The battle of Los Angeles UFO story
One of the most popular UFO stories that appears on the internet is the infamous “Battle of Los Angeles” UFO. Most of it is based on memories of individuals,
who claim they saw a UFO/exotic craft/alien spaceship that night but is this really true?
Warm up acts
December 7th, 1941 is a date most Americans recognize with little thought. However, what transpired in the next few months on the west coast is not so widely known. In Hawaii, there was concern about an amphibious invasion
right after the attack. In retrospect, that seemed highly unlikely because transporting sufficient Japanese troops would have slowed down the fast carrier strike force that attacked Pearl Harbor.
Meanwhile, the west coast of the United States braced for potential invasion or air attack from Japanese aircraft carriers. Air defense units were activated and put on alert over major air bases and cities. Citizens began to look up for potential attacking
airplanes and began to see them. Just one day after Pearl Harbor, San Francisco
thought it was under attack by a Japanese carrier!
General DeWitt, who was in charge of defenses on the west coast, was upset at the response by the community of San Francisco as they did not observe the blackout.
He would remark the next day:
Those planes were over this community for a definite length of time. They were enemy planes, and I mean Japanese planes. They were detected and followed to sea….it is surprising the apathy of the people of San Francisco. Last night (Mondaynight) proved there are more damn fools in San Francisco than I ever believed existed. Only by the grace of God was San Francisco saved from catastrophe. 1
There never were any real airplanes from this “raid” but it shows the response by the military upper echelon to the news they were at war. After Pearl Harbor, it was better to overreact than not react at all. Citizens seemed to have taken these remarks seriously and started to look up for potentially threatening aircraft. The planet Venus, which happened to be prominently visible in the west after sunset, became a cause for alarm. According to news reports in mid-December, Venus caused quite a few reports of enemy planes and the police had to assure the callers it was only a planet.
Making matters worse for the military was the poor amount of intelligence. The code breakers were busy trying to figure out the Japanese codes and essentially were stumbling in the dark trying to figure out the Imperial Japanese Navy’s next move. Meanwhile, the west coast intelligence seemed to be based mostly on rumors from the Japanese community:
A Jap informant in Los Angeles, for instance, reported to Headquarters 11th Naval district that there was a strong rumor among Japanese families, presumably based on a short wave radio report from Japan, that on 18 February the West Coast would be bombed.2 Starting the 7th of February, the west coast braced for potential acts of sabotage/
attack. When nothing happened by the 18th, the alert was extended by General DeWitt to the 15th of March. Meanwhile, a report came in on the 23rd of February that an attack was going to happen that night. Not more than an hour later, a Japanese submarine surfaced off the coast of Ellwood, California and shelled some oil installations for twenty minutes. No damage of significance was reported but it fueled the concern by residents that the Japanese were planning something significant on the west coast. The stage was set for the “Battle of Los Angeles”.
The US Army had numerous anti-aircraft batteries by various defense installations on the west coast. They also had radar to help them detect intruding aircraft. However, this radar was not the fancy kind of radar people are familiar with today. There was no sweeping trace that plotted the echoes on a neat display. Instead, they were highly complex machinery that required several operators to obtain the necessary data of elevation, range, and distance. The two principle radars used in the Battle of Los Angeles appear to have been the SCR-270 and SCR-268.
The SCR-270 (pictured below) was a long range radar that displayed the signal for aircraft in what was known as an A-scope. It would indicate the range for a given echo but its direction usually was read by looking at what direction the radar was actually pointing. As a result, the operators could only notice that there was a target at a distance in a given direction but could not determine accurately how many targets or their altitude.
The SCR-268 (pictured above) was more complex in the way it was operated. It was to be coupled with the searchlights and anti-aircraft batteries. It was a short range radar that had three operators monitoring their oscilloscope display and operating their own controls. Between the three operators, they could determine distance, altitude, and direction. It required teamwork, training, and proficiency to have the unit perform properly.
The night of February 24-25th
On the night of the 24th of February, Naval Intelligence expected an attack within the next ten hours. They probably expected a repeat of the submarine incident the night before. After the alert of an expected attack, the 37th Brigade Headquarters received numerous reports of flares and “lights” near the defense plants and oil fields. After midnight, air defense radars began to report contacts. At 0200, one contact had been picked up 120 miles west of Los Angeles and seemed to be tracked coming within 3 miles of Los Angeles at 0227. At 0221, a blackout had been ordered. At this point, the batteries were keyed up to expect to see something and the “attack” began.
The history of the 4th AA command documents the following sequence of events:
0243 - Unidentified planes spotted between Seal and Long Beach.
