Bombardment of Ellwood, 1942

sub attacks oilfield

Goleta Valley Historical Society image, via American Oil and Gas Historical Society.

On this night 75 years ago, the mainland United States saw its first attack of the war, in the Bombardment of Ellwood, near Santa Barbara, California, on February 23, 1942.

The event served to trigger a scare of a West Coast invasion, and was a major factor in the decision to intern Japanese-Americans.

The shelling was done by the Imperial Japanese Navy submarine I-18, under the command of Kozo Nishino. Four days earlier, on the night of February 19, the ship covertly landed on Point Loma, San Diego, to determine its position. It then headed north along the California coast.

At about 7:00 PM on February 23, the sub came to a stop off the Ellwood oil field. At 7:15, iit fired its first shot at an oil storage tank. Very little damage was done, and some of the shells landed as far as a mile inland. There was some damage to the pier, and a derrick and pump house were destroyed. There were a total of about 20 shots, after which the sub headed south toward Los Angeles.

One witness reported that the sub had flashed signal lights toward the shore. While this probably did not happen, it was used to support the internment of Japanese-Americans.

The next night, February 24, was the “Battle of Los Angeles,” in which anti-aircraft guns were used against probably nonexistent enemy aircraft.

Commander Nishino had been to Ellwood previously.  Before the war, he had commanded a merchant ship, which had taken on fuel at Ellwood.  While walking to a formal welcoming ceremony, he tripped and fell onto a patch of prickly pear cactus.  Apparently, nearby oil workers laughed at the sight of the commander having cactus pulled from his buttocks.  Most of the shelling took place within a thousand yards of the spot where he had visited.

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