5 Times The US Was Attack At Home During WWII, And How Those Attacks Ended

Many American’s assume that prior to 9/11, the US hadn’t been attacked on its own soil since Pearl Harbor in 1941. However, this is not true, as the US was actually attacked a number of times just during WWII alone. Admittedly, these attacks were nothing more than a nuisance, so it is easy to see why America, which came out of WWII virtually unscathed, is often thought to have never seen action on its own soil.

Here are five times the US was attacked at home during the war.

Fire balloon attacks

Japanese Fire Balloon
Shot-down fire balloon reinflated by Americans in California (Photo Credit: Wikipedia / Public Domain)

The first on this list is probably the most significant debunking of the idea that the US was never attacked. From 1944 onwards Japan sent fire balloons over the Pacific Ocean to the United States, where it was hoped that they would start fires with their payload of up to 15 kilograms of explosives or incendiary mixture.

Named Fu-Go, they were the first intercontinental weapons ever used and remained the longest range attacks until the British Operation Black Buck raids in 1982 during the Falklands War. Japan launched 9,300 of these balloons over the final year of the war, with only 350 known to have landed in the US. However, it is believed many simply landed in uninhabited areas and have never been found.

Tragically, a pregnant woman and five children were killed when they stumbled across one of the devices in a forest in Oregon in 1945.

Oregon defenses under fire from Japanese

i-25 Attack on Fort Stevens
American servicemen inspecting a shell crater after the I-25’s attack on Fort Stevens (Photo Credit: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration / Wikipedia / Public Domain)

On the night of June 21, 1942, Japanese submarine I-25 surfaced near the Oregon coast and shelled the defenses of Fort Stevens. The submarine silently followed fishing boats to pass through the minefields around the coast, stopping 10 miles from Fort Stevens. The submarine then fired 17 5.5 inch shells at the fort, inflicting essentially no damage at all. When the shots started landing around the defenses, the men of Fort Stevens were asleep in their bunks.

They quickly sprang to action and made their way to their stations in the pitch black, as they were forbidden from turning on the lights. Once at their stations though, commanders refused to let them open fire, as it would reveal the fort’s exact position and its capabilities. The men of the fort had to simply watch.

Landing on the east coast in June 1942

Hell gate bridge
The Hell Gate Bridge over a part of the East River called Hell Gate, which separates Astoria, Queens, from Ward’s Island, is exclusively a railroad bridge, New York, mid 20th Century. The bridge opened in 1916 and is considered one of the strongest in the world. (Photo by P.L. Sperr/Frederic Lewis / Getty Images)

Most of the attacks on the US during the war were by Japan, but in 1942 Germany also had a swing. In June of that year, four operatives hopped out of a German submarine near New York and made their way to land, armed with disguises, money, and explosives. Another similar team was en route to Florida.

Their goal was to cripple US industries from the inside, hampering their ability to wage war. In addition, it was hoped that they’d affect morale enough to make the general public want out of the war. Pictured above is the Hell Gate Bridge in Queens, New York, the bridge was one of the primary targets the German soldiers were tasked with destroying.

Fortunately for America, the men were useless. With questionable backgrounds and only 18 days of training, the mission went wrong almost as soon as it started. They were immediately spotted by the Coast Guard upon arrival but managed to escape. An enormous manhunt was launched, but this mattered little, as the leader of the operation betrayed the mission to the FBI. Six of the eight were executed, the other two served six years in prison and eventually returned to Germany as traitors.

Californian Oil refinery attacked

Japanese bombing at Ellwood
Both oil fields, showing the location of the damage inflicted by the Japanese shelling. The “cactus patch” incident occurred about 300 meters west of the damaged well. (Photo Credit: Antandrus / Wikipedia)

In February of 1942, a few months before I-25’s actions near Oregon, Japanese submarine I-17 engaged in similar activities, but this time against a Californian oil refinery. Similar to I-25, I-17 surfaced about 10 miles from the Californian coast and fired 17 shots at oil processing sites in Ellwood. Also, like I-25, the shots were completely wild and did next to no damage at all. Despite this, the event triggered a major panic on the West Coast of America.

I-17 had participated in the Pearl Harbor attack in December and was the first enemy ship to shell the US during the war. She was sunk in August 1943 by depth charges.

Logging town bombed

Japanese submarine I-25
Photo Credit: Wikipedia / Public Domain

This attack was another conducted by Japanese submarine I-25. The submarine carried a small plane that was used for reconnaissance, but the crew of I-25 realized they could use it offensively. In early September 1942, the lightweight aircraft, flown by Warrant Officer Nobuo Fujita, was armed with incendiary devices and flew to a forested area in Oregon. The incendiaries successfully started a small fire in a forest, but it was not able to grow thanks to quick-acting fire lookouts and conditions unsupportive of fire.

I-25 launched a second attack in late September with similar results. The submarine was sunk a year later.

Jesse Beckett

Jesse Beckett is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE