It is very rare that among the annals of Ufology there should appear a UFO case which involved military, yet is accompanied with actual photographic proof. Such is the case of an event which took place over the Los Angeles area on February 25, 1942. A giant UFO would actually hover over the city, and be witnessed by hundreds of observers.
Pearl Harbor Scare:
As America was gathering its senses after the shocking attack on Pearl Harbor in December, 1941, there was a heightened feeling of insecurity and anxiousness. The skies were being watched as never before as a giant UFO moved through California, alerting the military and civilian watchers as well. This case is known as the “Battle of Los Angeles,” and is one of the most important cases in Ufology.
It would be early morning on February 2, 1942 when the incoming craft sirens were first heard in the Los Angeles area. Many Americans were expecting another wave of Japanese fighter planes, and thought this is what they would see as they left their homes, and ventured outside. How wrong they were! The first sightings of a large UFO would be made in Culver City, and Santa Monica.
A Total Blackout:
Air Raid Wardens were ready to go at the first hint of an invasion. But, this invasion would be something other than Japanese planes. The giant hovering object was soon lit up by the gigantic spotlights of the Army’s 37th Coast Artillery Brigade. Everyone who looked up was shocked by the sight of the giant UFO sitting above their city. Military aircraft were sent to confront the object.
UFO Takes Direct Hits:
Because of a well-organized alert system, the whole California southern section was searching the night skies in a matter of minutes. What they saw were beaming searchlights illuminating the night sky, all of them converging on one thing-a UFO. A similar scene would be repeated later during the The Norwood Searchlight Incident albeit, on a smaller scale. The beams of light would soon be accompanied by tracer fire from anti-aircraft artillery, all of the rounds aiming at the invading craft. The giant UFO would take direct hit after hit, yet without damage.
Hanging Magic Lantern:
The 37th Brigade was relentless in its attempt to bring down the large object, but found no success. The barrage of spent shells would fall over the entire area-no place was safe this night. Many were injured, and there were even reports of death from the falling shells. According to newspaper reports, eyewitnesses described the sight of the UFO like a “surreal, hanging, magic lantern.”
Classic Photograph Taken:
As the large UFO moved into more lighted areas, view of the object became better. It moved directly over the MGM studios in Culver City. Fortunately, an extremely good quality photograph was taken of the object-beams attached, tracer fire visible. This photograph has become a classic UFO photograph. The UFO would soon move over Long Beach before disappearing altogether.
Woman Air Raid Warden Gives Testimony:
Woman Air Raid Warden Gives Testimony: “It was huge! It was just enormous! And it was practically right over my house. I had never seen anything like it in my life!” she said.
“It was just hovering there in the sky and hardly moving at all. It was a lovely pale orange and about the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen. I could see it perfectly because it was very close. It was big!”
More Eyewitness Testimony:
“They sent fighter planes up and I watched them in groups approach it and then turn away. There were shooting at it but it didn’t seem to matter.”
“It was like the Fourth of July but much louder. They were firing like crazy but they couldn’t touch it.”
“I’ll never forget what a magnificent sight it was. Just marvelous. And what a gorgeous color!” she said
The Guns Fall Silent:
The giant invading airship was now gone, and the citizenry of the southern California area began to resume normal activities. This was an extremely important event-one that will not be forgotten.
Only the news of the war kept this from becoming a major news event. This case must have been in the mind of President Ronald Reagan when he warned us of an “alien threat, from outside of our world.”
I’m Professor of Anthropology, Emeritus, and former Chair of the Department of Anthropology at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. I joined the Oxy Faculty in 1962 and retired at the end of the spring semester, 2002, after forty years of teaching anthropology classes, as well as a variety of Cultural Studies courses and seminars in Oxy’s Core Program in the Liberal Arts.
My professional specialties range across a wide spectrum and include comparative Indo-European mythology and folklore, cognitive and symbolic anthropology, urban anthropology, the origin and distribution of the Arthurian and Holy Grail legends, and Japanese culture, both ancient and contemporary, with an emphasis on Shinto, the indigenous Japanese religion. Indeed, I’ve spent close to three years in Tokyo studying a neighborhood Shinto shrine and its annual matsuri, or festival. I’ve also had a long-standing interest in the UFO phenomenon and its possible implications for mythology and folklore.
In terms of the current spectrum of anthropological theory and method, I would define myself as a “postmodern materialist,” which is a fancy way of saying that I’m extremely eclectic in my approach to the discipline. Indeed, in my humble opinion, one of the most important problems facing contemporary anthropology is an unwillingness on the part of all too many of its practitioners to take seriously theories and methods that lie outside their own narrow specialties.
I’m a native Californian. I was born in Los Angeles and grew up in Hermosa Beach, and it was an incident during my growing up years that I want to talk about here: the “Battle of Los Angeles,” the night that a UFO was fired upon by the U.S. repeatedly, with no apparent effect. I was an eye witness. What follows is adapted from a chapter in my memoir entitled “2500 Strand: Growing up in Hermosa Beach, California, during World War II.”
Air-Raid Drills. As 1942 dawned, the war news continued to be bad. We were retreating in the Philippines; the British were retreating in North Africa; and although the Russians had held before Moscow and Leningrad, their chances looked slim.
In Southern California, and particularly in the beach communities, the threat of invasion was still palpable, if not imminent, and a great many folks – including the military – still expected us to be bombed in the near future. For that reason, the whole of Santa Monica Bay, from Malibu to Palos Verdes, was soon ringed with anti-aircraft batteries and searchlight brigades. The guns banged away almost every night, shooting at targets that were towed across the sky over the ocean by specially designed planes. The targets would be pinpointed by the searchlight beams, which also illuminated the exploding shells. It was a grand show that usually lasted about half an hour and rarely continued after 10:00 p.m., out of respect for the local populace.
