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In the early hours of February the 25th, 1942, major cities along the Pacific Coast of the
United States were blacked out due to concerns of an incoming enemy attack.
As powerful searchlights scoured the heavens, the roaring streets of Los Angeles fell silent.
Suddenly, the silence was broken by the deafening sound of explosions.
The army had opened fire and the city was under attack.
The blackout persisted until dawn and the troubled masses now demanded an explanation.
But no one seemed to know exactly what had transpired.
Nothing but shrapnel had fallen from the sky and witness accounts were hopelessly at variance.
As the war raged on across the Pacific, this frantic episode soon faded from public consciousness.
Years later, the story resurfaced under the banner of conspiracy.
The true nature of the affair had supposedly been covered up by the government
and The Battle of Los Angeles has since become a staple of UFO mythology.
On the morning of December the 7th, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy launched a surprise attack on
the American Naval base at Pearl Harbor.
The devastating attack sent shock waves throughout the country and in response the United States
formally declared war on Japan the following day.
[Franklin D. Roosevelt] A state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.
As the war progressed, Japanese submarines patrolled the Pacific Coast and occasionally
sunk a ship within sight of a major coastal city.
Alerts and blackouts became routine as fear of a Japanese invasion quickly enveloped the
entire western seaboard.
Less than three months after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Japan attacked the US mainland.
As the Sun was setting on February the 23rd, 1942, a Japanese submarine surfaced a few
kilometers northwest of Santa Barbara.
After taking aim at Ellwood Oil Field, gunners manned the large deck cannon and opened fire.
The shelling lasted for 20 minutes and more than a dozen exploding shells came raining
down on the docks and nearby installations.
Although the damage was minimal and without casualties, the attack had a significant impact
on public fears and the threat of a Japanese invasion now seemed imminent.
Due to concerns that the Bombardment of Ellwood had been a diversion intended to draw attention
away from more significant targets, the military maintained a state of readiness that lasted
well into the following day.
On the evening of February the 24th, Naval Intelligence issued a warning that an attack
could be expected within the next 10 hours.
As such, the southern California coast was put on Yellow Alert.
After 3 hours, the situation somewhat relaxed when the alert reverted back to White
but tensions remained high as repeat attacks could come at any time.
At 01:44 AM on February the 25th, three separate radar stations picked up an unidentified flying object
approaching the city of Los Angeles.
By 02:00 AM, the target was roughly 200 km offshore and a few minutes later
antiaircraft batteries were put on Green Alert and gunners prepared for the city to be raided.
Some 25 minutes later, the UFO had been tracked to within 5 kilometers of the city and so
the alarm was sounded and Los Angeles was blacked out.
Even though the UFO soon vanished from the radar scopes and never reappeared
visual sightings of enemy airplanes now flooded the information center.
At 03:07 the artillery units were given the order to opened fire and from this point onwards
the skies above Los Angeles erupted like a volcano.
The firing became sporadic as a great variety of targets were sighted all over the city.
They ranged from a lone enemy fighter to an entire fleet of up to 200 high-altitude bombers.
Meanwhile, equally competent witnesses failed to see anything at all.
Diverging estimations of altitude and speed only confused the situation further.
Some thought the planes resembled birds while others insisted they had seen balloons or even a blimp.
Although the blackout persisted until dawn, the barrage itself concluded shortly after 04:00 AM
by which time more than 1,400 rounds of antiaircraft artillery had been expended.
The evening newspapers struggled to make sense of the situation.
Initial reports indicated that multiple enemy planes had been shot down across southwestern Los Angeles.
A police officer had allegedly seen two planes fall from the cone of the searchlights.
However, investigations by the local police found nothing but shrapnel
and the Western Defense Command announced that no bombs had been dropped
and no planes had been shot down.
The confusion was only compounded by the lack of agreement between military officials.
The Secretary of the Navy, Franklin Knox, speaking at a press conference in Washington,
claimed the incident had been a false alarm and that no planes had been present.
Further adding that the barrage had been provoked by nothing more than nervousness and overexcitement.
