Battle of Los Angeles (Feb. 25, 1942)
A total blackout was ordered as thousands of air raid wardens took up 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 the 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.
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). Several buildings and vehicles were also damaged by shell fragments. The incident was front-page news along the U.S. Pacific coast, and earned some mass media coverage throughout the nation.
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Beginning on the evening of February 24, 1942, Los Angeles came under attack in an event most commonly called "The Battle of Los Angeles". After a recent attack from a Japanese submarine off the coast of California, the military was on high alert. There was also rumors of a planned air attack by Japanese planes. Reports of unidentified flying objects starting coming in which included several reports of blinking lights and flares.
During the early morning of february 25, 1942, a coast artillery colonel spotted "about 25 planes at 12,000 feet" over Los Angeles.
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Hours later, Frank Knox, who was the secretary of the Navy held a press conference stating that the whole event was just a "false alarm" due to "war nerves".
Some of the press suspected a cover up. A story in the Long Beach Independent wrote:
"There is a mysterious reticence about the whole affair and it appears that some form of censorship is trying to halt discussion on the matter."
Theories ran rampant. Some speculated that there was a secret base in Northern Mexico, plane-carrying Japanese submarines off the California coast and even a staged event by the military to move coastal forces further inland.
Leland Ford, representative of Santa Monica called for a Congressional investigation into the event stating:
"...none of the explanations so far offered removed the episode from the category of 'complete mystification' ... this was either a practice raid, or a raid to throw a scare into 2,000,000 people, or a mistaken identity raid, or a raid to lay a political foundation to take away Southern California's war industries."
Secretary Stenson offered two theories to the War Department. One being that they were commercial planes flown by the enemy and launched from secret fields in California or Mexico. Or they were small planes launched from Japanese submarines. Either way, Stinson speculated the whole incident was to learn the location of anti-aircraft defenses or to deliver a blow to civilian morale.
The next day, even though several reports of downed craft were reported, the city had sustained damage from the 1,440 rounds of anti-aircraft ammunition to its buildings as well as a few deaths. No downed crafts were ever found....according to the military.