CALIFORNIA AND THE SECOND WORLD WAR


THE ATTACKS ON THE SS BARBARA OLSON AND SS ABSAROKA




AMERICAN LUMBER CARRIER SS ABSAROKA


On Christmas day 1941, the Japanese submarine I-19, under the command of Lieutenant Commander Narahara Shogo, torpedoes and misses the lumber schooner BARBARA OLSON steaming toward San Diego.

Later that day, off Point Fermin near San Pedro, the I-19 torpedoes, hits and damages the McCormick Steamship Company's 5,695-ton American lumber carrier ABSAROKA, but the ship is towed and beached at Fort MacArthur. The subchaser USS AMETHYST (PYC-3), on patrol off the Los Angeles Harbor entrance, depth charges the I-19, but without effect.

The following is an extract of an article dealing with the attacks as published in the July 1998 issue of World War II Magazine (see link further down the page) in a story titled, "West Coast War Zone" by Donald J. Young:


As the lumber schooner Barbara Olson was quietly steaming toward San Diego on the morning of December 24, she was rocked by a violent blast 100 feet off its seaward side. Although no one on board saw what caused it, the explosion was from a torpedo fired by I-19, which had gone under Olson and blown up on the other side.

About four miles away, aboard the Navy sub chaser USS Amethyst, on patrol off the Los Angeles Harbor entrance, lookouts were attracted by the blast, and the captain sounded general quarters one minute later. The note in the ship's log read: "At 0625 sighted an explosion that threw smoke and spray approximately 300 feet into the air. At 0626 sounded general quarters. At 0730 secured from general quarters and set condition Baker."

Amethyst went down for a "look-see" but did not locate the enemy sub. Although I-19 had missed Barbara Olson, four hours later she would have another chance at an American ship. By 10 a.m., I-19 had moved to new hunting grounds a few miles north off Point Fermin. Entering the Catalina Channel some five miles north of the waiting enemy sub was the McCormick Steamship Company's 5,700-ton freighter Absaroka, also on her way south with a load of lumber.

By 10:30, the freighter was off Point Fermin, whose famous 77-year-old lighthouse was clearly visible less than a mile away. Manning a coast artillery gun position on the point just below the lighthouse, Army Sergeant James Hedwood and his crew watched the ship as it passed. "We were looking at the lumber schooner when suddenly we saw a fountain of water spout 100 feet into the air at the stern," Hedwood recalled. The boat spun around some 220 degrees from the force of the blow, "ending up with its stern to sea and its bow facing toward land."

On board, Seaman Joseph Scott was the first to see the sub that got Absaroka. "It was midmorning and all hands were up, when I looked off to starboard and saw a whale," he recalled. "At least I was about to say 'look over yonder, a whale,' when I changed my mind and yelled, 'There's a Jap submarine!'

"She was coming head-on. Then her periscope went up and she shot a torpedo. I've seen torpedoes coming at me before. 'They've wasted that one,' says I. Sure enough it went wide, but right on its heels came another. 'Oh, oh, that's bad,' says I, because I could see this one was going to get us."

Scott's reference to previous experience with torpedoes was no exaggeration. At sea since his early 20s, the 48-year-old veteran had had four merchant ships torpedoed out from under him on four consecutive voyages during World War I.

"In those other torpedoings, as I recall 'em, there was always a bang or blast and a bump," Scott continued. "But this one was a sort of slow jar, with nothing but a rumble because she hit well below the waterline."

Four men--Harry Greenwald, Marshall Mansfield, Herbert Stevens and Joseph Ryan--were working on the starboard side of Absaroka, routinely checking the lashings on the particularly heavy deck load of lumber she was carrying, moments before the torpedo struck. One of them glanced up in time to see the wake. "Torpedo!" he yelled, pointing toward the stern of the ship. "I knew [it] was going to miss us and broke into a grin," said Greenwald. "But my grin froze, because the second fish followed the first one quicker than it takes to tell it."

The second torpedo struck with tremendous impact about 50 feet aft of the beam, knocking three of the four men into the sea. The fourth, Ryan, was able to ride out the blast, which, according to one observer, threw tons of lumber into the air "as if a man were throwing matchsticks around."

Amazingly, within a matter of seconds, Greenwald was back on deck after being thrown overboard. As he struggled to the surface after his sudden dunking, the rail over which he had just been hurled came close enough for him to grab. "The ship [rolled] over so far from the explosion that her deck went underwater," said Greenwald. "I grabbed the rail as the ship shuddered and righted herself [and] was carried up as she swung back." Mansfield pulled himself back on board by a rope.

