California and the Second World War
The Attack on the SS H.M. Storey

On 22 December 1941, off Point Arguello, 55 miles north of Santa Barbara. The Japanese submarine I-19, under the command of Commander Matsamura Kenji chases the 10,763-ton Standard Oil Company tanker H. M. STOREY for about an hour and then fired two torpedoes with 2-second intervals. Just then a third torpedo starts a "hot run" and it has to be fired as well. All the torpedoes miss. The tanker escapes, but was later sunk by the I-25 later in the war.

The July 1998 issue of World War II Magazine printed a story titled, West Coast War Zone by Donald J. Young. The following is an extract of that article dealing with this attack:

On the morning of December 22, 1941, the Standard Oil Company tanker H.M. Storey was off Point Arguello, some 55 miles north of Santa Barbara. Submerged less than two miles off the treacherous point, Japanese submarine I-21, under the command of Captain Kanji Matsumura, had been lying in wait for two days.

Walking the lonely beach of Point Arguello that morning was a woman--whose name was later withheld by the Navy--who, along with Jack Sudden, a young high-school student from nearby Lompoc, witnessed the encounter between Storey and I-21. Both saw a torpedo fired from I-21.

Sudden, who was rabbit hunting along the Southern Pacific Railroad tracks at the time, said that around 8:30 a.m. he "heard a dull explosion and saw smoke arising from the sea. At first I couldn't tell what it was, but a few minutes later heavy smoke began to settle over [the] water like a smoke screen. To the northwest of the screen and about three miles from shore I could see the tanker speeding up the coast.

"I later saw a long dark object leave the smoke screen heading in the general direction of the ship. Watching the object--that must have been a torpedo--it closed the gap between itself and the ship and at times came to the surface and kicked up a white spray. The last I could see of the torpedo, it passed in front of the ship."

The explosion that first attracted Sudden's attention had come from I-21's deck gun, but the heavy smoke screen put out by the fleeing tanker made it impossible for Matsumura's gun crew to see the target, forcing him to submerge and use a torpedo.

The other witness, who had binoculars, could see the submarine plainly. "It was between the tanker and the shore when I saw it," she said, "less than two miles away. I saw what I thought were two torpedoes fired from the submarine at the ship, but they all went behind it. The tanker then went full speed ahead, with heavy black smoke pouring from her funnel." Not long after that, planes arrived and dropped several bombs. "They were so heavy that when they exploded they shook the ground where I was standing," the woman continued. "The explosions raised great columns of water."



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Updated 8 February 2016