Updated: Dec 30, 2019
One of the more curious stories to emerge from World War II is that of the Battle of Los Angeles. Theories abound on the events of the night of February 24 and the early hours of February 25th 1942 that is officially chalked up as a false alarm
In February 1942, The United States had only been an active participant in World War II for three months, after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The US Navy had warned of a possible attack on the 24th after a Japanese submarine had launched an artillery attack off the coast of Santa Barbara, California, the night before. During the evening of the 24th flares and blinking lights were reported near defense plants. There was a call to alert at 7:18pm and a subsequent all clear at 10:23pm. Air raid sirens sounded at 02:25am of the 25th throughout Los Angeles count and batteries began firing on reported aircraft at 03:16am. In excess of 1,400 shells would be launched into the skies that night Building and vehicles were damaged by shell fragments and five civilians died, three in car accidents and two of heart attacks. US planes were never scrambled into the air to investigate.
Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox was quick to conclude the entire event had been a false alarm exacerbated by war nerves. The Army posited that enemy agents had used commercial craft to instill panic. Contemporary media suspected a cover-up.
Theories proposed included secret Japanese air bases in northern Mexico and the astonishing supposition that Japanese super subs were stationed off shore with the capability to launch aircraft. As absurd as it sounds, the Japanese did have a large class I-400 submarine that did have the capability of launching a plane. At 400feet long it was the largest class of submarine ever built until nuclear ballistic missile submarines came into service. These planes were used over Seattle during the war.
The events of February 1942 were to continue to fascinate people after the war especially when Japan declared they had flown no airplanes over Los Angeles, this is not to say there were no attacks on the continental United States by Japan. Some minor bombing raids were carried out but the use of balloons carrying incendiary devices sent over the pacific using the jet stream air currents. One such balloon was discovered in Oregon by Archie Mitchel and his pregnant wife on a Sunday school picnic trip with five students. The bombs detonated and only Archie survived. In 2014 another device was discovered in British Columbia, perhaps there are many more to be uncovered. Such bombing raids across the pacific were to be the most long distance bombing carried out until the RAF Black Buck Vulcan raid on Port Stanley during the Falklands conflict in 1982. You can read more about that here or listen to our podcast on itunes, soundcloud or youtube.
These weapons tended to land in the northern part of the US and not head so far south as Los Angeles. a 1983 US Office of Air Force History investigation concluded meteorological balloons were the cause of the alarm.
The events of that night have been inevitably caught up in the UFOlogy debate. An image of the searchlights highlighting an alien craft has long been held as evidence of an out of this world explanation, but the photo was heavily modified using photo retouching before publication, a common practice in those days to improve the contrast of black and white photos.
The curious event served as the inspiration for the 2011action flick Battle: Los Angeles which played on the "mystery" of 1942 to promote the film, including mock newspaper headlines and images from the event, but, in the end, it is probably fair to conclude that the New York Times in March 1942 had it right, when they stated that Hollywood, the "world's preeminent fabricator of make believe" had hosted "just another illusion".