Meanwhile, the Secretary of War, Henry Stimson, assessed that up to 15 unidentified planes
had in fact flow over the city.
Given the lack of an actual strike, the planes were thought to have been part of a Japanese
reconnaissance mission or perhaps a group of commercial planes flown by enemy agents
who sought to spread fear and chaos.
While the military insisted that every effort was being made to ascertain the facts
this was as close to an explanation as the American people were going to get.
It might have been something.
It may have been nothing.
No one seemed to know and speculation abound.
As the war came to a close in late 1945 this all but forgotten mystery was suddenly dragged
back into the spotlight.
Declassified documents revealed the army had conducted an investigation shortly after the
blackout had been lifted and testimonies provided by military personnel and civilians alike
had disclosed a number of interesting details.
For instance, the barrage had supposedly commenced after a red flare attached to a balloon
was spotted above Santa Monica.
A number of batteries had then opened fire upon an assortment of aloft vessels
including balloons, airships, and airplanes.
One unit even reported setting a plane on fire soon after the barrage commenced
and some had both seen and heard the planes soaring through the clear night sky.
Conflicting accounts notwithstanding, a conclusion written on March the 22nd reads as follows:
Japanese involvement was subsequently ruled out as Japan had not sent any planes near
Los Angeles that night and so any planes observed must have originated from the Americas.
But that seemed unlikely given that a thorough search with help from the FBI had turned up nothing.
As such, the Battle of Los Angeles was once again ripe for speculation and by 1948
another theory had gained support.
In 1948, a former Army Air Force Major and college professor by the name of William Goss
extensively researched the incident on behalf of the US Air Force.
Goss was given full access to all relevant military records and he came to the conclusion
that weather balloons had been responsible.
And there is a lot of evidence to support that theory.
As previously mentioned, the barrage had supposedly been provoked by a balloon carrying a red flare.
At least three officers testified that they had identified the target as a weather balloon
and one of them choose not to fire after learning that a weather balloon had indeed been released
by one of the regiments.
His testimony was corroborated by a General who claims that two meteorological balloons
had been released near Hollywood that night.
Furthermore, a balloon may account for the slow movement.
According to some, the UFO required nearly 30 min to cover a distance of some 40 km.
In fact, artillery units were criticized by the investigation for failing to take the
slow rate of travel into consideration.
On the other hand, the balloon theory does raise a few valid questions.
For one thing, why did the army open fire on a harmless balloon?
Well, one possible explanation comes from a former Army Colonel by the name of John Murphy
who participated in the investigation.
In 1949, Murphy wrote an article in which he claims that when the Regional Controller
in San Fransisco received word of a balloon over Los Angeles he misconstrued its description
as that of a large enemy zeppelin.
As such, he gave the order to open fire despite having no authorization to do so.
This is somewhat supported by the army investigation which states that:
However, there is one major point of contention that persists to this day.
How is it that some 1,400 rounds of antiaircraft ammunition failed to bring down a mere balloon?
The lack of a satisfying answer to this question along with the relative ambiguity of many others
seems to have given conspiracy theorists just enough wiggle room to suggest
that something extraordinary must have occurred.
It gets even stranger when you realize that an LA Times correspondent by the name of Bill Henry
claimed the UFO had withstood direct hits by antiaircraft shells.
Although, further down in the same column
Henry writes the UFO looked like a batch of balloons floating in the wind.
Then there's this photograph.
It was published by The Los Angeles Times the morning after and it has attracted a lot
of controversy after it was found to have been retouched prior to publication.
This is the image initially published on February the 26th while this is the unpublished original.
To complicate matters, yet another version was then published in 1945.
In this version, the image has been flipped and these explosions have been enlarged.
It may seem a bit strange but photographic retouching was a quite common practice at the time.
Nevertheless, in the original photograph the light beams appear to converge upon something in the sky
but what that something is cannot be discerned.
It could be a plane, a weather balloon, a cloud of smoke,
or perhaps a spaceship from beyond the Earth.