At first, we’d watch the action with great fascination, but after a few nights in early January the noise of the guns and the exploding shells soon became routine, as predictable as the sound of the waves in the winter. Most people learned to sleep through the cacophony with few problems. It gave us a sense of security; our brave anti-aircraft gunners would quickly save us from any hostile attempt to penetrate our airspace, let alone bomb us.
Meanwhile, the government had also organized the Civil Defense Program, the core of which was a cadre of dedicated air raid wardens. My father joined up shortly before the end of the year, and was soon assigned to monitor the Strand between 27th Street and 22nd Street in case of an air attack. However, he was also expected to enforce the blackout during air raid drills, which we soon began to have regularly, as well the so-called “dim-out,” which required those who of us who lived in houses facing the water (both on the Strand and on the hill that rose behind Hermosa Avenue) to keep their front blinds drawn from dusk to dawn. The idea was to reduce the glare against which a tanker or merchant ship would be silhouetted and thus become an easy target for a Japanese submarine. This meant that he went out on “patrol” almost every evening shortly after sundown.
Shortly after Cov joined the program, there were some training sessions in the auditorium at Pier Avenue School, the local junior high school, which I would attend in a couple of years. As you might expect, the new wardens wanted practical instruction in first-aid, fire suppression, and all the other things their London counterparts had had to learn the hard way during the Blitz. They did eventually learn something about these things, but my father always laughed at the fact that the first two sessions were devoted to a learned discourse on the history of the Common Law! It seems that air raid wardens had a limited power of arrest; that is, they could detain persons who refused to pull their drapes or who had no business being on the street during a blackout and refused to go home – Hermosa had its share of the latter, especially in the vicinity of the downtown bars – and the guy who made this presentation was a USC law professor and former Superior Court judge. As my father liked to say, the whole business could have been boiled down to a ten-minute talk, simply laying out the circumstances under which an arrest could be made, and the extent to which force could be used in the processes. They didn’t need to know the history of the laws of arrest from the time of Alfred the Great to 1942!
It was precisely this kind of mentality that that caused the system to break down totally in the early morning hours of February 25. Blackout drills, which were always announced well in advance (at least to the wardens), usually went pretty well. My father would get the word, and then an hour later the siren would sound. He’d put on his helmet, grab his flashlight, and start patrolling the Strand. But when the “real thing” came along, the system totally collapsed.
* * *
The Thing in the Sky. The early evening of February 24, 1942, was unremarkable. The guns fired a few practice rounds and then fell silent well before 10:00 p.m. I remember going to bed shortly thereafter, reading for a few minutes by the light of a small flashlight I kept hidden under my bed, and then falling asleep.
Around 3:15 a.m., I awoke to the sound of what I initially assumed was distant thunder. But as I came fully awake, I realized that the guns were firing again. At first, I thought they were simply doing another drill, though it seemed awfully late. Moreover, there was something about the rate and intensity of the bombardment that just didn’t seem right, especially after I glanced at my clock.
My small bedroom was directly over the front door and faced south . Thus, my view of the ocean was oblique. However, what I could see of the sky as I lay there was filled with blinding searchlight beams and the bright flashes of exploding rounds. I was, of course, thoroughly familiar with both, thanks to all the target practice I’d witnessed. But heretofore, the searchlights and the explosions had always been well out over the ocean and, for the most part, invisible from my bedroom windows when I was in bed. This time everything seemed much closer. I soon heard my parents talking in the hall, and poked my head out. My father looked worried and said it didn’t make any sense. He tried to get through by phone to Civil Defense headquarters, but nobody answered (we later learned that the alert had been called at 2:25 a.m., but nobody bothered to get the word out to the local air raid wardens). So, he put on his gear, and went outside to see what was happening. Somewhere in the distance an air raid siren was wailing.
Cov returned looking even more worried and told my mother to get me, Gagie (my grandmother Littleton), Gaga, and my Grandfather Hotchkiss, who’d been staying with us for a couple of weeks (my Grandmother Hotchkiss had passed away the previous fall), down to the bomb shelter ASAP. Normally, Grandpa Hotchkiss was slower than the Second Coming of Christ in his personal habits. But when my father said “Mr. Hotchkiss, I think this may be the real thing,” he was down in the basement in thirty seconds flat!
I was equal parts scared and excited and desperately wanted to know what was going on. By this time, my father was back on the street and, belatedly, over the continuing gunfire, the local siren finally sounded. My mother escorted her in-laws and father down to the fortified dressing rooms, and I followed along, despite the fact that I was dying to slip outside and watch “the real thing.”
My mother felt the same way. As she said later, after about ten minutes in such cramped quarters – the benches upon which we sat also contained survival items such as a first-aid kit, water bottles, and some canned food – and surrounded by the halitosis exuded by the older generation, she was ready to brave a Jap bomb or two. Our first thought was that an enemy squadron was overhead, as we began to hear the roar of aircraft engines over the din of the barrage. But they were almost certainly our own pursuit planes.
When she exited the basement through the door that led to the beach, I followed close behind her. Although my mother was apprehensive about my safety, at the same time she understood why I desperately wanted to see what was happening and let me stay.
The two of us stood side by side in front of the house, huddling together in the chill night air and staring up into the sky. The planes we’d heard were not in sight, but what captured our rapt attention was a silvery, lozenge-shaped “bug,” as my mother later described it, whose bright glow was clearly visible in the searchlight beams that pinpointed it. Although it was a clear, moonlit night, no other details were visible, despite the fact that, when we first saw it, the object was hanging motionless almost directly overhead. Its altitude is hard to estimate, especially after all these years, but I’d guess that it was somewhere between 4,000 and 8,000 feet. This may explain why we didn’t see the orange glow reported by several eyewitnesses in Santa Monica and Culver City, where the object was apparently much lower.
