The "Invasion" of America Was A Sore Point!!

On 23 February 1942. the Imperial Japanese Navy's submarine I-17, under the command of Commander Nishino Kozo, surfaces and shells the oil refinery near Santa Barbara. Before the war, as skipper of an oil tanker, Nishino had refuelled there. The shelling does only minor damages to a pier and an oil well derrick, but creates "invasion" fears along the West Coast.

Newspaper accounts describe the attack as off the Ellwood oil fields 12 miles north of Santa Barbara, and report 16 shells fired which began at 1915hrs on 23 February 1942. 3 shells struck near the Bankline Company oil refinery, the apparent target of the shelling. Rigging and pumping equipment at a well about 1,000 yards inland were destroyed but otherwise no damage was caused. One shell overshot the target by three miles and landed on the nearby Tecolote ranch, where it exploded. Another landed on the nearby Staniff ranch, dug a hole five feet deep, but failed to explode. Eleven other shells fell short and dropped into the sea. Description of the attack and damage to the oil refinery was provided by the Refinery Superintendent Mr FW Borden. A Mrs. George Heaney of San Marcos Pass, who observed the submarine through binoculars and reported that it was about a mile offshore. Oil refinery worker Bob Miller also called in a report during the attack. According to the official report of the 11th Naval District, the I-17 surfaced at 1910hrs. The submarine then began firing from its deck gun at the oil refinery. It ceased firing at 1935 hrs and departed on the surface. It was observed still on the surface exiting the south end of the Santa Barbara Channel at 2030 hrs.

A 1982 issue of Parade magazine published a possible reason for the attack:

The first Japanese attack on the U.S. mainland, in 1942, was triggered by cactus spines in the rear end of a Japanese naval captain. In the late 1930s, Kozo Nishino was commander of a Japanese tanker taking on crude oil at the Ellwood oil field. On the way up the path from the beach to a formal ceremony welcoming him and his crew, Nishino slipped and fell into a prickly-pear cactus. Workers on a nearby oil rig broke into guffaws at the sight of the proud commander having cactus spines plucked from his posterior. Then and there, the humiliated Nishino swore to get even.

He had to wait for war between the U.S. and Japan, but on Feb. 23, 1942, he got his revenge. From 19:07 to 19:45 hrs, he directed the shelling of the Ellwood oil field from his submarine, the I-17. Though about 24 shells were fired from a 5.5-inch deck gun, little damage was done. One rig needed a $500 repair job after the shelling, and one man was wounded while trying to defuse an unexploded shell.

U.S. planes gave chase to the sub, but Nishino got away. Thereafter, American coastal defences were improved, so the mainland suffered only one more submarine attack by the Japanese during the war, at Fort Stevens in Oregon. Most accounts however have the I-17 firing 16 - 17 rounds fired from 1915 to 1935 hours.

San Francisco was wary of an attack by the Japanese. In fact, they were in process of building gun emplacements on the hills by Fort Baker, just on the other side of the Golden Gate bridge, near Sausalito. Since there has be little or no mention of this bombing in history books, it can be assumed that the news was suppressed. It certainly was a significant event, even if the damage was slight. News suppression was not uncommon during the war.

Later that year on 9 and 10 September 1942 a Japanese floatplane flew two missions over Oregon, dropping incendiary bombs in the U.S. forests. It was the only bombing of the continental U.S. during the war and was also suppressed in the newspapers. The shelling put most people living around Santa Barbara on alert and made them realize the war was closer to home than they would like. A number of rich part-time residents in the wealthy community of Montecito, southwest of Santa Barbara, sold their estates needlessly and retreated back East. Their smug little world had been well and truly crushed!!

Afterwards, an entrepreneur bought the timbers from the damaged pier and used them to construct a restaurant called "The Timbers" on U.S. Highway 101 near Goleta.