Japanese Seaplane Attack on the United States

B-1 1-15 type submarine

The states of the Pacific Northwest, such as Oregon and Washington, are covered with thick forest that stretches for hundreds of miles. These forests provided the Japanese with a plan to divert American men and resources away from other theatres of war, and to demoralize the American people by striking directly at mainland America. The Japanese attacks aimed to start huge forest fires throughout the Pacific Northwest, and the Japanese developed two methods to achieve this aim. First, seaplanes would be launched from Japanese submarines, the submarines surfacing undetected close to the Oregon coast. These seaplanes would deliver a small amount of incendiary bombs in an attempt to start a conflagration. Second, large balloons were designed and launched from mainland Japan, complex devices designed to cross the Pacific and release incendiary and antipersonnel bombs on America, code-named ‘Fugo’ by the Japanese or ‘windship weapons’.

The I-25 was one of eleven Japanese submarines that had been modified to carry, launch and recover the two-seater Yokosuka E14Y1 floatplane (code-named ‘Glen’ by the Allies). A large submarine, with a crew numbering ninety-seven and a cruising range of 14,000 miles, the I-25 had been constructed by Mitsubishi at Kobe, Japan, and completed in October 1941. Although she was positioned off Hawaö during the attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, damage precluded her from launching her aircraft to conduct reconnaissance for the attack fleet. In order to carry an aircraft, the submarine had been modified with a waterproof hangar positioned in front of the conning tower. To fit the Glen, its wings and horizontal stabilizer were folded up, and the floats removed. The aircraft was launched by means of a compressed air catapult positioned on two rails running along the submarine. After completing a sortie, the pilot landed the Glen in the sea, taxied up to the submarine, and the aircraft and crew were recovered.

Lieutenant Nobuo Fujita of the Imperial Japanese Navy came up with the idea of utilizing the reconnaissance aircraft carried aboard the B-1 1-15 type submarines, of which the 7-25 was the sixth boat commissioned, to launch incendiary attacks upon mainland United States and the subsidiary target of the Panama Canal. The I-25 was given the first mission, and Fujita would pilot the Glen. However, the I-25 had already visited the shores of America once before and conducted attacks. On 27 May 1942 her Glen was launched on a reconnaissance flight over Kodiak Island, Alaska, preparatory to the Japanese invasion of the Aleutian Islands. So important was the photo-reconnaissance data derived from this sortie that another I-15 class submarine, the I-26, was on station with an empty hangar, ready to recover the I-25’s Glen should a problem arise. The I-25 continued her mission, travelling down the American coast, attacking the freighter Fort Camosun with her deck gun off Washington on 20 June. On the night of 21 June, the I-25 launched the first attack on mainland United States since the British in 1814, when she fired seventeen shells from her deck gun at Fort Stevens, a US Navy coastal defence installation on the north coast of Oregon. Some damage was inflicted on the baseball backstop and a major security alert was started. Fears grew that a Japanese invasion of Oregon was about to commence.

Having completed its patrol, the I-25 then turned for Japan, arriving back in Yokosuka by 27 July. On 15 August 1942, the I-25 departed Japan again and headed back to the United States, this time to initiate Lieutenant Fujita’s audacious plan to bomb America. By early September the Japanese submarine had arrived in foul weather off the Port Orford Heads in Oregon. The seas were too heavy to launch the Glen until 9 September. Surfacing just before dawn, the crew of the I-25 hastily assembled the aircraft and loaded incendiary bombs. Using the Cape Blanco lighthouse as a navigational beacon, Fujita and his crewman took off at sunrise and headed north-east until they reached the lighthouse, then turned south-east and covered a further 50 miles, releasing an incendiary bomb onto Mount Emily, in Siskiyou National Forest. Flying east for several miles, Fujita dropped his second bomb, and then headed back to the I-25. Unfortunately for Fujita, the bad weather, which had delayed the launch of his Glen on the submarine’s arrival off the coast of America, had also saturated the forests – his two incendiary bombs proved ineffective. Fujita headed back towards the submarine at low-level, but as the aircraft and crew were being recovered from the Pacific, a lone US Army Air Corps A-29 bomber, on patrol from McChord Field at Tacoma, spotted the surfaced Japanese submarine and attacked. Completing recovery of the Glen as the American aircraft released its bombs, the I-25, with minor damage, dived to the bottom of the sea west of Port Orford.

A second sortie was planned and executed on the night of 29 September, the submarine surfacing just after midnight approximately 50 miles west of Cape Blanco. The American authorities along the Pacific coast enforced a strict blackout, but lighthouses remained in operation. Fujita took off and used the Cape Blanco lighthouse again as a navigation marker. He flew east for ninety minutes, released his two bombs, and then returned to the submarine. Fujita reported seeing flames on the ground, but the American authorities found no trace of the attack, although an unidentified aircraft was reported flying east of Port Orford.

The final two incendiary bombs were to remain on board the I-25, which reverted to attacking shipping along the American coast. On 4 October the I-25 sank the freighter Camden off Coos Bay in southern Oregon, killing one sailor. She struck again on 6 October, sinking the tanker Larry Doheny off Cape Sebastian. This success cost the lives of two sailors and four US Navy crewmen manning deck guns on the merchant ship. A few days later the I-25 departed the American coast for Japan, and on the way home sank the Soviet submarine L-16 off Alaska, the Soviet Union not being at war with Japan until 1945. The captain of the I-25 mistook the L-16 for an American boat.

 

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