The Battle of Los Angeles, 1942
by Temnz Sword
The controversy over what really happened over Los Angeles is still very much alive. Today, 50 years later, what happened is still unexplained. It has been largely forgotten, or reduced to a few pages in several books and magazines, including official histories of W.W.II, in which it is still considered a mystery.
On December 7th, 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the United States of America entered a state of war. During the following weeks, the WestCoast experience several "blackouts."The Army issued statements insisting that the threat of an air-raid was real.There were reports of unidentified planes being seen, and signals were picked up on a new, top-secret device called radar, from Alaska to the Mexican border. None of these reports were ever explained. On December 8, 1941 at 6:00 PM, the first air-raid warning of the night was sounded when air invaders were first detected 100 miles due west of the Golden Gate. First reparts stated that there were 50 planes but later reports gave a smaller number. They were thought tobe planes from a carriet Some of them were thought to have entered the Bay Area and headed southwest.The next night San Francisco underwent two alarms, the first at 1:45 AM,and then again at 2:02 AM. A Uackout was called for and almost immediately planes were heard in the sky all roundthe Bay Area. Another alert came at4:05 AM. Lt. General John L. DeWitt warned that there was a real attack by enemy planes and that California should be prepared. Wednesday December 10, 1941, allof Southern California and the area from Las Vegas to Boulder Coloradowere blacked out shortly after 8 PM. Anti-aircraft gunners were put on alert. Invading planes were reported in the Los Angeles area and south ofthe city. One of the longest blackouts of the war came on December 12th, at 7:20PM. Invading planes were first detected offshore; the first reports came from San Mateo. Invisible, they could be heard as they roared low over the tall buildings inSan Francisco' business district. Many reports during the blackouts were from people who heard planes overhead and assumed they were either Japanese planes or our own planes inpursuit. We know they were not ourplanes. If they were not Japanese planes, Wednesday December 10,1941, all of Southern California and the area from Las Vegas to Boulder Colorado were blacked outshortly after 8 PM. Anti-aircraft gunners were put on alert. Invading planes were reported in the Los Angeles area and south of the city.
What did these people hear? Several of the raids in the Bay areawere accompanied by reports of flaresbeing dropped from the sky or seenflashing from the ground. It was thought that either they had been dropped by the airplanes from above, or by "enemy agents" attempting to direct an attack. The Army issued reports that all theair raids were real and that there were verified reports of planes flying around and over the West Coast area. There hadbeen no test blackouts. The reports gaveno indication as to where the enemy planes had come from, made no men-tion of airplanes carriers, nor suggested whether the invading planes were landor sea planes, heavy bombers, light bombers, or reconnaissance craft.There were many submarine attacksoff our Pacific Coast during this same period. On Monday night, February 23,1942, while President Roosevelt was speaking to the nation on the radio, alarge Japanese submarine surfaced and shelled an oil refinery in Santa Barbara.Timed to have a great political significance, the submarine fired 15-25 shell sat the Bankline Oil Co. in Goleta, Ca. just north of Santa Barbara. The attack did little damage, but it did shake up the locals and increase the cries for removal of the Japanese from coastal areas.
There was also a rumor spread that Los Angeles would be attacked in some &shion the next night.That Tuesday night, the planes returned. At 2 AM Wednesday morningFebruary 25, a blackout was ordered. Searchlights scanned the skies and anti-aircraft guns, protecting the vital air-craR and ship-building factories, wentinto action. In the next few hours, they would fire over 1,400 three-by-twelve inch shells, at an unidentified, slow-moving, object in the sky over Los Angeles, that looked like a blimp, or a balloon. Strange crafl were seen to fly into the area from offthe coast near theSanta Monica mountains and then turnto fly south. Radar was a Top-Secret invention at the beginning of the war, so there could be no discussion of how the Army would be aware of planes approaching our western coast line with out actually seeing them. As a rule, a blackout was called for if radar picked up planes within 60 miles or 15 minutes flying time of the shore. Radar first picked up unidentified craft about 120 miles west of Los Angeles, and at 2:15 AM anti-aircrafl batteries were alerted.
