On February 24, 1942,
less than 3 months after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the city of Los Angeles seemed to be under attack from a mysterious flying object.
Later claimed by the government to have been a false alarm, something had to have caused numerous air raid alerts to go off and give anti-aircraft gunners something to shoot at. Shoot they did, and a furious firefight ensued with .50 caliber machine guns and 3-inch artillery shells, about 1,400 rounds of which exploded over the city, showering it with metal fragments.
General Marshall later speculated that unknown persons had perhaps used commercial aircraft to rattle the public in a sort of psychological warfare, but this lame explanation seems unfounded. Even at the time, many found the government response to be somewhat sketchy, and many have theorized that the incident was a response to a UFO encounter. At least one congressman demanded a congressional inquiry, and newspapers noted the reluctance of the government to speak openly. It has even been claimed that the government or the military staged the incident to keep the public alert and on edge.
In 1983, the U.S. Air Force produced an investigative report that blamed a common suspect in UFO encounters, dreaded weather balloons. A photo that had appeared in the LA Times 2 days after the incident, however, is considered “proof” by UFO conspiracy theorists that the object being shot at was a UFO of alien origin.
Every year the event is celebrated as “The Great LA Air Raid of 1942” at the Fort MacArthur Museum located at the Los Angeles harbor. The 1979 film 1941, with Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, is a comedy based loosely on this event. The 2011 film Battle: Los Angeles refers to this incident and the infamous newspaper photo, but does so with fictitious headlines purporting to be real historical fact.
The Battle of Los Angeles, also known as The Great Los Angeles Air Raid, is the name given by contemporary sources to the rumored enemy attack and subsequent anti-aircraft artillery barrage which took place from late 24 February to early 25 February 1942 over Los Angeles, California.The incident occurred less than three months after the United States entered World War II as a result of the Japanese Imperial Navy‘s attack on Pearl Harbor, and one day after the bombardment of Ellwood on 23 February.
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.” 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. 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.
Air raid sirens sounded throughout Los Angeles County on the night of 24–25 February 1942. A total blackoutwas ordered and thousands of air raid wardens were summoned to their positions. At 3:16 am the 37th Coast Artillery Brigade began firing .50 caliber machine guns and 12.8-pound anti-aircraft shells into the air at reported aircraft; over 1,400 shells would eventually be fired. Pilots of the 4th Interceptor Command were alerted but their aircraft remained grounded. The artillery fire continued sporadically until 4:14 am. The “all clear” was sounded and the blackout order lifted at 7:21 am.
Several buildings and vehicles were damaged by shell fragments, and five civilians died as an indirect result of the anti-aircraft fire: three killed in car accidents in the ensuing chaos and two of heart attacks attributed to the stress of the hour-long action. The incident was front-page news along the U.S. Pacific coast, and earned some mass media coverage throughout the nation.
WABAC to the Battle For Los Angeles