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Pages of History: Plane spotters start watching for the enemy

From the pages of the Del Norte Triplicate, December 1941.

Three observer units will watch for aircraft for the Army on Friday through Tuesday, Dec. 12-16, under a new division set-up for speedy detection of enemy aircraft.

The work is sponsored by the Board of Supervisors, and at an organization meeting of the units at Memorial Hall on Tuesday night, Chairman J. J. McNamara of the board, and Supervisor Warren Howe endorsed the new work.

Three stations have been set up from which observations will be taken, one at Enderts Beach, one at Elk Valley, and one at The Cliff House.


Fisherman in rescue at sea


When the Willapa, a 604-ton coaster, was battered and sunk by a terrific storm Wednesday, Dec. 3, off Port Orford, it was the heroic work of James Combs, fisherman, who made the rescue possible.

He made a dozen 800-yard trips through the mountainous seas in his skiff to take the survivors of the wreck ashore from an overloaded lifeboat that could not more closely approach the shore without capsizing in the heavy surf.

The Willapa foundered Tuesday night 20 miles south of Port Orford in the week-long storm that endangered shipping all along the northern coast. Flares were sent up by the helpless ship Tuesday night, and were seen, but Coast Guardsmen lost the hull in the darkness and only found it again Wednesday morning. The bridge had been washed away, the deck cargo was gone and the Willapa was being driven aground.

Most of the crew members were picked up from the water and the Willapa was on her side and almost submerged by the time the rescue was completed. Guardsmen said she would be a complete loss.

The Willapa’s first mate said he was master of the old coaster, Cotton Eva, which went down in a storm near the same spot several years ago.


Attack on the Emidio


Survivors of the torpedoed oil tanker Emidio, all in good condition after enjoying baths, warm food, and other aids at the Humboldt Bay Navy section base Monday, told graphically of incidents connected with the first torpedo attack of the war near the Pacific coast Saturday afternoon.

“Pott’s wife asked him not to go on this trip,” said J. Nicolich of San Pedro, referring to F. W. Potts of Los Angeles, one of three missing men who were thrown into the sea when gunfire wrecked the davits of a boat they were preparing to launch.

“We were kidding about it being a Japanese sub, but we could not believe it really was until she fired,” said Philip A. Smith, a galleyman. He helped man one of the two boats that were launched to search for the three men in the water after the attacking craft submerged to escape bombs dropped by a Navy bomber.

“I had a grandstand seat in the lifeboat,” he added, “when the submarine reappeared and torpedoed the Emidio. We saw it going toward the ship, saw it hit the starboard side near the stern, and then saw a big geyser on the port side.”

The captain of the ship, C.A. Farrow, had nothing but praise for his entire crew.



Del Norte Triplicate:

312 H Street
P.O. Box 277
Crescent City, CA 95531

(707) 464-2141

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