Skip to comments.The FReeper Foxhole Remembers the Great Los Angeles Air Raid (2/25/1942) - Dec. 8th, 2004
Posted on 12/08/2004 12:19:01 AM PST by SAMWolf
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Anxiety about a possible Japanese invasion of the West Coast caused anti-aircraft crews guarding Los Angeles to shoot first and ask questions later.
If U.S. coast and anti-aircraft defense units were on edge before, the incident of February 23, just a few months after Pearl Harbor, considerably heightened their tension. In fact, what happened that night 10 miles north of Santa Barbara contributed to what followed the next night in the skies over Los Angeles.
At 2:25 a.m. on February 25, air raid sirens blared throughout parts of the "City of Angels." It was not the city's first air raid alert of the war. The most recent warning had been in effect earlier that night. None of these warnings, however, had ever gone beyond the yellow-alert stage. Yellow alerts were sounded when unidentified aircraft were detected. Of the dozen or so instances when yellow alerts had been announced, only two had gone to the red stage. Red alerts were serious business. Not only did they trigger air raid alarms, blackouts and radio silence, they sent some 10,000 air raid wardens and auxiliary police onto the streets. Anti-aircraft guns were manned and searchlights turned on.
When an air raid defense radar picked up a mysterious contact shortly before 2 a.m. on February 25, the unknown contact was approximately 100 miles southwest of Los Angeles. By 2:07 it was officially declared an "unidentified aircraft approaching the coast" and a yellow alert was called. Fifteen minutes later, the blue alert signal was given. This indicated that presumed enemy aircraft were bearing down on the coast. Three minutes later, with the aircraft still unidentified, the red alert was given. Air raid sirens immediately began to sound, and wardens donned their white helmets and grabbed their flashlights. Two minutes later, radio silence was ordered. At 2:32, anti-aircraft and searchlight crews were at the manned-and-ready position. At 3:05, San Diego was given the red-alert warning, and radio communication between the two cities stopped five minutes later. The Los Angeles air raid was on.
Anti-aircraft guns from the IV Interceptor Command opened fire at 3:16 a.m., fired steadily until 3:36, stopped, then resumed at 4:05 for another 10 minutes. During their 30-minute fusillade, the command's guns hurled 1,440 rounds of 3-inch and 37mm ammunition into the night sky above Los Angeles. Not counting unofficial shots, 48 shells were fired per minute. And almost 10 tons of expended ammunition fell somewhere on the city during the supposed raid.
According to the Los Angeles Examiner, "shrapnel-strewn areas took on the appearance of a huge Easter-egg hunt, [as] youngsters and grownups alike scrambled through streets and vacant lots, picking up and proudly comparing chunks of shrapnel fragments." Some of the 3-inch anti-aircraft shells had failed to explode in the air and hurtled back to earth.
Young Mary Perez and her two brothers, walking through a familiar vacant lot on the way to school the next morning near Hawthorne, noticed two small craters that had not been there the day before. In just five minutes the two boys picked up more than a dozen jagged pieces of shrapnel and the detonators from two faulty 3-inch anti-aircraft shells that exploded when they hit the ground less than 100 yards from the Perez home.
M1941 60" Sperry Searchlight
At the home of Mr. and Mrs. Hugh Landis a single faulty 3-inch shell blew up only when it hit the concrete driveway in front of the garage. When the shooting started, Mrs. Landis woke up her sister, Blanch Sedgwick, and 14-year-old niece, Josie, who were sleeping together in the guest bedroom, telling them to "come see what was happening." Seconds later the anti-aircraft shell hit the driveway, blowing out the windows of the garage and sending deadly chunks of shrapnel into the houseluckily just missing Sedgwick and her daughter. "When we went back into the bedroom," said Mrs. Landis, "we found one fragment of shell had cut clear through the blanket and mattress where my sister and niece were sleeping just moments before."
A second shell exploded between two houses just east of the Landis home. Two pieces of jagged hot metal were blasted into the bedroom occupied by Selas Sakellaris' son, shattering the doorframe and striking the bed occupied by the boy. A third fragment crashed through the window of his daughter's bedroom, and a fourth ripped through the side of the garage, blowing out a tire on the family car.
At Fred Watson's home in Santa Monica a shell hit the concrete driveway and, according to Mrs. Watson, "made a thunderous rumble, a terrific jar, and sounded like the screeching of a thousand wild animals" before burying itself 3 feet underground.
The next morning the Army had the entire street roped off, with a large sign at both ends warning "UNEXPLODED BOMB." After explosives expert Sergeant C.M. Weathers dug up the unexploded shell, a newspaper photographer asked, "Could you dust it off a little bit so I can take a picture?" "Would you like us to put a little sandpaper on it and blow us all to hell?" asked Weathers. "Never mind," said the photographer as he backed away, "that'll do just fine."