As we watched it, open mouthed, the object, apparently none the worse for the plethora of three-inch, 12.8 pound anti-aircraft rounds fired at it, began to move slowly to the southeast over Redondo Beach, where we lost sight of it. Either our gunners were woefully inept, despite all the practice they’d had in recent weeks or it was invulnerable to attack. Years later I read that approximately 1,400 rounds were fired at the object that evening. Could the Japs have come up with some secret weapon that deflected flack? The thought was scary to the max!
But whatever it was, it certainly wasn’t acting aggressively. Rather, it simply made its stately way across the sky. Shortly before we lost sight of it – the object subsequently appeared over San Pedro and Long Beach before finally disappearing over the ocean somewhere off southern Orange County – we again heard the unmistakable sound of aircraft engines. By that time, the bombardment had largely petered out, and a flight of Army interceptors, probably based at Mines field (today the site of Los Angeles International Airport), approached from the northeast and buzzed off to the southeast, apparently chasing the object.
It was now almost 4:00 a.m. Precisely how long we’d stood there is anybody’s guess, though I suspect that the whole episode, from our leaving the shelter to meeting my father as he returned to house for good, lasted about twenty-five minutes. As I recall, the firing ceased altogether shortly thereafter (the “all clear” didn’t actually sound until 7:30 a.m.), but nobody went to bed that night.
The next morning, the Los Angeles Examiner came out with a banner headline: “Air Battle Rages over Los Angeles,” followed by “One Plane Reported Downed on Vermont Avenue by Gunfire” in smaller type. The story, which I still have safely tucked away, claimed to be based on a report from the LAPD’s 77th Street Division. At the time, this appeared to be pure fantasy, a prime example of the yellow journalism so characteristic of Heart newspapers in those days, as no bombs fell, nor, apparently, was any plane, Japanese or otherwise, shot down anywhere in Southern California that night. However, in retrospect, both the cops and the Examiner seem to have been right about one thing. A plane does appear to have crashed (or crash-landed) on South Vermont Avenue near 180th Street that morning, and from eyewitness accounts collected years later it was almost certainly one of ours, forced down either by the object itself or by “friendly fire.” The witness claims to have caught a glimpse of U.S. markings on the fuselage before it was covered up by a tarp and quickly hauled away on a flatbed truck. The military apparently didn’t want the public to know that it had possibly shot down one of its own planes. What happened to the pilot is unknown.
There were only a handful of civilian casualties. According to the Times, five people died from heart attacks and automobile accidents, and there were a few injuries from falling shrapnel. There was also some minor property damage, again mostly from shrapnel. Indeed, the beach was littered with the stuff, and the next afternoon some neighborhood kids, including Wayne and Darryl Edgar and the author, picked up several bags of it, took them to school, and donated the contents to the wartime scrap drive.
Yes, there were a great many jangled nerves that morning, but the overall impact of the event was slight compared to other disasters – earthquakes, fires, floods, mud-slides, etc. – that Southern California has experienced over the years.
At the time, it was widely assumed that a high-altitude, carrier-based Japanese observation plane had flown over the Los Angeles basin and that it was perhaps the harbinger of another Pearl Harbor-type attack, this time on the West Coast. Later on, we began to suspect that perhaps one of our own military planes was the culprit. But no 1942 vintage airplanes, military or civilian, Japanese or American, were capable of standing still in the air. The one thing we did learn after the war was that neither the Japanese nor our own people seemed to have any record of one of their aircraft straying over the L.A. basin that morning. Even the presence of our pursuit planes, which was absolutely certain, has been steadfastly denied by the government. Of course, all concerned could be lying, though the probability of such a lie persisting for over sixty years is remote – unless it involved something so profoundly disconcerting that it had to be shrouded in secrecy from then on.
So what precisely did we witness on February 25, 1942?
In recent decades several Ufologists, the people who study the UFO phenomenon, have suggested that it might have been an extraterrestrial craft. If that assessment is correct, it certainly precipitated one of the largest mass UFO sightings in history, as it involved well over a million people. Only the sightings over Mexico City in the late 1990s exceed it in terms of the total number of percipients. It also would account for the cloak of secrecy that has surrounded the episode for the past six and a half decades.
To be sure, no one suggested this idea in February of 1942. It wasn’t until five years later, after civilian pilot Kenneth Arnold’s landmark sighting of nine “flying saucers” over Mt. Rainer in late June of 1947, which was followed almost immediately by what now appears to have been the crash of a UFO near Roswell, New Mexico, that the notion that spacecraft from other planets might be invading our skies became widespread. But in retrospect, the “Battle of Los Angeles” has all the earmarks of a classic UFO event.
A few years ago, I joined forces with a well-known Ufologist – that is, a person who systematically studies the UFO phenomenon – named Frank Warren to investigate what really happened that morning. With the help of Dr. Bruce Maccabee, an eminent Navy photo-analyst and UFO investigator, Frank and I have pretty well determined the craft’s path before it appeared in the sky over Hermosa Beach. It was initially observed by several residents of the Pacific Palisades rising over the Santa Monica Mountains around 2:45 a.m. From there, it seems to have moved southeast across Santa Monica and West L.A. in the direction of the Baldwin Hills, which separate Culver City from Inglewood and the flatlands to the south.
Several residents who lived just north of Baldwin Hills saw it clearly. From their reports, it was round with a slight hump in the middle. A woman named Katie, who observed it from the window of her home, stated that it was huge, elliptical in shape, and suffused with a brilliant, orange glow. Meanwhile, the anti-aircraft barrage had already begun, and the searchlights were following it steadily.
A Los Angeles Times reporter living in the San Gabriel Valley, a dozen miles or so to the east, had been alerted to what was happening by colleagues at the paper. He jumped in his car and began driving west as rapidly as he could toward the sound of the guns, arriving at the northern edge of the Baldwin Hills, in the vicinity of Jefferson and La Cienega, in time to photograph the object as it rose over the ridge line . The image below, which was published in the Times on February 26 , is the only clear picture we have of the craft. As you can see, it’s caught in the beams of several searchlights and is surround by white dots created by exploding shells.