The third man, Stevens, whose leg had been injured in the blast and his subsequent fall into the sea, began yelling for his shipmates to help. Ryan located him and dashed to the deck rail, picked up a coil of heavy mooring line and tossed it toward Stevens' bobbing head. Ryan had begun pulling Stevens toward the ship when the next disaster struck. The explosion had snapped the lashings anchoring the deck load of lumber behind Ryan. As he was leaning over the rail drawing his injured comrade toward the side of the ship, a 10-foot wall of lumber teetered and then fell, instantly killing Ryan and tumbling his body overboard along with hundreds of board feet of lumber.

Another man, oiler James O'Brien, who had been positioned a little farther forward when the torpedo hit, said that the blast "knocked me off my feet and made me goofy for a minute. Because the sub had the glare behind her, we couldn't have had a chance to escape. She had a perfect target."

Radio operator Walt Williams, in the communications shack on the aft end of the boat when the torpedo exploded, was thrown out of his chair onto the floor by the blast. Seconds later, Williams recalled, "Captain Louie Pringle notified me to send out the SOS signal and the message that we'd been torpedoed. Two messages I didn't have to be told to send."

Out on deck, crewmen had already lowered the lifeboats. There was no need to wait for the order to abandon ship. Within minutes, Absaroka had already settled up to her main deck.

Not long after Williams' distress call, planes showed up and dropped bombs near where the sub was last seen. On the heels of the bombing, Amethyst arrived on the scene and began dropping depth charges. Despite the efforts to retaliate against I-19, neither bombs nor the pattern of 32 depth charges showed results.

As the day wore on, seven of the 33-man crew rescued from Absaroka, including Captain Pringle, had come back on board. Seeing that the old lumber ship was not in any immediate danger of sinking, Lt. Cmdr. Hans B. Olson tied on his U.S. Navy tug, and Absaroka was gingerly towed in and beached on a strip of sand below Fort MacArthur.[1]

One month later, in the January 26, 1942, issue of LIFE magazine, movie actress Jane Russell was featured in the full-page "Picture of the Week," standing in the tremendous hole in Absaroka's hull created by the Japanese torpedo. In the picture she is holding a poster that warns: "A slip of the lip may sink a ship," with the words "may sink a ship" crossed out and the words "may have sunk this ship" written in.


The real question is why? It is almost incredible that an enemy submarine thousands of thousands of miles from their homeland would, in broad daylight, pick such a location: the narrow, fairly shallow and extremely well charted 26 mile wide channel between Santa Catalina Island and the California mainland --- a section of mainland that at the time was some of most highly defended coastline in the country.[2]


WORLD WAR II COMES TO REDONDO


MY MERCHANT MARINE FRIEND




(for larger picture please click then click again)


TWO-MAN JAPANESE- MIDGET SUBMARINE MOUNTED
ADJACENT TO THE MOTHER SHIP'S CONNING TOWER

(please click image)



I CLASS JAPANESE SUBMARINE 1-15, SISTER SHIP TO THE I-19 THAT ATTACKED THE SS ABSAROKA
(please click)


THE STRANGE ODYSSEY OF THE GERMAN U-BOAT U-196


THE BATTLE OF LOS ANGELES: 1942 UFO


BRITISH MOTOR MERCHANT TULAGI


WORLD WAR II MAGAZINE


THE FLYING TIGERS
THE BOY IN THE MAN REMEMBERS THE LEGEND

RALPH A. MULTER
GUNNER'S MATE 3rd CLASS, U.S. NAVY



CLICK
HERE FOR
ENLIGHTENMENT

ON THE RAZOR'S
EDGE


E-MAIL
THE WANDERLING

(please click)
















FOR COMPLETE ARTICLE PLEASE CLICK IMAGE


WORLD WAR II UFO SCARE ON L.A.
(please click)


SAN CLEMENTE ISLAND AND THE 1942 UFO

















Footnote [1]




The below paragraphs, as found in World War II Comes to Redondo, records what happened to the submarine following the torpedo attack off Point Fermin:


The Japanese submarine involved in the attack against the Absaroka, the I-19, left the Catalina Channel immediately after the torpedo attack, apparently beating a hasty retreat north from the Point Fermin area passing by a fishing barge off the coast south of Redondo Beach headed toward the deep marine trench off Redondo and in the process spotted.

