In anticipation of the possible outbreak of war with Japan in the late fall of 1941 as tensions were becoming increasingly high, the Hawthorne Army Depot (HWAD) thought it best to conduct a blackout drill, just in case something might happen.
The Mineral County newspaper ran a brief story this week in 1941 explaining what took place.
The article stated, “Hawthorne held its first Blackout test to protect the area from aerial attacks in case of an emergency in time of war. Several weak spots were revealed in the test that were overcome in other tests that were held.”
Historians note the background of the weapons depot is this, it is a U.S. Army Joint Munitions Command ammunition storage depot located near the town of Hawthorne in western Nevada in the United States. It is directly south of Walker Lake. The depot covers 147,000 acres or 226 sq. mi. and has 600,000 square feet of storage space in 2,427 bunkers. HWAD is the “World’s Largest Depot’’ and is divided into three ammunition storage and production areas, plus an industrial area housing command headquarters, facilities engineering shops, etc.
Construction began on Hawthorne NAD in July 1928, and NAD received its first shipment of high explosives on 19 October 1930. When the United States entered World War II, the Depot became the staging area for bombs, rockets, and ammunition for almost the entire war effort. Employment was at its highest at 5,625 in 1945.
However as history shows there never really was a credible threat to the base. According to historian Evan Andrews, writing for the History Channel in 2018, “The only attack on a mainland American military site during World War II occurred on June 21, 1942, on the Oregon coastline. After trailing American fishing vessels to bypass minefields, the Japanese submarine I-25 made its way to the mouth of the Columbia River. It surfaced near Fort Stevens, an antiquated Army base (near Astoria) that dated back to the Civil War. Just before midnight, I-25 used its 140-millimeter deck gun to fire 17 shells at the fort. Believing that the muzzle flashes of the fort’s guns would only serve to more clearly reveal their position, the commander of Fort Stevens ordered his men not to return fire. The plan worked, and the bombardment was almost totally unsuccessful—a nearby baseball field bore the brunt of the damage.”
Andrews also noted in his article, “One of the most unusual military actions of World War II came in the form of Japanese balloon bombs, or “Fugos,” directed at the mainland United States. Starting in 1944, the Japanese military constructed and launched over 9,000 high-altitude balloons, each loaded with nearly 50 pounds of anti-personnel and incendiary explosives. Amazingly, these unmanned balloons originated from over 5,000 miles away in the Japanese home islands. After being launched, the specially designed hydrogen balloons would ascend to an altitude of 30,000 feet and ride the jet stream across the Pacific Ocean to the mainland United States. The bombs were triggered to drop after the three-day journey was complete—hopefully over a city or wooded region that would catch fire.”
Andrews wrote, “Nearly 350 of the bombs actually made it across the Pacific, and several were intercepted or shot down by the U.S. military. From 1944 to 1945, balloon bombs were spotted in more than 15 states—some as far east as Michigan and Iowa. The only fatalities though, came from a single incident in Oregon, where a pregnant woman and five children were killed in an explosion after coming across one of the downed balloons they thought they could play with. Their deaths are considered the only combat casualties to occur on U.S. soil during World War II.”The History Channel reported in a separate article, “On September 9, 1942, a Japanese floatplane flown by Nubuo Fujita, dropped incendiary bombs on an Oregon state forest near Mount Emily, and causing a small fire near Brookings, Oregon, five miles from the Pacific Ocean and five miles north of the California state line — the first air attack on the U.S. mainland in the war.President Roosevelt immediately called for a news blackout for the sake of morale. No long-term damage was done, and Fujita eventually went home to train navy pilots for the rest of the war, eventually focusing on Kamikaze pilots.
With such foresight on the part of the U.S., and advance planning, it appears highly unlikely that any kind of serious ground attack on the Hawthorne Army Depot would have had any chance of success.