THE BATTLE OF
It was a mere 79 days after Pearl Harbor and the day after a Japanese submarine had surfaced near Santa Barbara and shelled an oil field. Anti-aircraft batteries along the West Coast were on high alert.
A panic began when witnesses reported sightings of a large, round object over Culver City and Santa Monica. This triggered an hour-long anti-aircraft artillery barrage.
The object was barraged with more than 1,400 shells from anti-aircraft guns, with no visible effect, until it eventually drifted leisurely south toward Long Beach and vanished from view. Most reports described it as pale orange in color and glowing.
. . . . Although many eyewitnesses reported seeing a single, large unidentified object over L.A., a number of others also reported spotting anywhere from 25 to 200 planes “swarming” over the metropolitan area.
Initially, the target of the aerial barrage was thought to be an attacking force from Japan, but speaking at a press conference shortly afterward, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox called the incident a “false alarm.”
The U.S. Army’s report to President Roosevelt on February 26, 1942 stressed, there were:
- No bombs were dropped;
- No military casualties;
- No planes shot down; and
- No Army or Navy planes were in action.
When documenting the incident in 1983, the U.S. Office of Air Force History attributed the event to a case of “war nerves” likely triggered by a lost weather balloon and exacerbated by stray flares and shell bursts from adjoining batteries.
A careful study of the evidence suggests that meteorological balloons—known to have been released over Los Angeles—may well have caused the initial alarm. 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.
Newspapers of the time published a number of reports and speculations of a cover-up. Some modern-day UFOlogists have suggested the targets were extraterrestrial spacecraft.
While the Battle of Los Angeles may have lacked an enemy combatant, it did have casualties. Five civilians were killed from falling shrapne and another three suffered heart attacks during the siege.
More than 30 were arrested that night, on charges of everything from “signalling to the enemy”, to having a “lit radio dial.” In the beach city of Venice, the FBI brought in a 51-year-old Japanese mother and her two sons when, according to a local paper, a citizen “notified officers that he had seen lights in their home blinking suspiciously.” Even the press got in on the act, the Los Angeles Examiner claiming, under the headline “Flare Signals Rise in Jap Area During Shelling,” that “12 were arrested for allegedly releasing paper balloons that later burst into flames, becoming flares that ‘fell in rotations of 3 white and 3 red’ as they descended.”
Steven Spielberg’s box office flop “1941” was loosely based on the Battle of Los Angeles.