Most are very aware of the December 7, 1941 attacks by the Japanese on military installations on Oʻahu.
Their targets were Pearl Harbor; Hickam, Wheeler and Bellows airfields; Ewa Marine Corps Air Station; Kaneohe Bay Naval Air Station and Schofield Barracks.
However, the attacks by the Japanese on Hawaiʻi did not end on December 7th.
A group of about nine Japanese submarines were kept in the vicinity of Hawaiʻi until mid-January – they were stationed there to find out just how much damage had been done to the American military.
In addition, they tried to do what damage they could, as well as stir up concern in the civilian population about the war.
Before December was over, the Japanese submarines brought war home to the neighbor islands. Not by air attacks, but with periodic shelling from their submarines.
Over the next few weeks, on several occasions, they shelled more targets in Hawaiʻi – and, those attacks were not isolated to military targets; later in the month, civilian facilities were the intended targets.
Just before dusk on December 15th, a submarine lobbed about ten shells into the harbor area of Kahului on Maui, and three that hit a pineapple cannery caused limited damage.
Over a 2½-hour period during the night of December 30 – 31, submarines engaged in similar and nearly simultaneous shellings of Nawiliwili on Kauaʻi, again on Kahului, Maui and Hilo on the Big Island.
Damage at all three points was slight, and no one was hurt. The principal result of these shellings was to stir up the war consciousness of all the Hawaiian Islands.
A report of the Kauaʻi shelling states, “At around 1:30 a.m. on the moonlit night of December 30, 1941, an enemy Japanese submarine estimated to be about 4 miles offshore shelled Nawiliwili Harbor with least 15 three-inch shells in what was the only attack on Kauai during WWII.” (kalapakibeach-org)
“The shrapnel from one shell riddled every room in the home of CL Shannon, which was located over the Kauaʻi Marine & Machine Works, Shannon’s business, then situated along the stretch of harbor between what are today the Matson and Young Brothers terminals.”
On the bluff above the harbor, where the bulk sugar storage warehouse stands today, a shell started a small cane fire. Most of the shells were duds. One punctured a gasoline storage tank, others created water plumes in the bay.
Merchant Marine William S. Chambers, on a cargo ship docked in Kahului, noted. “We were shelled by a Japanese submarine in Kahului Harbor on December 30th, 1941, shortly before we left for San Francisco.” No damage was reported at Kahului.
Ten rounds were fired at ships docked at Kahului piers. Two shells fell harmlessly into the harbor. Four rounds hit the Maui Pineapple Company cannery, doing some damage to the roof and smokestack. One fell on the driveway of the Maui Vocational School, another in a waste lumber pile on Pier I, and one broke a few windows at the Pacific Guano and Fertilizer building. Army guns unsuccessfully returned fire.
The second attack on Kahului, on December 31, took place after General Order No. 14 established wartime censorship in Hawai’i and therefore received limited coverage.
The News did, however, mention in its first edition of 1942 that Maui police, navy and marine forces, as well as “HC & S Co. cowboys,” were patrolling on horseback to prevent looting. The death toll from the attacks: one unfortunate chicken.
None of the damage was considered major. Some frightened Kahului residents started to flee, but police and Boy Scouts persuaded them to return home.
In Hilo, residents were roused when a submarine surfaced about three miles offshore and open fired on Hilo Bay. Ten rounds, with high explosive shells hit a seaplane tender, the pier and started a small fire in the vicinity of Hilo Airport.