WWII Memoirs – June 21, 1942 – The War Comes to Oregon, Ford Stevens

Bombardment of Fort Stevens (Wikipedia)

Bombardment of Fort Stevens (Wikipedia)

On the evening of June 21, l942 a Japanese submarine surfaced near Fort Stevens on the Oregon coast and opened fire on that installation and nearby Battery Russell. The “shooting war” had come to our State!

As military encounters go, it couldn’t be rated more than an “incident.” Only seventeen shots were fired. There were no casualties and the only physical damage was to the backstop on the Fort’s baseball diamond. Battery Russell didn’t even return fire as the sub slipped back into the sea.

The captain of the sub later indicated that he mistook the installations for a submarine base, and that he “just fired” his deck gun at the target without using the gunsights. The sub’s real purpose was part of a campaign to respond to the Doolittle Raid on Japan two months earlier. Japanese military leaders had been surprised and embarrassed by that raid on their homeland.

To retaliate they dispatched two long-range subs to the west coast of America to prey on U.S. shipping and any shoreline targets of opportunity. So the Fort Stevens episode was probably one of these “Targets of opportunity.”

The attack on Ft. Stevens also added to American history. Not only was it the first attack on Oregon during World War II, but the first attack on a U.S. military installation on the American mainland by a foreign power since The War of 1812!

Incidentally, after the war was over Ft. Stevens was deactivated and converted into what today is Ft. Stevens State Park. Battery Russell was dismantled but the huge concrete gun emplacements remain as tourist attractions.

Looking back, I got the news from the morning Oregonian. The story was all over the front page. Working on the swing shift in the shipyards at that time, I had all morning to read it the paper. I recall vividly the photo in the Oregonian of the furrow made by low trajectory shell that had spent itself in an area above the beach. I also remember the sober talk and thoughts in our household that the enemy had “visited” and left its “calling card” just ninety miles away!

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Next Entry: WWII Memoirs – September 9, 1942 – The War Comes to Oregon, Brookings
The only airplane attack by a foreign power on the U.S. mainland during World War II occurred in the vicinity of…Brookings, Oregon on September 9, 1942