"War Nerves" in Los Angeles



Image: Los Angeles Examiner/Legacy media Commons (CC)

Back in February of 1942, the Battle of Los Angeles made the headline news, but it was something of a misstatement. The army fired loads of shots into the sky but nothing ever shot back. Neither the media not the military were able to describe what actually happened that night in a satisfactory way.

This may have been a one-sided battle, but it was justified. Just a couple of months prior to the "battle," the U.S had declared war on Japan for its attack on Pearl Harbor. And a day before the famous incident, a Japanese submarine managed to enter US waters and surface off the coast of California to launch a shelling against the Ellwood oil refinery near Santa Barbara, a coastal city not too far from Los Angeles. The bombardment may have caused only minor damages to the facility, but it was enough to put the population on edge.

In the early hours of 25 February, an alert was issued by naval intelligence that radars were picking up an incoming target just 120 miles off the coast of LA. The SoCal area, which had been under a blackout order since the night before, was only illuminated by eerie pillars of light rising from wartime searchlights. It was on this night, that all hell broke loose:

Thereafter the information center was flooded with reports of ‘enemy planes,’ even though the mysterious object tracked in from sea seems to have vanished. At 0243, planes were reported near Long Beach, and a few minutes later a coast artillery colonel spotted ‘about 25 planes at 12,000 feet’ over Los Angeles. 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 Battle of Los Angeles, Office of Air Force History

Over the next three hours following the alleged sighting of an unidentified object caught in the spotlights, antiaircraft batteries fired off more than fifteen hundred rounds of ammunition trying to hit a phantom menace that seemed to be impervious to our primitive weapons, but in the end, no enemy planes were shotdown, according to official reports.


Don't know if this photo was ever authenticated, but it is the only one I know of.