vintage, nostalgia and memories


April 14, 2017

Battle of Los Angeles: A 1942 UFO's Invasion?

The Battle of Los Angeles, also known as The Great Los Angeles Air Raid, is the name given by contemporary sources to the rumored enemy attack and subsequent anti-aircraft artillery barrage which took place from late 24 February to early 25 February 1942 over Los Angeles, California.

A Los Angeles Times photo of searchlights in the skies during the air raid. (Los Angeles Times)

The incident occurred less than three months after the United States entered World War II as a result of the Japanese Imperial Navy's attack on Pearl Harbor, and one day after the bombardment of Ellwood on 23 February.

The 37th Coast Artillery fired preemptive shells into the air at unidentified objects. 25 planes were reportedly sighted as the sky lit up with artillery strikes. 1,400 shells were fired into the night sky and the all-clear was only given at 7.21am. Five US civilians died in the confusion from car accidents and heart attacks.

Page B of the February 26, 1942, Los Angeles Times, showing the coverage of the so-called Battle of Los Angeles and its aftermath (lots of articles on people finding dud shells, unexploded ordnance, etc.

As morning broke, the news came through that the entire night’s firing was a false alarm. But what did the anti-aircraft teams see and what did they fire at?

The following ideas were put forward: (some plausible, some nuts)
  • Japanese psychological warfare
  • Japanese submarines off the coast of L.A.
  • US military false alarm
  • Secret Axis base in Northern Mexico
  • There was also a UFO theory but we’ll leave that to conspiracy theorists…
The official reason was given the morning after. The Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox held a press conference, saying the entire incident was a false alarm due to anxiety and war nerves. It was most likely the anti-aircraft shell bursts that were caught in the searchlights and mistaken for enemy aircraft. The incident was then seemingly laid to rest as the USA waded into the war.

A man cleaning up friendly fire damage from the air rad. (Peter Stackpole/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

The event was brought back into the public eye by the Stephen Spielberg film 1941. A comedy movie, it mocked the events and the fear in the USA at the time. Later in 1983, the Office of Air Force History concluded that meteorological balloons were the cause of the alarm and panic. Their official report can be seen here.

Anti-aircraft guns similar to those that would have been used that night in California. (Getty Images)

The February 26th edition of The Galveston Daily News pointing out where the mystery aircraft was reported.

World War II-era anti-aircraft spotlights. (Bettmann/Getty Images)

So, all in all a very unfortunate episode for the USA. It just goes to show how war can affect whole communities and even nations psychologically.

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