The Goleta Valley Historical Society is elated to announce the opening of “‘Avenge Ellwood!’: The Japanese Attack on California,” a special exhibition commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Ellwood Shelling in Goleta.
On Feb. 23, 1942, a large Japanese submarine identified as the I-17 surfaced at sundown off of Ellwood Mesa and fired its deck cannon at the tidelands oil-production facilities clustered along the shore. Under the command of Capt. Kozo Nishino, the Imperial Japanese Navy submarine I-17 began firing at the coast at 7:15 p.m. Goleta locals reported 16 to 29 shells fired with at least three shells striking near the Bankline Company’s oil refinery. Rigging and pumping equipment at a well about 1,000 yards inland were destroyed, but no other damage was caused.
One shell overshot its target by three miles and landed on the Tecolote Ranch, where it exploded. Another landed on the nearby Staniff Ranch, failing to explode but leaving a crater 5-feet deep. Numerous other shells fell short of their targets, dropping into the sea, on the beach and into nearby cliffs. The submarine ceased firing around 7:35 p.m. and departed on the surface; it was observed exiting the south end of the Santa Barbara Channel at 8:30 p.m.
Though the shelling caused only minor damage, it sparked fears of invasion and internal subversion along the West Coast. The shelling was the first Axis attack on the continental United States in World War II and came only 2½ months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, which plunged the United States into the war.
The “Avenge Ellwood” logo was created in early 1943 for a war bond drive led by the 4th Santa Barbara War Savings Committee and the American Women’s Voluntary Services. The image was used in newspapers, on posters and by local companies that had donated to the cause. The money raised went directly to the purchase of a bomber plane and fighter plane that would boast the names “Flying Santa Barbaran” and “Ellwood Avenger.” As with many WWII propaganda posters, the artist is unknown and the image was not copyrighted.
Jim McNay, education coordinator, said the landmark exhibit “includes a fragment of a shell that was fired in the attack, period clothing and uniforms, newspaper clippings, film coverage and more.”
In conjunction with the exhibit, the Goleta Valley Historical Society is collecting oral histories to enrich its collection.
“We encourage visitors to share their experiences of the attack and culture of the community during the aftermath,” Director Amanda De Lucia said. “We’ve begun to interview locals who were affected by the Japanese Internment following the shelling.”
The exhibit is on view now until Dec. 30 in the History Education Center at Rancho La Patera. The Goleta Valley Historical Society will host a series of complimentary lectures and events throughout the year, beginning with a lecture at 3 p.m. March 11. For reservations, click here or contact the Goleta Valley Historical Society at 805.681.7216.
Rancho La Patera is located at 304 N. Los Carneros Road in Goleta. Visit the ranch on Saturdays and Sundays from 1 to 4 p.m. and by appointment. Click here or call 805.681.7216.
— Dacia Harwood is an events coordinator for the Goleta Valley Historical Society.