1942--Los Angeles Attacked

If you had ancestors living in or near Los Angles, California in early 1942, they may have been a part of a most unusual and frightening event, one not known by most people.

In the months after December 7, 1941, the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, America was on edge, especially in California. There had been seven Japanese submarines patrolled the American West Coast. They sank two merchant ships and damaged six more. On February 23, 1942, there was the report of a Japanese submarine which had fired on an oilfield near Santa Barbara. The submarine had uses its 5½-inch deck gun to shell an oil refinery near Santa Barbara. The attack lasted about 20 minutes, which caused little damage to the Ellwood refinery.

The U. S. Naval intelligence indicated an enemy attack was imminent. It was believed the subs would head south to Los Angeles. So the next day, when radar detected an unidentified aircraft heading toward Los Angeles, the city turned into a battlefield.

After the object appeared onscreen, officials ordered a city-wide blackout. Sirens sounded. As there was no Moon that night, making Los Angeles plunge into total darkness. The city’s anti-aircraft batteries were readied for action when suddenly someone sighted a balloon carrying a red flare. Suddenly, the night sky turned into a terrifying light show. The military fired over 1,400 rounds into the air, and soldiers spotted all kinds of planes traveling at varying speeds and at wildly different altitudes. Imagine if you had relatives living there then how they must have felt.

But when the smoke cleared, there were no signs of an invasion, and the Navy quickly claimed the incident was due to jitters. The U. S. Army wasn’t so sure, mentioning the possibility of enemy aircraft. But where had they come from, and where did they go? The Army didn’t know. These conflicting reports prompted criticism from the government and major newspapers. Things were especially bad since all that anti-aircraft shrapnel had caused property damage of homes and businesses, plus two citizens had died due to heart attacks due to the stress and three others died due to traffic accidents during the chaos.

So what really happened that night? The belief years later finally it was probably a lost weather balloon. When one drifted over L.A., the soldiers freaked out. Making things worse, the sky was dark and full of smoke, so shell bursts were probably mistaken for Japanese planes.

So check ancestors lived there at that time and include this event in the family history.

Photos: Images of the explosions over LA on February 24, 1942.

Related FamilyTree.com Blogs:

California News

California Digital Newspapers

California Birth Records 1905-1995

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