A Close Call During War Time

Removal of unexploded Japanese torpedo near the Golden Gate Bridge on June 6, 1946.

June 6, 1946 DANGEROUS JOB.–Working rapidly to perform their job before high tide, Navy demolition experts drag ashore just west of the Golden Gate Bridge, a 12-foot Jap torpedo head section suspected of being “alive”.
Photo credit: San Francisco Public Library

I was searching the San Francisco Public Library website online today when I found this interesting photo of Navy demolition men in 1946 hauling a piece of a Japanese torpedo ashore on Baker Beach, just west of the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Two days earlier an “unidentified beachcomber” found the two sections of torpedo lodged in the sand near the South Tower. The warhead had separated from the propulsion section. The detonator was successfully removed and exploded early in the morning.

At 1 PM, Highway patrolmen stopped traffic at the bridge plaza as the head section was readied for demolition. It turned out to be a dud.

The torpedo was thought to have been fired by a Japanese submarine during the war and that got me thinking about what it must have been like to be in San Francisco immediately after the attack on Pearl harbor.

I found the following article in the Joplin Globe newspaper from Joplin, Missouri on December 9, 1941:

Planes Off  California, Is Report

General William O. Ryan Says They Approached Golden Gate, but Were Sighted and Driven Back.

San  Francisco, Dec. 8 (AP) — Brigadier General William Ord Ryan, of the Fourth interceptor command, said tonight that a large number of unidentified planes approached the Golden Gate tonight, but were sighted and driven back to sea.

“They came from the sea, were turned back and the navy has sent out three vessels to find where they came from,” General Ryan said. “I don’t know how many planes there were, but there were a large number.”

“They got up to the Golden Gate and then turned about and headed southwest.”

Three Strange Hours

General Ryan  was asked whether he thought they were Japanese bombers.

“Well, they weren’t army planes, they weren’t navy planes, and you can be sure they weren’t civilian planes,” he answered.

The general was asked if he was willing to be quoted directly.

“Certainly,” he said.

The general’s statement came at the end of three strange hours in which this city of 630,000 population — 4,700 miles from Yokohama — alternately believed it was in peril of immediate air assault, and that the blackout ordered by air raid wardens was merely practice.

Police who ordered the blackout at 6:20 p.m. announced at 7:30 p.m. that lights could be turned on again, but before many were relighted, a second blackout was decreed. The interceptor command said it had not lifted the blackout.

Guns Rushed To Water’s Edge

Residents along Marina boulevard, fronting the bay near the Golden Gate, said 60 army trucks rushed anti-aircraft guns to the water’s edge during the blackout.

The second warning that possible enemy aircraft were coming in from the Pacific ocean came from a spokesman at the Twelfth naval district headquarters 40 minutes after the first all-clear signal.  Captain W.K. Kilpatrick, chief of staff, later disavowed the report, however. He declined to comment on whether there actually had been planes heard or sighted.

At Hamilton Field, a pursuit ship base 35 miles north of San Francisco, officials said no planes from there “have been shot down and we haven’t shot down any.” They would not say whether any of their ships were in the air, however.

The “all-clear” order came from the Brigadier General William Ord Ryan’s Fourth interceptor command at Riverside.

The hastily summoned air raid wardens, many of whom enrolled only today, did not recognize the alarm as a practice test.

Householders in the Ingleside district said one warden ran through his area pounding on doors with a flashlight and ordering lights turned off.

While the sirens from neighborhood fire stations spread the alarm, huge searchlights went into action along the ocean beach, and planes that apparently were night fighters took to the air.

Reports Are Spread

Warnings were spread to the city through the police chief’s office, which did not comment upon the plane report from the army.

“This information came to us from General Ryan of the interceptor division office,” a spokesman at the chief’s office said.

All calls to the interceptor division office were met with the operator’s reply: “Sorry. I can’t give you any information.”

Meantime, San Francisco radio stations went off the air.

A huge mobile anti-aircraft searchlight went into action at the San Francisco beach, its rays searching the sky.

Air raid warnings began to sound throughout the city at 6:50 p.m. as fire trucks were backed from their stalls, under a pre-arranged system, and sounded their sirens.

Lights Turned Out

Along Marina boulevard, a fashionable thoroughfare near the Presidio on the north side of San Francisco, soldiers caused householders to turn out their house lights.

Wilbur Sanders, Associated Press editor living in the Sunset district in the southwestern part of the city,  said at 8:55 p.m. he heard the sound of many airplane engines.

The planes appeared to be heading seaward, Sanders said.

A few minutes after the first sirens were heard in outlying districts, others began joining in and a continuous wail filled the air.

Streetlights in the downtown area were turned off at 7 p.m. And restaurants and other business establishments blacked out.

After the first searchlight flared up at the beach, army air corps groundsmen from the Presidio brought 15 others into play. They lighted the skies along the western beach between the Golden Gate and the southern limits of the city.

The entire district south of Golden Gate park was blacked out, policemen going from house to house to get lights turned out.

A chill came over me when I read the above article for the first time. I had flashbacks of 9/11 when I was on Day Shift, and that will be the subject of another post.

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