It's impossible to say.
Other photographs taken that night are equally devoid of clarity.
Although, it should be noted that none of them depict a UFO of any kind.
In any case, a balloon withstanding scores of antiaircraft ordnance seems highly improbable.
Unless, of course, it didn't.
I mean, are we absolutely certain the two balloons released that night actually remained aloft?
Well, according to the aforementioned Colonel, John Murphy, they did.
In 1949 he wrote:
"Both balloons, as I remember, floated away majestically and safely."
But in complete contradiction to that statement, an unnamed air raid warden claims the firing
was concentrated on a big bag that looked something like a balloon.
The bag had then been torn to shreds by the gunfire and slowly fallen towards the ground.
But there is an even simpler explanation.
While the type of weather balloon is never made clear, it is relatively safe to assume
the balloon ascended into the sky because, well, that's what balloons tend to do.
The added difficulty of trying to hit a target that's moving both horizontally and vertically
may explain why the balloons survived for as long as they did.
If we take these factors into account then events may have unfolded like this.
A weather balloon is first released around 01:00 AM.
Reports of a balloon are then mistaken for a zeppelin and the barrage commence shortly after 03:00 AM.
The balloon is then obliterated by exploding shells or escapes by means of ascension.
In the midst of all this chaos a second balloon is released and the whole thing starts all over again.
Meanwhile, smoke produced by more than a thousand explosions
now create the illusion of any number of targets.
That last part is based on a testimony by the Acting Commander in which he states that
he was initially certain that he'd seen a squadron of planes only to realize he was
deceived by drifting smoke produced by the exploding shells.
I've actually covered this case before, over four years ago, and back then I was firmly
in the camp of "this cannot be explained."
[Past LEMMiNO] Whats more is that because this was during World War II right after Pearl Harbor had been attacked
[Past LEMMiNO] the military quickly pointed spotlights at the object thinking it might be another attack.
[Past LEMMiNO] Soon after they began firing and even sent out fighter planes to attack and destroy the UFO.
But much like the channel name I used back then, my claim that American planes had pursued the UFO
was a mistake.
While an anonymous source initially claimed the Air Force had pursued the UFOs...
...this was immediately refuted.
The investigation justified the lack of pursuit planes as follows:
Now, there is one last major flaw with this theory.
The radar readings.
As previously mentioned, three separate radar stations picked up a UFO at 01:44 AM.
The UFO was then tracked to within 5 km of Los Angeles before it vanished.
In addition, multiple radar stations scanned the intersection of the searchlights
while the barrage was still ongoing but found nothing and the UFO never reappeared on the radar scopes.
The thing is, back in 1942, American radar equipment leaved a lot to be desired.
Just prior to The Battle of Los Angeles British radar pioneer Robert Watson-Watt
conducted a detailed analysis of American early-warning systems.
In January of 1942 Watson found radar equipment along the West Coast to be "gravely unsuitable."
He described it as being in "grave danger of plotting false tracks."
Furthermore, radar personnel lacked sufficient training to properly operate the stations.
A complementary analysis by the army, completed in early February, confirmed Watson's findings
and described the conditions of the Western Defense Command as "entirely inadequate."
Even so, it is rather strange that these targets were visible to the naked eye and even through binoculars
yet seemingly invisible to radar.
So where does that leave us?
Well, I'm afraid there's no definitive conclusion to this story.
As an article from 2011 so aptly put it:
"[There's] ample room to support a variety of conclusions and beliefs."
While there is sufficient evidence to support the weather balloon theory
a mountain of conflicting evidence still makes it difficult to accept.
In order for the theory to work, one must be willing to discount a vast amount of incompatible information.
It's entirely possible that nothing flew over Los Angeles that night.
The barrage may have been provoked by nothing more than wartime anxiety
amplified by the submarine shelling from the night before.
As Secretary Knox put it, a false alarm.
As most witnesses have long since passed away
and no additional information has been uncovered for decades
this more than 75 year old mystery may never be truly resolved.