War and Conflict

World War II

Was the U.S. mainland attacked during World War II?

Yes, the continental United States was hit twice during the war, but with no casualties and only minimal damage. The first attack occurred at approximately 7:00 P.M. on February 23, 1942, when a Japanese submarine shelled an oil storage field at Ellwood Beach, California, about 12 miles north of Santa Barbara. The Japanese were trying to hit oil tanks there, evidently with the intent of producing a spectacular explosion. But after firing a reported 16 or 17 rounds, they had struck only a pier. Most of the shells fell into the sea, well short of their targets. U.S. planes gave chase, but the submarine got away. There were no injuries and only minimal damage, but the event put the nation on heightened alert to the possibility of more attacks.

The February 23 attack took place shortly after President Franklin Roosevelt (1882–1945) had begun his fireside chat, addressing the nation over the radio. He talked about how this war was different, since it was being waged on “every continent, every island, every sea, every air-lane in the world.” He also said, “The broad oceans which have been heralded in the past as our protection from attack have become endless battlefields on which we are constantly being challenged by our enemies.” The unsuccessful assault at Ellwood was the first attack on mainland U.S. soil since the War of 1812 (1812–14). The event stirred fears of conspiracy and rattled nerves up and down the West Coast.

There was one other strike on mainland soil during World War II: at Fort Stevens, Oregon, at the mouth of the Columbia River. On the evening of June 21, 1942, a Japanese submarine fired some 17 rounds of shells at the coastal military installation but caused no damage.


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