For most of America’s existence she’s been protected by two enormous oceans, “The Pond” (Atlantic) and “The Pacific.” These two huge bodies of water have kept invaders and spies at bay, or at least provided the necessary time to prepare a resistance. And any aggressor has to consider our Second Amendment, the right to keep and bear arms. Case in point: When Japanese Admiral Yamamoto was asked if he had plans to invade America’s West Coast after bombing Pearl Harbor, he replied, “I have no plans to invade America. There would be a gun behind every blade of grass.”
Once drawn in World War II and after the industrial might of America kicked into high gear, the U.S. Army Air Corps and the aircraft of our allies devastated the cities and countries of Europe, North Africa, Japan, and many more. Our ally, Great Britain, also experienced daily bombings and missile attack, and France’s infrastructure was ravaged as well. Yet, except for merchant shipping sunk off the American East Coast by Nazi U-boats and a few vessels sunk off the West Coast by Japanese submarines, our homeland survived virtually unscathed.
There were exceptions— five, to be exact. One, a German spy ring headed by Frederick Joubert Duquesne, a showy soldier and South African adventurer who spied for Germany during WWI, had established the Duquesne Spy Ring before America entered the war. Reminiscent of the Red Scare in the 1950s, 30 men and three women infiltrated vital civilian positions, including working aboard merchant ships and airlines. Some masqueraded as military contractors. Successful for several months, the Duquesne Spy Ring even managed to pilfer top secret material on American bombsights.
In 1941, a new recruit named William Sebold became “the rat” of the spy ring and became a double-agent for the FBI. With enough solid evidence gathered, the FBI arrested Duquesne and 32 of his companions in the greatest spy bust in American history. A few days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the entire Duquesne Spy Ring was convicted, then sentenced to a total of over 300 years in federal prison.
A second event, an actual shelling of American soil, happened on Feb. 23, 1942. Japanese submarine I-17, captained by Commander Kozo Nishino, who had made port in Santa Barbara before the war in a freighter to take on a cargo of oil at the Ellwood Oil Field, slipped into the Santa Barbara Channel unnoticed and stopped opposite the Ellwood Oil Field. He ordered his deck gun crew to open fire.
The oil field workers on duty believed the resulting explosions signaled an internal problem, until one worker spotted the sub. The enemy submarine looked so big to the field worker that he thought a Japanese cruiser or destroyer had entered the channel. A bombardment of 20 minutes resulted in little damage; a pump house and derrick destroyed. The pier and a catwalk received minor damage. American planes were reported to be “on the way” — none arrived, but the psychological damage to the West Coast was severe and caused a panic. The next night, Japanese planes were reported “overhead” and every anti-aircraft battery in Los Angeles opened fire. The incident is known as the “Battle of Los Angeles.” The submarine attack on the Ellwood Oil Field also encouraged the “need” to intern Japanese-Americans.
Another attack on American soil took place on June 21, 1942. A Japanese submarine, I-25, bypassed minefields by following an American fishing vessel to the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon. It surfaced at midnight and fired its deck gun at an old Army base dating back to the Civil War, Fort Stevens. Accuracy was not the order of the day: the shelling heavily damaged the baseball field.
However, in September of 1942, I-25 conducted the first-ever enemy aerial bombing on America. A Yokosuka E14Y floatplane piloted by Nobuo Fujita dropped incendiary bombs on a heavily forested area in the vicinity of Brookings, Oregon. Theoretically the incendiary bombs would ignite a forest fire. Quick response by fire patrols and a light wind kept the damage minimal, as with a second bombing of the forest later that month. As a goodwill gesture during the 1960s, Nobuo Fujita made several visits to Brookings. Upon his death in 1997, the town made Fujita an honorary citizen.
A fourth attack, dubbed an “invasion,” occurred during June of 1942. Nazi U-boats dropped two four-man crews on the coast of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., and Amagansett, N.Y. The saboteurs carried explosives, and each team had about $84,000 in cash. The plan was to sabotage power plants, transportation facilities and industrial targets. Another “rat” surfaced when one of the saboteurs, George John Dasch, turned himself in to the FBI and squealed on his buddies. All the spies were arrested within two weeks. Six were executed. Dasch and one other spy served six years in jail and then were deported.
