Posted by: notsofancynancy | April 2, 2014

The Battle of Los Angeles

The Battle of Los Angeles

February 1942 was a scary time for those who lived in the United States. Two months earlier Pearl Harbor had been bombed making the world question what would be next. It also brought the war to our turf.

Nine days after the bombing the 110th Quartermaster, my father’s regiment, boarded trains headed to Fort Ord in northern California where they were sent to help “guard the coast.”

Marvin Cain wrote "Odell, Byfield, Hayes, Blank"  Courtesy of the Cain Family

Marvin Cain’s buddies at the beach near Fort Ord, California, 1942. Marvin Cain wrote “Odell, Byfield, Hayes, Blank” Courtesy of the Cain Family


Dad was assigned to a kitchen truck which was needed because these men did not get the luxury of sleeping at the “fort.” They were ordered to drive the trucks, men, and supplies up into the forest and make camp there. They were under blackout orders and I know it was cold and dark. Dad mentions a couple of things about this time. One was he and Bob Winter tried to burn the kitchen truck down trying to keep warm by lighting the stove. Second how dark it really was. He told of trying to go back to his tent after guard duty and he had a real hard time finding his way. Once he found another man in the wrong bed because he could not find his own.

From Marvin Cain's collection the "Kitchen."

From Marvin Cain’s collection the “Kitchen.”

In January they were sent further south to San Luis Obispo which is about 161 miles from Los Angeles. This is where they were during the Battle of Los Angeles. I am not sure why I did not know about this event but I have to believe that each one of the men of the 110thQuartermaster heard of this incident and I am sure they were all on high alert until the facts were sorted out, but could they be?

Late night, 24 February 1942 the people of Los Angeles would be scared out of their wits. I am sure most of them were sleeping and woke out of a sound sleep when air raid sirens, and anti-aircraft fire began and rocked their world. The city was put on mandatory blackout and thousands of air raid wardens were called to their post. I know if I was there I would have been under the bed.

According to

During the night of 24/25 February 1942, unidentified objects caused a succession of alerts in southern California. On the 24th, a warning issued by naval intelligence indicated that an attack could be expected within the next ten hours. That evening a large number of flares and blinking lights were reported from the vicinity of defense plants. An alert called at 1918 [7:18 p.m., Pacific time] was lifted at 2223, and the tension temporarily relaxed.

But early in the morning of the 25th renewed activity began. Radars picked up an unidentified target 120 miles west of Los Angeles. Antiaircraft batteries were alerted at 0215 and were put on Green Alert—ready to fire—a few minutes later. The AAF kept its pursuit planes on the ground, preferring to await indications of the scale and direction of any attack before committing its limited fighter force.

Radars tracked the approaching target to within a few miles of the coast, and at 0221 the regional controller ordered a blackout. 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

Los Angeles Times, 26 February 1942

Los Angeles Times, 26 February 1942

Probably much of the confusion came from the fact that anti-aircraft shell bursts, caught by the searchlights, were themselves mistaken for enemy planes. In any case, the next three hours produced some of the most imaginative reporting of the war: “swarms” of planes (or, sometimes, balloons) of all possible sizes, numbering from one to several hundred, traveling at altitudes which ranged from a few thousand feet to more than 20,000 and flying at speeds which were said to have varied from “very slow” to over 200 miles per hour, were observed to parade across the skies.

These mysterious forces dropped no bombs and, despite the fact that 1,440 rounds of anti-aircraft ammunition were directed against them, suffered no losses. There were reports, to be sure, that four enemy planes had been shot down, and one was supposed to have landed in flames at a Hollywood intersection.

Residents in a forty-mile arc along the coast watched from hills or rooftops as the play of guns and searchlights provided the first real drama of the war for citizens of the mainland. The dawn, which ended the shooting and the fantasy, also proved that the only damage which resulted to the city was such as had been caused by the excitement (there was at least one death from heart failure), by traffic accidents in the blacked-out streets, or by shell fragments from the artillery barrage.

Los Angeles Times 26 February 1942 Cropped

Los Angeles Times 26 February 1942 Cropped. Look at how the spotlights end on the object instead of continuing on as it would if nothing was there.

Attempts to arrive at an explanation of the incident quickly became as involved and mysterious as the “battle” itself. The Navy immediately insisted that there was no evidence of the presence of enemy planes, and [Secretary of the Navy], Frank Knox announced at a press conference on 25 February that the raid was just a false alarm. At the same conference he admitted that attacks were always possible and indicated that vital industries located along the coast ought to be moved inland.

What came next was a lot of confusion over what it was in the sky that night. It was even more confusing as the logical explanation was ruled out. We know what it was not. It was not a Japanese plane as originally thought, not a plane at all. Whatever it was, was not shot out of the sky or was it? Was it a weather balloon as the government told or was this one of the first mass UFO sighting as conspiracy theorist these days believe?

On 20 April 1942 my father’s company which had been sent to the west coast to help “guard” it, was sent to Van Nuys, California which is a suburb of Los Angeles. Did this move have anything to do with the Battle of Los Angeles? How does one guard against such a thing? They would remain there until they went back to San Luis Obispo in January of 1943 that is a whole nine months! Interesting, if I say so myself.