0306 - A balloon carrying a flare was spotted over Santa Monica. It was ordered destroyed by the Anti-aircraft controller.
0328 - A battery near the Douglas aircraft plant in Long Beach, reported 25-30 bombers overhead.
0333 - Batteries in Artesia fired on 15 planes that flew out to sea over Long Beach.
0355 - More ammunition was used over Santa Monica on what was reported to be another balloon.
0403 - 15 planes reported over the Douglas plant in Long Beach
0405 - Batteries in Long Beach reported firing at targets.
0409 - 15 more planes reported over the Douglas plant.
0413 - Another 15 planes reported over the Douglas plant.
0455 - A report was made that the Douglas plant had been bombed but not hit.
Based on this information, it seems that the activity started in Santa Monica, west of downtown Los Angeles. The media reported:
All of the action, clearly spotlighted for ground observers by 20 or 30 searchlights, was just a few miles west of Los Angeles proper....Anti-aircraft guns fired steadily for two minute periods, were silent for about 45 seconds, and continued that routine nearly half an hour.3 Additionally, the batteries near the Douglas plant in Long Beach seemed to have added to the confusion. This implied that the planes were flying from Santa Monica to Long Beach and then out to sea. Considering they were protecting an important defense installation, it is not unexpected that they would have “itchy trigger fingers” once the “battle” commenced.
The media had a field day as the Army and Navy began to figure out what happened. The Army conducted an investigation, where they interviewed various personnel, who were probably very tired and confused about what actually transpired. In the History of the 4th AA command (available at the CUFON web site), there is a description of the reports that were made. Several reported seeing aircraft in various formations but none mentioned a single large aircraft. It was important to note that many reports indicated
the SCR-268 radars used did not report any contacts even though observers were reporting aircraft.
The testimony of Colonel Henry C. Davis, executive officer and acting commanding officer of the 37th Brigade, was very revealing concerning perception issues that night. He originally thought he saw 10-15 planes over Inglewood but then decided it was just smoke from the anti-aircraft bursts. He opined that there probably were never any planes at all.
The Navy was the first to issue a statement.
The Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox, declared that there were no planes and it was a false alarm. The 4th Air Force felt there were no planes over Los Angeles and the Western Defense Command felt that many of the reports were exaggerations.
However, the Army looked at the statements by the witnesses and felt there was something to these reports. They concluded that at least one to five planes were over the city. The Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, would state that up to fifteen planes were involved. It was suspected they may have been flown by saboteurs with bases in the desert or Mexico. It was also suggested they possibly could have been flown from submarines, which had this capability.
The media had a field day with this “difference of opinion”. This cartoon from the March 9, 1942 edition of Newsweek pretty much represents the attitude concerning the conflicting statements.
The media accounts
While the military talked to the various individuals in their command structure and some civilian personnel, the media reported what others saw and received all sorts of conflicting reports. Because the reports seemed to start in Santa Monica and have moved towards Long Beach, they guessed it may have been a dirigible because it took so long to travel that distance. This seemed to be confirmed by a Gardena air raid warden, who stated he saw anti-aircraft destroy a “big bag that looked something like a balloon”.4
While this report described a single object, many more individuals seemed to see formations of aircraft. Several reported seeing aircraft “destroyed” or “shot down”.
During the blackout police telephones were busy with-reports that airplanes had fallen here and there...Another report, discounted by officials along with some of the others, was that gunfire had destroyed a big floating bag resembling a balloon high in the air.
Long Beach police were reported to have seen two waves of aircraft head out to sea. They also reported that several anti-aircraft bursts were near these planes but none were hit. When interviewed, Long Beach chief of police J. H. McClelland , who watched from the top of city hall, stated:
Personally, I did not see any planes. But younger men with me said they could.
While some saw aircraft or blimps, others saw absolutely nothing. Minard Fawcett of Redondo Beach reported:
My wife and I were certain we observed about 15 planes trapped in the cone of light from the searchlight batteries. Later we decided the smoke clouds had confused us and that what we saw were merely puffs of smoke from the shells.
Even binoculars did not seem to help some observers:
Don Black of Douglas Aircraft said he followed the lights with binoculars but could not observe the planes.
Time exposure photograph of the sky somewhere on the outskirts of Los Angeles. Photograph taken by Al Monteverde and published in Life Magazine on March 9, 1942 (page 22). The star trails indicate the photograph was taken looking south and show the constellations of Lupus and Centaurus. Based on the apparent positions of the stars, the time is between 3:10 and 3:30 AM (I computed 3:19am but there is margin for error). According to the article, the blur at left of center is an anti-aircraft burst. Notice how the beams tend to terminate at one bright spot where the beams converge. The longer exposure time captured the beams beyond these convergence points. There are no UFOs or aircraft visible in this photograph.