From the width of the light beams at the point they reached the object, plus the knowledge that at least one of them came from a searchlight battery in Manhattan Beach, some ten miles away (the others appear to have come from Inglewood or El Segundo), Frank Warren has suggested that it was perhaps as large as 800 feet in diameter, and I agree with this estimate. All of the close-up observations Frank and I have collected indicate that the object was huge!
After crossing the Baldwin Hills, it appears to have veered westward toward El Segundo (and the aircraft plants). When it reached the coast, it rose to a higher altitude and slowly followed the edge of the ocean, due south to the point where we first saw it. Then it veered southeastward over Redondo Beach, blithely ignoring everything we were throwing at it, and soon disappeared from sight behind the town’s hills.
Although there’s never been an “official” explanation of this curious episode, a number of unofficial explanations have been advanced over the years, ranging from an off-course private pilot – although civilian aircraft had been banned from skies of Southern California shortly after the war began – to a barrage balloon that escaped its tether over one of the El Segundo aircraft plants, an errant Army weather balloon, and even a flock of sea birds. However, in light of what we now know about the UFO phenomenon, I strongly suspect that the most efficient explanation, the one that fits all the known facts most completely, is that it was an alien craft. Although my parents and I were only able to tell that it was bright and “bug-like,” the aforementioned Times photo, as well as other eyewitness accounts from Santa Monica and Culver City, indicate that it was a huge, saucer-shaped object that had, in addition to an orange glow, a protuberance of some sort on its dorsal, or upper side. This, of course, jibes closely with literally thousands of eyewitness accounts of UFOs, in this country and elsewhere, that have come to light in the course of the last six decades.
But the aspect that clinches the UFO theory, at least in my opinion, is the fact that the object was able to resist the impact of over 1,400 rounds of high explosive, antiaircraft shells. Few contemporary aircraft, let alone any World War II planes, could have withstood that barrage, and I suspect that the object was surrounded by an electromagnetic force field of some sort, which deflected the shells and caused them to explode harmlessly – a capability that is eons beyond the leading edge of human technology, even today. This EMF field could perhaps have caused our planes to lose control and crash when they flew too close to it.
As I’ve indicated, the probability that what really happened that morning has been covered up by the government for the past sixty-plus years now seems almost certain. In fact, most Ufologists are now convinced, with good reason, that a similar cover-up has been in place re the Roswell crash since 1947, to say nothing of what’s been going on at Area 51 in Northern Nevada. So perhaps the government already had a model, based on its response to the 1942 incident, that was brought to bear in hushing up these later episodes. Or perhaps they’ve simply been in denial for the past six decades.
Maybe someday the truth about the “Battle of Los Angeles” will finally come out, along with the truth about so many other anomalous phenomena that so many people all over the world have seen – and continue to see – in the sky in the years since 1942. UFO skeptics maintain that all such phenomena have mundane, wholly terrestrial explanations. So what we saw that morning might conceivably have been a Japanese observation plane, despite the absence of any official record of one ever having flown over Southern California; one of the largest mass hallucinations ever recorded; a remarkably flack-resistant weather or barrage balloon; an equally invulnerable civilian pilot; or even a flock of badly frightened pelicans. But I’d be willing to bet a bundle that the skeptics are wrong and that it was not of this world.
* * *
Executive Order 9066. But nobody, of course, was thinking that way in February of 1942, and the incident had some nasty “this world” ramifications. As you can imagine, at the time most of us were convinced that it was an enemy aircraft, despite the fact that the 37th Army Anti-Aircraft Brigade hadn’t been able to shoot it down. What reinforced this assessment was the fact that a Japanese submarine had shelled the Ellwood Oil Field just north of Santa Barbara less than thirty-six hours earlier.
Thus, after a period of relative calm after the first of the year, war jitters and fear of an imminent Japanese invasion once again increased markedly. And this paranoia contributed significantly to the alacrity with which FDR’s decision to “relocate” Japanese-Americans, citizens and non-citizens alike, to what were, in fact if not label, full-fledged concentration camps, was implemented. Although Roosevelt signed the infamous “Executive Order 9066,” which authorized this act of “ethnic cleansing,” on February 19, once the process began, the well-nigh universal assumption that the “Battle of Los Angeles” involved a Japanese plane, coupled with the submarine attack in Santa Barbara County, meant that folks like us heatiliy approved of getting rid of the “God damned Japs,” once and for all. Thus, we cheered mighily as the newspapers depicted them being rounded up and sent to out-of-the-way places like Manzanar, in the Owens Valley at the foot of the Sierra Nevada, the Tule Lake Internment Camp in Northern California, and similar camps in Utah, Idaho, and elsewhere in the Western United States.
Yes, it did happen here, and I must confess that I was as eager to see them go as everybody else. As in Germany, “everybody else” included a great many highly-educated people who were otherwise rational and did not think of themselves as bigots. My parents were typical in this regard. Although they prided themselves on being liberal, hard-core, New-Deal Democrats, who were all for abolishing the laws that segregated white people from “Negroes” in many parts of the country, and were utterly opposed to anti-Semitism, both at home and abroad, this was “different.” The Japs were near-sighted, buck-toothed, monkey-like sub-humans who were also sneaky little bastards who were out to get us. Didn’t what just happened prove it? They were all spies, no matter how long they’d lived here or whether they were native-born American citizens; it was in their blood. So good riddance!
Thus, we hardly shed a tear when the few Japanese-American kids – there were maybe two or three at the most – at North School suddenly disappeared. Again, good riddance to them and their traitorous families! There’d been rampant anti-Japanese sentiments for decades in California – just as German anti-Semitism didn’t begin with Adolf Hitler – and “Executive Order 9066,” like the infamous Nuremberg Laws promulgated by Hitler in 1935, simply legitimized long-simmering prejudices.