So what do you think it was?


  1. Me? A UFO!! Actually, three local residents died indirectly from the “air raid” and the ensuing chaos. Our nearby Ft. MacArthur was also guilty of firing a few rounds.

    • It is quite curious. I am not sure why I did not know about it. When I saw a piece on TV about it I know my soldiers were in California and I had to check it out.

      One guy for tv said that the shrapnel rained down on LA for over and hour. They have a group of witnesses who meet every year. I know it must have been a scary incident.

      • You should think about stopping by the their little museum one of these days. You can go to the beach later!

      • Whoa! A museum I did not know of? I am going to HAVE to check it out!

      • It is small… 🙂 Just north of the Friendship Bell.

      • My hubby use to live in Gardena and he said he knows where it is but has not been there. I know where the bell you talk of is.

  2. Notice that each of the beams of light is slightly darker just before the “object”. The object is merely the intersection of those light beams. None of them is particularly powerful beyond the intersection, since they are even less powerful than before the intersection. That is, it’s your mind tricking you into thinking they are focused on something. Take several flashlights outside at night and have them cross near where each starts to dissipate. It should produce the same effect.

    Radar was little understood and notoriously unreliable as a completely new technology, so a phantom reading is not at all surprising. I am sure that 2 years later, the radar operators would have understood what they were seeing far better. My guess is that it was either a glitch in one radar or a cloud that they misread as a swarm of airplanes.

    • I guess I am just glad it was not a swarm of planes. Everyone was paranoid from Pearl Harbor and then they were put on alert and that an attack “could” happen I am sure they were on edge.

      Interesting to learn a little more of how it could have happened. Being at the beach and February I could not rule out a cloud if one could show up on radar.

  3. I have no clue what it was, but that sounds scary to me :o) Many thanks for such an interesting post.

    • Like I said I would have been under the bed. I may have still be under it! lol

  4. A real conundrum! Luckily not the real thing.

  5. The Japanese did send balloons loaded with explosives to the West Coast. One landed in a forest in Washington or Oregon. It exploded when curious onlookers investigated. I don’t know what the time frame was.

    • Oh interesting I did not about the balloons with explosives!

      • On September 9, 1942, a Japanese seaplane, launched from a submarine, did bomb an area near Brookings, Oregon:

        In late 1944 and early 1945, Japan attempted to bomb the United States using balloons carrying incendiary bombs. Some 9,300 were launched, and 300 are known to have found their way to the Pacific Northwest: Six people were killed by one of them on May 5, 1945. I wonder if any of the balloon bombs might still be hanging in the trees 70 years later.

      • Very interesting! I will check it out!

  6. This is really very interesting. I didn’t know this part of the war’s history. Fascinating! Thank you for writing about this!! ~Susan

    • When I saw a program about it I knew that my dad was in California at that time and I found it fascinating. What a scare it was for those back then.

  7. oh how scary. I read David Navarre’s reply and though, ‘that made sense’ Thank goodness the mainland never had the same attack as Pearl Harbour. Nice to see you Nancy!

    • Nice to see you too Boomde! I can’t imagine how scared everyone involved was and yes David response makes sense. I am also glad it was not a real attack!

  8. I believe the Steven Spielberg movie “1941”,, was partly based upon this particular incident of lunacy and others. “1941”, released by Universal Pictures in 1979, starred John Belushi, Dan Ackroyd, Ned Beatty, John Candy, Slim Pickens, Robert Stack, and a host of others.

    • Interesting I am going to have to watch this, thanks!

      • Years ago, I worked with a retired Army colonel who as a young enlisted man had been stationed in California in 1941/42 at the Presidio in San Francisco. He told me a number of stories about some of the things that occurred in the early months of World War II along the Pacific Coast. According to him, there were people, among both the military and civilian populations, that became quite hysterical. “1941” is a motion picture comedy, but it reflects some of the stories told by the colonel.

      • oooo I have Netflix and 1941 is there and I will watch it…. thanks!
        If you read my chapter 10 “California” ( my mom’s father lost his farm in Kansas and heads to Pasadena, California to go to government funded welding school. He talks about a black out one night while he was in class. He walked the seven blocks home only to be stopped quite often by the Air Raid Wardens that are located every several blocks. Apparently you were not suppose to walk anywhere during a blackout. Pop never did see any plane or really anything he thought could have cause the alarm. Pop was not impressed but apparently the Wardens were serious about their jobs. It is all very interesting to me. Thanks for the comment and reading Dad’s story.

      • Yes, I read your Chapter 10 posting and found it very interesting. I think they wanted people off the streets during black outs to prevent people from being injured and as a deterrent to looting or other crimes.

      • It was certainly a different time. I did a little research about black outs when I wrote this chapter and it amazed me to learn how afraid they were. I agree with your comment though. Once again thanks for reading. Dad tells of going on a black out drive I think while training. I can’t imagine driving in the dark and I am sure they did not wait until a full moon to do it. haha I guess someone found a ditch. I am so glad I took on this project. I learned so much! it was a mush different time.

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