By 2:21AM radar tracked the approaching tar-gets to within a few miles of the coast. Then the radar blips mysteriously vanished. Later there would be reports of planes near Long Beach. After the firing started, careful observation was difficult because of drifting smoke from shell bursts; yet it was a clear weather night. The acting commander of the anti-aircraft artillery brigade in the area testified that he had first been convinced that he had seen fifteen planes in the air, but had quickly decided that he was seeing smoke. The streets, sidewalks, housetops, lawns and rose gardens were litte red with little pieces of metal, particularly in the Long Beach and Santa Monica areas. Most of the anti-aircrafl firing was done by the 65th Coast Artillery (Anti-Aircraft) Regiment in Inglewood, and the 205th A.A. regiment in Santa Monica. By Thursday, the incident became clouded in mystery. Were there planes in the sky? Where did they come from? Why were none shot down? Why were no bombs dropped? Was it just a balloon? Was it a case of jittery nerves? Or was it something we could not shoot down? Of the reports made by various individuals:"I could clearly see the "V" formation of about 25 silvery planes overhead moving slowly across the sky toward Long Beach," said Peter Jenkins ofthe editorial staff of the Los Angeles Evening Herald Examiner. Bill Henry of the L.A. Times reported that "I was far enough away to see an object without being able to identify it....I would be willing to bet what shekels I have that there were a number of direct hits scored on the object."Long Beach Police Chief J. H. Mc-Clelland said "I watched what was de-scribed as the second wave of planes from atop the seven-story Long Beach City Hall. I did not see any planes, butyounger men with me said they could. An experienced Naval observer with me using powerful Carl Zeiss binoculars said he counted nine planes in the cone of the searchlight. He said they were silver in color. This group passed along from one battery of searchlights to another, and under fire from anti-aircraft guns, flew from the direction of Redondo Beach and Inglewood on the landside of Fort MacArthur, and continued toward Santa Ana and Huntington Beach. Anti-aircrafl fire was so heavy, we could not hear the motors of the planes. "The Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox, issued a statement, "that as far as I know the whole raid was a false alarm and could be attributed to jittery nerves," and he admitted that it was probably a good thing everyone was so alert. He was blasted by critics who felt that if this was true it was a terrible waste of effort and that it hurt the credibility of the many air raid wardens who worked so hard at getting all the lights of the city turned out and helped to keep the citizens calm.
Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, issued what is still the official record of the event which concluded that theraid was caused by as many as 15 planesflying at various speeds and altitudes and that it was reasonable to assume that these planes were flown from commercial sources by enemy agents to spread alarm. No planes were shot down and no bombs were dropped. He would later add his "personal disclaimer" to that statement and simply state that was the report he was given from the West Coast. Congress demanded an explanation. Considerable damage had been done by the antiaircraft fire. Several unexploded shells fell to earth and in some cases into homes of local residents. Several people died as a result of automobile accidents. The attack did little damage, but it did shake up the locals and increase the cries for removal of the Japanese from coastal areas. There was also arumor spread that Los Angeles would be attacked in some fashion the next night.
Some heart attacks, and other injuries were recorded. There was a massive trafflc jam that lasted into the morning rush hour paralyzing the city of Los Angeles. Representative Leyland M. Ford of Santa Monica, was quoted as saying, "The morale of California is extremely highand our people can take the truth, but they do resent this program of misrepresentation and wonder what it is all about. "Records show that 1,440 rounds of anti-aircraft ammunition were shot sky-ward Feb. 25th.
