BOOM! The sound of the explosion shattered the silent night and jolted the soldiers awake from a sound sleep. BOOM! "We're under fire!" The now wide-awake soldiers scrambled to their posts. Machine gunners raced to the beach to help repel a possible invasion.
It was the night of June 21, 1942. The imperial Japanese Navy long-range submarine known as I-25 surfaced around 10 miles offshore just south of Fort Stevens, Oregon. Submarine Captain Tagami Meiji evaded the minefields by following American fishing boats to the mouth of the Columbia River. For around sixteen minutes the sub fired seventeen 144 mm shells from its 5.5 inch deck gun in the direction of Fort Stevens and Battery Russell.
That night Fort Stevens and Battery Russell became the first U.S. mainland base to be fired upon since the War of 1812, a period of 130 years. It still holds that distinction. It was the only time the Axis powers would attack a military installation on the continental U.S. during WWII.
Battery Russell was built at Fort Stevens in Clatsop County, Oregon between March 1903 and August 1904. It was named for Bvt. Major General David A. Russell who was killed in Civil War action at Opequan, Virginia on Sept. 19, 1864.
The fort commander ordered all lights to be turned off, plunging the entire area into complete darkness. The soldiers eagerly waited for orders to fire back, but those orders never came. Perhaps the commander didn't want to reveal the precise location of the fort or the extent of the fort's arsenal.
The shells landed harmlessly in swamp and beach areas. Two shells did land near Battery Russell, cutting some large telephone cables and destroying a baseball backstop. An A-29 Hudson flew out to bomb the sub, but it submerged and disappeared.
The I-25 sub went on to sink two freighters and launch aerial bombings of forested land near Brookings. It was sunk in 1943 in the South Pacific by an American warship. Battery Russell fired its last shells on December 29, 1944. It was replaced by the more modern Battery 245 to the northeast.
Shortly after World War II ended, all of the guns at Fort Stevens were removed. The property was turned over to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Battery Russell became part of Oregon State Parks in 1975, serving as a reminder of early 20th century U.S. military history.
A Pacific Rim Peace Memorial was dedicated on the 50th anniversary of the shelling, June 21, 1992. It honors the American and Japanese soldiers who were involved in the shelling and calls for everlasting peace between the two nations. A commemorative ceremony was held on the 70th anniversary of the event.
Though Battery Russell was a product of war, walking through it today offers a sense of peace and a reminder of our not-so-distant history. It's a safe place to visit, although a sign does warn that there still are dangers.