San Diego -- L. Ron Hubbard, the former Naval Captain who went on to start the Church of Scientology, ordered the shelling of the Coronados Islands on June 28, 1943. The problem is, the islands weren’t—and aren’t—part of the United States. They’re part of Mexico.
Hubbard was the Captain of PC-815, a 170 foot submarine chaser, and was ordered to conduct maneuvers in the waters off of San Diego. After the exercises were completed, Hubbard unwittingly ordered the PC-815 to enter Mexican waters and anchor off the southern-most of the craggy Mexican islands.
The captain, who once claimed "If a man really wanted to make a million dollars, the best way to do it would be to start his own religion," then ordered the firing of four rounds from the PC-815’s 50 caliber guns in the direction of South Coronados Island. While at least one round splashed short of the island, evidence suggests that as many as three rounds hit land.
The small Mexican islands, which sit eight miles southwest of the US-Mexican border, can easily be seen from the San Diego coast. They have never been a part of the United States.
According to an investigative board convened two days later, "An undetermined number of splashes were observed in the water in the direction of land during the firing." The board also noted, "Evidence of shells hitting land or rocks on the Northern end of South Coronados Island was observed on two separate instances during the firing."
The Coronados, while rugged and inhospitable, were not uninhabited.
Mexican fishermen frequently made use of the islands to dry their fishing nets, and the Mexican Navy also housed a small garrison on South Coronados Island.
It remains unclear exactly who reported the shelling to the Mexican government. However, what is clear is the consternation of the Mexican government, which lodged a formal complaint within twenty-four hours.
Hubbard appeared before Navy brass, already leery of the Captain’s decision making. A year earlier, the Navy had had to sort out an incident in which Hubbard sent the PC-815 into a 68-hour phantom naval battle against a Japanese sub off the coast of Oregon. The Japanese government has maintained that one of its subs was never in the area during the "battle," and the U.S. Navy has found no evidence of a Japanese presence.
Under questioning, Captain Hubbard stated, "At no time was I aware of invading Mexican Territorial waters, and had no intention whatsoever of causing damage to Mexican property, or to frighten the Mexican population."
After thirteen hours of testimony, the board concluded that Hubbard had been derelict in duty and essentially stripped him of his command.
In his fitness report of Hubbard, Rear Admiral F.A. Braisted stated, "[I] consider this officer lacking in the essential qualities of judgment, leadership and cooperation. He acts without forethought as to probable results….Not considered qualified for command or promotion at this time."
While Hubbard was censured and lost command of the PC-815, the fallout could have been much worse. The United States was at war on two fronts, and the Navy possessed neither the resources nor the time to dish out sufficient disciplinary action.
In his letter of admonition, which served to close the proceedings, Braisted wrote, "Because of the short time that you have been in command, and the exigencies of the service, this letter of admonition is written in lieu of other more drastic disciplinary action which would have been taken under normal and peacetime conditions."
In 1950, the man labeled "lacking in the essential qualities of judgment" published Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, the thesis for his new religion, Scientology.