But at what? A Japanese Bomber? No bombs were dropped. A Japanese reconnaissance piane? In 194S, after the war had ended, Lt.Gen. John L. DeWin still held to the belief thd planes had indeed been over Los Angeles and that they probably had come from lapanese submarines. The Japanese submarine I-17, which shelled Goleta, Ca. the night before the raid, had a GLEN light aircraft disassembled on board, but according to Nobukiyo Nambu, First Officer of the I-17, the plane made no flights on that cruise. Was it an American military plane? The Army Air Force (AAF) kept its pursuit planes on the ground, preferring to await indications of the scale and direction of any attack before committing its limited fighter force.
Was it an American commercial plane? A plane from one of the nearby aircraft plants being tested? If so, where did it come from? Where did it go? There is some evidence to suggest that meteorologicai balloons, known to have been released over Los Angeles, may have caused the initial alarm. At3:06 AM, a balloon, reported to be carrying a red flare, was seen over Santa Monica. It was supposedly released by the 205th Anti-Aircraft unit in Santa Monica. This theory is supported by the fact that anti-aircraft artillery units were officially criticized for having wasted ammunition on targets which moved too slowly to have been airplanes. Associated Press ran a photo that with its accompanying caption, tells a different story. It clearly shows "an object" caught in the searchlight beams,with anti-aircraft shells bursting overhead. I have been told by veterans that if they caught something in those beams, they were certain to hit it. If it was a meteorological balloon, of course it would have collapsed immediately and parts of it would have been found the next day. Halbert P. Gillette of San Marinos aid, "The photo in Thursday's L.A.Times shows the alleged balloon clearly, illuminated by nine converging searchlight beams, and with half a dozen blobs of light from bursting anti-aircraft shells near it. This balloon has a nearly hemi-spherical top and possibly a similar base. That it was not a balloon seems probable because the escape of no balloon has been reported as well as because it failed to collapse under intense and apparently accurate shell-fire. "The signal flares, reportedly set off by"enemy agents ' were most likely tracer bullets from anti-aircraft guns. Yet this explanation does not satisfy the reports of flares when there was no anti-aircraft fire. They could have been attempts by our armed forces on the ground to see and identify the planes circling above. A blackout not only makes the ground targets impossible to see, but it also makesidentification of aerial targets difficult. Once searchlights are turned on they must be accompanied by anti-aircraft fire as they become targets themselves. In 1974, a request for information from eyewitnesses was made by Bert Webber, author of Retaliation, and Silent Siege II, following a broadcast from radio station KGO in San Francisco. Over two hundred letters and telephone calls were received. A Community Air Raid Warden from the time says he saw a group of planes, about ten, directly over-head, "forming a perfect V, like a flightof wild geese flying very high. "In 1979, Universal Pictures, through M.C.A., released one of the few embarrassments in the career of Steven Spielberg. Two of his most successful films had extraterrestrial themes. But this one, 1941, a $40 million dollar, star-studded, action packed comedy, without rageous special effects, may have had another purpose. It makes fun of the incidents which transpired in Santa Barbara and in Los Angeles, and offers the excuse, carried in the L.A. Times in 1962, that the raid was caused by civilians who were later too embarrassed to admit they caused the air raid; or as in the movie, were two young people trying to have sex in an airplane on auto-pilot, flying unauthorized, over LosAngebs. Apparently no one thought the joke was funny and the movie bombed. This event was a blow to the prestige of the U.S. military defenses against attack. It was also a dramatic illustration of what could be expected if any of our cities came under actual enemy attack. Of course, no bombs were dropped! However, it may represent somethingeven more sinister. Perhaps there is a power greater than the U.S. military is willing to admit to. A technological presence that they can not control may have been demonstrating that fact. Perhaps we were visited by an unknown power elite that chose the middle of one of our planet's most devastating wars, to demonstrate their mastery of the skies. The arrival of extraterrestrial craft from anothe rsolar system flying over a large populous area. We responded by giving them the searchlights that revel the opening of a major event and saluted with 1400 guns. But did we know this was a mere beginning of similar events to come?