By Michelle Radison
Special to the Triplicate
During the 1940s, the tensions of war began to reach Del Norte County. Reports and events in our coastal areas made it necessary to protect our shores.
In 1941, Japanese submarines off the Mendocino coast torpedoed the General Petroleum Corporation tanker the S.S. Emido. Five men were fatally injured and 31 men survived. The unmanned tanker drifted northward until Christmas Eve and lodged itself against Steamboat Rock in Crescent City. A portion of the hull was later raised from the sea and placed at Beachfront Park in remembrance of the men aboard.
On September 4, 1942, eyewitnesses in Brookings stated they saw an unidentified aircraft entering the area at the early light of dawn. The craft apparently was 500 feet over the beach when spotted, and there seemed to be no distinguishing marks according to witnesses. Later, an employee of the forest service reported he had seen bomb fragments and a sizeable crater. The Associated Press reported that a crater had been found near Mt. Emily.
The earth was scorched and markings were observed on the fragments of the device that appeared to be Japanese in nature. In and around the crater were a number of fragments varying in size. There were no reports of injury.
Reports of "balloons" were also being submitted. These devices were hot air balloons that carried explosives. The weapons would be controlled by equipment that enabled them to float through the jet stream until reaching their target, at which time the balloon would release its explosive device. Many of these new weapons were seen in the North Coast. One device landed near a family reunion in 1945 in Bly, Ore. When the partygoers went to investigate there were tragic consequences that affected five families.
During the 1940s, these and other events were being reported to the government. In 1943, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that sources believed the Japanese forces were intending to invade the coastline of Crescent City.
Kilsoo K. Haan, a Washington representative reported, "My agents report that 60 percent of the Japanese navy will be thrown into the attempt. They have a fleet of huge submarines about twice the size of the average destroyer. Each of theses carry more than 1,500 troops." Haan predicted the attack on Pearl Harbor and predicted a possible attack on Crescent City; his sources are reported to be from espionage network operations.
With all the reports coming in, the expectation was that there would be an investigation of anti-submarine patrols off the Pacific Northwest and an increase in naval and air operations in the area. The military planned to put the Point St. George light station to use. Training operations on the site were to include robot bombing at targets set up on the sand strips and ocean side of the station. Arrangements were also made to remove power lines on the south side of the station due to the danger they cause to low altitude flyers using the airstrip.
Point St. George became a classified naval installation, one of three on the entire West Coast. The station's main purpose was to intercept radio transmissions from the Japanese. These were often in code called Kana, which is similar to what we know as morse code. The men reported their findings to the U.S. government. Two additional bases were established in Klamath. These bases contained radar devices to ensure our safety from attack. The buildings were intentionally built to resemble farmhouses to avoid detection from enemy aircraft. The "farm" remains today and is registered as a historic landmark due to the fact it is the only remaining station of its kind on the West Coast.
During these unsettled years, Crescent City residents also played their part in ensuring safety. Air horns would ring out through out the town when a threat was reported. The citizens would perform "black outs" turning out all of their lights at home and covering windows to confuse any enemy searching for our small town. Many men of our area also served in the military forces, risking their lives to protect our freedoms and our community.
This Veterans Day, we remembered the men and women that have served in war, in the past and in the present, during peace time and in turmoil. They protected our freedoms, lives and the future of our children, whether it be on foreign land or our home soil.
Michelle Radison is a member of the Del Norte County Historical Society.