Vancouver Bombed!

National Defence Headquarters Original text: &...
National Defence Headquarters Original text: “They actually don’t look so bad from this angle.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although Canada fought in both World Wars and suffered heavy casualties, Canadian territory came under shell-fire only once.  On June 20, 1942, a Japanese submarine surfaced off Estevan Point, Vancouver Island, and hurled about thirty 5.5″ shells at the wireless station and lighthouse.  Little damage was caused and there were no casualties.

Until the United States came into the war on December 8, 1941, Adolph Hitler would not allow the German navy to operate off Canadian shores.  He felt that such attacks would do more harm than good by alienating opinion in the United States.  Early in 1942, however, a German submarine fired torpedoes at the entrance to St. John’s harbour, Newfoundland.  Other German submarines operated in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and sank twenty-two ships.  This caused much alarm among the local population, who demanded that Army units be sent to guard the coasts.  National Defence Headquarters felt that it would be poor policy to allow a few U-boats to tie up a large number of troops, and raised a Reserve Army in the Gaspé Peninsula in September, 1942. It was commanded by Brigadier G. P. Vanier, the late Governor-General of Canada.

The attack on Estevan Point in June 1942 had no significance, but it was followed by a campaign that worried military leaders a great deal more.  Between November 1944 and April 1945, the Japanese released about 9,000 unmanned balloons from the island of Honshu.  They usually carried one high explosive bomb, and four incendiaries.  The idea was that they would float across the Pacific on the prevailing winds, and the bombs would be released by an automatic device.   It is believed that only 300 of the 9,000 bombs reached North America, and 90 of them landed in Canada, as far east as Manitoba.  The only casualties were a mother and five children who were killed when they tampered with a bomb that had landed in Oregon.

The greatest fear was that the Japanese might use the balloons for chemical or biological warfare.  Fortunately, no such efforts were made, and Japan surrendered on September 2, 1945, after being hit by the far more terrible atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Michelle Heumann has just sent me two incredible, very interesting links. The first is the Newfoundland & Labrador Heritage and the Nova Scotia Herald, both of which write about the October 13, 1942 German attack on Canada’s Caribou. A must read!! Thanks Michelle Heumann!

I imagine a lot of you want to read more about this, so I have a few places to help you with that. There’s Wikipedia, of course, who has one page on Estevan Point and Japanese Submarine. Then there is a great piece at CBC Digital Archives. A great site I just found is History, which has photos, and a lot more! Another site I just found is A Museum After Dark – it isn’t totally about today’s post, but enough; after that, I suggest looking around, as it’s an interesting site.


  1. I’ve heard stories about WWII mostly about Japanese and the bombing of Hiroshima. Mainly because the Philippines was invaded by Japanese as well. I still did not like the atomic bomb nor Richard Feynman. Thanks,Tk.


  2. Never knew about the balloons and about the attack on the west coast–fascinating!
    Today also marks the 25th anniversary of the shutting-down of the Newfoundland railway. The move was accompanied by (a) anguished cries from railway aficionados and (b) a huge construction effort that resulted in the TCH getting something of an upgrade in the province.


    • TCH?
      That’s too bad. I personally think that the railway is great, and I’m always disappointed when I hear about it disappearing one step at a time ….
      Thanks for the comment, Maurice! As always, it’s appreciated!! 🙂


      • TCH–Trans Canada Highway. Our first version was finished in 1965 and was rather narrow; minimal. Our railway used a different gauge from the rest of Canada and was never very successful financially. Slow, twisting and such. If we were to continue with it we would have had to start over so I suppose upgrading the highway was probably for the best. That said, I’m still with you on railways. Public transportation in NL is a Joke :>( No trains or subways and not enough people use city buses to make them a good concern.
        Finally, back to railways: when i see what China, Japan and most of Europe can really do I’m left scratching my head on what we’ve done…or, rather, on what we’ve not done.


        • Ottawa doesn’t have a subway. The only one I ever used was in Montreal, and it sure made travelling easier; and they also had a great train service. By the same token (like the pun?), I’ve lived for a bit in Timmins, Ontario, and they have the worst bus system I’ve ever see. Mind you, it’s only about a half hour’s walk to get from end of the city to the other. If I remember, they also had maybe two taxis! Two extremes!
          But yeah, I know what you mean about European Rails!


  3. I heard about the “fire balloons” a few years ago and at first I thought the story sounded really implausible! My parents grew up in Vancouver during WWII and after Pearl Harbour there was a very real fear of Japanese attack. A beach below the University of British Columbia just north of Wreck Beach has two concrete gun/instrument towers from WWII on it still. I haven’t been to Estevan Point but have visited Fisgard Lighthouse Historical Site and Fort Rodd Hill (near Victoria) which has a WWII anti-aircraft gun on site.


    • Wow, thank you, Leslie, for your comment. I really appreciate it when readers add to my posts! I can’t imagine what it would have been like for your parents at the time. I would have liked to see those historical sites!

      Thanks again! 🙂


  4. Interesting – I had no idea about the balloon-bombs!

    Did you know about the WWI U-boat sinking of the passenger ferry between NS and NL? I heard about it the first time when I was about 12 and we were on the ferry that was named after the one that sank, and being a highly imaginative child, it made quite the impression on me. 🙂 The stories of the passengers are fascinating.


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