This Day in History: The Battle of Los Angeles

Stacy Sammul, Columnist/Reporter

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On this day in history, the city of Los Angeles was the center of one of the most mysterious military attacks in U.S. history. Theories from aliens to government cover-ups continue to surround this event. The attack has been left out of history books, possibly because of all the controversy that surrounds it. When asking my friends if they had ever heard of the Battle of Los Angeles, nobody had heard of it.

February 24, 1942 was an uneasy time in America. Our country had just entered WWII three months prior and the entire country was still on edge. Rumors of attacks on locations all over the country were rampant and some even bore truth. One day prior to the famous Battle of Los Angeles, a Japanese submarine opened fire on the Ellwood oil reserve off the coast of Santa Barbara, California. It is said that the commander of this sub, Kozo Nishino had once had a poor experience at the oil reserve when he had stopped there several years earlier to refuel a cargo ship that he sailed through the area.  Nishino accidentally fell into a prickly pear cactus on the docks and the workmen laughed at him. His pride had been so hurt that he vowed revenge on the oil reserve. I’m not positive that his motives were directly related to the prickly pear incident, but most of the damage done that day was within three hundred meters of the exact location that he fell.  Although nobody was injured, Nishino had successfully planted the seed of fear in the American people that would fuel the conspiracies surrounding the mysterious Los Angeles Air Raid.

On the evening of February 24, it is reported that enemy aircraft were seen over Los Angeles and the military immediately took action. Air raid sirens went off, and over 1,400 shells were fired from fifty caliber and anti-aircraft guns into the air, as spotlights lit up the night sky in search of the enemy aircraft that started this brigade, and the city completely blacked out. Firing ceased at 4:14 a.m. on February 25th and the blackout was lifted three hours later. When all was said and done, five people died, but not from falling shells. Two people suffered heart attacks from the intense anxiety, three died in car accidents caused by distracted motorists that were watching the shooting happen, and the enemy craft was never found or shot down.

Thousands of Los Angeles citizens claimed to have seen the enemy aircraft, but what they remember is not a Japanese plane, but rather something much more foreign. With the spotlights shining into the sky, onlookers said that they could see the outline of a saucer-like aircraft that hovered over the city. On February 26th, CBS news reported on their radio program that the government was trying to cover up a UFO sighting by stating that it was merely a weather balloon. Reporters questioned why the army had such difficulty shooting down a weather balloon; it should have been an easy task for skilled shooter using such large artillery. One eyewitness, C. Scott Littleton claimed to have seen a silver oval shaped aircraft flying over his house followed closely by military aircraft. It is a moment that he and his mother will not soon forget.

Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox, delivered a press conference immediately following the incident and stated that the air raid had been a false alarm due to “war nerves” and paranoia they still were suffering from the Pearl Harbor attack. War secretary, Henry Stimson, refuted this claim and avowed that there was indeed enemy aircraft in the air that night. Another claim made by the military was that this was a routine drill staged by the Army Air Forces (AAF) to better prepare for enemy attacks. In 1983, the Office of Air Force History released a statement in response to the several claims being made. In this statement, they sort out many claims as being false and state that the most logical theory is that of weather balloons being released and picked up over the radar.  Today, the military takes extra precautions to prevent widespread panic due to false alarm air raids firing at weather balloons. I spoke with an active American Air Force employee and asked what the current routine procedure for radar alerts is, he said, “We would first send an ISR [Intelligence Surveillance Aircraft] to investigate or scramble jets to investigate in force.”

In 1942 the USAF did not have this exact procedure; they had an observation plane and balloons with very primitive cameras. Advances in technology have given the military better opportunity to serve and protect the people of the country. As for those that were witness to this “false alarm” air raid, they remember the fear and ruin that succumbed upon the city of Los Angeles.

This mystery still cannot be explained to this day. Was this an alien attack on the United States? Which theory has the most validity? More theories surface the more that people question the events ranging from a government distraction to cover up an extraterrestrial meeting to the Japanese using psychological warfare to spread panic and fear across the nation. What are your thoughts? If you would like to share your theory or give an opinion on a theory you have read here, please submit them to highland.chronicle.edu.

Other important events on this day in history:

1863:  Arizona becomes a US territory allowing for further expansion West

1868:  Andrew Johnson is the first president that is impeached

1903:  The U.S. leases Guantanamo Bay from Cuba for a naval base

1918:  The country of Estonia declares independence from the Russian Empire

1955: Co-founder of Pixar and Apple Inc, Steve Jobs is born.

1981:  Prince Charles’s engagement to Princess Diana is announced

1988:  Famed rocker, Alice Cooper, ran for Governor of Arizona under the “Wild Party” and lost

1992:  The movie Wayne’s World was released

1998:  Singer, Elton John, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth

2008:  Fidel Castro retires

Celebrated Holidays on this day:

Mexican Flag Day

Estonian Independence Day

Engineers Day in Iran

National Artists Day in Thailand

Sepandārmazgān (Women’s Day) in Zoroastrian Iran

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This Day in History: The Battle of Los Angeles