To add to the confusion of anti-aircraft bursts and 20-30 searchlight beams converging on spots in the sky, Anti-Aircraft batteries were firing flares. Byron Box, of the Pacific Coast Petroleum Industry’s public relation committee, saw the display from Altadena. He reported, Besides the anti-aircraft bursts, there appeared to be 10 or 12 huge red flares fired into the air.
Ted Gill, an AP staff correspondent, wrote: Some awed spectators swore they saw formations of planes; others contended the objective looked more like a blimp; others said it could be - but they couldn’t see a doggone thing.
Newsweek seemed to pick up on this report and stated:
Excited civilian observers reported that they saw planes in flights ranging from one to 200...Police said a large blimp or balloon had been seen blundering among the shrapnel bursts over the city. More cynical and quiet observers saw nothing at all.
The most interesting account came from Ernie Pyle, who wrote about it in his March 5th, 1942 “Roving Reporter” column. He was fascinated by the operations of the searchlights and commented how the beams appeared in the spot they focused upon:
They all converged into a big blue spot in the heavens. And that spot moved very slowly but very definitely across the sky, with never a falter. Of all the many straight blue lines shooting upward to that one spot, not one ever wavered, or got lost, or had to fish or “feel” around for the target. They held it and moved with it across the sky, like a leech that would not let go.
I could not see anything in that spot, for it was some 20 miles away. But, I could see the anti-aircraft shells bursting around it. Now and then one seemed to burst right in the spot.
Pyle had experienced the events in London and was somewhat familiar with what these kinds of barrages looked like. However, the crews of these batteries and the civilian community had never experienced such a massive barrage at night and were going to make mistakes in identifying what they saw. Writing after the war about the incident, William Goss would state:
Probably much of the confusion came from the fact that antiaircraft 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 10,000 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.
It is most interesting that misperception, the same problem associated with UFO reports, seems to have played a critical role in this event.
The trip wire
The media reported that firing started around 0305. This is the same approximate time that the 4th Air defense command’s history states that batteries in Santa Monica were ordered to shoot down a balloon with a flare. Weather balloons launched at night usually had a paper lantern attached which contained a candle for visual tracking purposes.
A pilot balloon drawing from 1942 showing the attachment of a candle for night use.
Just as things started to die down, another balloon was sighted at 0355 and got the barrage started again. By the time the gunfire ceased, over 1400 rounds of ammunition seem to have been expended because of two weather balloons.
In 1949, Colonel John Murphy, who was part of the investigative team, would write:
At brigade headquarters there was much gloom. No one knew exactly what had happened. Maj. Gen. Jacob Fickel and Col. (later Maj. Gen.)Samuel Kepner flew down from San Francisco and with the writer constituted a board to investigate the firing. We interrogated approximately 60 witnesses - civilians, Army, Navy and Air commissioned and enlisted personnel. Roughly about half the witnesses were sure they saw planes in the sky. One flier vividly described 10 planes in V formation. The other half saw nothing. The elevation operator of an antiaircraft director looking through his scope saw many planes. His azimuth operator looking through a parallel scope on the same instrument did not see any planes. Among the facts developed was that the firing had been ordered by the young Air Force controller on duty at the Fighter Command operations room. Someone reported a balloon in the sky. He, of course, visualized a German or Japanese zeppelin. Someone tried to explain it was not that kind of balloon, but he was adamant and ordered firing to start (which he had no authority to do). Once the firing started, imagination created all kinds of targets in the sky and everyone joined in. Well, after all these years, the true story can be told. One of the AA Regiments (we still had Regiments) sent up a meteorological balloon about 1:00 AM. That was the balloon that started all the shooting! When quiet had settled down on the “embattled” City of the Angels, a different regiment, alert and energetic as always, decided some “met” data was needed. Felt it had not done so well in the “battle” and thought a few weather corrections might help. So they sent up a balloon, and hell broke loose again. (Note: Both balloons, as I remember, floated away majestically and safely.) But the inhabitants of Los Angeles felt very happy. They had visual and auricular assurance that they were well protected. And the AA gunners were happy! They had fired more rounds than they would have been authorized to fire in 10 peacetime years’ target practices.
The unit histories describe this order to shoot down a balloon so the basic facts described by Colonel Murphy are accurate even though I think the 1AM launch time of the balloon may not be correct.