The Saturday matinees the neighborhood kids and I’d begun to attend at the Fox Hermosa Theater didn’t help any. Even those war movies made before we got into the conflict never had anything nice to say about the Japanese; they were always the villains. And it got much worse after December 7, 1941, as Hollywood began to crank out blatantly racist films designed to whip up anti-Japanese sentiments – not simply against the expansionist policies of the Tojo Government, which were certainly despicable, but against the presumed inherent inferiority of the Japanese “race.” They were regularly portrayed (usually by Chinese-American actors) as grinning sadists and utterly evil. Moreover, as was happening to Jewish property in Germany, most of the internees’ holdings, many of which were agricultural, were sold at auction to greedy land speculators. If all this sounds broadly analogous to what the Nazis did with Jewish property, as well as what they were saying about Jews in Der Stürmer and other Party organs and in propaganda films, it should, because it was cut from the same bigoted cloth.
No, we didn’t treat our internees anywhere near as harshly as the Germans treated theirs, even in the least brutal of the Nazi concentration camps. But the fact that they’d been rounded up en masse, native-born citizens as well as resident aliens, is, in retrospect, redolent of the same hysteria that gripped Germany in the 1930s and which we’d heard so much about from our friends the Sommers, (a German-Jewish refugee family my father helped enter the country in early 1941). That we failed to make the connection will forever be a stain on the American character, despite all the apologies and reparations that were subsequently offered to those who survived the camps and their families.
In any case, it did happen here. And it could again if we allow ourselves to fall once again headlong into bigoted hysteria re Muslims per se and other non-Westerners deemed to be “terrorists” and enemies of our vaunted “Christian heritage.” In this connection, Gandhi’s famous reply when he was once asked what he thought of Western Civilization seems apt: “It would be a nice idea!”
OK, I’m off the soapbox. But as one who’s come to have a deep appreciation for Japanese culture, I couldn’t help but express my strong feelings about this most unfortunate – and reprehensible – episode in modern American history.
In the weeks following the “Battle of Los Angeles,” especially after the Japanese had been rounded up, the renewed threat of an imminent Japanese invasion once again gradually receded, at least in the local imagination. Nevertheless, unfounded rumors were rampant, both in the press and by word of mouth. One of them was that a detailed invasion plan had been found in the home of one Japanese internee that marked Hermosa Beach, between 22nd Street and the Manhattan Beach line, as the principal landing zone. Needless to say, this proved to be a total fantasy. After the war, it became abundantly clear that not a single Japanese-American had spied for Japan.
At the same time, we threw ourselves into the war effort as best we could. I’ll have more to say about that in a subsequent chapter entitled “The Home Front.”
In any case, my father now commuted daily to the Federal Building in downtown Los Angeles (like most Southern Californians of his generation, he habitually pronounced it “Los ANG-les,” which, of course, is a tad closer to the original Spanish) and needed the Mercury in his job as a War Production Board investigator. And, as it paid more money, my mother switched from the day shift to the graveyard shift (midnight to 8:00 a.m.) at Douglas. I’m not exactly sure how she got to work, but I do know that it was then that her career as “Rosie the Riveter” began in earnest.
1. Another eyewitness, who lived in Redondo Beach and was five years-old at the time, recalls that it descended as it passed slowly over his family home. His father at first thought it was coming in for a landing, perhaps at the nearby Lomita airstrip, and he and several neighbors jumped into a car and tried to follow the object. But it soon regained altitude and passed over the hills to the south. He also claims that the “stern” of the craft was rectangular, with rounded edges, and very thick.
2. The official tally, from the Army’s after-action report, is 1430 rounds. But this figure is probably way too low.
3. In early 1942 night fighters were still experimental, at least in the United States. The first truly effective one, the Northrop P-61 “Black Widow,” wasn’t fully introduced until 1944. Thus, the decision to send up planes woefully inadequate for night combat underscores how seriously the military took this event.
4. Ufologist Frank Warren tells me that a fairly reliable eyewitness account of another possible plane crash that morning, this time in Hollywood, has recently come to light. And indeed, the Examiner story also mentioned a rumor that at least two additional planes were “shot down” during the event. Again, the downed plane in Hollywood appears to have been covered with a tarp almost immediately and hauled off on a flat-bed truck. The witness also claims to have noticed markings on the fuselage, in this case “Japanese letters,” before it was covered up. This is extremely doubtful. The Japanese used Arabic numbers on all of their WWII planes, and he may simply have assumed that it was a Japanese plane, and then perceived the rest of what he saw in terms of that assumption. If a second plane did crash in Hollywood somewhere, it was also almost certainly one of ours.
5. When questioned by reporters, Arnold observed that the craft he’d seen looked like “saucers skipping over water.” Thanks to the media, this soon morphed into the label “flying saucers.” The label “UFO” – unidentified flying object – didn’t become prominent until several years alter.
6. There’s some evidence that the military retrieved a crashed UFO near Cape Girardeau, Missouri, in 1941, so the government may already have had some knowledge of the phenomenon by February of 1942. For an interesting discussion of this possibility, as well as a brief overview of the “Battle of Los Angeles” and its implications for ufology, please see Richard M. Dolan’s masterful book, UFOs and the National Security State: Chronology of a Cover-up 1941-1973 (Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads Publishing Company, 2002), p. 3-5; for a more comprehensive account of the event, please see Terrenz Sword, The Battle of Los Angeles, 1942 – The Silent Invasion Begins (Playa Del Rey, CA: Inner Light Publications, 2003), which also frames it in ufological terms.
7. I should emphasize that my mother and I failed to notice either a hump or an orange glow. From our perspective, it was simply a bright, silvery lozenge, with no other discernable features. I suspect that we saw only its ventral, or “belly” side, which was featureless, at least at that altitude.
