How U.S. Prepared for Japanese Invasion

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Japan’s Pearl Harbor Cover-Up

In San Francisco, author and radio personality Upton Close, who was described by NBC as their “expert on the Far East,” opened his radio commentary Sunday afternoon by saying “there’s more behind this than meets the eye.”

He had picked up his phone, called the Japanese Consulate in San Francisco and asked to speak with Consul General Yoshio Muto. Instead, he was connected with Kazuyoshi Inagaki, who identified himself as the Consul’s secretary and who told Close that the Pearl Harbor attack came as a “complete surprise” to the consulate staff and that the first he and Muto knew about it came in American radio bulletins.

“That may prove to be true,” Close speculated. “It is very possible that there is a double-double cross in this business. . .. It is possible that this is a coup engineered by a small portion of the Japanese Navy that has gone fanatic. . .. It might be possible for the Japanese government to repudiate this action, to repair the injury to America.”

Though he was nurturing a conspiracy theory, he went on to accurately recall that in 1931, when the Japanese Kwantung Army had launched its offensive against the Chinese in Manchuria, the Japanese government in Tokyo had no advance knowledge of the action. Indeed, Close had verified this at the time by phoning the Japanese foreign office and speaking to the chagrinned diplomats.

Inside Japan’s consulate in San Francisco at 2622 Jackson Street, Muto and Inagaki were busily shoveling sensitive documents into fireplaces. The flames burst out of control and the fire department had to save the building.

Preparing for War

On December 8, on the morning after Pearl Harbor, a front-page editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle called for unity of purpose, and an end to the ongoing debate over isolationism, noting that “by the act of Japan, America is at war. The time for debate has passed and the time for action has come. This action must be united and unanimous. ‘Politics is adjourned.’ From now on America is an army with every man, woman and child in it, all joined by the one end of victory.”

Each of the three Pacific Coast governors issued statements calling for calm, and preparing their citizens for the unknowns that were sure to flow from the confused circumstances of the war in which they now found themselves.

“The State of Washington is on the frontier of a great war,” said Governor Arthur Langlie. “We do not know what the future holds in store for us. We do not know what trials we must go through or what sacrifices we will be called upon to make. We do know what is at stake.”

Oregon governor Charles Sprague, who was also the editor and publisher of Salem’s Oregon Statesman, as well as the director of the State Council of Defense for Oregon, used a front page editorial published in an “Extra” edition of his own newspaper on Sunday. “We are at war, Sprague wrote. “Well, we have been at war before and have acquitted ourselves honorably. We will do so again. We are all Americans in this war of defense.”

A West Coast Invasion

Fear of enemy bombers striking at night gripped the states of the Pacific Coast. Blackouts were imposed almost immediately – and while haphazard at first – soon became an obsession of many people.

At 1:45 a.m. on December 9, General Ryan, downing coffee at his IV Interceptor Command headquarters, was handed a bulletin. As he later explained, “the controller at the board of command detected plans about which we knew nothing. . .. We are sounding warnings when the detection signals on our board call for them.” Ryan notified General DeWitt, who phoned Mayor Rossi personally. Reports were circulated that “army authorities” had “authenticated” the report. Estimates of the number of aircraft ranged between thirty-five and fifty, but in the confusion, the sources of the estimates were unclear.

Radio station KFRC reported at 1:51 that it had been ordered off the air, and other stations were shut down at the same time. Traffic on both the Golden Gate Bridge and Bay Bridge was halted and the bridges were blacked out.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that “Confusion prevailed. . .. Fire sirens screamed, and police cars raced through the streets warning residents to turn out their lights.”

After the sun rose on Tuesday, December 9, and the “all-clear” siren had sounded, Ryan spoke to the media in time to be quoted in the morning papers. “There was an actual attack,” he confirmed. “A strong squadron was detected approaching the Golden Gate. It was not an air raid test. It was the real thing. The planes came from the sea and turned back. . .. Some of the planes got into the Golden Gate then turned and headed southwest [over San Francisco] . . .. I don’t think there’s any doubt they came from a carrier, but the carrier would have moved after they were launched and they would rendezvous at another spot.”

Ryan’s admission that the IV Interceptor Command knew neither what the enemy was doing – aside from flying over the West’s second largest city – nor what the command itself was doing, did little to allay concerns.

The War Comes Ashore

Other than those fired in I-17’s attack on the Goleta oilfields on February 23, no Japanese shells had fallen on Western North America during the first six months of the war. On June 18, however, Rear Admiral Shigeaki Yamazaki of Submarine Squadron 1 dusted off a plan originally drafted for the December campaign and ordered I-25 and I-26 to begin attacking military installations ashore.

After sinking the SS Coast Trader on June 7, Commander Minoru Yokota had taken I-26 north, and was operating off the coast of Vancouver Island when he received these orders. At approximately 10:30 p.m. on June 20, I-26 surfaced five miles off of the village of Hesquiat, located approximately 160 miles north of Victoria. The gunners then proceeded to open fire on the Canadian government’s radio telegraph, weather, and direction-finding station there, and on the 100-foot Estevan Point Lighthouse about four miles to the west. The submarine fired at least seventeen rounds, possibly as many as thirty, over a period of thirty to forty minutes. However, rough seas spoiled the gunners’ aim and, none of them struck either the lighthouse or the radio station, and there were no casualties. According to Lieutenant General Kenneth Stuart, the acting commander in chief of Canada’s West Coast Defenses, the damage was limited to “[a] few windows . . . broken by concussion.”

The Royal Canadian Navy reacted quickly, sending five warships to search for I-25, while the Royal Canadian Air Force sent a patrol bomber. By then, Minoru Yokota already was far away and preparing to return to Yokosuka.

As the shells were falling on Estevan Point, Meiji Tagami’s I-25 was slipping away from its attack on the Fort Camosun and running south. Having been ordered to shell targets ashore, Tagami had decided to attack Naval Base Tongue Point, Oregon, a minor facility that had been built in the 1920s on the south side of the Columbia River, about twelve miles upstream from the Pacific. The Navy had intended for it be a major port for both submarines and destroyers, but never developed it as initially planned.

Guarding the mouth of the Columbia—and complicating Tagami’s mission—was Fort Stevens, bristling with the guns of the Army’s Coast Artillery Command’s 18th Coastal Artillery Regiment and the 249th Coastal Artillery Regiment of the Oregon National Guard.

On June 21, Tagami approached to within a few miles of the mouth of the river, closely following a fleet of returning fishing boats in order to avoid a minefield. For some reason, however, he did not proceed the dozen relatively unobstructed miles upriver to Tongue Point. Perhaps Tagami was afraid that he would never escape if he went upriver, or, as some sources contend, he mistook Fort Stevens for the naval base.

Whatever the cause for his decision, he surfaced, and ordered his deck gun crew to open fire on Fort Stevens at approximately 11:30 p.m.

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