Remembering the S.S. Emidio

Five crew members of the S.S. Emidio were killed by the Japanese at the onset of WWII. Their abandoned tanker subsequently drifted north until it broke up on the rocks off Crescent City.

Military history records show that the S.S. Emidio, a 6,912-ton tanker, was the first casualty attributed to the Imperial Japanese Navy’s World War II submarine activity on California’s coast.  

A total of four attacks on shipping vessels off the California Coast were recorded before Christmas in 1941.

The Emidio was owned by Socony-Vacuum Oil Co., which later became Mobil Oil. The ship was sailing from Seattle to San Pedro, California.

A Japanese sub locked onto the Emilio in the early afternoon of Dec. 20, 1941, firing its 14-cm. deck cannon at the tanker until its captain raised a white flag and ordered the crew to abandon ship.

According to historical accounts, the Japanese ignored the surrender and continued to fire the cannon, hitting three crewmen who were lowering a lifeboat.

There were four remaining crewmen on board -- a radio operator and three engineers -- when the sub fired a torpedo that hit the engine room, killing two of the engineers and injuring the third.

The Emidio took five blasts from the 14-cm. cannon as well as the torpedo strike, killing five sailors in all.

The Japanese were driven off by a Catalina Flying Boat that dropped depth charges, with the submarine diving below the surface and escaping.

The Coast Guard Cutter Shawnee rescued the Emidio’s remaining 31 survivors, who rowed 16 hours to Humboldt Bay. The abandoned tanker drifted north until it broke up on the rocks off Crescent City.

The bow drifted into the harbor, where it remained until it was scrapped in 1959.

The remains of the hull are still in the harbor, with a commemorative plaque nearby. The site has been declared a California Historical Landmark.

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