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Feb 25

Submarine shells Santa Barbara refinery, World War II week by week

Japanese submarine shells refinery north of Santa Barbara, front page news in the then Telegram-Tribune February 24, 1942.

Seventy years ago it wasn’t geopolitical strategy that drew Captain Nishino Kozo to the oil town of Ellwood, California. When the submarine I-17 surfaced the target was revenge. If American oil facilities were destroyed all the better but the Captain had a bitter and personal score to settle.

Regular readers of this column will recall that Ellwood is north of Santa Barbara where for many years the northern terminus of the Southern Pacific Railroad line to Los Angles languished.

I find three spelling variations of his name on the internet, Nishino Kozo, Kozo Nishino and Kizo Nishino but the essentials of the story remain the same.

The author of the first Axis attack on the U.S. mainland was motivated by a humiliation suffered in the late 1930s. The future submarine captain was then master of a Japanese oil tanker and on the way up a path from the beach, en-route to a welcoming ceremony he slipped and fell upon a cactus.

More painful than the spines being removed from his buttocks was the derisive laughter of nearby oil rig workers.

The loss of face would be avenged.

The submarine surfaced a quarter-mile offshore at twilight and began firing from a deck gun toward the Bankline oil refinery.

There were no casualties as about 15-25 shells rained down over a scattered area from the 5.5 inch deck gun. The firing went on for about half an hour before the sub slipped below the surface and got away.

One man was injured diffusing an unexploded shell but the damage was only $500 to a well derrick and pumping unit. Crude oil and gasoline storage tanks were unscathed.

The I-17 was less successful than the I-21 that sunk the Union Oil tanker Monetebello off of San Simeon.

The submarine would be depth charged and sunk August 19, 1943. Only six crew members survived, and 97 died at sea.

In other news on the page about 350 Axis aliens from Cambria to the Santa Barbara county line had been evacuated from restricted coastal areas. The mostly Japanese-Americans were issued travel permits to stay with family in the Fresno area. Under the curfew terms enemy aliens could not leave their homes between 9.p.m. and 6 a.m.

The Battle of Los Angeles, imaginary planes were fired at as over anxious gunners blazed into the night sky. Headlines from February 25, 1942.

The next night panic gripped southern California as anti-aircraft guns blazed into the night during what some have called the Battle of Los Angles. Was it a loose weather balloon, a UFO or  merely a false alarm triggered by over-anxious rookie air raid wardens?

Tons of steel were fired into the sky and according to Wikipedia three civilians were killed by the anti-aircraft shells falling back to earth and three fatal heart attacks were reported during the barrage.

America was still finding its war footing.

In other news on the page the first drawing of the new Southern Pacific railroad station in San Luis Obispo was released.

Related posts:

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  2. Sinking of the Union Oil tanker Montebello, World War II week by week
  3. Japanese expansion in Asia – World War II week by week
  4. Japanese relocation, World War II week by week
  5. Japanese internment resolutions, Baywood Park gets electricity-World War II week by week