the flashes, simply was not considered reliable,
(Webber, pg. 61). To say that the return of fire had an effect on HDC morale would be a gross understatement. Quite simply, to this day, and veteran searchlighter, Willie Wilson, is quite adamant on this point, there is still a subtle, but real frustration over the lack of any reponse to I-25. Clearly, the attack came roughly six-months after the December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The desire for avenging the death of 2,500 Americans, not to mention an opportunity to justify the terrible boredom/weather experienced over the previous months/years, had to have been tremendous.
Battery Russell, a main player during the events on the evening of 21 June, 1942, as it stands today. Photo Source: The Coast Defense Study Group.
So goes the stuff that makes up great history. In retrospect, and knowing the facts, the correct decision appears to have been made. What is more, it was a decision that demanded great courage on the part of Huston, although, in consideration of troop morale and the wishes of fellow officers, there is a part of Huston that "wish[es] [he] could have gone along with Jack [Wood]" (Commander of Battery Russell, Fort Stevens). One might also consider the diminished power of the Imperial Navy which had just been vanquished (losing four of its best aircraft carriers) just a week earlier at the Battle of Midway. In other words, after Midway, one had to consider if there was much legitimacy left vis-a-vis the long-range prowess of the Japanese Navy. Be that as it may, the damage done was nil, save a baseball backstop near Battery Russell, and a severed power line. Predictably, the attack caused a mentionable degree of panic along the Pacific Coast. Accordingly, hyperbole reigned in the press, thirty-four miles of barbed-wire was strung around Fort Stevens alone (Lindstrom, pg. 11) and, between 1942 and 1944, the HDC would undergo a period of active construction.
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Last updated: Jan. 8, 2000.
James C. Scott (e-mail).