William Gross also agrees with this conclusion in Volume I of The Army Air Forces in World War II:
A careful study of the evidence suggests that meteorological balloons - known to have been released over Los Angeles - may well have caused the initial alarm. This theory is supported by the fact that antiaircraft artillery units were officially criticized for having wasted ammunition on targets which moved too slowly to have been airplanes. After the firing started, careful observation was difficult because of drifting smoke from shell bursts.
Once the first battery opened up on the balloon, others joined in the “fight” and it became a free for all. The balloon may, or may not, have been destroyed. Anti-Aircraft (AA) fire in 1942 was not that accurate.
The US Navy records for 3” AA fire (the majority of the gunfire was from this type of gun) indicate a kill rate against planes of less than 1% in 1942 (The US Navy crews in 1942 were more experienced and were shooting predominantly in daylight). One also has to wonder about how many crews set their fuses properly (or not at all) and what percentage of these shells were ‘duds”. In any case, it really does not matter if they shot the balloon down or not because once the firing started, the crews were firing at just about anything including their own shell bursts.
Evolution of the UFO story
In the early days of UFOlogy, no one, apparently, considered interpreting the “Battle of Los Angeles” as a UFO event. NICAP’s 1964 Best Evidence document seems to have ignored it. The first mention of it as a UFO event seems to have been made as far back as 1966, when M. A. McCartney wrote a letter to NICAP about a red UFO that did strange aerial maneuvers that night. In the late 1960s, several books included the story at some level. Some simply repeated the LA times articles on the events, while others added a few extra details. It really became part of the UFO chronology in the late 1980s when in 1987, Paul T. Collins wrote an article for Fate called, “World War II UFO scare”. Timothy Good also mentioned it in his book, “Above Top Secret” released in 1988 citing an article written by Collins in 1968. Jerome Clark would include it in his UFO encyclopedia quoting from several 1960 sources. By the mid-1990s, the internet became the prime source of information as people dug for the smallest details in the historical record that supported the UFO version of events. These writings tended to omit the historical context under which this all occurred and only highlighted the portions they felt applied.
This was obvious in the 1987 Collins’ article.
It was basically a synopsis of the historical events reported by the media with an ET bias. The most interesting part of the story was one paragraph that seemed to reflect UFOlogical thinking on this case: When eyewitness reports from thousands searching the skies with binoculars under the bright lights of the coast artillery verified the presence of one enormous, unidentifiable, indestructible object - but not the presence of large numbers of planes - the press releases were gradually scaled downward.
This is not accurate based on the historical record. Collins seems to have exaggerated the claim that “thousands” saw a huge singular object that night. The truth of the matter is that most did not see any sort of object, others thought they saw individual planes in formation, and some thought they might have seen a balloon/dirigible. There is no consensus on what was seen making it far from certain that a huge craft was present.
In recent years, individuals have stepped forward with their own personal stories of that night. Some of them were very young at the time, so the accuracy of these recollections have to be suspect. These memories may have been influenced by the one photograph that has become an important piece of evidence that a genuine UFO was involved.
Probably the best evidence presented for the presence of a “true” UFO (with the implication that it was an alien spaceship) is the photograph that appeared in the LA Times, the NY Times, and Time magazine. The paper states it shows the searchlights focusing on an object over Culver City. It stands to reason this photograph was taken from Los Angeles and was looking in the direction of Santa Monica (the same direction as Culver City). Santa Monica was where the batteries first commenced firing at that pesky
Dr. Maccabee did a lengthy analysis of the photograph and determined it could have been an object behind the beams of light. However, we do not know what conditions existed at the time of the photograph (i.e. camera settings, film speed,, etc) and if the center of the light beams are not simply overexposed. Compared to the LIFE magazine photograph, it seems this image was not that long an exposure because no stars were recorded.
It is possible that the original negative was underexposed and, in order to get a print that showed all the details of the faint beams and horizon, they printed it in such a way that overexposed the convergence of the beams. There are also numerous AA bursts in the vicinity of the area where all the searchlights converge. Either the photographer exposed his film at “the height of the battle” or there may have been some “artistic license” involved in order to make the photograph look more exciting.
As described in the unit histories, a great deal of smoke had been produced by these AA bursts. This smoke provided something from which the searchlight beams could reflect. Since searchlights are a circular beam, the beam would produce a circular appearance against a cloud of smoke just like this photograph, which appeared in Allan Hendry’s “UFOinvestigator’s handbook”.
Ernie Pyle even commented on how the searchlights formed a circle of light in the sky, which confirms that this is probably what was being recorded in this photograph.
One can see a similar effect in this LIFE magazine photograph taken in 1939.
Searchlight exercise in the Panama Canal Zone. Photograph by Thomas D. Mcavoy for LIFE magazine.