Tracking the sub's movements when it was first seen after it left the channel until it disappeared over the horizon to the northwest is picked up by South Bay historian Marshall E. Stewart, who writes the following in his self-published book History of the Early Hollywood Riviera.


"On Christmas Day 1941 at the start of WWII the first sighting of a Japanese submarine was from the veranda of the (Hollywood Riviera Club). Soldiers unfamiliar with the ocean were placed along the cliffs and at the Club. One of the soldiers, looking through a telescope, spotted an unusual vessel near one of the fishing barges. He asked Roy Stewart (manager of the Hollywood Riviera Club from 1930-1942) to identify what kind of vessel it was, and he recognized it as a submarine. The sighting was reported, causing a small military plane to arrive over the surfaced sub and drop a bomb. The bomb landed next to the sub on the same side as a fishing barge. The submarine moved westward on the surface and as dusk and low clouds increased, a Navy ship could be dimly be seen firing at the Japanese submarine. The bomb also ruptured the wood planking of the fishing barge which took on water until she was decks awash."


The I-19 went on to kill again before its actual overall ultimate demise on November 25, 1943. It is officially recorded as racking up considerable damage and sinking of a number of other vessels prior to that demise --- and not just unarmed freighters either. For example, on September 15, 1942, the I-19 fired a half dozen torpedoes at the aircraft carrier USS Wasp, two of which hit and sank her. The remainder of the four torpedoes hit and damaged the battleship USS North Carolina as well as the destroyer USS O'Brien which sank later.


















Footnote [2]


A lot of it had to do with the sea facing radar and the coastal defenses and how the Japanese were planning to beat the system. After the I-19 attack all eyes were focused toward the ocean. However, other things were in the works, much bigger things.

Leading up to and during World War II a movie actress by the name of Rochelle Hudson, who was actually leading a dual life, put her career on hold because during that period she had in fact been working as a spy for the Naval Intelligence Service. She and her husband, posing as a civilian, were doing espionage work primarily in Mexico and together they posed as a vacationing couple to detect if there was any German or Japanese activity there. What was peripherally discovered and stopped in it's tracks, as found in the Hudson site so linked and reported in Harbor Defenses of Los Angeles in World War II by John R. Monett, Lester Cole and Jack C. Cleland (1945) relates to the following:


On December 31, 1941, the IV Interceptor Command reported that several enemy planes were believed to have landed and been hidden near the inland desert communities of Indio and Brawley in the Imperial Valley of California. They also reported that five messages in Japanese code were being sent daily between Brawley and Mexico City via short wave radio. At 12:32 PM in the afternoon of December 31, 1941, the Federal Bureau of Investigation relayed the following message:


"There is a plan for air and sea attack against San Diego, San Pedro and San Francisco, to take place about dawn either New Year’s Day or the following Sunday. It is possible the attack will be made against San Diego and San Pedro first. Expecting cooperation from aliens ashore. The air attack will be by German airmen from across the border where planes are now under cover, taking off before dawn and coming over flying high. If air forces are alert, this can be broken up before they reach their objectives. Am sending you this information for want of better channels to advise. Remember Pearl Harbor."(see)


It was not by coincidence that all the Japanese subs were positioned by the 27th off the coast of primary targets just before the last day of the year and the same day as the planned inland attack from "behind." Although it never came off, all units of the harbor defenses were put on alert and ready for action. And, attack or not, it did not end the potential of one materializing from the desert and Mexico as being real. Like many things in the war, especially things that came close to having the vulnerability of the U.S. homeland jeopardized, details have remaind scarce or never revealed.

The reason why that aerial attack by German pilots coming out of the desert behind the radar and across the border never came off at the scheduled time, or not at all, was because of Rochelle Hudson --- and the reason why she is famous in the espionage world as a success. Hudson, along with her Naval officer husband, on one of their vacations uncovered a supply of high octane aviation fuel stashed by German agents in Baja California. After the discovery the stash was dealt with appropriately and without the necessary fuel to implement the planned attack, it was scrapped. The next time the Germans planned to attack the dam by air was about four years later. To bypass the sea facing radar along California's coast they were going to come in the back way across Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona after launching planes from a Japanese submarine aircraft carrier in the Gulf of Mexico. See:


NAZI PLOT TO BLOW UP HOOVER DAM


BATTLE OF L. A.: THE RADAR DILEMMA