Little Bits of History

Battle Stations

Posted in History by patriciahysell on February 25, 2012

Headline from the LA Times

February 25, 1942: In the early morning hours the Battle of Los Angeles takes place. In December 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. On February 23, 1942, a Japanese submarine I-17 shelled the Ellwood Oil Field near Santa Barbara, California. The shelling did $500-$1,000 in damages and there were no casualties. The sub was last seen heading south, toward LA. Tensions were high with people fearing another mainland attack. During the night of February 24-25 something was seen. Air raid sirens were blaring and at 2:25 AM a total blackout was ordered.

Thousands of air raid wardens were called out. They patrolled the streets making sure Los Angeles remained blanketed by darkness. At 3:16 AM the 37th Coast Artillery Brigade commenced firing. During the course of the bombardment over 1,400 12.8-pound anti-aircraft shells were fired. Shelling ceased at 4:14 AM. It took 20 minutes for the unidentified objects to move from the airspace over Santa Monica to the airspace of Long Beach, a distance of ≈ 20 miles. The all clear signal was given at 7:21 AM. Three civilians were killed by friendly fire and another three died of heart attacks during the night, attributed to the stress of the sirens and shelling.

There has been speculation about what was flying over LA that night. Several spotlights from the ground converged on a section of the night sky. There were several bright points of light outlying the area of convergence and a large smudge was seen in the center. Some people saw a flying saucer in the convergence zone. Hours after the incident, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox held a press conference and called the encounter a false alarm and blamed it on “war nerves.” The LA Times ran the headline the following day saying “Army Says Alarm Real.”

Several high ranking officers of the War Department, the Navy, and the Army were involved in sorting out what happened. Secret memos went between the officials of the various branches of the military and made their way to President Roosevelt. Today, there is as much confusion about the Battle of Los Angeles as there was during the war years. No planes were downed. No weather balloons were shot out of the sky. Was the raid simply a practice run? Was it something to scare 2,000,000 people, as Representative Leland Ford accused? Or were there real UFOs lurking over LA?

At 0306 a balloon carrying a red flare was seen over Santa Monica and four batteries of anti-aircraft artillery opened fire, whereupon “the air over Los Angeles erupted like a volcano.” From this point on reports were hopelessly at variance. – The Army Air Forces in World War II, under the editorship of Wesley Frank Craven, James Lea Cate

The divergence of views between the War and Navy departments, and the unsatisfying conjectures advanced by the Army to explain the affair, touched off a vigorous public discussion. – The Army Air Forces in World War II, under the editorship of Wesley Frank Craven, James Lea Cate

At the end of the war, the Japanese stated that they did not send planes over the area at the time of this alert, although submarine-launched aircraft were subsequently used over Seattle. – The Army Air Forces in World War II, under the editorship of Wesley Frank Craven, James Lea Cate

Why is it that men who can go through severe accidents, air raids, and any other major crisis always seems to think that they are at death’s door when they have a simple head cold? – Shirley Booth

Also on this day:

“Do you feel lucky?” – In 1836, Samuel Colt received a patent for his new revolver.
Gas Tax – In 1919, the first gas tax in the US was instituted.
Cut Off – In 1570, Pope Pius V excommunicated Queen Elizabeth I.

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One Response

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  1. Bobby Dias said, on February 25, 2012 at 6:11 pm

    I did some aerial seeding out of Van Nuys Airport after WWII where some oldtimers civilian pilots said they had taken off to try to defend the USA against the submarine in their own planes when they had heard on shortwave radio someone had shelled the Ellwood oil station. These oldtimers said they were almost hit by the friendly fire AND speculated that they were the ones that had been called the invaders. To me I consider the newspaper people at that time a bunch of liars making a bunch of money by calling these flying heros of ours the enemy.
    By the way, in about 1960, when I manually seeded the plants on Ellwood I stubbed my toe on what turned out to be a shell of the Japanese shelling. The US Army removed the shell.


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