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Lighthouse Attack Was Staged by US to Trick Canada Into War Conscription

Edmonton Journal | April 2 2004

The country's top history magazine is casting doubt on the official account of a pivotal event for Canadians during the Second World War: the purported attack by a Japanese submarine on a Vancouver Island lighthouse.

There's no doubt the remote area around Estevan Point station was shelled on the night of June 20, 1942. Witness statements and physical evidence of the bombardment confirm that about 20 5.5-inch shells were fired -- all inaccurately -- from a vessel off the coast.

But an article in the latest edition of The Beaver by B.C. writers Norm and Carol Hall suggests the shells were launched by an American warship in an orchestrated effort to bolster the Canadian government in the midst of its controversial move to implement conscription.

"The timing of the submarine attack seems like a stroke of phenomenal luck for Mackenzie King, the Liberal party, and, possibly, even the continued unity of Canada.

"Or was the timing a little too perfect?" the authors state, noting that debate on the controversial conscription bill was still raging in Parliament.

"Perhaps a discreet 'enemy incident' of the manufactured sort was just the thing needed to galvanize Canadian public opinion toward the kind of all-out war effort needed to justify overseas conscription."

The official view has been that the Japanese submarine I-26 carried out the Estevan Point shelling and subsequent attacks along the Pacific Coast.

The theory that the incident might have been staged was first advanced by Don Graham, a B.C. lighthouse historian who died a few months ago. He wrote in 1985 that the harmless shelling of a non-strategic lighthouse by the U.S. navy would have given its "allied military forces a leg-up out of a sticky political jam."

The Beaver writers also raise doubts about the logic of a Japanese attack: "What military objective at Estevan Point made it worth giving away the whereabouts of I-26 by having the submarine surface on a regularly patrolled enemy shore and remain there, a prime target, for over an hour?"

They question postwar statements by I-26 commander Minoura Yokota in which he claimed credit for the Estevan Point attack while acknowledging that "because of the dark, our gun-crew had difficulty in making the shots effective."

Even at 10:15 p.m., the authors say, on a late June evening at Estevan Point's latitude, "it would have been still light enough to read a newspaper."

They suggest that after Japan's defeat, Yokota may have felt "honour-bound to corroborate any official statement made by the newly established authorities, the victorious Allies ..."

If King was aware of a faked attack, he disguised that knowledge in his diary entry the next day. But he did note the potential political impact.

"While I was resting in the afternoon, (transport minister J.E.) Michaud 'phoned to say he had received a telegram from their wireless station at Estevan Point on Vancouver Island that the station had been shelled last night; not much damage done but clear evidence of Japanese attack upon shores of Canada. It seemed to me that these events could not but have their effect upon Canadian feeling with regard to conscripting men to be sent overseas to Europe ..."

But The Beaver lists several "discrepancies" in the official story. Chief among them is how an initial description of two "warships" firing from different directions -- as entered in the log of lighthouse keeper Robert Lally while the attack was unfolding -- was inexplicably reduced to a "lone submarine" in all subsequent government reports.

The article also recounts the next morning's "astonishment" of the crew of HMCS Santa Maria, the second Canadian ship to reach Estevan Point after the HMCS Moolach. The Santa Maria crewmen were "expecting to find the area crowded with search planes and warships" but instead found empty skies and sea.

A report on the incident submitted to Ottawa in July 1942 by the Canadian Navy's Pacific commander concluded the shelling "was in all probability carried out by one submarine mounting 5.5-inch guns forward of the sub's conning tower." The authors say all I-class Japanese submarines were equipped with guns placed behind the tower.

"American submarines, on the other hand -- the only other submarines plying the waters in the Pacific Northwest at the time -- all had guns forward of their conning towers," they note.

Jean Morin, a historian with the Department of National Defence, said the "latest scholarship" on the Estevan Point incident and Japanese naval operations off the Pacific Coast of North America has produced "not a clue that there might have been American involvement."

The argument advanced in The Beaver "is not something we can corroborate. ... To us it seems very improbable."


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