8. There’s been a lot of debate over exactly where the Times reporter took his famous picture. Some have held that he caught the object flying over Palos Verdes. But all indications point to a spot on the ridgeline just east of where La Cienaga Blvd cuts through it. I’ve investigated this aspect of the matter and am pretty sure that I’ve found the spot (Plate 28), despite the fact that the terrain has changed in the last sixty-odd years as the area has become more and more developed.
9. Bruce Maccabee, who has subjected the Times photograph to intense photo analysis, estimates that the object was between 100 and 200 feet in diameter. However, given the width of the searchlight beams and the fact that they barely encompass the object, Frank Warren and I have concluded that it must have been considerably larger, that is, around 800 feet in diameter.
10. For comprehensive overviews of the history of the UFO phenomenon, please see Dolan (op. cit.) and Jim Marrs, Alien Agenda: Investigating the Extraterrestrial Presence among Us (New York: HarperCollins, 1997).
11. Although the eyewitness in Redondo Beach remembers it as being rectangular.
12. After the war, captured German scientists, who were based at Los Alamos and the White Sands test range in New Mexico, gave us the technology to build sophisticated air-to-air rockets. Modeled on the German Wasserfall missle, these airborne rockets appear to have given us the capability to shoot down UFOs, at least occasionally. This may in part account for the Roswell, Aztec, and other possible UFO crashes in New Mexico in the late 1940s and early 1950s – as well as why the state has been such a major target of UFO activity over the years.
13. For a comprehensive overview and assessment of the UFO cover-up, from Roswell to the present, please see Stanton T. Friedman’s Top Secret/Majic: Operation Majestic-12 and the United States Government’s UFO Cover-up (New York: Marlow & Company, 2005).
14. It’s been asserted on the basis of what in my opinion is some pretty shaky evidence that the craft we saw ultimately crashed in the ocean off San Diego and was recovered by Navy divers. A related – and equally shaky – theory is that it crash-landed on San Clemente Island, the southernmost of the Channel Islands, and was recovered either by the Marines or the Navy, both of which used the island for bombing practice until recently. Perhaps the object had in fact been wounded by the intense anti-aircraft fire. If there’s any validity to either of these theories, it would mean that the military already had a fair amount of solid UFO evidence in hand at the time the Roswell crash occurred in July of 1947, in addition any it might have collected before 1942.
15. For brief descriptions of three other possible UFO sightings on my part, both before and after this event, please see Chapter One.
16. For the skeptical position re the UFO phenomenon generally, please see, for example, the late Philip Klass, Ufos: The Public Deceived (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1986), or Michael Shermer, Why People Believe Weird Things: Pseudoscience, Superstition, and Other Confusions of Our Time (New York: Owl Books, 2nd edition, 2002) .
17. Some reports claimed that there were several “enemy” craft in the sky that morning, however I strongly suspect that these accounts were confused and reflected the appearance of Army pursuit planes before the bombardment began in earnest, as well as their return shortly after the object we saw disappeared over Redondo Beach.
18. In all fairness, it should be pointed out that the Japanese also cranked out propaganda films depicting Westerners, and Americans in particular, as savage, sub-human barbarians bent on destroying Japan’s sacred heritage. So each side was guilty of portraying the other as inherently inferior.
19. Much of this confiscated Japanese-American land was soon covered with low-cost, housing tracts for the increasing flood of “aircraft workers” I mentioned in the Prologue, a great many of whom were émigrés from Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Texas; that is, the part of the country that figures so prominently in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath.
20. I should, of course, mention that the Japanese relocation wasn’t the only systematic program of “ethnic cleansing” in our history. A similar atrocity was committed a century earlier, in the 1830s, when Andrew Jackson and the rest, backed up by the Army, “relocated” thousands of Native Americans from the Southeast to what was then called “Indian Territory,” now Oklahoma, along the infamous “Trail of Tears.” Ironically, Oklahoma was to suffer its own diaspora in the late 1930s, although the great majority of those caught up in that economically driven population movement, some of whom settled in Hermosa Beach, were white people rather than Native Americans.
The following are excerpts from the primary front page story of the LA Times on February 26th. Note that there is not a SINGLE description of the object:
Army Says Alarm Real – Roaring Guns Mark Blackout
Identity of Aircraft Veiled in Mystery; No Bombs Dropped and No Enemy Craft Hit; Civilians Reports Seeing Planes and Balloon
Overshadowing a nation-wide maelstrom of rumors and conflicting reports, the Army’s Western Defense Command insisted that Los Angeles’ early morning blackout and anti-aircraft action were the result of unidentified aircraft sighted over the beach area. In two official statements, issued while Secretary of the Navy Knox in Washington was attributing the activity to a false alarm and “jittery nerves,” the command in San Francisco confirmed and reconfirmed the presence over the Southland of unidentified planes. Relayed by the Southern California sector office in Pasadena, the second statement read:
“The aircraft which caused the blackout in the Los Angeles area for several hours this a.m. have not been identified.”
Insistence from official quarters that the alarm was real came as hundreds of thousands of citizens who heard and saw the activity spread countless varying stories of the episode. The spectacular anti-aircraft barrage came after the 14th Interceptor Command ordered the blackout when strange craft were reported over the coastline. Powerful searchlights from countless stations stabbed the sky with brilliant probing fingers while anti-aircraft batteries dotted the heavens with beautiful, if sinister, orange bursts of shrapnel.
City Blacked Out For Hours
The city was blacked out from 2:25 to 7:21 am after an earlier yellow alert at 7:18 pm was called off at 10:23 pm. The blackout was in effect from here to the Mexican border and inland to the San Joaquin Valley. No bombs were dropped and no airplanes shot down and, miraculously in terms of the tons of missiles hurled aloft, only two persons were reported wounded by falling shell fragments.
Countless thousands of Southland residents, many of whom were late to work because of the traffic tie-up during the blackout, rubbed their eyes sleepily yesterday and agreed that regardless of the question of how “real” the air raid alarm may have been, it was “a great show” and “well worth losing a few hours’ sleep.”
