For the United States, World War II started with an attack on American soil. At the time, Hawaii was an American territory and Pearl Harbor was an American naval installation. While it was the first attack on American soil and was the catalyst for the United States joining the war, it wasn’t the only attack on the United States.
Overshadowed by the conflicts in Europe and in the Pacific, the United States suffered these minor attacks over the course of the war, both on the American mainland and in American territories.
If you’re aiming to do damage to a country, one of the best methods is to strike from the inside. In 1942, eight German spies infiltrated the United States in an effort to sabotage the war effort and bring down morale across the country.
To do so, their plan was to instigate acts of terrorism, targeting transport hubs and power plants across the country. The the plan failed when two of the men, George John Dasch and Ernst Peter Burger, would-be saboteurs with a change of heart. Rather than attack the United States, Dasch turned himself in to the FBI and outed his fellow conspirators.
Ellwood Oil Field
Japan didn’t end its attacks on the United States after Pearl Harbor. Only two months later, Japanese submarines were back in American waters, this time off the coast of California. The Japanese sub I-17 found its way into a channel near Ellwood Oil Field, which held a large supply of oil just outside of Santa Barbara.
The submarine surfaced and fired on Ellwood Beach. The sixteen shells caused minimal damage to the structure itself, mainly damaging a pump house and oil derrick, but the psychological implications were more than enough. Panic stretched across the US as civilians feared a possible invasion.
The incident at Ellwood inadvertently led to the “Battle of Los Angeles.” What was now believed to have been a weather balloon set off anti-aircraft fire over Los Angeles under the mistaken belief that the Japanese had begun an invasion.
On June 21st, 1942, Fort Stevens, on the Oregon coast, was the target of the only attack on an American mainland military site. The Japanese submarine I-25 slipped past minefields by trailing behind fishing vessels until she was in the mouth of the Columbia River. The ship surfaced just off the post and, at around midnight, launched 17 shells from her 140-mm deck gun.
To avoid potential damage, soldiers at Fort Stevens were ordered not to fire back, out of concern that doing so would give away their exact position. The base itself was untouched, though a nearby baseball field suffered minor damage.
Acting on an ingenious idea that seems too ridiculous to work, the Japanese formulated balloon bombs – high-altitude balloons equipped with anti-personnel and incendiary explosives. From a position in the Pacific, 9,000 of these balloons were sent towards the United States utilizing the jet stream. The balloons were designed to release their bombs after three days in the air.
Only about 350 bombs actually made it to the American mainland. For a period of about five months, starting in November of 1944, sightings of these balloons were reported as far inland as Michigan and Iowa. The only casualty from these unique bombs was an Oregon family that stumbled across one.