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Edmonds' WW II Aircraft Observation Tower Watched For Enemy Attack

During the war years, the City of Edmonds built a wooden aircraft observation near Third and Main to give early warning in case of enemy air attacks on Puget Sound.

In the wake of the attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, fear of similar attacks on the U.S. mainland became rampant. Cities and towns along the West Coast were swept up in a near hysteria.

Many coastal communities suffered from invasion fever, which spawned preparedness drills, blackouts and other civil defense activities. (For a stunning example, watch this amazing video from 1943 of a simulated air attack on Seattle.)

Edmonds was no exception.

Puget Sound was home to several facilities essential to the war effort. Edmonds' location put it in an ideal spot to provide early warning of attack on strategic facilities such as the Boeing plant and the Bremerton Naval Shipyard.

As part of Edmonds' homefront effort, the town erected an aircraft observation tower just north of Main Street between Third and Fourth avenues, the former site of (see last week's Patch history article "").

Residents took shifts in the tower as part of a larger Edmonds war effort that also included scrap drives, air raid drills, civil defense training in use of gas masks, war bond drives, blackouts and more (see Patch article "").

Despite the fears and preparedness efforts (some may argue because of these), Puget Sound never suffered a World War II enemy attack. But there were at least three recorded attacks on the West Coast, none resulting in anything more than minor damage.

The first occurred near Santa Barbara, CA, on Feb. 23, 1942. News reports at the time reported that an enemy submarine fired 16 shells on the Ellwood Oil Fields, about 12 miles north of the city. No significant damage resulted.

The second occurred on June 21, 1942, when a Japanese submarine fired on Fort Stevens at the mouth of the Columbia River in Oregon. The only damage reported was to the baseball field backstop.

The last attack came Sept. 9, 1942, when a special seaplane launched from a Japanese submarine aircraft carrier dropped two incendiary bombs near Brookings, OR, in a failed attempt to ignite massive forest fires. They tried again on Sept. 29 with similar results.

But here's my favorite.

In another attempt to start forest fires, the Japanese initiated an incendiary balloon bomb campaign. In late 1944 and 1945, the country launched more than 9,000 fire balloons toward the U.S. Carried by the jet stream, about 300 actually reached the U.S. mainland but caused little damage.

While built to provide early warning in the event of enemy attack, the Edmonds aircraft observation tower had an unplanned side benefit. At least one staffer found his or her time in the tower allowed the flexibility to take some photos, leaving us with a series of panoramic shots providing a view of Edmonds during the war years.

The town looks quiet and very different from the vibrant place we know today. Looking at the photos, you can almost feel the sense of watchfulness that characterized the West Coast during the war years.

Peter Duncan EHS '70 May 23, 2012 at 09:02 PM
VERY cool!! Never heard of this. I've got to share this with a friend, whose Dad is dead center in the Museum's large picture of a scrap metal drive.
William Bentler May 23, 2012 at 09:36 PM
My grandfather, Tony Bentler, had a one-chair barber shop on Main St from 1930 to 1955. During 1942-43, he cut hair for the soldiers of an anti-aircraft battery the army had positioned on Union Oil Hill. My Dad, who went off to war in 1943, remembered the soldiers, and their weekly firing practice, at plane-towed aeriel sock targets. Edmonds had several war essential waterfront industries; Pointer Willamette, for example, made anti-torpedo nets. The troops were moved on, as it became clearer no Japanese attacks were likely. A careful reading of early war history however, shows how unprepared the services were to protect potential domestic targets. It is quite possible IJN subs did probe the Straits and into Puget Sound before and after Pearl Harbor. We had no real capacity to detect or fight them.
Brian Soergel May 23, 2012 at 10:59 PM
Peter: That is awesome!

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