The blackout was not without its casualties, however. A State Guardsman died of a heart attack while driving an ammunition truck, heart failure also accounted for the death of an air raid warden on duty, a woman was killed in a car-truck collision in Arcadia, and a Long Beach policeman was killed in a traffic crash enroute to duty. Much of the firing appeared to come from the vicinity of aircraft plants along the coastal area of Santa Monica, Inglewood, Southwest Los Angeles, and Long Beach.
In its front page editorial, the Times said:
“In view of the considerable public excitement and confusion caused by yesterday morning’s supposed enemy air raid over this area and its spectacular official accompaniments, it seems to The Times that more specific public information should be forthcoming from government sources on the subject, if only to clarify their own conflicting statements about it.”
“According to the Associated Press, Secretary Knox intimated that reports of enemy air activity in the Pacific Coastal Region might be due largely to ‘jittery nerves.’ Whose nerves, Mr. Knox? The public’s or the Army’s?”
WORLD WAR II UFO SCARE
By Paul T. Collins
Fate Magazine July, 1987
On Wednesday, February 25, 1942, as war raged in Europe and Asia, at least a million Southern Californians awoke to the scream of air-raid sirens as Los Angeles County cities blacked out at 2:25 AM. Many dozed off again while 12,000 air raid wardens reported faithfully to their posts, most of them expecting nothing more than a dress rehearsal for a possible future event – an invasion of the United States by Japan. At 3:36, however, they were shocked and their slumbering families rudely roused again, this time by sounds unfamiliar to most Americans outside the military services.
The roar of the 37th Coast Artillery Brigade’s antiaircraft batteries jolted them out of bed and before they could get to the windows the flashing 12.8 pound shells were detonating with a heavy, ominous boomp – boomp – boomp and the steel was already raining down. All radio stations had been ordered off the air at 3:08. But the news was being written with fingers of light three miles high on a clear star-studded blackboard 30 miles long.
The firing continued intermittently until 4:14. Unexploded shells destroyed pavement, homes and public buildings, three persons were killed and three died of heart attacks directly attributable to the one hour barrage. Several persons were injured by shrapnel. A dairy herd was hit but only a few cows were casualties.
The blackout was lifted and sirens screamed all clear at 7:21. The shooting stopped but the shouting had hardly begun. Military men who never flinched at the roar of rifles now shook at the prospect of facing the press. While they probably could not be blamed for what had happened, they did have some reason for distress. The thing they had been shooting at could not be identified.
Caught by the searchlights and captured in photographs, was an object big enough to dwarf an apartment house. Experienced lighter-than-air (dirigible) specialists doubted it could be a Japanese blimp because the Japanese had no known source of helium, and hydrogen was much too dangerous to use under combat conditions.
Whatever it was, it was a sitting duck for the guns of the 37th. Photographs showed shells bursting all around it. A Los Angeles Herald Express staffer said he was sure many shells hit it directly. He was amazed it had not been shot down.
The object that triggered the air raid alarm had drawn 1430 rounds of ammunition from the coast artillery, to no effect. When it moved at all, the object had proceeded at a leisurely pace over the coastal cities between Santa Monica and Long Beach, taking about 30 minutes of actual flight time to move 20 miles; then it disappeared from view.
You can well imagine with what chagrin public information officers answered press queries. The Pasadena Office of the Southern California Sector of the Army Western Defense Command simply announced that no enemy aircraft had been identified; no craft was shot down; no bombs were dropped; none of our interceptors left the ground to pursue the intruder.
Soon thereafter US Navy Secretary Frank Knox announced that no planes had been sighted. The coastal firing had been triggered, he said, by a false alarm and jittery nerves. He also suggested that some war industries along the coast might have to be moved inland to points invulnerable to attacks from enemy submarines and carrier-based planes.
The press responded with scathing editorials, many on page one, calling attention to the loss of life and denouncing the use of the coast artillery to fire at phantoms. The Los Angeles Times demanded a full explanation from Washington. The Long Beach Telegram complained that government officials who all along had wanted to move the industries were manipulating the affair for propaganda purposes. And the Long Beach Independent charged: “There is a mysterious reticence about the whole affair and it appears some form of censorship is trying to halt discussion of the matter. Although it was red-hot news not one national radio commentator gave it more than passing mention. This is the kind of reticence that is making the American people gravely suspect the motives and the competence of those whom they have charged with the conduct of the war.”
The Independent had good reason to question the competence of some of the personnel responsible for our coastal defense operations as well as the integrity and motives of our highest government officials. Only 36 hours before the Long Beach air raid, a gigantic Japanese submarine had surfaced close to shore 12 miles north of Santa Barbara and in 25 minutes of unchallenged firing lobbed 25 five-inch shells at the petroleum refinery in the Ellwood oil field. The Fourth Interceptor Command, although aware of the sub’s attack, ordered a blackout from Ventura to Goleta but sent no planes out to sink it. Not one shot was fired at the sub.
After the Ellwood incident had alerted all the West Coast defense posts to possible repeat attacks, these units were sensitive to anticipated invasion attempts. By Wednesday morning in the Los Angeles area they were ready to open fire on a boy’s kite if it in any way resembled a plane or a balloon. Secretary of War Henry Stimson praised the 37th Cost Artillery for this attitude. It is better to be a little too alert than not alert enough, he said. At the same time he delicately suggested that it might have been a good idea to send some of our planes up to identify the invading aircraft before shooting at them.
Planes of the Fourth Interceptor Command were, in fact, warming up on the runways waiting for orders to go up and interview the unknown intruders. Why, everybody was asking, were they not ordered to go into action during the 51-minute period between the first air-raid alert at 2:25 AM and the first artillery firing at 3:16?