Even when the anti-aircraft shells went off where they were supposed to, fragments of various sizes fell all over the city, including at shipyards and aircraft plants where late-night shifts were at work. According to the Los Angeles Examiner, 5,000 workers in the Calship Yard in San Pedro "scrambled to safety when a sudden rain of anti-aircraft shell fragments showered down over the yards."
Shipyard worker James Mason said that when the fragments started falling "we ducked for shelter in the hulls of ships, under them, anywhere we could get. We sure got out of the way in a hurry. By 8 the next morning, three of my buddies had picked up a tin hat full of shrapnel. By the time the graveyard shift clocked out, everyone went home with their pockets loaded."
At the North American Aviation plant in Inglewood, several workers who had gone outside to watch the spectacle had taken refuge under the wings of one of the many B-25s lining the field outside the factory. Some did not remain there long, however, as the sound of shrapnel fragments peppering the wings of the planes drove them back inside. The next morning several holes were found in the wings and fuselages of some of the planes where larger pieces of shrapnel had gone clear through their aluminum skins.
Later that day, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson issued his own statement confirming the 15 planes. Stimson was smart enough to leave himself an out by saying that planes were probably over Los Angeles, and that as many as 15 may have been involved. Nevertheless, headlines in most newspapers carried the words "Stimson Says 15 Planes Over L.A."
The only place that 15 planes could have come from was an aircraft carrier. A thorough search of the waters off the coast, however, revealed nothing. When confronted with this technical detail, Stimson asserted that the planes may have been "enemy agents flying commercial planes to demoralize civilians, disclose anti-aircraft positions and the effectiveness of blackouts." This version of events had the added benefit of explaining why no bombs were dropped.
Knox's contradiction stirred up a hornet's nest. It started in Los Angeles, when Sheriff Eugene Biscailuz and Harold W. Kennedy of Los Angeles County's Civil Defense authority issued a statement declaring, "We jointly decry the very great damage done to civilian defense morale by the reputed statement of Secretary of the Navy Knox that today's air raid was a 'false alarm.'" Two days later, headlines reading "Raid Inquiries Demanded by Congress" and "Questioning of Knox and Stimson Urged in Los Angeles Alert" appeared in the Los Angeles Times, followed by the statement, "Reverberations from the
unclarified air raid alarm at Los Angeles early Wednesday morning continued today in the Senate and House chambers, with action shaping up for at least two Congressional inquiries into the affair."
On the night and early morning of February 24 and 25, 1942, a singular event unfolded in the skies over Southern California the continental United States was attacked by an enemy. Or was it? The reports of this vary, from a squadron of Japanese bombers, a weather balloon, and even alien spacecraft, and the subsequent government conspiracies that followed. We do know that something happened; too many people witnessed the event to dispute that fact, but what really happened?
The newspaper reports from Wednesday morning of the 25, varied wildly. The Los Angeles Examiner said that civilian witness had put the number of planes at fifty, and that three of them had been shot down over the ocean, although there was no immediate confirmation of this from Army or Navy sources. The Los Angeles Times headlines blared L.A. Area Raided, and Jap Planes Peril Santa Monica. The 77th street police station reported a downed aircraft near 180th street and Vermont. By the light of day what could be put together is that at approximately 3:10 am anti aircraft batteries that had been stationed around Southern Californias defense plants began firing their 12.8 - pound explosive charges and kept this up for fifty minutes, eventually launching over 1,400 of them. The curious thing was that not a single bomb had been dropped on the city, and not a single scrap of any aircraft was ever recovered. In fact, the only casualties were caused by the falling shrapnel and unexploded ordinance that rained in a 40 mile arc from Santa Monica to Long Beach.
Newspaper Rack, San Francisco Examiner, 6 a.m. Extra
"OUSTER OF ALL JAPS IN CALIFORNIA NEAR!"
February 27, 1942.
Early 1942 was a time of much uncertainty to many Southern Californians. Pearl harbor had been attacked just a few months earlier and many were suspicious of the large Japanese population living so close to some of Americas most strategic industries. Just twenty-four hours earlier an enemy submarine had attacked an oil refinery in Goleta, a sleepy coastal town just one hour north of Los Angeles. Although the shelling did less than $500 in damage and caused no casualties, this attack was widely reported in Los Angeles and caused some alarm among the citizenry. That an enemy submarine could surface a couple hundred yards from shore and lob shells onto the beach for thirty minutes was cause for consternation. (The fact that they appeared to be incredibly bad shots was lost on most people at the time.) The day after the air raid, in Washington, Navy Secretary Frank Knox was quoted as saying as far as I know the whole raid was a false alarm and could be attributed to jittery nerves. But did any of those one million witnesses actually see an enemy aircraft? Many will point to some sort of government cover-up or conspiracy. However, as we were at war, still stinging from Pearl Harbor, it is reasonable to assume that the United States government would want to keep an enemy attack quiet.