The fifth and most bizarre attack on the American mainland in WWII was accomplished by approximately 350 balloon bombs called Fugos. Launched from over 5,000 miles away in Japan, the armed balloons followed the jet steam from an altitude of 30,000 feet and were timed to drop their 50-pound payloads after a three-day journey. It was hoped by the Japanese that the balloons would drop their incendiary and anti-personnel bombs on heavily wooded areas or on an American city. During 1944 and into 1945, American military planes shot down several of the balloons but many got through. They were sighted in more than 15 states, including Michigan and Iowa.
In Oregon, a pregnant woman and five children were killed by a downed balloon. The six deaths, plus the unborn infant, were considered the only combat deaths to transpire on American soil during WWII.
Yet, these five incidents couldn’t compare to the actual aerial bombing of an American city by a heavy bomber during WWII. The town was Miles City, Mont., located in the heartland of northern America about halfway between Seattle and Minneapolis. Actually, enemy aircraft were not the culprits. The bombing was carried out by the brave crew of an American B-17 Flying Fortress.
Originally called Fort Keogh after Capt. Myles Keogh, who was killed in the Battle of Little Bighorn, also recognized as Custer’s Last Stand, and whose horse, Comanche, was the sole survivor of Custer’s command, the town eventually came to be known as Miles City, after General Nelson A. Miles, Fort Keogh’s first commander. Sparsely populated then, by WWII the town was still considered small with a population of around 7,300 souls.
In the dead of a Montana winter on March 21, 1944, the residents of Miles City awoke to a living nightmare. Their town was in the path of the rising frozen waters of the Yellowstone River. Slush, freezing waters, and large chunks of ice forced the townspeople to flee their homes. Mayor L.S. Keye realized the town was certainly doomed if immediate action was not taken. He called in explosives experts from a nearby municipality.
To hopefully break up the frozen river and save Miles City, two local pilots flew over the river in a small aircraft and dropped 50-pound homemade bombs on the frozen Yellowstone. To their chagrin, the ice jam didn’t budge. Mayor Keye, desperate and out of options, called the Governor’s Office and requested the inconceivable: “Send in the bombers.”
Rapid City, S.D., was the nearest Army Air Force base. A B-17 crew quickly volunteered for the strangest mission on record: to bomb an American city. Fusing and loading 250-pound bombs began immediately. The loaded bomber and her eight crew members took off into a bitter blizzard and dangerously low ceiling.
Supposedly, the bombs would be off-loaded in Miles City and transferred to a waiting dive bomber. With a top ceiling of less than a 1,000 feet and a harsh blizzard blanketing the area, the plan was changed. The crew of the B-17 was ordered to make the bomb run.
The bomb release was planned at 10,000 feet. The B-17 crew couldn’t see the ground, much less the frozen Yellowstone. At 7:30 p.m., as the residents of Miles City watched in amazement, a lone B-17 broke through the heavy overcast, snow, cold, and high winds to make a dummy bombing run over the river. Not sure of their target and for safety reasons, the Flying Fortress made a second dummy bomb run. The townspeople were privy to a most unusual airshow.
On its third pass, one bomb fell from the bomb bay of the B-17, more or less to test the results. The bomb detonated right on target. With very little movement of the ice jam, the B-17 came in for two more bomb runs and eventually released its entire bomb load. The residents of Miles City stood motionless, not a word was spoken. Envisage being one of the residents as 250-pound bombs dropped by an American bomber whistled down to hopefully save your town, your property, your family’s entire future. Within seconds, a giant column of mud, chunks of ice, and waves of glacial water exploded skyward from the frozen Yellowstone River.
The ice jam broke apart amid the cheers of Miles City residents. The Yellowstone slowly receded; the town was saved. To show their appreciation, the townspeople paid for local motel rooms and treated the B-17 crew to a steak dinner. When the people awoke the next morning, the water levels of the Yellowstone had dropped more than 10 feet.
The B-17 departed that morning, but not without making a final pass over the town. From a height of 50 feet, the B-17 roared over the rooftops and the pilots rocked their wings as they flew back to their base in Rapid City.
“The Pond” and “The Pacific” no longer hold off our adversaries. An enemy submarine can now launch a nuclear missile with a flight time of less than 10 minutes to an American city. Thus far, like minds agree on MAD, short for “Mutually Assured Destruction.” A nuclear attack on us assures mutual destruction of our enemy, whoever that may be. Like the frozen Yellowstone, our heavily populated cities and military facilities would be melted into an intense plume of light and smoke. Yeah, that is quite MAD.