Against this background of embarrassing indecision and confusion, Army Western Defense Command obviously had to say something fast. Spokesmen told reporters that from one to 50 planes had been sighted, thus giving themselves ample latitude in which to adjust future stories to fit whatever propaganda requirements might arise in the next few days.
When eyewitness reports from thousands searching the skies with binoculars under the bright lights of the coast artillery verified the presence of one enormous, unidentifiable, indestructible object – but not the presence of large numbers of planes – the press releases were gradually scaled downward. A week later Gen. Mark Clark acknowledged that army listening posts had detected what they thought were five light planes approaching the coast on the night of the air raid. No interceptors, he said, had been sent out to engage them because there had been no mass attack.
Believing an aerial bombardment was in progress, some people thought they saw formations of warplanes, dogfights between enemy craft and our fighter planes and other things that they assumed were evidence of such an attack. Obviously there were no dogfights because none of our interceptors were in the air. Tracer bullets were fired from military ground stations and some people mistook the fire pattern made by these projectiles for aerial combat. Other observers reported lighted objects which were variously described as red-and-white flares in groups of three red and three white, fired alternately, or chainlike strings of red lights looking something like an illuminated kite.
People suggested that some of these lights were caused by Japanese-Americans signaling approaching Japanese aircraft with flares to guide them to selected targets, but because no bombs were dropped, the theory was quickly abandoned. In any case, such charges fitted in perfectly with a hysterical press campaign to round up all citizens of Japanese descent and put them in concentration camps.
During the week of the Japanese submarine attack on the Ellwood oil field and the air raid on Los Angeles County, the press took full advantage of the made-to-order situation. Arrests of suspects were quickly made and the FBI was called in, but the Long Beach Press Telegram stated all investigations indicated nobody was signaling the enemy from the ground.
Army Gunners Fire At UFOs Over Los Angeles
Courtesy UFO ROUNDUP
Volume 3, Number 8
February 22, 1998
Editor Joseph Trainor
On Wednesday, February 25, 1942, at precisely 2 a.m., diners at the trendy Trocadero club in Hollywood were startled when the lights winked out and air raid sirens began to sound throughout greater Los Angeles.
“Searchlights scanned the skies and anti-aircraft guns protecting the vital aircraft and ship-building factories went into action. In the next few hours they would fire over 1,400 shells at an unidentified, slow- moving object in the sky over Los Angeles that looked like a blimp, or a balloon.”
Author Ralph Blum, who was a nine-year-old boy at the time, wrote that he thought “the Japanese were bombing Beverly Hills.”
“There were sirens, searchlights, even antiaircraft guns blamming away into the skies over Los Angeles. My father had been a balloon observation man (in the AEF) in World War One, and he knew big guns when he heard them. He ordered my mother to take my baby sisters to the underground projection room–our house was heavily supplied with Hollywood paraphernalia–while he and I went out onto the upstairs balcony.”
“What a scene! It was after three in the morning. Searchlights probed the western sky. Tracers streamed upward. The racket was terrific.” Shooting at the aerial intruders were gunners of the 65th Coast Artillery (Anti-Aircraft) Regiment in Inglewood and the 205th Anti-Aircraft Regiment based in Santa Monica. The “white cigar-shaped object” took several direct hits but continued on its eastward flight.
Up to 25 silvery UFOs were also seen by observers on the ground.
Editor Peter Jenkins of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner reported, “I could clearly see the V formation of about 25 silvery planes overhead moving slowly across the sky toward Long Beach.” Long Beach Police Chief J.H. McClelland said, “I watched what was described as the second wave of planes from atop the seven-story Long Beach City Hall. I did not see any planes but the younger men with me said they could. An experienced Navy observer with powerful Carl Zeiss binoculars said he counted nine planes in the cone of the searchlight. He said they were silver in color. The (UFO) group passed along from one battery of searchlights to another, and under fire from the anti-aircraft guns, flew from the direction of Redondo Beach and Inglewood on the land side of Fort MacArthur, and continued toward Santa Ana and Huntington Beach. Anti-aircraft fire was so heavy we could not hear the motors of the planes.”
Reporter Bill Henry of the Los Angeles Times wrote, “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.”
At 2:21 a.m., Lt. Gen. John L. DeWitt issued the cease-fire order, and the twenty-minute “battle of Los Angeles” was over.
(See BEYOND EARTH: MAN’S CONTACT WITH UFOs by Ralph Blum, Bantam Books, New York, April 1974, page 68. See also the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and the Long Beach Press-Telegram for February 25, 1942. All newspaper quotes taken from “The Battle of Los Angeles, 1942” by Terrenz Sword, which appeared in Unsolved UFO Sightings, Spring 1996 issue, pages 57 through 62.)
Excerpt from ‘UFOs and the National Security State’
By Richard M. Dolan, Keyhole Publishing, 2000
“At least a million residents awoke to air raid sirens at 2:25am., and U.S. Army personnel fired 1,430 rounds of antiaircraft shells to bring down what they assumed were Japanese planes. But these were not Japanese planes. George Marshall wrote a memorandum to President Roosevelt about the incident, which remained classified until 1974. Marshall concluded that conventional aircraft were involved, probably “commercial sources, operated by enemy agents for purposes of spreading alarm, disclosing location of antiaircraft positions, and slowing production through blackout.”
Despite the barrage of American antiaircraft fire, none of these “commercial” planes were brought down, although several homes and buildings were destroyed, and six civilian deaths were attributed to the barrage. Considering the carnage, the military’s explanation was meager. U.S. Navy Secretary Knox even denied that any aircraft had been over the city; he called the incident a false alarm due to war nerves.
The local press, needless to say, did not take this very well. The Long Beach Independent noted that: “There is a mysterious reticence about the whole affair and it appears some form of censorship is trying to halt discussion of the matter.” It is noteworthy that for thirty years until the release of the Marshall memorandum, the Department of Defense claimed to have no record of the event. Five years before Roswell, them military was already learning to clamp down on UFOs.”