The physical evidence points to no aircraft at all being up there that night. As one witness, Jack Illfrey, a young p-38 pilot assigned to the 94th aero squadron stationed at Long Beach Airport reported, We pilots prayed to the good Lord above that we wouldn't be sent up in that barrage, enemy or not. Most everyone saw or imagined something Jap Zeros, P34s, Jap Betty bombers. We were not sent up. So not even American interceptors were sent up that night, thankfully, as they may likely have become victims of friendly fire. Years later it was discovered that a coastal radar station had indeed seen an inbound blip on their radar screens that night. But was this actually enemy aircraft?
Many of the eyewitness accounts of that morning were from average people with no nighttime aircraft observation experience. My own grandfather witnessed this from the roof of the (now defunct) Hollywood Reporter with several other men, and said years later that he thought he might have occasionally seen some silver objects caught in the beams of the searchlights, which, from his observation point, were to the west (Santa Monica) and south towards central Los Angeles, but could not be sure it was not the effect of two beams intersecting. He also saw shell bursts which he described as orange-red. Even some more experienced observers like Peter Jenkins, a staff reporter with the evening Herald Examiner, could not be counted as a reliable witness, as he reported that I could clearly see the V formation of about 25 silvery planes overhead moving slowly across the sky towards Long Beach. Even Long Beach chief of police J. H. McClelland claimed to have witnessed planes inbound towards Redondo Beach. He had witnessed this spectacle from the roof of the Long Beach civic center with a Naval Observer using high-powered binoculars. But again, with all that flack in the air, if there had been planes, one would expect something to get hit. Some have countered that this was an aerial reconnaissance flight, but that is highly unlikely as recon flights are traditionally high and fast and occur during the day, as there is not much to see on the ground at night.
Some more plausible theories involve errant weather balloons and even the oft-told story of several of these carrying flares, an apparent response to the alarm of panic. Although no balloons were officially recovered, the Army might have wanted to suppress embarrassing evidence of panic and misjudgment. Regardless, for batteries to be firing from all corners of Los Angeles at an errant weather balloon, even under the duress of the early days of World War II, borders on the ludicrous.
Since the 1970s some have proffered that this was caused by extraterrestrial beings flying over the coast of Los Angeles. They usually point to a famous photograph showing search lights and spots as proof. These spots are probably the detonation of Anti-Aircraft projectiles, aberrations on the film due to motion, reflections, decay of the film itself, or any of a number of things. If there was something up there, it certainly was unidentified, and according to some reports, these crafts were not like anything known to be in use at the time. But, as we have noted, the eyewitnesses themselves did not know what they had seen, and some witnesses although sure, never had their accounts verified.
Upon researching this story I happened upon the recollection of an article written for the Daily News by reporter Matt Weinstock. After the war he was talking to man who had served in one of those Army batteries and the gentleman recounted the following story.
"Early in the war things were pretty scary and the Army was setting up coastal defenses. At one of the new radar stations near Santa Monica, the crew tried in vain to arrange for some planes to fly by so that they could test the system. As no one could spare the planes at the time, they hit upon a novel way to test the radar. One of the guys bought a bag of nickel balloons and then filled them with hydrogen, attached metal wires, and let them go. Catching the offshore breeze, the balloons had the desired effect of showing up on the screens, proving the equipment was working. But after traveling a good distance offshore and to the south, the nightly onshore breeze started to push the balloons back towards the coastal cities. The coastal radar's picked up the metal wires and the searchlights swung automatically on the targets, looking on the screens as aircraft heading for the city. The ACK-ACK started firing and the rest was history."
Here we go...year three! The pleasure has been all mine. ;-)
Today is Norton update day. Be sure to download them when they arrive.
Valin had a great suggestion about the artilce I talked about. To respond to it.
Well, the newspaper that published it only allows it's readers one letter every 45 days for publication and I already had one publised earlier this month.
But, Oklahoma is conservative country so there are plenty of people out there that I'm sure will respond to these jokers.:-D
My late grandparents gave me a piece of shrapnel that they said fell on their front lawn in Burbank, CA during the war. I never knew the story until now.
I still have the 4" x 1" piece of jagged metal tucked away in my dresser, and will print out your post to go with it.