The lack of any UFO in the LIFE magazine photograph on page 19, indicates that this effect was recorded by this one photograph. A photograph appearing on page 8 of the Long Beach Independent on February 27th also showed no UFO but plenty of searchlight beams. Until other photographs surface showing this same object, one can not consider this photograph as good evidence of anything but searchlights converging at one point in the sky with the central area probably being overexposed.
What was eventually concluded by the military officials and historians was that there were never any piloted (ET or human) craft in the skies that night and that the cause of the barrage probably was the order to shoot down a weather balloon. UFOlogists seem to have latched onto bits and pieces from the media that confirm their belief that this was some form of UFO event. The failure of the unit histories to mention any large craft impervious to AA fire is something that seems to have been ignored.
The recent addition of witnesses who claim “they know what they saw” has spiced up the story. One has to wonder about how accurate their recollections are and why such vivid descriptions of exotic craft did not appear in any of the military or media reports. It is more likely what they are saying today are recollections based on all the activity that was happening in the sky that night. With a little urging from UFO investigators, seeing the photograph, and their own personal beliefs on UFOs, it does not take much to turn vague memories of the searchlights focusing on the sky or some aerial flares into a flying disc that was impervious to Anti-aircraft guns.
Quelle: SUNlite 1/2011
Battle of LA photo exposed
Kentaro Mori sent me an e-mail alerting me to an article written by Scott Harrison of the LA times. Mr. Harrison had located the original negative used to create the image that had circulated in the news media at the time. However, his story revealed that the image was not quite an exact reproduction of the original negative.
Nothing but air
As I suspected, and suggested in SUNlite 3-1, the image had been retouched.
According to Harrison, there were two negatives in the UCLA archives. One was the original and another was a copy negative obtained from a retouched print. It was this negative and the retouched print that has become part of the “Battle of LA” legend.
One of the things that is obvious in looking at the image is the focus was off. The points of AA bursts are circular and not pin-point. The second thing that is noteworthy
is that the searchlights go beyond the convergence area the same way they do in the Life Magazine photograph (see my adjusted image below showing the beams going beyond the convergence), I showed in SUNlite 3-1. This demonstrates there probably is nothing of substance in the center of the beams. There is no giant spaceship and, it appears, the “Battle of LA” story is just another UFO myth. Larry Harnisch wrote several articles for the LA Times in mid-march documenting the “Battle of LA” (1942 version not the movie) background. He also discussed the photograph presented by Scott Harrison.
The image he presented above shows that there never was anything solid in the image (look closely at the center) but crisscrossing light beams and dots of light (which may have been AA bursts or some other possible source like water droplets on a window glass the photograph might have been taken through). For those who doubt it, I posted a second image with the brightness turned down showing the variations of the light in the center area (probably due to smoke). In my opinion, the possibility that this photograph
showed a real craft plummeted with these revelations.
SYFY’s substandard work
The Syfy channel’s “Fact or Faked” performed a series of experiments in an attempt to salvage the case. Their first mistake was using the touched up photograph as their basis for comparison. Their second mistake was not doing the proper amount of research on the matter. They stated that a majority of the shells fired were .50 caliber. One of their “experts” mentioned this but he was not correct. The actual documents written state that a majority of the shells fired that night were of the 3” variety. The documentation
also states that 37mm shells, which are more powerful than .50 caliber Machine guns, could not reach the target area of where the suspected craft were located. The confusion probably was because the 3” guns were referred to 3”-50 caliber guns (The 50 caliber is referencing the length of the gun barrel). The .50 caliber machine gun had a limited range of about 5000 feet and were best for low altitude aircraft and not the high altitude targets described in the reports.
The show continued to compound its mistakes when they did not focus all of their beams at one point or put up any significant smoke as one might expect from a significant amount of AA bursts.
Their last mistake was their discussion about the weather balloon. They assumed the weather balloon was in the photograph, which it probably wasn’t. Apparently, ignorant of the historical documents, they did not realize that the weather balloon had started the shooting but it was war nerves that caused everyone to keep shooting for many minutes after the balloon was gone. In a highly inaccurate demonstration, they shot down a stationary balloon from only 600 feet away with a .50 caliber machine gun and not a moving balloon from thousands of feet away. As a result, they concluded the balloon should have been shot down almost instantaneously and that there must have been a real craft at the center of the beams.
Case never closed
As the “Fact or Faked” show demonstrates,
this case will never be closed for those who want to believe it was an actual craft in the center of the image. For the skeptics, the news about the photographs confirms what was suspected all along. There was no aircraft/spaceship and it was just war nerves.
Quelle: SUNlite 3/2011