Read: Psalm 112:1-10
He will not be afraid of evil tidings; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord. Psalm 112:7
Bible In One Year: Daniel 8-10; 3 John
Several years ago, before cell phones became common, a seminar leader asked the audience, "If someone came into this meeting, called your name, and said, 'You have a phone call,' would you assume that it was good news or bad news?" Most of us admitted we would think it was bad news, but we weren't sure why.
It points out a common burden many people carrythe fear of bad news. It may be a natural concern for the safety of those we love, but it can become an irrational dread of tragedy.
When we are most afraid, we most need confidence in God. Psalm 112 speaks of a person who fears the Lord, delights in His commandments, and is gracious to others (vv.1,4-5). But perhaps most striking is: "He will not be afraid of evil tidings; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord" (v.7).
A hymn by Frances Havergal reminds us that a trusting heart is the answer for a worried mind: "Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest; finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest."
The Bible doesn't promise that we will never receive bad news. But it does assure us that we don't have to live each day in gnawing fear of what might happen. "His heart is established; he will not be afraid" (v.8). David McCasland
I heard that it was about this time that the Rose Bowl game was moved from Pasadena to the east coast -- the only time in its history. If my memory is correct, it was Pres. F.D.R. who ordered this because of threats and fears of an attack.
I thought I had a couple of pics of Jack Illfrey's P-38 named "Happy Jack's Go Buggy" but alas no luck. However I am glad to be able to sub this aptly named P-38 in it's place.
El Heffe at the Army/Navy game.
On This Day In History
Birthdates which occurred on December 08:
0065 BC Horace Rome, lyric poet/satirist (Satire, Odes)
1626 Christina, queen of Sweden who abdicated after becoming Catholic
1731 Frantisek Xaver Dusek, composer
1765 Eli Whitney (inventor: cotton gin and uniformity method of musket manufacturing: beginning of mass production)
1828 Clinton Bowen Fisk Bvt Major General (Union volunteers), died in 1890
1828 Robert Bullock Brig General (Confederate Army), died in 1905
1861 William Crapo Durant founded General Motors
1861 Aristide Maillol, France, painter/sculptor (Seated Woman)
1865 Jean Sibelius, Tavastehus Finland, composer (Valse Triste, Finlandia)
1879 Paul Klee, Swiss/German painter/tutor (Bauhaus)
1886 Diego Rivera, Mexico, painter
1894 James Thurber (writer: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, My World and Welcome to It, The Last Flower, Is Sex Necessary?)
1899 James "Pigmeat" Jarrett pianist
1899 Sarah Williamson US missionary in Liberia
1925 Hank (Henry) Thompson (baseball)
1925 Jimmy Smith (modern jazz organist: Walk on the Wild Side)
1925 Sammy Davis Jr. (entertainer, singer: The Candy Man, What Kind of Fool Am I, Faraway Places; member: The Rat Pack)
1930 Flip (Clerow) Wilson (comedian: The Flip Wilson Show: Geraldine: "The Devil Made Me Do It!")
1930 Maximilian Schell (Academy Award-winning actor: Judgment at Nuremberg ; The Odessa File)
1936 David Carradine (actor: Kung Fu; acting family: son of John, brother of Keith and Robert)
1937 James MacArthur (actor: Hawaii Five-O: Dano of "Book 'em, Dano"; son of Helen Hayes)
1939 James Galway, Belfast Ireland, flutist (18k gold flute, Royal Phil)
1939 Jerry Butler (singer: For Your Precious Love, He Will Break Your Heart, Only the Strong Survive, group: The Impressions)
1943 Jim Morrison ('The Lizard King': singer: group: The Doors: Light My Fire, Love Her Madly, Riders on the Storm)
1947 Gregg Allman (musician: keyboards, guitar, vocal: group: Allman Brothers: Ramblin' Man; Cher's ex)
1953 Kim Basinger (actress)
1964 Teri Hatcher Sunnyvale CA, actress (Lois Lane-Lois & Clark)
Ah, but there is no time on the net.
Prayer for a Freeper's Husband
Self | 12-07-04 | Brad's Gramma
Posted on 12/08/2004 12:09:35 AM CST by Brad's Gramma
Dear Freeper Friends, I would like to ask you for prayer for a fellow Freeper, fatima. Her husband had a heart attack yesterday, and I'm really sorry, but I don't have anything more than that.
Her little baby Granddaughter, Sara, is also in need of prayer. She's about 3 to 3-1/2 weeks old and has had to return to the hospital. She's had a spinal tap, a high fever and was tested for meningitis. Last I heard, she's not out yet.
fatima's got a PLATE full, to say the least! Any and ALL prayer for she and her family is coveted.
Good morning! Falling in for a great read this morning. Fascinating thread - thanks so much!
I hope things are going well for you today.
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